Archive for the ‘First Moms’ Category

Ghost Mother

Reposted from Misplaced Baggage

Amorphous by sume

*Má didn’t exist
before my fourteenth birthday.

Unable to accept that my blood
flowed in another direction,

my American mother never spoke of Việt Nam,

but the maternal compass
that had first mapped my veins
left markers that kept Sài Gòn
firmly imprinted in the corner of my eye.

Forgive me, Má, for letting over thirty years pass
before I lit incense for your ngày gió.

I have nothing of substance
to entice her back among the living,
only my words as I rewrite her

into existence

Ghost mother…imaginary mother…elusive mother

There were times when I’d picture Má as a spirit watching over me. A faceless apparition made of vapor and a child’s imagination, Má was a source of comfort and mystery. As I grew older, I remade her several times adding details; long dark hair and eyes like my own. Still, despite my vivid imagination, Má refused to reveal herself in her entirety. Perhaps I wasn’t nearly as creative as I’d thought.

Not knowing anything about my Vietnamese parents or the circumstance under which I’d been adopted left too much room for speculation. Confused and disturbed by so many unknowns, I sought to fill in the blanks. Just as I’d created and re-created Má, I wove intricate scenarios for my adoption.

Born January 1st, 1970, I was adopted and arrived in the US in July. My parents divorced in September of the same year. I don’t think I consciously associated the events at the time. All I knew was that I seemed to have a problem with losing parents and didn’t understand why. Because Má was such a mystery, I fluctuated between longing for her and being angry with her depending on whether I thought she’d died or abandoned me.

I’ve yet to explore why I put so much emphasis on Má and thought so little of Ba. Perhaps it was because my mom provided a constant reminder or maybe it was a manifestation of the traditional gender roles I’d learned. There is also the possibility that it was because as a daughter, I simply wanted to know my mother. Besides, fathers were inconstant beings that came and went every other weekend and holidays. Further still, some part of me feels that Má was just easier. Ba may not have been Ba at all, but Dad, 爸爸 or even 아빠 .

According to my dad, my foster mother lived in Cho Lon, and he’d had gotten the impression that I’d been born there. How he had gotten the impression that I had been born in Sài Gòn’s Chinese district is still not clear. Given Dad’s habit of revising my adoption story, I can’t be sure of anything. He’s honed re-writing my history, including stories of Má into a fine art – mistress, wife, prostitute, dead, probably dead, possibly alive, unknown.

Ghost mother…voiceless mother…unreal mother

I wonder if she ever pictured me growing up in her mind. Did she see my face in other children, other daughters? If Má’s alive, does she consider me as a ghost child? The thought of someone stripping away my substance feels demeaning, dehumanizing. I am here. I am real. I’m alive.

But Má and I have no way of knowing that about the other, do we? Some part of me knows I must except the possibility she tried her best to put me out of her mind. War and poverty can make people stretch their principles to the breaking point. Like my veteran adoptive father, perhaps she too, just wanted to forget the past – and me along with it. I understand this. I accept this. Experience has taught me that possibilities can become a burden of truth.

In the end, it’s only for Má to say. Therein lies my dilemma as I “rewrite her into existence.” Dad and I are both guilty of creating and re-creating Má at our own convenience. For dad, she was a tool for manipulation. For me, she was both a refuge and a whipping post for my rage. But Má is just Má, and I don’t know who that is. What that means for me is that I must be willing to accept without passing judgment that all things are possible.

I can’t judge on a possibility or even a probability. Who am I to judge anyway?

Chapter four of Jeanne Marie Laskas’ book, “growing girls” is entitled “meeting the ghost-mother.” After assessing the seeming malnourished condition of her newly adopted daughter, Laskas questions the treatment Sasha received at her orphanage. She goes on to write that she tried “to sympathize, to understand the ghost-mother and all the ghost nannies,” but that “forgiveness was so far away now.”

Laskas later goes on to describe Sasha’s lack of responsiveness. She then expresses her feelings about there being “something wrong” with “our baby” going so far as to place blame on “those monsters.” Who are the “monsters” she refers to? The ghost-nannies? The ghost mother? China as a society?

