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Roots-finding in Taiwan

Maureen's Story: Discovering My Adopted Children's Taiwanese Roots

2018/05/15 , Voices
Maureen Welscher
Credit: Maureen Welscher
Maureen Welscher
Maureen Welscher (1966) is a Dutch journalist who writes human interest stories for consumer magazines about health, pregnancy and childlessness. She is a specialist in adoption. and wrote three books about this subject: In conversation with adopted adolescents, Round trip ticket to your roots and Home in two countries. She and her husband adopted two children from Taiwan: Luc (15) and Annemei (18).

This is a story from our feature series "Roots-finding in Taiwan". The full series can be viewed here.

Statistics from Taiwan's Ministry of Health (MoH) show that adoption is a rising trend in Taiwan, though remains remarkably rare. While more than 5,000 children were adopted in the UK in 2015, just 301 children were given up for adoption in Taiwan in the same year.

Despite the low base, adoption of Taiwanese children within Taiwan is a rising trend, up from 80 in 2012 to 143 in 2015, according to the MOH data. However, the number of international adoptions from Taiwan is in decline, down from 193 in 2012 to 158 in 2015.

The MoH data suggest that the trend of rising adoptions is being driven by economic problems, a lack of family understanding or support, and mothers’ inability to nurture the child as a single parent. However, academic papers suggest that the Confucian nature of Taiwanese society make it anathema for Taiwanese parents to give up their children for adoption, making the vast majority reluctant to do so.

The babies involved in international adoptions were handled by organizations such as Cathwel Service, a Taiwan-based branch of the U.S. Catholic Relief Service that was founded in 1949. According to the organization’s records, 190 adoptees returned to Taiwan to meet their birth families between 2006 and 2017, with the largest contingent, 77 in all, having been brought up in the Netherlands.

Below is the story of one of those families and their experience on arriving in Taiwan for the first time.

Maureen's story

For years, I wrote as a journalist on pregnancy, adoption and infertility before attempting to have a baby of my own.

When I was still not pregnant after a year, it became clear to me that I wanted to adopt. I wanted to give a child love and raise them to be a happy, fulfilled person. That baby did not necessarily have to be my biological child.

Having made this decision, my husband and I immersed ourselves in researching adoption agencies, and the requirements each country asks of prospective adoptive parents.

We wanted to have a child from Asia as my mother is from Indonesia, so I feel emotionally more connected to Asia over an African or South American country. But adoption from Indonesia has not been possible since 1983, so we eventually opted for Taiwan.

Taiwan’s appeal lay in the fact that the law requires open adoption: Birth mothers can choose which family and country their child is going to based on reports that prospective new parents submit outlining their background.

Grandfam
Credit: Maureen Welscher
Maureen's adopted daughter Annemei poses with her Dutch grandmother.

As an adoptive parent, you are able to review copious information about the background of the birth mother, and sometimes the father as well.

This arrangement means the children’s biological family is almost always traceable, unlike in China, where the vagaries of the one-child policy left a host of children abandoned by their parents, often without any chance of contacting them.

Taiwan also obliges adoptive parents to regularly send pictures and a follow-up report to the child's orphanage, where the biological mother or parents can see it.

We settled on Meiling, a voluntary organization founded in 1989 that is the only Dutch adoption agency available to mediate for adoption from Taiwan. There are three children’s homes that Meiling cooperates with in Taiwan: CSS (Christian Salvation Service), Cathwel (Catholic Welfare) and CWLF (Child Welfare League Foundation).

Our joy at completing the adoption process is impossible to describe, but looking back, I realize we were very lucky to adopt from Taiwan during what I have come to think of as "the golden years".

That's because in making our choice, we were able to choose from young, healthy children, and once the decision was made, the procedure was reasonably quick, taking only about 12 months.

These days it can take up to two years for a Dutch family to even receive a proposal for a Taiwanese child, and another six to nine months before the subsequent legalities are settled and the child arrives in the Netherlands.

Rootsfinding1
Credit: Maureen Welscher
Maureen and Annemei at Mugua River Gorge in Hualien during their roots-finding trip in Taiwan.

Our first child was a 13-month girl that we called Annemei. Her mother was 19 when she inadvertently became pregnant with her school boyfriend. A child did not fit into her life at that time, so she put her baby up for adoption.

Three years later, our new seven-month-old son, whom we called Luc, arrived. His biological parents did not have a steady relationship, and when his mother became pregnant by accident, she decided to cede him for adoption.

In a heartbreaking letter, she said that she would have dearly liked to have another choice, but that she had no other option. She wrote that she would always think of him, and that she hoped they would be reunited one day.

