Since bringing home our fifteen month old daughter from China in June, 2001, I have fantasized about returning to her finding place and, against all odds, finding her birth family. My husband and I were fortunate enough to go to her finding place on our adoption trip and take photos of the area. We were asked to be discreet by our adoption agency’s representative. There had been issues in the past with foreigners getting themselves into trouble when found to be snooping around in areas where they weren’t authorized to be. Feeling safe from the backseat of our taxi, we had taken both photos and video footage while making our way down the partially paved and dusty Yongfu Road. The driver pulled into an empty dirt lot when we reached the address we had been given. The address was at an intersection where a smaller dirt road crossed over Yongfu. A three-stalled, cinderblock building was set back from the intersection, and it was surrounded by clay parcel of land that could have been used for a parking area had there been any cars. The stalls had aluminum, roller doors that were all closed and padlocked. It looked like an abandoned service station, minus the gas pumps. Whatever role it had once played in this community of ill-kept apartment buildings, it appeared to be completely abandoned at the time of our visit. Of course we didn’t know exactly where JaneGrace was found at this site, all we had was the address of “Four kilometer Yongfu Road.” This was not the kind of place I had envisioned for my baby to be found. I wanted it to be in the center of a bustling market, or train station, or at the gates of a police station or orphanage. How could I describe this place to JaneGrace? I wanted it to be reflective of a safe haven; a place that I thought worthy for a child-finding place to be; a place that I thought the birth mother should choose. I wanted my baby to know that her birth mother did the best she could do through dire circumstances, whether or not that was the truth.
My husband and I took note of the impoverished area. The foliage that lined the main road was overgrown and strewn with weeds. There were apartment buildings that were visible from behind the foliage, and I speculated that my beloved baby had been born in one of them. They, too, were dusty and dirty like the road that led us here, and were in need of a coat of paint. I recall that the open windows to the apartments did not have screens. The concrete around the windows were stained with rust and mold from the rainwater runoff, inherent for a tropical climate such as Nanning. I quietly grieved for the apparent poverty of this community and for the likelihood that this was where my daughter was from. I wanted to make up something about her finding place, make it more romantic, more deserving as a place for my daughter. But in all reality, I realized that I could not protect her from this truth. She would have to grow into this truth as time and maturity allowed.
Part of my fantasy connected with the finding place also involved a revisit with our family when JaneGrace was older. I had heard of other families going to the finding spot and posting flyers with photos of their daughter and a brief message to the birth family. I envisioned myself holding up a placard that read, simply, “Thank you,” with a picture of JaneGrace with her dad and me. Yes, I envisioned many things related to her finding place.
When we signed up for our adoption agency’s heritage tour, and an opportunity to visit her city of origin unfolded, I was thrilled. Finally, I had a chance to fulfill my dreams, to share this place with my now twelve year old beloved daughter, and walk the area from which she’d been found. I wanted to wander up and down the dirt paths in between the tenements and peer into the faces of those who lived there. I wanted to look into eyes that were mirror images of my daughter’s. I wanted to hold JaneGrace’s hand, and gently introduce her to this place for which I am eternally grateful.
I was prepared for just about any scenario, except for the one we encountered.
Sometime in the last eleven years, Yongfu Road had been bulldozed and widened. Nothing was recognizable. The address of “Four kilometer Yongfu Road” which our taxi driver had readily driven us to in 2001, did not exist in 2012. I began to feel some concern when our guide began to question us as to the specifics of the address. Did we have anything more specific than the kilometer mark? What we remembered as a two lane partially paved road leading out of Nanning was now widened to six lanes, and now had a distinctive “Western” look. There were a variety of small businesses running its length, the Chinese version of strip-malls. The little cinder-block building was gone. There were some old tenements interspersed with newer apartment buildings, but it was impossible to speculate where we had been eleven years earlier.
I could feel my frustration begin to mount as we drove up and down the road with our guide and our driver, desperately searching for anything that remotely reminded us of the place we had been eleven years earlier. Why, in my simple-minded head, I thought this place would not change in eleven years, frustrated me even more. As my emotions began to swirl, I had to remind myself that this particular day was about JaneGrace, not about me and my expectations. I did sense some anxiety from JaneGrace, although she is the stoic type. Getting her to express her feelings is akin to coaxing a security “leak” from the pentagon. She is tough. I geared down my emotional roller coaster, finally, out of a much over-due respect for her needs. My husband and I had discussed revisiting her finding place with her on many occasions to try to anticipate the feeling that may emerge, but this scenario had not entered our minds. I was caught totally unprepared. Again, I felt I needed to shield her from my disappointment that the place I had longed to visit with her was destroyed. It no longer existed. Eleven years of my dreams and fantasies around locating her birth family were not to be fulfilled this day.
What I did walk away with after that disappointing day, is the realization that each of these adopted girls’ stories is uniquely hers. No matter what kind of serendipitous story we hear from another adopted girl, on how visiting her finding spot yielded a precious piece to the puzzle that makes up her early life, we cannot recreate a piece from that puzzle and force it into our daughter’s. Each story must unfold on its own accord, in its own time, and of its own device. Like a delicate blossom, its petals will open at exactly the right time, within an environment that nurtured the precise mix of elements required to produce perfection in God’s eyes. This is my take-home message: my daughter’s story is of God. I had hoped to uncover an artifact from her past to help her discover from where she came and it wasn’t to be. JaneGrace was a trooper, and acted as if it didn’t bother her, but again, she is the “Pentagon.”
I am ashamed to report that the next day, without our guide to assist and without seeking JaneGrace’s approval; my husband and I hired a taxi, and again drove up and down Yongfu Road trying to find the place that no longer existed. We were searching for the needle in a haystack. JaneGrace sent us a not-so-discreet message of her disapproval by completely disengaging from the activity by pulling out her DSi electronic games device and immersing herself in virtual play. The day was unbearably hot and muggy, and we wasted our time in a futile search for something that we were convinced had been destroyed, instead of visiting other places in Nanning that would have been of greater cultural value for our family.
The next day we heard from two other families who were on our tour whose “finding place” search had yielded vastly different and positive results. Both families reported that they had learned, or at least had gained access to, information that revealed the identity of the birth families for each child. I couldn’t help but feel a little envious. It was after hearing these stories, that I knew I had to “let go,” and begin the work of surrendering this process to JaneGrace and her future dreams and aspirations. Thankfully, after the futile time spent searching for her finding spot, we were able to connect with JaneGrace’s foster Grandmother through the dedicated detective work of our Chinese guide, and spent two precious hours visiting with her and her extended family, sharing stories and photos about the remarkable child who continues to grace all of our lives. She fostered JaneGrace from the time she was seven months old, to the time we adopted her at fourteen months of age. Her love for JaneGrace has reached through time to the present, when her hugs and smiles upon seeing her for the first time in eleven years demonstrates the impact of her early nurturing of our daughter. We are grateful for the heart of this woman.
My advice to any adoptive family that has a plan to visit their child’s “finding spot” or to any adoptive family seeking to uncover pieces of the mystery of their child’s early beginnings is this: be prepared for any outcome, and make sure you are engaging your child on what their hopes and dreams are surrounding this potentially traumatic revelation. There are many good resources out there for preparing for such a discovery. There are also resources available to guard you against such a discovery. Not all finding place visits yield positive information. This decision should be child-centered, taking all possible outcomes into consideration. The journey is theirs for the taking.