Surprisingly, I can sympathize with Laskas – not with her sentiments but with her seeming need to ask, “How could you let this happen?” I posed similar questions when thinking about my own situation, “What have you done? How could you?” But exactly who was I asking and upon whom could I rightfully place the blame? I sought to forgive Má, but who said I was in a position to forgive anyone?

That’s the convenient thing about ghost people. Without substance, without an independent voice, they become whatever we need them to be. We can read stories of others in similar situations. We may even understand their circumstances on a personal level, but the results will more than likely be the same. Without all the things that make them equal in their humanity, they become little more than amorphous puppets.

We don’t even have to feel guilty about it because without substance, they aren’t real.

Ghost mother…my mother…Má

I can never rewrite or remake my mother as the person she was or might have become. The best I can do is place emphasis on the significance of her existence, hushing the voices of those who would presume to speak for her. The inner one is the hardest to quiet. It’s the voice of longing – the need to have my questions answered, to know Má, to understand her, to love and be loved by her.

*The wisps of smoke hang suspended
before an alter that’s still craving a face.
The empty picture frame holds nothing
but questions and laminated adoption documents

The need to fill a void can be overwhelming when dealing with so many significant unknowns. It has stretched my imagination to its limits, but I refuse to repeat the mistake Dad and I previously made. The emptiness isn’t for me or anyone to fill. It’s a space reserved only for Má no matter what that may mean.

*exerpts from The Feast of First Mourning.


Read Full Post »

Via Inter-Country Adoptee Support Network (ICASN)

Are you my Mother?

SBS Series Seeks Intercountry Adoptee Participants

Our Sydney-based production company, Becker Entertainment, is currently making 3 x one-hour documentaries for SBS Television about inter-country adoption.

We are looking for someone who feels a profound need to try and find out more about themselves and who struggles on some level with their sense of identity as a result of their adoption. They may or may not have had a happy adoptive experience. They may or may not have encountered racism.

We will cover the travel costs for our candidate to fly back to their birth country and stay for approximately a week to ten days while they re-visit the orphanage they once lived in, experience the sights and sounds of their country of origin and search for their birth mother.

We are interested in accompanying someone on their journey back to Korea, India, Thailand, China or Africa. We already have two other participants (and their family members) returning to Romania and Sri Lanka.

Although we would prefer to follow someone who has never been back to their country of birth, we would also like to hear from people who have already been back to their country of birth but who have yet to meet their birth mother. The participant must live in Australia and have spent their childhood here.

Our production schedule kicks off next February and we expect to film between February and May 2009 but we are looking for candidates now!

Some candidates may already have located their birth mother’s whereabouts and made initial contact but have not met her yet. Others may go on a journey that does not lead them to their birth mother but perhaps uncovers siblings they never knew they had. Some searches may prove successful, others unsuccessful, despite the full dossier of information that our candidate has gathered together.

We are also keen to film our candidate prior to the trip so that we can get to know them and find out why the journey is so crucial.  The adoptee will tell their own story and take us on their journey. Our stance is non-judgemental and we are aiming to present the personal, political, social and psychological issues that inter-country adoption raises for all concerned.

We will film our participant as he/she embarks on their search and we want to give as honest as account as possible of the complex emotions that come up, whether the individual finds their birth family or not.  If they do, we would like to be able to film the birth family, although we understand that this will need to be negotiated with the family or birth mother and we certainly wouldn’t film them without their permission.

Part of the brief of our series is to explore the wider issues around inter-country adoption too so, for example, the way Korea views unmarried mothers and the attitudes towards returning adoptees is of interest to us too.

We will also be interviewing our participant’s adoptive family to find out how the adoption process was for them and to get a greater sense of our participant’s background so its important that members of the adoptive family are supportive of the documentary too and willing to participate in it.

If you’d like to find out more for yourself or if you know someone who you think might be interested, please give me a call or drop me an email and we can talk further.

