Most days, I am terrified of finding answers.
Last week, my mom and I stumbled upon a box of home videos, and we decided to watch the one labeled, “Kira’s Homecoming” just for fun. The VHS (ancient, I know) opened to a shaky film of an airport. Overhead, my grandma narrated that they were anxiously waiting at the airport to meet me, their new granddaughter. My grandpa filmed every single person stepping off the plane, and I find it endearing that he kept his camera cued for almost fifteen minutes, recording stranger after stranger, so he wouldn’t miss me.
When my parents and I finally arrived, everyone was beaming. My parents excitedly recounted their journey to China. My grandparents cradled me in their arms for the first time. I released a strange little baby laugh, and then I’d chew something that wasn’t supposed to be chewed (usually my grandma’s fingers).
It is difficult to explain that twenty years later, I feel the pure joy radiating from an old VHS tape.
It is difficult to know, in the back of my mind, that my birth parents suffered unimaginably for the exact reason that my family was rejoicing.
I was adopted from Zhongshan, China, but my birth parents had held onto me for several months before leaving me on a public walkway near a bridge. I was taken to a hospital before being brought to a crowded orphanage. There was more than one baby per crib.
Most days, I am terrified of finding answers. I would rather live in ignorance than learn that my birth parents had wanted to keep me, but when I got sick, they couldn’t.
I don’t like to think about the gut-wrenching moment that a woman knew she was looking into her baby’s eyes one last time.
She had to leave her baby for a stranger to find and then walk away. The government didn’t give these women a choice.
Some days, I wonder if she thinks about me.
The life I have in the United States is the only life I have ever known. Sometimes, I feel guilty for not honoring my birth mother’s sacrifice in some way. Most times, though, digging up my past seems scary, depressing, and unproductive.
Should I search for my birth parents? Would they even be happy to see me if I did? Are they dead? Should I even return to China for myself? Should I spend more time learning Mandarin? Am I losing touch with my cultural roots? If I was, does it even matter?
There are times when I plague myself with questions, hoping that the “right” way to handle this will hit me. I worry that one day, I will resolve to find the answers, and I won’t be prepared for what I discover.
Even as an adoption activist who has delivered numerous speeches, I still face uncertainty in my identity. I am a happy, well-adjusted person, and I acknowledge my privilege in many areas of my life. Thousands of adoptees have suffered greater than I, and we each have thousands of unanswered questions.
When I speak about adoption, only one statement remains true in each speech: the past does not define you. Regardless of how many days it haunts you.
For now, the past that I cherish is the one that lies in my VHS home videos. In videos of my parents feeding me my first piece of cake, of my siblings running around in the snow, and of my first Chinese dance performance. There are mysteries in my history, and I will face one at a time, as I am ready.
Most days, I am terrified of finding answers about my past.