“Some might think my story began when I was found on the steps of an orphanage in Hunan, China when I was only 2 days old. How did this happen? Well, the One-Child Policy and gender preference for males over females (sons took care of their parents, daughters left to take care of their in-laws) left many families in China left with a hard decision. If they chose to keep their firstborn daughter, they would be left with no one to take care of them as they got older. If they chose to keep a second child, the child would either be a secret, they would be forced to pay unreasonable fees or have a child and then quickly leave the baby at an orphanage and hope for a better life.
Well, my birth parents went with that option. Growing up, my birth story wasn’t like the ones my friends all had. I never knew where I was born, if I was actually from Hunan, or what my biological family looks like. Instead of dwelling on the unknowns, I like to say my story starts when I was 9 months old and adopted into an American family. My parents, Bob and Kelly Shennett, got married, and during the earlier years of their marriage, had no interest in having children. It wasn’t until my dad became a Christian they considered starting a family. Unfortunately, my mom found out she couldn’t conceive, so they began to look into the adoption process.
While they had always considered adoption, they were not sure where to adopt from until my aunt shared a documentary with them. The documentary focused on all the babies in China waiting to be adopted. Immediately, my parents felt this was where they were being called to adopt. As they began the adoption process, they learned about the fees associated with adoption. At the time, my parents did not have enough money to cover the adoption. My dad’s job offered him a bonus to move to New York City and run their new flagship store. My dad, ecstatic about the opportunity, shared with his boss how the bonus would help cover some of the adoption fees. His boss then asked how much the total amount was, and changed my dad’s bonus to completely cover the adoption cost.
While my dad was working in New York City, my mom would commute from Philadelphia to go visit. During her visits, she would use this time to write letters to her future daughter. One day stood out because she found out she was pregnant with my sister. Did you know the day she wrote to me about my sister was the exact day I was born? Fast forward in time and my dad is traveling to China to go get me while my mom stayed back since my sister, Nicole, was born just 2 months earlier. When my dad and I arrived back in the United States, we had family and friends waiting to greet us. Everyone was wearing American flag t-shirts and waving American flags to welcome me home. That’s the real day that my story begins.
Growing up, my adoption was never hidden from me. We celebrated my ‘Gotcha’ Day (the day I came home) and I had a plethora of adoption-related books my grandmother always gave to me. My first memory of realizing I looked different compared to my family was when I was around 2 or 3 years old. I was riding in the car with my mom and sister and asked why I had black hair and black eyes while they had blue eyes and blonde hair. Up until then, it never occurred to me I was different. I think a lot of adoptees can relate to this feeling. Even though I am loved and never made to feel like an outsider, it’s an internal feeling that never quite seems to go away. It’s the feeling of being displaced regardless of the group you’re in.
While my family never made me feel different, it was comments from strangers that made me feel self-conscious about my adoption identity. I grew up hearing comments like, ‘Is this Nicole’s friend?’ ‘Wow, your sister looks so much like your mom and dad!’ or ‘Wait, you’re adopted?’ People — especially children — never knew how to politely ask about my adoption, and over time, it negatively impacted my outlook on my adoption. I carried this feeling of being displaced throughout my childhood, and it resulted in a lot of bitterness towards my family, birth parents, and God.
I was bitter I wasn’t able to grow up with my birth family. I was angry the Chinese government didn’t give my birth parents any other choices. I was angry God would allow it to happen. Let me be clear, I was not angry about my adoption, I was angry for the other reasons that led up to my adoption. Now, growing up, my family was heavily involved in the church, and I knew every Bible verse and church answer. But, I wasn’t a Christian myself. It wasn’t until I attended a YoungLife camp during my freshman year of high school I truly heard the gospel. The whole week it felt like I was hearing a whole new message, and when we were sent out to spend some time alone, I felt God’s presence. For the first time, I felt peace. I felt the anger and bitterness I had held in my heart for so long start to melt away. I had a new outlook on my adoption and began to see the beauty and complexity that comes with adoption.
One of my favorite high school teachers encouraged me to use my writing skills to start blogging about my adoption. As I started sharing my story, I started connecting with other adoptees and began to see I wasn’t alone in my thoughts and feelings. I found an online adoptee community and my blog was spread throughout the adoptive community. Now, it has grown to have readers from over 53 countries.
I always wanted to visit my birth country, but it never quite seemed like the right time. I also knew, emotionally, I was not prepared for the journey. I also knew I wanted to search for my birth parents, but I didn’t know how and if I truly wanted to start the search. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school my dad was offered an opportunity to move abroad to China for a new role with Apple. It felt like the Lord was telling me, it’s time. So my first summer in college, my sister and I went to China for three months. That was honestly one of the hardest things I had ever done.
I was not prepared for the culture shock and the shock of being an adoptee in China. See, the government hid the number of babies that were adopted out of the country. Many Chinese were under the impression the only babies in the orphanage had some type of disability. Instead, it was millions of babies that were either abandoned or killed. They also didn’t realize there are many Chinese-Americans who don’t speak the language. Those 3 months were very frustrating because even though I finally ‘fit-in’ looks-wise, I was removed by cultural differences. I also started searching for my birth parents while visiting. I was able to do DNA testing with two families, but I was not able to find my birth parents at that time. I’m still searching for them, but I’m at peace with where I am.
I want other adoptees to know adoption is a journey, and that journey is personal to every single person. Your feelings are validated, and you don’t need to share the same feelings other adoptees have. Searching for your birth family is your personal decision and no one should question your motivation and reasoning. I also wish I knew how many adoptee communities there are on social media that connects you with adoptees around the world. I’ve found some amazing friends and I’m grateful for all of their insights and support. If you’re an adoptee, join those communities on Facebook and Instagram, you’re not alone.
To adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents, please know the importance of letting your children discover their birth culture. Know adoption should not be a topic of shame. It should be celebrated and honored. Adoption is not a one-time event. It can affect the smallest aspects of the adoptee’s life. What I mean to say is adoption will play a role in your adoptee’s outlook on life. No matter the perspective, love, and support your adoptee. Show them what they experienced is valid and important to you. Remember, adoption is a combination of loss and love.
So where am I now? I graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Memphis with a BA in Communications, and am now working as a remote Marketing Specialist. I’m using my marketing skills to bring more awareness to what adoption is, and what adoption is like from the point of view of adoptees. I hate media negatively portrays what adoption is and often only emphasizes the adoptive parents’ voices rather than the adoptees. While I’m still writing my blog, it has taken the back burner since I have newer projects to pursue. I’ve also started building up my other platforms like my Instagram and TikTok. I eventually would love to publish a children’s book, and perhaps a book of my poems. I’m grateful for every opportunity I have to raise awareness about adoption.
To me, my adoption is what made me who I am. It brought me an amazing and supportive family. Adoption helped me see how God adopted us into his own family. Adoption is messy, complex, and never straightforward, but beauty can be found.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Taylor RuiPing Shennett from Memphis, TN. You can follow her journey on Instagram, TikTok, and her blog. 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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