A Letter to My Daughter’s Other Mom

Mar 27 2018

26 March 2018

We found her. Finally. After nearly 20 years and an international investigation, we found our daughter’s birth mom. So I’m sitting here on a Tuesday, at my desk, with paper and a pen and a view of the rainy Oregon foothills trying to decide what to say to a mama across the ocean. A mama in Vietnam who shares my child. A mama who’s waited and wondered and longed for news. A mama who didn’t know if she’d ever hear. A mama, it turns out, who wanted desperately to keep her baby and who didn’t know her daughter would be swept away to America. A mama who, through no fault of her own, was caught up in a fraudulent baby adoption business. 

Dear Mrs. Ut,

Oh, she released Abby for adoption. Thank goodness at least that happened, and Abby wasn’t stolen away. But she thought Abby was going to Saigon to be adopted by a Vietnamese family. She felt she couldn’t take care of her baby’s needs so she trusted a neighbor to take her, but she thought she’d see her again, too. She thought she’d know Abby was OK.

I hope this letter finds you well.

As for us? Turns out we were naive, and we didn’t know then what we know now about the international adoption scene. About babies for sale. About bribes and coercion. About kids who could have stayed with their birth families. We went through a reputable agency. We had lawyers on the ground in Vietnam. We did think Abby was awfully young at only 6 weeks to be available for international adoption, given all the paperwork and legal hoops one must jump through, but, assured everything was on the up-and-up — and very young ourselves — we proceeded with unbridled joy.

I’ve wanted to write you for a very long time.

God, how do I even start this? What do I say when words can’t scratch the surface? My palms are clammy, and my heart is in my stomach. I’ve thought about this letter since Abby was a year old. That’s when we discovered more than one woman claimed to be Abby’s biological mother. That’s when we first suspected fraud, and our guts twisted, and we contacted our agency, and they shrugged, because what could they do? Two women claimed her. Both said they’d released her for adoption. No one was contesting it. All paperwork was legal. And, DNA tests not being what they are today, there was no real way to know. Still, I thought; even though there was nothing to do — nothing I was willing to do — I couldn’t help but think “one of these women is telling the truth; one of them is desperate for news of her baby.”

I’ve thought about you often and hoped we might find you one day, and I’m glad that day has come. 

She has been in nearly unimaginable pain and uncertainty, while I’ve had 19 years of joy. That my relationship with my precious baby girl, now a woman in her own right, came at the cost of this woman’s agony is unthinkable. And yet I wouldn’t trade it, even to take away her pain. What does that say about me? That I’m willing to pay for my deep joy with another person’s deep pain? But if I’m honest, I wouldn’t change it, even if I had a time machine and a do-over. Does that make me horrible, or just a mom?

Most importantly, I want you to know your little Bé is safe and happy. 

Do I overwhelm her with info? I would want to be overwhelmed with info. I would want every detail. I’d scour a letter about my baby again and again. But there’s a language barrier, and translation still needs to happen, and I need to choose whether to spend days and days on this letter or send it off, the first volley of what I hope becomes an exchange of information. 

We call her Abby, and she’s been a light and love of our life.

I’ve already spent 10 days going through thousands of photos from Abby’s childhood, trying to choose a representative few to send. Age two with Santa Claus. Age 4 in the pumpkin patch. With her cousins. In the snow. On her first day of school. Except now I’m looking with a new lens, different than my own nostalgia and sweet memories. Now I’m looking with a new measure of joy and sorrow; Abby was so happy, and Ut will only have these images captured of seconds in time. I got the minutes and the days and the months and the years. She will have a tiny pile of colored paper. Proof her baby was well loved, yes, and proof of all she missed.

I’m sending photos for you of Abby growing up, playing, with her siblings — she’s the oldest with three brothers and one sister — with her cousins, and with Greg and me, her mom and dad.

How do I describe who Abby is to the woman who longs to know her as well as I do? A list of adjectives seems so very paltry, such a meager offering in return for the Greatest Gift. But adjectives are all I have. I feel like the drummer boy at Jesus’ birth, wishing I had gold to offer but standing here with just noise. I mean, I know she’d rather have the noise over nothing, but it’s not enough.

Abby is smart, beautiful, funny and talented. She’s an accomplished dancer and is currently attending university in Hawaii.

Gah; this sounds like a job recommendation. “In conclusion, I would highly recommend Abby as a biological daughter.”

Will she see the pride behind the words? The love? The fact that I would die for our child, hers and mine? Do you think she’ll know? I just… don’t want her to wonder anymore whether Baby Bé‘s second mama loves her as deeply and truly as she does. Whether I honored the unspoken Mommy Contract to give my very soul for this child. Whether her baby became also my blood and also my bone, tied as securely as any umbilical cord ever was. Will she know, somehow? Is there a way to imbue this letter with magic to ensure it?

We are so very proud of her and the woman she’s become.

We would love to hear from you and about your family and life. Our address is enclosed. 

With love,