How Mother Bridge of Love helped us find our birth-family
As babies, toddlers and teens, our twin daughters would ask me ‘why’? Why was our birth mum
unable to keep us? Why couldn’t we have come out of your tummy, mummy? Why do we have to
learn Chinese? With their growing maturity, the questions got harder to answer. We talked of
poverty, of the one child policy, of the complexity and hardship of women’s lives in China that the
girls would only understand when they were older.
We adopted Mei and Xue in 2001 at the age of nine months. They are now 15 years old and are the
best thing that ever happened to me and my husband. They have brought indescribable happiness
and joy to our lives. We have a tight bond. But, inside, I always felt that there was a mother out
there with a broken heart. It never occurred to me that there was also a dad mourning as well as
three older sisters and a younger brother.
Mother Bridge of Love (MBL) helped us with crucial elements of our visit to China. They helped plan
our route and booked hotels. They advised us to set up links with the local area by donating a library
to a local school – the `Mei & Xue library’. They advised us to be patient. To visit the village, but not
to expect too much. Not to search for the birth mother, but allow the birth mother – in time – to
come to us.
A team of MBL volunteers visited the region prior to our trip and chose a school in need of support.
Our girls come from a mountainous region in Sichuan Province. The region is rural, remote and
frequently snow-covered. Most of pupils at the school, chosen by MBL, are ‘left behind children’
who live with their grandparents as both parents work away from home in cities. The school
principal welcomed our visit, was delighted to be part of the MBL’s `Books for Kids’ Project and was
supportive of Western families researching the birth culture of their children. Moreover, at our
request, the school said we could stay in the school dormitory so that we could maximise time in the
area. There is no guest house or hotel in the village.
Before leaving New Zealand, we were all at once anxious, excited and worried. After months of
planning, we felt woefully unprepared. Who knows what would greet us in the village, where we’d
been told the girls were found? As parents, we dampened expectations, talking through what we
believed was `the twins’ story’ – that there’d been a strange woman in the area around the time of
their birth, possibly from another district, who had left the baby girls in a box beside a road, near the
One night at dinner, while discussing our forthcoming trip, Xue suddenly asked, ‘But what if we do
find our birth parents and want to live with them?’ We were all, including Xue, momentarily stunned
at the question – then burst out laughing. Of course, as parents, we reassured our girls that we
would love them to find their birth family and we would love them to love their birth family, but
certainly don’t expect it to happen! We were anxious to protect our girls from being hurt, rejected or
Key to visiting remote regions of Sichuan is translation. We knew this from bitter experience. Not only did we need a good Chinese-English speaker, but someone who speaks Sichuan dialect
(very different from Mandarin) and, critically, someone who is sensitive, understands rural life and can
guide us in the local Chinese culture. Mother Bridge of Love found Fia, a young film student currently living in Beijing, who had recently volunteered to help them. She was perfect. She proved to be an essential guide, an advisor and most wonderful translator for us on this journey. She will always be in our memories for guiding us gently through this precious time in our lives. Mother Bridge of Love also produced a second volunteer: `Amy’, a bright thirteen year-old, with fluent English, who was to be an enthusiastic and supportive companion to our girls as they bravely embarked on this journey.
The combination of the MBL `Books for Kids’ project, and MBL teaming up with a local charity,was a great introduction to China. The local charity accompanied us to the village. It had been a long journey. Days on planes, in buses, hours on windy mountain roads and then we finally arrived.The village primary school was as remote, cold and ill-equipped as we’d expected. But it was also full of happy, hardy, children, who welcomed us with shy glances, smiles and, the occasional whoop of laughter. Dedicated teachers hastily organised an impromptu ceremony in the school yard,where the MBL books, school heaters, pens and school backpacks (the latter items donated by the local charity) were presented. The ceremony was recorded on omnipresent smart phones and uploaded by locals, to social media. Everyone was curious about Xue and Mei. Where did they live? How had they been adopted? People gathered around us looking, nodding and talking in excited voices.
