ORIGIN: What was I thinking?
As the idiom goes, it feels good to be in the saddle again! I am referring to the ebb and flow of my relationship with this book project – LETTERS TO BIRTH MOTHERS IN CHINA. I’ve stepped in and out of it over the past few years now, probably the longest I’ve ever held on to a project, most likely because it is SO CLOSE TO HOME and HEART. I’m beginning to think I could write an article about the process itself, but for now, let me not deviate from the task at hand. Writing this blog allows me to immerse myself once again in the files and notes, the partially written sections of the book, and of course, the letters themselves, the best part of all. As you will see, the beauty in the sentiments expressed in these letters will touch you deeply.
Looking through my material once again, I stumbled upon a letter I wrote to the Chinese adoption community as I recruited letter writers for my book. I think it might be useful to share some of that information in order to shed some light on how this all began. Here is the beginning of my story and my relationship with the “Letters to Birth Mothers in China” Project.
As I mentioned in my introductory blog, Emilie was brought home from China in May of 2004. It was shortly thereafter that the impetus for the “Letters to Birth Mothers in China” Project was born. During the summer of 2004 I began requesting letters from adoptive parents through several Chinese adoption listserves. Later that fall my request was approved and posted on the national Families with Children from China (FCC) website. Below is an example of my request for letters posted on several adoption listserves that offers a glimpse of my motivation and inspiration behind the creation of this book project.
Home coming wish from dear friends as we arrived with Emilie
Hello to all,
I am the mother of a little Fu named Emilie. Emilie was adopted at 14 months of age last Mother’s Day in Nanchang, Jiangxi Province, China. She is a beautiful and bright little girl that my husband and I feel very blessed to have in our lives. For reasons I will explain later, I have been thinking of putting together a collection of letters from adoptive mothers to their daughter’s birth mother in China. As things stand, I realize these letters would not be deliverable and would be written only as an expressive exercise concerning the little girl we (as mothers) have in common.
This is based on my own frequent thoughts about Emilie’s birth mom and what she must be feeling and wondering about when she thinks of her. At times you may have also wondered how hard it must have been to give up such a precious little girl. One can only imagine what this must have taken. In thinking about Emilie’s birth mother, I often think about what I’d like for her to know about Emilie and how she is doing. I’ve thought of a letter that would explain and bring together that void that now exists between her origin and past life in China and her present and future life with us.
Although these letters may never reach each of the respective birth mothers we would be writing to, I think they will serve as an important connection in our triad (adoptee, birthparents, and adoptive parents) of adoption (even if only as an expressive exercise at this time). I believe this could have more significant consequences as the girls get older and may want to reconnect with their Chinese roots. At least they would have our thoughts and feelings written out to the mom who gave them birth. And who knows, maybe one day this collection of letters could reach birth moms in China and offer them some hope and peace of mind. I also realize this may be as important for adoptive fathers to take part in also, for now I would like to focus on adoptive mothers and birth mothers.
So, I am writing to members of different lists to see if they are interested in contributing to this collection of letters. I would then put these letters together into a publication (more than likely, a book) so that they could be shared. I am planning to go even further into categorizing them and analyzing them for themes and comparisons. Without knowing what kind of response I will get, it is hard to determine exactly what the end product would look like. For those of you who decide to contribute, I would like for you to consider the following questions: (1) If you were to write a letter to your daughter’s birth mother, what would you like to say to her or let her know about your daughter? (2) What do you imagine your daughter’s birth mother story to be? (3) How do you talk to your daughter about her birth mom?
I would like to respect concerns re: identifying information. Your names can be disguised if you’d like for publication purposes, but I will need to have at least first names and an accurate email address to contact you (for questions, editing, authorization, etc.). It would be nice to also have your current city and state in the signature of your letter. Therefore, if you decide to participate in this project, I will be most appreciative if you include your full name, daughter’s name and age, and current city and state where you reside in your letter. If for some reason you do not want any of this information included in the publication, please specify how you want this information to be disguised.
To be honest, I am not sure how this project idea mightl be received by list members. I guess it will depend on how much sense this makes to others, or if they also wonder about the birth mom’s experience as much as I do. I plan to accept letters for the next 6 months (until April/May, 2005) and then see where we stand with submissions. During this time I will be analyzing the submitted letters for themes and highlights and I will contact possible publishers when a more substantive sample and clearer outline of the book can be presented.
For further questions and submissions please contact me at <firstname.lastname@example.org>. You can also submit your electronic copies of the letter at that email address (as an attached WORD file or include it in the body of your email). If you decide to mail a hard copy or handwritten copy please mail it to the address below.
Silvia E. Doan
I ended up accepting letters through the summer of 2005, and throughout that time searched and read as much of the literature available regarding the women, birth mothers, and families of China. Several of the classic, most popular and respected included “ The Lost Daughters of China” by Karen Evans, “Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son” by Kay Ann Johnson, and “The Good Women of China” by Xinran. All of these books, as well as other sources, confirmed how important it was to convey our message of understanding and compassion for all that they faced as part of their decision to surrender their children within, and beyond, the borders of China.
It was clear that although the book was conceived with several ideas in mind, a primary purpose for “The Birth Mother Letter Project” was to reach out to Chinese birth moms by conveying our message – that we hold them in our hearts and to reassure them of how important and pivotal they are in our children’s lives, never to be forgotten. They hold the key to a past we can only imagine and speculate about as we try to fill in the gaps of knowledge for our daughters about self, origin, and the proverbial answer to the question, “why”?
As you will note throughout your reading of my blog and book, the letters are compassionate and written with a deep understanding for the birth mothers’ plight and loss. Gratitude for the gift of their child is made abundantly clear, with a sense of wonder about the personal characteristics that the daughters might share with their birth mother. Reassurance that the children will be cared for and loved forever is steadfast and resolute.
I would like to leave you with another excerpt from one of the letters. The letters were organized into themes that emerged from the thoughts and feelings shared by their respective letter writer. This one most clearly conveys sentiments of compassion and gratitude.
Compassion & Gratitude
“I am sorry for whatever conditions resulted in your having to leave her that day. It must have been very difficult. While I have read about some of the circumstances that compelled you to have to give her up, I do not know the exact details of your particular situation. I can never know what really happened, what you went through and only in the darkest of times can I image the pain you must have endured. Please allow me to thank you. Thank you for being so selfless. Thank you for the wonderful treasure that she is. Thank you for letting me be a part of her life, for the privilege of holding her, of loving her, of guiding her and of watching her grow up into the exceptional woman I know that she will one day be. Thank you for sharing her with me. I can never repay the true debt both she and I owe to you. So I humbly offer to you, this letter…about our daughter.”
I will continue to share letters in each of my blogs. So far I have shared parts of a couple of letters, but my thoughts are to also share entire letters, a blog at a time. Please let me know what you think, about sharing partial or entire letters, and of course, I’d love to hear about your reactions to each of my blogs.
All my best,