Contact : Dominique Pile
Becker Entertainment
Direct Line : (61) 2 84251127
Switch: : (61) 2 9438 3377
Email : dominiquep[at]beckers.com.au

Read Full Post »

An old photo of Hien (Mary Mustard Reed) with her mother

Part I

MORNING READ: As a little girl, Mary Mustard Reed was sent by her mother from Vietnam to America. As a woman, she’s written about making her way home.


Mary Mustard Reed is a grown woman looking for her mother.

She is in a car driving from Little Saigon to the office of the American Red Cross in Santa Ana. It all feels unreal.

Reed times her drive to 601 N. Golden Circle Dr. where the Holocaust and War Victims Tracing Information Center is situated.

Exactly 21 minutes, she counts nervously.

She looks at a faded, wrinkled piece of paper with her mom’s name and address written on it: Nguyen Thi Thanh, 376 Phan Dan Phung.

She clutches in her hand a gold treble clef necklace her mom gave her as a parting gift and a black-and-white passport photo of her 7-year-old self – a baby-faced girl with black hair and deep almond eyes.

That was Hien. Little Hien, who giggled, danced and smiled when her mom grabbed her and held her close to her heart, showering her with kisses or singing her a sweet lullaby.

Where is that Hien now?

Reed has asked herself that question much of her adult life.

Reed doesn’t know who she is looking for now – her mom or that little girl who left that little brick house in pre-communist Saigon 29 years ago.


Part II

A daughter finds her mother and then her voice

Finding her mother after 29 years of separation made Mary Mustard Reed dizzy with happiness.

The Vietnamese-born, American-raised pharmaceutical rep had found her mother, Dao Thi Thanh, and seven half-siblings. They were alive and thriving in Paris.

But the discovery also left her feeling strange and emotionally exhausted as she attempted to communicate with a woman who had raised her until age 7, but whom she had not seen in nearly three decades.

Their initial reunion, at LAX on Sept. 3, 1993 was powerful. But once they got beyond the hugs, tears and profuse I-love-you-s, mother and daughter realized how different they’d become.

Dao spoke only Vietnamese and French, very little English. Reed spoke mostly English and broken French.

“I’m Christian, she is Buddhist,” Reed says. “The differences in language, culture and religion were just too overwhelming for us to handle.”

Reed didn’t even know how to cook rice, a Vietnamese staple. She watched the shocked expression on Dao’s face when she opened a box of Uncle Ben’s. Reed, who had been sent to America by Dao, had forgotten the aroma of nuoc mam, a pungent sauce she had enjoyed as a child…


Related: Oceans Apart: A Voyage of International Adoption

An almost fatal bout of small pox. A sobbing farewell to her mother at Saigon’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport. A traumatic flight to the United States with adoptive parents. An abusive childhood filled with neglect and emotional turmoil. Yet, despite these agonizing upheavals, within the lonely child lives an unwavering quest for survival.

Is this the fictitious plot of a best-selling novel? “Certainly not,” says Mary Mustard Reed, author of Oceans Apart: A Voyage of International Adoption. “This is the uncensored story of my fight to overcome and triumph as one of the first Vietnamese children-if not the first-to be adopted in the USA in 1964.”

Beaten and forced to grow up on her own, the author dramatically details every aspect of her harrowing journey from barefoot toddler living in an unfurnished one-room hut to adopted daughter of a nasty, heartless woman-Margaret Mustard, who, from day one, never tried to hide her hatred for Mary.

“Festering in Margaret’s mind,” says Ms. Reed, “was the belief that her husband, Sam, agreed to the adoption because of his ‘special fondness’ for my young, beautiful mother, Yvonne.” Filled with jealousy, Margaret used physical and mental violence to vent her anger, forcing young Mary to negate her Vietnamese legacy.

“This is a big issue in international adoptions,” says Ms. Reed. “The United States handles over 20,000 foreign adoptions a year. I felt it was necessary to write Oceans Apart as a cautionary vehicle to inform parents of the importance of accepting the cultural heritage of their adopted children by encouraging them to keep who they are intact.”


Read Full Post »