‘I may not know their names, but they gave me their DNA, building the unique person I am.’: International adoptee shares how she’s found peace with adoption

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“Two days before Christmas, I stared at the genetic testing email. I was too scared to open it and check the results. It’s hard to believe the test tube of spit I had mailed in seven weeks before could unlock the answers I had wanted for 20 years.

Finally, sitting next to one of my best friends, my hands shaking, I opened the results. While the genetic predisposition and ethnic makeup proved interesting, these three words jumped off my phone screen and stabbed me in the gut. 

‘No close relatives.’

young adoptee sits and holds a stuffed animal
Courtesy of Shaohannah Faith

Only adoptees who have a deep desire and longing to meet their birth parents, or know more about the circumstances surrounding their birth, understand that deep level of pain.

Let’s take it back to Montevideo, Minnesota, the hometown of Sheila Schneider. Her parents were active in foster care, taking over 75 children into their home over the course of Sheila’s childhood to adulthood. Sheila always knew she wanted to adopt, even if she didn’t get married. In college, she embarked on a summer language program in China, and despite having no knowledge of the Chinese language or retaining anything she was taught (sorry mom!), she fell in love with the Chinese people and China’s rich history and culture. And in her early thirties, when she planned to adopt, China was the obvious choice for international adoption.

Little did she know, her daughter hadn’t even been born yet, much less abandoned outside a local Nanning market. After a year in one of China’s many orphanages flooded with baby girls, she traveled to my home province accompanied by her mom, my Grandma Liz, and held me in her arms for the very first time.

adoptive mother holds her adopted daughter on her knee
Courtesy of Shaohannah Faith
adoptive mother holds her adopted daughter at her side
Courtesy of Shaohannah Faith

After our return home to Minnesota, she later married Steve, who became my father. They had four more biological children, my siblings and best friends in the world. I am very thankful they always taught me I was adopted, and despite my having no memories of my birth family, there was no doubt in my mind I was loved and accepted. We had annual playdates with other kids adopted from China, and celebrated my birthdays and Lunar New Years with Chinese food.

Chinese adoptee stands in front of a Chinese New Year display
Courtesy of Shaohannah Faith

Even so, I struggled with understanding the circumstances surrounding my birth and why my birth mom and dad would have given me up. Did they not love me? Did they struggle with a chronic or terminal illness and having a baby daughter was just too much? Or did China’s family planning policies affect their desire to have a son and I had to be sacrificed so they could try to have a boy? All questions no little girl should ever have to cry over, yet I am not alone in these thoughts. I believe all adoptees struggle with their own identity crisis, in one way or stage of life or another.

adoptee sits in her adoptive mother's lap and waves to the camera
Courtesy of Shaohannah Faith

I finally realized my identity couldn’t be in my adoption status, it had to be rooted and grounded in my faith, understanding that my God loved me even when I was struggling through depression and couldn’t find answers to my tough questions. 

After college, in 2020, I jumped at an opportunity to move across the country to work in politics just outside Washington, D.C., where I currently reside. Last Black Friday, 23 & Me ran a sale, and on an impulse I bought a kit, who’s results you already know.

I’m not gonna lie, I was torn up and broken by not being able to find any leads to my biological family. I spent the Christmas season crying over broken dreams and the realization I would likely not be able to find my biological family ever, if I couldn’t find them through a DNA testing service. I thought my adoption story ended here.

But it doesn’t.

baby photo of adoptee through international adoption
Courtesy of Shaohannah Faith

I may not find my biological parents, but they gave me life. They left me with a piece of red paper stapled to my clothes bearing my Chinese name ‘XiaZhen Guo.’ They gave me a chance to become the person I am. Their decision to leave me on the street, to be found by a police officer and later entrusted to an orphanage, shaped my destiny as well as the course my life would take.

adoptee slides down a slide on a play set
Courtesy of Shaohannah Faith
young adoptee plays on the playground
Courtesy of Shaohannah Faith

I may not know their names, but they gave me their unique DNA, building the unique person I am. Perhaps I have my dad’s nose, my mom’s love of music, or maybe my almond shaped eyes closely resemble my grandma’s. They knew they would never see their baby daughter again, yet made what I am sure was a heart wrenching choice with my best interest at heart.

adoptee plays her violin amongst flowers and greenery
Courtesy of Shaohannah Faith

Will I get a happy ending? Will I find my birth parents and get answers to all the questions I’ve asked myself since I was barely old enough to ride a bike? Maybe not.

But in my mind, I’ve found my peace. I’ve learned life sometimes hands us lemons. And that is when we pull out the gin and tonic and turn that lemon into a garnish. I am learning it is okay to grieve what I lost. To wonder about the unknowns, if my birth mom and dad are even alive. It is okay, and healthy, to mourn the loss of memories and my culture and heritage. At the same time, I can celebrate my adoption story and the unique journey I am living out.

adoptee stands with her adoptive mother, both smiling
Courtesy of Shaohannah Faith

And finally, whether you’re a parent considering adoption, in the struggles of waiting through the adoption process, an adoptive parent trying to figure out how to throw an adoption day party, or an adoptee struggling through an identity crisis, my DMs are open. Much love to you, dear reader.”

adoptee stands in front of cherry blossoms and the water
Courtesy of Shaohannah Faith

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Shaohannah Faith of Washington, D.C. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more stories like this:

‘My birth mom said, ‘I don’t know who your father is. I was dating a man while I had an affair with an attorney and a fling with a friend back then.’: Adoptee details search for birth father

‘I was the middle child of 3 and the only child placed for adoption. It was the most selfless thing my birth mom ever did.’: Adoptee reconnects with biological family, loses birth mom to addiction

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