Questioning My Identity
“‘I hear lots of noise from the traffic. Stuffy air blows past my face and the conversations of hundreds of people walking by. I am gone, I have no consciousness. Comfortable and warmly packed, I lie like a caterpillar at a fence in front of the police station. All I hear are my thoughts and a tunnel sound of everything around me. Time seems to stand still. Where am I? Who am I? And what’s all that noise? Quiet, I lay wrapped in canvases. Left helpless and alone, like a newborn baby. What will become of me later? Where am I going to live? More importantly, how do I get to a safe place now? Slowly, my eyes, which have just discovered the world, close. I fall asleep peacefully, quietly and alone, in a dream where no one can hurt me.’
This is a letter I wrote to myself on June 13, 2015. It was just my imagination because I don’t really know what happened. My name is Mei Hua Steenwinkel. This Chinese name was given to me by my adoptive parents. I was adopted from the province Anhui, city Hefei of China to the Netherlands when I was 3 years old. To be honest, I was never super interested in my adoption. My environment was very open and I didn’t feel different than anybody else. The curiosity about my adoption started when I got older and people kept asking me what I thought about adoption. While adoption for me is very normal, I don’t know any different than this. As I got older and went to big cities with friends to meet, I experienced racism. Things were shouted to me, while I thought, ‘I am not Chinese, I am Dutch!’ This situation was super confusing for me, because who am I actually? Am I Chinese or Dutch… or am I Chinese with Dutch thoughts?
Let me take you through the head of an adoptee. I became the daughter of two Dutch people. The orphanage told my adoptive parents I was abandoned at a fence, found by a police officer, and brought to the orphanage. For a few months, I lived with a Chinese foster family but after a year, most of the young children are sent back to the orphanage. I grew up there for 3 years. The orphanage gave me the name Shen Hanfang. When my adoptive parents got the news they could start their adoption journey, they sent the orphanage a disposable camera and a little toy rat. They asked the orphanage if they could take some pictures of the children, especially of me. They did this so I would have some pictures of myself for later, and for themselves of course.
Life As An Adoptee
December 13, 1999, was the day I met my new parents, two totally different-looking people who were supposed to raise me. This day was emotional for my adoptive parents but strange for me as a child. I can’t remember anything about it. Although I was relatively old for an adoptee, adoptive parents often want a super young child. What will I have, though? I think insecurity, alienation, and sadness. My adoptive father mentioned anger, but I don’t think so. In my opinion, you develop real anger later. I would rather call it nescience for the new situation. It also took a while before I really felt comfortable, which is normal, because who is completely themselves at the first meeting? My start in life just went different than most, but at the same time, I am not one of few adoptees at all, but one of many, spread across the world. I am not a talker, and I would rather write my thoughts down. I somehow feel shame when I talk about my feelings.
People who really know me know I have a very positive attitude towards life. I work hard for what I want to achieve, and I also like to be alone sometimes, but this does not immediately make me an outsider. I’m not very well known for my insecurity, but I certainly had it often in my youth. In 2007, my adoptive parents and I went back to China. It was a vacation to see where my roots came from, but when I think of it now, I was maybe too young for this. I can’t remember very much about it and if I did it now, I would feel and experience it so different from what I felt back at the time. I feel good when I’m in Asia, but in China, I also felt partly uncomfortable. I had expected, with my Asian appearance, I would not feel very different, but I did. I realized how European I had become.
In addition, I was sometimes approached spontaneously, and I felt discomfort and shame. I wanted to walk away. I was disappointed I could not speak or understand the language. It also made me insecure. ‘Will they talk about me? Will they think I’m strange because I don’t speak the language my appearance belongs to?’ It feels like a part of yourself is missing.
Growing up, my adoptive mom and I have gone through many ups and downs. At the age of 16, I decided to live full-time at my adoptive father’s place. This made the bond of me and my adoptive father stronger and I feel so blessed with a father like him. Although he isn’t a talker, you can tell from someone’s behavior how much they love you.
