A Letter To My Child’s Birth Mother

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“Due to my difficult situation, I cannot raise my child.”

This was the short note my child’s birth mother left with him, along with a bag of clothing, at a Vietnamese medical clinic back in 2008 (he was just hours old, with his umbilical cord still attached).

This note consumed me. Before I flew from Toronto to Vietnam to meet my son face-to-face and bring him home with me, I started taking Vietnamese lessons. At the time, I asked my teacher to look at the scribbled note so that I could try to picture my son’s birth mother in my mind. Was she young? Uneducated? What was her story? You can tell so much about a person by their handwriting.

Many people might feel disgust at the thought of a woman leaving her newborn baby on a doorstep and walking away. But I feel compassion, empathy and tremendous hurt for her. As a mother myself, I can imagine how much grief she had to overcome and the guilt that she must feel every January 17– the day she gave birth.

It’s for this reason that I decided to write a letter to my son’s birth mother, and it was important to me that it be in her own tongue. Of course, it’s highly unlikely that she’ll ever read it, given that nobody knows her true identity, but I wanted to thank her anyway. I wanted this woman to know that I understood. And I wanted her to know that the little boy she left behind will one day understand, too.

I spent months writing my letter in Vietnamese. I wanted my thoughts to be precisely translated. I have a picture of myself sitting on the 16-hour flight and re-writing the letter for the umpteenth time so that every diacritic, written above and below the vowels, was perfect.

Once I arrived in Vietnam, I met up with Thuy, my liaison who’d spend the next two weeks facilitating the final stages of adoption. She taught me so much about the country’s incredible cuisine, culture and the many different tribes. She passionately spoke about the babies that she visited at the orphanages each day and gave me clear insight as to why they were there.

Infant abandonment is a big problem in Vietnam. Traditional values are strong and unwed mothers, usually very young, face discrimination and are rejected by society and by their own families. There is a strong sense of shame and they feel that they have no choice but to labor alone and walk away. It is standard practice for the authorities to post announcements of the abandoned child and search for relatives for 30 days. In the case of my son, Asher, nobody stepped forward.

Abandonment is a difficult word for me. I am somewhat reluctant to talk about the circumstances surrounding my son’s adoption because I feel that it is his story to tell, not mine. But I did want to share this letter because when women give up their children, there’s always a reason – and it’s important for adoptees to understand this. On a personal level, I wrote this letter to include in my son’s life book. I want him to know that I understand that his birth mother did what she needed to do. I can only hope that he’ll understand one day, too.

To my son’s birth mother,

I have been thinking about you from the moment my husband and I decided to adopt a baby boy from Viet Nam.

I wanted to write you a letter in the hopes that some day you will return to the orphanage.

Your baby – and my new son – has an older brother who is anxious and excited for him to come home. He has two loving parents who are committed to their children and to each other. We live in a city of many cultures and are fortunate to have all that we need.

Although our son will be living far from Viet Nam, we promise to teach him about his homeland and show him how to be proud of his heritage.

I can’t imagine how difficult it was to make this choice. Please understand that I respect your decision and understand the many different reasons why women place their babies for adoption.

I want to assure you that he will always know that your decision was made out of love. We will never forget you. You will always live in our hearts.

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for this precious gift of life.

A Grateful Mother

(Photo: Yuri Arcurs/Shutterstock)