It wasn’t until we walked down the road that afternoon that we realised word spreads superfast in
remote, rural China. Everyone seemed to know us. They’d seen us on `We Chat’ (the social media
channel). They knew we were New Zealanders and that our twins were from the area. As we walked,
a motorcyclist sought us out to tell us his relatives had adopted-out twin girls in the 1990s. He was
crestfallen to find our girls were born in 2000 and therefore unconnected to his story. A car full of
people then stopped and played us a video on their phone of the school ceremony. Things were
moving fast and felt out of control.
As we walked into the village, it became clear that we were, indeed, known. A group of people
invited us in to drink water. We were hot after walking for nearly an hour, but we were hesitant to
accept. We did so when we heard them talk about New Zealanders – we wanted to find out more.
One of the men told us he was the village Director and that he’d asked a young girl to come down to
see whether she looked like our twins. We were stunned and hastily explained that we were simply
there to support a school library and for our girls to get to know their birth region. We knew that
people were fined for having too many children, for abandonment, and we didn’t want to cause
anyone problems. The director told us not to worry, he was a relative of the birth family and the one
child policy was over and no one would be blamed. No one would be fined.
Moments later, a young woman arrived on the back of a motorbike. Shy, high cheek-boned, her
features strikingly similar to Mei, we were rendered speechless. The young girl began to weep softly.
We comforted her, telling her not to worry as we wished her family no harm. She said her mother
and father were at home crying. They couldn’t come down to meet us as it was far and they didn’t
have a car. She had been five when our girls were born and remembered their birth.
We went back to the primary school dormitory to try to sleep. However, our translator Fia got a late
night call from the girls’ birth mum asking us to come to her home. Everything was moving too fast
to digest. We declined as it was late and dark and the roads treacherous. Plus we didn’t have a car.
But the next morning the birth mum and dad had got someone to drive them to meet us. We spent
the next three days with the family including an overnight stay at their house.
The birth parents’ story is one of extreme poverty; restrictions imposed by the one child policy;
hiding from Family Planning enforcers for having too many children; and aggressive family pressure
to have a son. Our girls were the fourth pregnancy. Three girls preceded them. No one helped their
mother give birth and she had no way to care for two more babies in a family that was already
deemed (by the authorities) to be illegal and which was struggling to get adequate food and shelter.
Eventually a son was born – now eleven years of age. The whole family knew of our twins who were
born, at an auspicious time, on an auspicious day, in the Year of the Dragon (eight Chinese
characters of good luck).
There was much crying, much heartache, as well as happiness and rejoicing when we met. Their
twins had come home. Our girls slept with their sisters and despite the language barrier, laughed
and giggled throughout the night. Their birth mum and dad told us their stories which made us weep.
We ate, slept, talked and hugged – all with the support of our sensitive translator, Fia. At the same
time, the family cat gave birth to six kittens under the stairs.
Our girls are now communicating through social media with their sisters and birth parents and
inspired to improve their basic Mandarin. We want to get to know our new family. We feel
extremely fortunate to have found the girls’ birth family and know this is often impossible. We had
the double advantage of identical twins being born in a remote village where families are stable and
memories long. But we hope our experience will give some encouragement to others interested in
Time will tell what comes of this. It may not be easy from here, but we will do our best to navigate
this new journey. One thing is for sure, though – we now know and can understand ‘why’. This will
help our girls ‘move on’ and create their lives as Chinese Kiwis who have two families; two mums, two dads, five siblings and two sets of grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. Fractured hearts are
beginning to heal. As our girls explain…
“..Finding our birth family and knowing that they love us, that they’ve missed us, that they’ve
thought of us, and welcomed us into the family is one of the best feelings in the world. I love them
very much and I hope to spend more time with them as they all get older”… Xue Coates
“… All along in my mind there was a feeling that our birth family were out there. Even when Dad
kept telling us that it is most unlikely that we would find them. I somehow knew that we would
find them one day. Knowing that I have other sisters and a brother is a cool feeling. Since finding
them, I feel like a part of myself has been found. I love my birth family very much and I will always
think of them and keep them in my heart. When I grow up I want to go back to China and spend
time with them and help them…” Mei Coates