Longing To Find Biological Family
The thought of finding my biological parents started around my adolescence. I just never dared to say this because I was afraid of the reactions of others. I was afraid it would not work because I have no information and I was afraid of the truth that may emerge. Besides this, I think hardly anyone expected me to ever do this because I always said I didn’t want to. I know China is a strict country and it used to be forbidden to give up your child. What consequences would it have if I started a search? So why should I try? I have a good life here – I have my friends, I am studying, I have a part-time job and have already made some wonderful travels with the people I love and have loved.
I became curious about my roots started when the first lockdown came to the Netherlands. Luckily, I have friends and I love the life I am living. But I couldn’t help but think, ‘What if I lose everything? What if my adoptive parents die? What if I lose contact with the friends I have? I will have no one and will be all alone again.’ Truth is… I can’t accept to lose me, the only one I have to stand close to is myself. If you lose yourself in life, you will lose it all. I’ve always wanted to be accepted, to be liked by others but, it’s not about wanting to be accepted by others. I must accept myself for who I have become.
I still struggle sometimes with my identity. Most of the time, I am curious about who my biological parents are, if I have siblings, whose eyes and nose I have, if they think about me, especially when it’s my birthday, and if I am missed by them. It’s so strange to realize my birthday is an estimated day. They don’t even know what day I was born. Also, do you realize some adoptees don’t have baby pictures of themselves? I only have pictures of me from when I was around 3 years old.
I am glad I became friends with a Chinese girl. She is a ‘real Asian.’ People around me sometimes joked with me I am a fake Chinese. I used to laugh about these jokes, but deep down, it kind of hurt. I didn’t choose to be adopted. But my Asian friend accepts me the way I am, even though I don’t speak Chinese. She treats me like a normal friend and shows me things about Chinese culture, which I super like and enjoy. I am now embracing my roots.
In August of 2020, I decided to take the first step to find my biological parents. I bought a DNA kit. A few months later, I had a search poster made. My search was in the news in China and I got in touch with the caretaker from the orphanage. I started an Instagram page where I have been posting every step of the journey. I also share a lot of thoughts going through my head as an adoptee. Some adoptees will recognize themselves, others might not. I did this because I found it hard to start. I didn’t know anyone who had started a search for their biological parents and there was not much information on the internet or one platform that gave advice.
I hope with my page, other adoptees have something to stick to, a kind of guide when they want to start a search. I don’t know yet what I hope to gain when I will find them. I want to have some answers, like the reason why they gave me up. While the truth remains unanswered, I have no idea what the truth is and it frustrates me people often already have prejudices when they do not know me at all.
Starting this journey, I have come into contact with many other adoptees. Now I am very aware every adoptee handles his or her adoption differently. I just want to make a 180-degree turn, letting people know not everything an adoptee goes through has negative consequences. Life is not easy, it’s okay to fall back and withdraw sometimes, but always get up with your head held high. Write about your emotions if you are bad at talking. This often helps me when I am emotionally too full. I am glad I have become the woman I am now. Of course, I still have a lot to learn, but I think people are so busy with surviving they forget to live.
I am certainly grateful for my adoption, but I find it difficult when people say I SHOULD be grateful for my adoption. I understand if this sounds confusing for non-adoptees, but I think an adoptee will understand this opinion of mine. I hope with my story adoptees who find it difficult to deal with their feelings learn from my journey it is okay to express your feelings. You do not have to be ashamed. If you are an adoptee and you would like to talk about your feelings with an adoptee, feel free to send me a message.
Please don’t be a prisoner of your own thoughts! The only answers that are right are the answers you get from the source that has answers, not from the people who think they always have an answer. I think I grew up in a different way than most, but at the same time, I was able to be just as much as a child as any other non-adoptee. I got a new chance and got opportunities I probably wouldn’t have had in China. Everything is still a question, I can’t wait to get my questions answered.
I am an open book and I want to share my life. If you are more interested in my thoughts about adoption, how I dealt with them, and how I live my life, you can find my Instagram. I would love to hear your thoughts or to talk about different opinions from many perspectives.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Mei Hua Steenwinkel of the Netherlands. You can follow her journey on Instagram and check out similar stories on Instagram here. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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