Tuesday, July 22, 2008

To Be Posted on VIA (Volunteers in Asia)

This is a blurb about my recent experience in Vietnam searching for my Birth mom.

Finding my Birth Mother
By Tiffany Goodson, Hanoi University

To start at the beginning, last fall I moved from Hanoi University to a flat near Lenin Park with two of my friends. One morning we ended up having brunch at Café 129 with a man from upstairs named Richard and his girlfriend Minh, and during the course of the meal Minh asked about my birth mother. She mentioned that she used to work for VTV and knew I was headed down to Saigon in early December. She tried to connect me to some of her friends at VTV who worked on a show dedicated to helping people search for their missing relatives in Vietnam, but this first attempt was unsuccessful.

When I was in Saigon in December, I also went searching on my own. This included a visit to the Tu Du hospital where I was born. I met a nun who I had heard still worked there. Sister Mary Vincent is 81 years old and has worked at the hospital for 35 years. She took me to the room where all the babies are born, and I felt so honored to be allowed to see it. Then they told me the address where my birthmother had lived was now a public park. I went to the park with a friend and we met some old men at a cafe, and they told me to try a different address. I thought the address they indicated was the police station, so we could ask where the people had been relocated to in Saigon when the park was built 30 years ago. In actuality, the address was a newspaper office, and it was closed. That ended my search, as I had to return to teach in Hanoi.

When I got back to Hanoi, Minh introduced me to a man named Mr. Hai, who is a jounalist for the Hanoi Moi newspaper and he in turn introduced me to his friend Ms. Uyen. She happened to be the producer and host of this TV show which mainly served people whose families had been severed due to the war. She agreed to help me in my search. This was the beginning of my televised quest to find my birth mother.

A camera crew came to Hanoi in May and shot some footage of me teaching and volunteering and did an interview in Lenin Park. They even shot me on my bicycle! Earlier in February they also had a man retrace my footsteps and he was able to find my birth family, although I was not told this at the time. They didn't reveal this information until I was on Live TV on July 5th on the program.

Of course, going on the show, I knew full well what might transpire. I figured it was worth the price, and that their resources were much better than what I had to go by searching on my own. I was scared, and yet serene in my acceptance of whatever the outcome, at the same time. I had resolved long ago to never finding out anything. It took a lot of guts to have the courage to look, and I guess I figured I might as well, since I was living in Vietnam. Still, I'd seen and heard about outcomes that were positive and negative, and I just decided to deal best with whatever hand was dealt me.

When I went on the show, after introducing me, the hostess showed me a picture of my birth mom when she was 20 years old. It was a blow up of a photo her husband had carried in his wallet the 8 years he had his tour of duty for the South Vietnamese army. I look a lot like my mother. She also told me she was sad to tell me that my mother passed away in 1978. She was epileptic and her seizures grew worse and worse until she died at the age of 30 during one of them.

When I studied abroad in Belfast, Ireland in 1996 during my senior year of college I saw a tarot card reader. At the end of the reading he asked if I had any specific questions and I inquired about my Birth Mother. He told me that he believed she'd passed on into the spirit world, but was looking after me, protecting me, guiding me, so when the television hostess pulled out the photo of my mother, I somehow knew what her answer would be. It was a big shock, and I was pretty speechless thereafter.

I cried a lot after I went back to sit down. It was like a sense of loss and grief that I've carried with me so long just came to the surface and I had a different sense of loss and grief, but also a little bit of relief that this missing link of my life is no longer such a mystery. Still, it felt like I was hit by a train or something; this heavy impact. I felt so exhausted mentally, emotionally, and physically.

In addition to finding out about my mother, I was able to meet my half-brothers and sister who came to the show. We arranged to meet the next day to get aquainted and I met them at their home and spent four hours doing a sort of Q&A session. It turns out that the story my mother gave the adoption agency and the story they had been told as children was different. I believe to protect them, and the family’s honor, the truth had been hidden from them their whole lives. The true story is that my birthmother's husband fought for the South Vietnamese army and was sent far away to fight. Since he was unable to send any money, my Mother had to "make contact" with a disabled Vietnamese soldier to earn money to feed her other four children. When he returned a year later, she was obviously pregnant through this other affair and although she begged his family's forgiveness, they said if she wished to remain with them she would have to give me up. They did tell me that they remember she was gone for 20 days during my birth, and that when she returned home she cried a lot. They were all told that I died on flight C5A, the plane that crashed during Operation Babylift. I actually went out on the next flight on Pan Am, the next day, but I guess the story of my death stopped any more questions.

