This month we are featuring stories from Southeast Asia and the Touch A Life programs there. This week we have a special blog post written by Pam Cope’s daughter, Tatum. Tatum was adopted from Vietnam in October of 2001 and recently went back to her home country to meet her birth mother. Her adoption story is chronicled in the book, Jantsen’s Gift.
My mom and I had always talked about going back to Vietnam someday. When I was 15, early last year, she told me we would definitely be going that very summer. I couldn’t believe something that we had talked about for so long was finally happening. I was eager to go back to Vietnam and experience the culture of where I was born. She told me we were going to take time to explore the country and, oh yeah, meet my birth mom.
My birth mom, Lan, became pregnant with me out of wedlock when she was young. Once I was born I was taken to an orphanage, so I had no memory of her. I’d always thought about the day I’d meet her, but I can’t say I had prepared to do that – how does anyone prepare for that? I knew that meaningful day would come later in our trip, so I soaked up every moment of our adventure, trying to keep my nerves in check, until the day would come. I couldn’t believe how beautiful Vietnam was. The people were so kind and had such gentle spirits. I never felt uncomfortable or unsafe. It was a surreal experience to be in a country””my country””with such beauty yet so much brokenness. It’s really hard for me to put into exact words how I felt about being there, but it brought about a peace inside me. I was and am proud to be from Vietnam.
After much exploring – including a bamboo raft ride along the Mai Chau – the day finally came. I was going to meet Lan. My mom’s Vietnamese friend arranged the meeting. Lan and her sister were going to come to our hotel late that morning so it was now truly time to prepare. My mom had me come up with a list of questions to ask Lan, so I wrote down several, and then started to get pretty nervous. My mom said I was really quiet all morning. I think the fact I was going to be meeting the person who gave birth to me 15 years ago was really starting to hit me. She had missed so much of my life – what was it going to be like? My mom, my mom’s two friends, and I were waiting in the restaurant area of the hotel when my mom’s Vietnamese friend, Mai, came and told us Lan and her sister were there. She walked in and started crying as soon as she saw me. I kind of just sat there for a second before I finally got up and hugged her. When I did, I also started crying. I’m not exactly sure why I was crying, but I guess I was just happy and relieved. Something I had thought about for so long was actually happening. I wouldn’t say it was sad, it was definitely happy, but I did feel sad for her because I kept thinking about how I was her child and how hard a decision giving up your child had to have been. Lots of tears were shed, and not just from the two of us. Everyone in our group was crying and everyone in the restaurant was watching. We took our time and talked for well over an hour, asking questions and getting to know each other. We also exchanged rings so that we would be able to take a piece of the other with us. With every word she said, I could tell how much she loved me and cared about me. It was obvious that she wanted the best life for me, and the decision to give me up was not because she didn’t want me. She wanted me to have a great life and have opportunities that she couldn’t provide.
This experience made me so thankful to have been adopted to a mom like mine. It seems like not all adoptive parents encourage their children to meet their birth parents, but my mom was the one who made this meeting happen. She was genuinely concerned about me making peace with the fact that I was given up for adoption. I will forever be grateful for the opportunity my mom provided on that trip. Toward the end of our meeting that day at the hotel restaurant, Lan’s sister asked me a question. She asked me what I would call Lan. Without hesitation I answered, “Mom.” While I live in the United States with my adoptive mom, a woman across the ocean in a tiny village in Vietnam also loves me with all her heart. I’ve now met both of my moms.