The results are in.
My mind is scattered, preoccupied, unfocused. More than usual. Excitement, angst, and bittersweet emotions burble, flitter, and flutter in my whole system. Why? Because it has been less than 72 hours since I received my DNA results. And, I have hit the jackpot.
As a child and adult, I had asked my adopted parents about the circumstances of my adoption. After they passed, I had asked their friends, my father’s secretaries, tried searching the Hong Kong database for records from an age where there were no computers, no internet, no talk about adoptees looking for their parents. I came up with the same vague and inconsistent details that did nothing to bring me closer to the truth.
So, I had no expectations, about a month ago, when I spat into that test tube and sent the box back to 23 and Me. I had only hopes, albeit somewhat high ones, that I might find a second or third cousin. After all, I thought, what are the chances that a close relative, who knew my parents, would take a DNA test and take it with the same company? And, yet I discovered a first cousin, and saw grainy, black and white photos of my biological mother and father, and I now have the story of the first four years of my life revealed to me.
My DNA results came back a few days ago and showed that I had a first cousin, who shared grandparents with me, living in the United Kingdom. I sent a message, via 23 and Me, to the cousin named “I”, explaining I was adopted and looking for information on my family. I went to bed telling no one about the results, or me starting correspondence. It was hard enough for me to stay grounded and objective in this process, managing any potentially “good” or “bad” news, without having to manage the expectations or disappointments of others.
“You have a new message!”
My stomach somersaulted. I nervously logged into 23 and Me to read the email, and take another step closer to . . . something. Still, not sure, I quelled anxiety, my rising hope, my fear of another dead end, or worse – rejection. “I” was equally surprised by the DNA results and we exchanged a few messages, trying to narrow down where our connection might be. We switched to personal social media, and I discovered that “I” was Isabella. There was something comforting and familiar about the name that brought me hope, but it was not until the next day that I realized that “Isabella” is the English name of the child character in my novel – Finding Ching Ha.
Isabella and I exchanged photos of ourselves, and there was a resemblance – even in our childhood photos. We dissected our history and the names we knew of our relatives. I only had “Ling Wong” – my mother’s name, and my name as they appeared on the Hong Kong British birth certificate, written in English and Chinese. Was I a sister of the grandparents? a cousin to her father, or could I be the daughter of her uncle, who was taken away by the ex-wife and never seen again? Isabella’s father, who was about 12 years older than the girl, used to live in the same house until they left. The photos he had of the child were fuzzy, but looked like me as a child. Still, we weren’t sure. “Maybe you look alike because you are both Asian,” my sons joked.
Photo swap and confirmations
Isabella and I sent more photos back and forth, including a photo of a man holding a child that looked very much like my own photos of me as a child. I did my best to quell my swelling hopes, the sorrow that tore through my body when I heard that Isabella’s uncle – potentially my father – had died two years earlier. I pushed back the surge of childhood desire, of ‘memories’ to be reunited with family that was somewhere. And even with these managed emotions, I felt disappointment choking me when Isabella’s father told her that ‘Ling Wong’ had not been the name of his brother’s ex-wife. It wasn’t until the next day, during a video call, when I re-stated my mother’s name, formatted in the Chinese way – with surname first – that things fell into place.
“Wong Wai Ling,” Isabella repeated. She touched her face and fanned at tear-sparkled eyes. “Yes. That’s the name of my uncle’s ex-wife.”
I made a high-pitched sound and put a hand to my forehead, trying to keep the information from exploding my mind.
“Do you know your Chinese name?” Isabella asked, looking down at the notes from her conversation with her father.
“Ching Ha,” I replied.
Isabella looked up, her mouth opening silently, her dark brown eyes wide. “That’s the name of the girl who lived in that house.”
And with that further confirmation (because science hadn’t convinced me yet), Isabella and I stared at one another. Silence. Shock. A wave of energy zapped through me, simultaneously breaking and healing my heart. I had found my Chinese family.
Although I write that I have found my family, I’m not sure I have let myself completely believe this yet. I don’t know what other confirmation I need beyond some family resemblance, the matching names, and dates, and them having photographs of me as a baby (not to mention the DNA). A cocktail of sorrow, and joy, thrill and nervousness pulse through me. Perhaps I’m still digging out from having slowly buried those childhood longings and ‘imaginings’. Or maybe it’s the fear that with finding comes losing. Whatever it is, I’m in, and I’m hanging on, because this is another of those moments that will shape my identity, another roller coaster ride in this big adventure we call life.
Afterword: There were a series of very clear events that led me to take the DNA test through 23andMe, and it all began with my novel. I asked Glenn Morey to write the foreword. He introduced me to Joy Lieberthal Rho. She was the one who encouraged me to try the DNA route – and specifically use 23 and Me – in a last ditch effort to find family. Finding Ching Ha helped me find Ching Ha.