Since my mother’s husband had fought for the losing side, when the family was relocated due to the building of that park, they were not treated well. They went from living in a large room to living in a room that was just 1m x 3m x 7m for seven people. Since they lost their mother at a young age, my two half-brothers had to drop out of school around 8th grade and they became Xe Om drivers (motorcycle taxi guys). I think they just scrape by, so I gave them a token gift to help them with things they might need. I told them that I felt really lucky and wanted to share some of my luckiness with them, and they seemed really touched by that.

I have decided to stay in Saigon longer and skip out traveling South to the Mekong Delta. I will go to the medical clinic tomorrow to do the DNA testing with my older brother, then next weekend go to visit their father who is in the hospital with lung cancer. I would also like to visit my Birth Mother's grave to pay my respects, bring some flowers and thank her for watching over me all these years. I think in this way, she was able to fulfill a role that she would have done naturally if she had the choice.

Right now I'm trying to take note of these feelings and write down some of my thoughts so that I can process them more thoroughly. I feel grateful that there are people here (other adoptees) that care for me and have been able to comfort me through this. Tuy, who was also adopted but who has since learned Vietnamese, did a phenomenal job of translating for me with cultural sensitivity. It helps to be with someone who has walked the same path and done the same search and felt the same feelings.
I have been able to satisfy this life-long curiosity and I don't look at it as an ending, but somewhat as closing the book on the mystery I thought I'd just always have to live with. This closure is a welcome shift, but I also feel that it’s the opening of a whole new chapter of possibilities. I would like to assist my blood brothers and sister in the future and get to know them better. Maybe not give them a hand-out, but a "hand up". The tools that they need to better generate a business, sustain themselves and do more than just survive. More than anything, I feel so fortunate. I am a big believer in fate and destiny; that part of me is very Vietnamese. I felt like the Universe really made everything fall into place, and my quest to find my birth mother has lead to success where many have tried and failed. I never cease to be amazed by life's little surprises. It feels better than ever just to be alive.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Revisiting the Original Pain

A lot of people want to talk to me about what has happened in recent events.  Well, I'm not quite ready.  Only to say that time will tell.  To have a life-long question answered in a couple short minutes in some ways turned my world up-side down.  In other ways it just made everything click into place.  For now, I think I'm holding up all right.  I'm not resentful in anyway of VTV1 springing me the news on Live TV.  Sure some would say its a "cheap trick" or done for dramatic effect, but that's really what I signed on for in the beginning.  How else would I not have to pay a penny for someone else to go out and do the legwork for me while I was up in Hanoi?  Well, there's a price for everything, and I was willing to pay it this time.  I can't tell you the sense of relief I felt, and maybe a bit of guilt at feeling relieved, that my birth Mom was dead for some time.  I guess it's because one of my main fears in finding her would be that her other kids would expect me to take on financial responsibility for her.  I have my own Mom to be worried about.  The curiosity in what she looked like was also fulfilled.  The resemblance is uncanny; we both have the same sad eyes.  Exorcising this sadness is something I'm working on now, but it will just take being gentle with myself, and it will take some time.  As far as remaining in contact with my half-brothers and sister...that is also TBD, and I'm struggling over the decision to go ahead with a DNA test or not.  I'll have to decide quickly in order to get the test over via a friend meeting me in Bali in early September.  All of this has put a bit of a damper on my travels in Southeast Asia.  I am constantly distracted by recent events and when I stop long enough to sit still with myself, I can't help but feel a lot of emotions resurfacing.  A tide of mixed feelings washing over me and taking over the senses.  I don't want to miss out on the beauty around me, but I know there's a lot inside I've never really wanted to deal with, and I'm being forced to face it now.  I'm also in love; which complicates things considerably.  Especially since I'm away from this person who is in Hanoi right now...death and rebirth, what its all about.  One door closes, and another one opens.  But my heart feels like its in my throat half the time, and my head feels full of fizziness.  I'm trying not to be tempted to just escape with substances or food.  To just fully embrace what is, what has happened, and the mystery of what will be...