For as long as I can remember, my adoption story has been an integral part of how I describe myself to others.
Growing up, I heard countless retellings of how I was found only a few days old abandoned on a busy bridge near Guangzhou, a city in Guangdong Province in southern China. My parents recalled details that we feasibly had no way to confirm were true: that a police officer took me to a local orphanage where women called “aunties” watched over me until my parents arrived to take me to my new home in the United States.
Somewhere along the line, the circumstances of my birth and subsequent abandonment were attributed to China’s one-child policy, a government initiative introduced in 1979 to slow the country’s rapidly growing population rate. Many families were strictly limited to having one child, and those that refused to comply faced punishments that ranged from fines to forced sterilization or abortions.
On Friday, after decades of operating under the one-child policy, the Chinese government announced that the nation will now allow couples to have two children. And while part of me rejoices for those who are finally able to fulfill dreams of raising a larger family, as a rejected child of a family who could not afford to keep me, I know that any sort of policy like this affects individuals in irreversible ways.
Following the government’s announcement, I have read countless op-eds about the political, economic and societal effects — both good and bad — this policy revision is set to have on China. And while I am in no position to comment on the validity of many of these arguments, as someone whose life has been shaped by this policy, I implore others to not forget the personal impacts these decisions have on individuals and families across the globe.
My personal connection to such a wide-reaching policy has been the subject of countless history class speeches, Common App essays and “about me” icebreakers. I have never been ashamed of telling others about the non-traditional start to my life, yet sharing my story again and again has not diminished my nagging self-conscious fear that I do not fit snugly into either my birth or adopted culture. It has not filled the spot in my heart that remains empty when I picture my birth mother looking at me one last time before deciding to send me away to what she hoped was a better life. It has not eased the indescribable sadness that still occurs when I picture my birth family and know that I will never have the chance to meet them.
Twenty years ago, I was one of 13 girls placed in the loving arms of parents who had traveled around the globe to meet their long-awaited “bundles of joy.” For these parents, this was one of the happiest days of their lives. But with these happy memories come sad ones as well. Twenty years ago, I was one of 13 girls whose mothers, only days after giving birth, were forced to say goodbye to their children forever.
Even though it has now been eradicated, China’s one-child policy remains an important part of who I am. The ability of Chinese families to now have two children will not reunite me with my birth family, nor any of the other orphans displaced because of this policy, and this is just something we will have to live with.
Yet it is because of this policy that I am here today, surrounded by loving family and friends, and for that I am truly grateful.