That reunion finally happened last year, more than a decade later.

Din
Credit: Maureen Welscher
Luc in his favorite restaurant, Din Tai Fung, in Taipei.
Roots-finding

I had frequently asked the children if they would like to make a trip to Taiwan, but neither expressed much of an interest – after all, they had no connection to the country.

If there was something on the news about Taiwan, usually natural disasters like earthquakes and typhoons, they did not react. We often showed them pictures of their biological family, but our children were not at all interested in their adoption – they felt more Dutch than Taiwanese.

It took an outside intervention to break the spell. A group of children shouted at my then five-year-old son: "Look, a Chinese!" Stupefied, Luc asked me: "How do they know that I'm Chinese?!"

Meanwhile, it struck me that pretty much everyone with adoptive children went on "roots-finding journeys," and that the children often went when they were very young.

I decided to interview parents and adoptive children on the question: Why are you going to make such a journey, what are your expectations, and how did these compare with the eventual experience? The stories struck a deep chord with me.

The families' overwhelming sentiment was joy. Sometimes the roots-finding journey brought peace and self-confidence. There were answers to questions that the child or the young adult had buried for years.

Fam
Credit: Maureen Welscher
Maureen with Annemei and Luc relax after a meal in Hualien.
The trip

In the end, my family also made a roots-finding journey together, during which we met our children’s biological families. Sadly, neither family was prepared to share the photos of the time we spent together.

We made the decision after Annemei received a gift for her 16th birthday from her biological mother, along with a long letter. The gift and the letter changed her mind. To our surprise, her mother wrote that her hobby is photography – exactly what our daughter is now studying.

When we arrived in Taiwan, we first met Luc’s biological parents at Cathwel. To our amazement, his parents have been together for years. A strange thought – he could have grown up with them if things had been different.

Annemei
Credit: Maureen Welscher
Annemei shields her eyes from the sun on the side of Sun Moon Lake in central Taiwan's Nantou County.

The couple offered a beautiful watch as a gift for their biological child, as two social workers assisted in translating the conservation. An abundance of similarities and shared traits emerged and at the end of the meeting, it felt like we have known each other for years.

And our son, who does not normally like new people and situations, wanted to meet his parents again. And that happens, too, through a follow up meeting with his uncle and aunt, along with two cousins. Of course, the definitive farewell is difficult but there is also happiness: It feels like we have gained a new family.

Then we meet our daughter’s grandmother. She turns out to be a cheerful, spontaneous woman who immediately feels like family. She too arrives bearing gifts, including a golden bracelet.

She recognizes the golden chain around Annemei’s neck – a farewell gift she had given on parting with her granddaughter in 2000.

We still hoped to meet our daughter’s biological mother but she had so far declined to engage with the social workers’ outreach.

I worried that her mother would turn down the chance to meet Annemei, fretting at the potential of missing an opportunity for which we had come so far. Grandma could not help because she was also out of touch with her daughter.

Taiwan reunions

In the second week of our holiday we embarked on our tour around Taiwan. The country is wonderful and the people outstandingly kind, but I couldn't really enjoy the journey because of the nagging thought that our daughter would miss out on meeting her biological mother.

Then Annemei calls out from the back seat of the car: "My mother liked my picture of the Taipei skyline on Facebook!" In the end it all works out and we secure the meeting.

Annemei's biological mother confirms what we had thought: a baby did not fit into her life at the time she gave birth. She chose the Netherlands because she had heard that the education is of a high standard, that the country is open-minded, and that we were a nice looking couple.

These meetings are unforgettable: How precious and valuable it is for a child to be able to meet their biological parents, to mutually recognize the similarities in character and appearance; express gratitude and respect. My children are more complete in knowing what was once unknown. They have new confidence in themselves and their identity.

We will definitely return to this beautiful, welcoming country, my children’s homeland. I hope our children will eventually feel connected to two countries, two families, two cultures.

Read Next: Rianne's Story: Finding Unconditional Love

Editor: David Green

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Rianne's Story: Finding Unconditional Love

Roots-finding in Taiwan:

Taiwanese kids have been adopted by Dutch families since 1989, most between 1993 and 2000, when 317 children found a new home in the Holland. Now in early adulthood, many are seeking to meet their biological parents and find their Taiwanese roots. Last year, the Dutch journalist and mother Maureen Welscher made a so-called “roots-finding” trip with her two adopted children from Taiwan, aged 14 and 17. What follows is a series of testimonies of those involved in the roots-finding experience, starting with Maureen and moving on to two young women who were adopted from Taiwan, Emma and Rianne.

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