Introduction: Whitney was born in 1988 and she was adopted to the U.S.A. when she was 6 months old. She has participated in Cathwel’s first root finding trip in 2006 and later came back in 2013 for individual trip. Cathwel invited her to share both of her root finding experiences with us through Skype.

Before the initial root finding trip in 2006, what was your expectation?  How did you prepare yourself?  What triggered your interest to participate and take action?  What expectations were met or unmet after the root finding trip?  Was anything unexpected?
Whitney: For the first trip to Taiwan, the root finding trip, I had just graduated from high school and didn’t know much about my birth family.  I flew to a country foreign to me with only a picture of my birth mother. When I first met her, my birthmother and I were accompanied by Sr. Rosa and Cecilia. At that time, I had complex feelings: a mix of excitement with anticipation and fear.  I had many questions in my mind and I worried whether my birthmother would feel proud of me or not. Yet when I came face to face with my birthmother, all that I could do was to look at her.
Can you give us some suggestions for our root finding program such as tour arrangement or others?
Whitney: I loved the experiences of learning about Taiwan history and culture.  I also felt that if I had learned some Chinese before coming back I would have felt more comfortable during the trip.  Between my root finding trip and individual trip I took 3 semesters of Mandarin which helped me to communicate with my birthmother as well as travel more comfortably in Taiwan.
What were the most wonderful and difficult parts of meeting your birth family for the first time?
Whitney: It was wonderful to be able to ask my birthmother questions, such as if I have other siblings, or birthfather related questions. It was a peculiar feeling of meeting with my birthmother, a lot like visiting distant relatives- it felt both familiar and foreign at the same time. 
Recalling the meeting with your birth family for the first time, what suggestions or feedback you can give us?
Whitney: I would suggest that everyone can keep a journal during your trip to record all the events and feelings at the time. It is a memorable experience but to absorb and retain so much information is challenging, a journal eases that.  It is also possible to look back and to sort your feelings afterwards.
After the initial root finding trip meeting in 2006, how did you maintain the relationship with your birth family? What kind of relationship did you have? What did you experience during this period of time? Can you give us some suggestions for other adoptees who attend to the root finding trip and wish to maintain contact?
Whitney: After the 2006 meeting, my birthmother and I exchanged email addresses.  Because my Chinese was limited I did not write her often.  We were able to connect through Facebook and check each other’s posts from time to time. Generally, there was very little if any direct contact between us. Facebook has allowed us to communicate with each other by sharing our lives.  She can see that I am happy, that I have friends and a loving family, and I can see her life too. It makes her seem not so far away. In December 2012, a female cousin informed me through Facebook that my birthmother had cancer in the third stage, which prompted my second trip to Taiwan.
For the reunion in 2013, what kind of dreams did you have or tasks you wished to complete? What regrets or suggestions do you have?
Whitney: It was a good experience for my second trip and my boyfriend (now fiancé) was able to accompany me.  We stayed in a hotel near my birthmother’s apartment, which allowed me to spend more time with her. Although she was sick and my Chinese was minimal, I was able to be at her side and give her hugs. In 2006 I met a male cousin, and in 2013 I met a female cousin: the one who first contacted me to inform me of my birthmother’s health. Before I went to Taiwan in 2006 I only thought of my biological family as my birthparents.  In reality it is much more than that and it makes me really happy to see my other relatives. My boy friend as witnessed my meetings with my birthmother said that we are really alike. We are alike both in appearance and personality. For a period of time, I couldn’t understand that when I first proposed to come back to Taiwan my birthmother told me not to. Now I understand that all mothers are the same; they don’t want their children to worry. I can feel my mother’s love toward her child from this act. 
What differences do you have in emotions or expectations between the two reunion experiences?
Whitney: The initial root finding trip was chaotic, I was worried whether my birthmother would feel ashamed of me but I was also very happy to see my birthmother. For the second trip, I was worried about my birthmother’s health. In 2006, I saw many Asians whom I resembled, but when I returned to the U.S.A., I was the only Asian in my hometown. When I began to attend college, I questioned myself “who am I?” I wondered if I should be hanging out with other Chinese or all Asians. I grew up in a Caucasian family and never had such an identity crisis before the root finding trip. The first trip to Taiwan, I had just graduated from High school and didn’t know what to expect.  My second trip to Taiwan was after I graduated from university and been working career field for a few years.  For the second trip, I brought my boyfriend with me. Regardless of which trip, the feeling of adoption is like a hole within the heart. Only my birthmother could help me to fill that hole. What gave me the strongest sense of self and calm was being with my birthmother, to be able to look at her and see that we smile at each other without saying any words. 
What suggestions do you have for anyone who wants to initiate a reunion?
Whitney: 1. Don’t be afraid and just do it! No matter what the outcome is, either positive or negative, you’ll gain something.  2. It might be hard for a birthmother to ask for a reunion, but don’t be afraid to initiative. They may also feel that they are unworthy, and it is best to show them the love that we have for them.  3. For the first root finding trip, I was young and could only think from my point of view, thoughts like “why have I been given up?”.. But now I can think from my birthmother’s point of view and realize that she had to make this difficult decision at a young age.  She wanted her child to have better life than she could provide. For now I just want birthmother to know how well I’m doing and how grateful I am for her to give me for adoption to have this wonderful life.  Now, I am blessed to have this life and a relationship with her as well.  4. Keep an open mind.  5. Again, I would suggest everyone to learn some Chinese in advance before travelling, fluency is not necessary but a few key phrases are a plus! (“Hello”, “goodbye”, “thank you” and “I love you” are all useful.)
How did meeting your biological family impact your life?
Whitney: It took me three years to work out emotions from the first root finding trip with a lot of self-discovery. Every adoptee’s experience is unique but for me there are specific things that trigger feelings of abandonment.  For example, I don’t like to celebrate my birthday because it makes me think of leaving my birthmother and the choice that she made for me.  Additionally, I don’t like to celebrate Valentine’s Day. While everyone celebrates couples and love, for me it is the anniversary of the day that I left Taiwan. For me, Valentine’s Day is a time that I think of leaving Taiwan and wonder how different my life could have been.  It is also a time that I feel the most alone when others around me are celebrating closeness to another person.  I realized that it was hard for me to build intimate relationships with other people because of my feelings of abandonment.  This has been apparent in that I’ve known my boyfriend since 2010, but didn’t start to bond with him until 2012. The fear of forming relationship with others stemmed from the deeply rooted fear of abandonment.  I am happy to say that although those fears exist and are very strong they do not rule my life. To have a wonderful boyfriend who returned to Taiwan with me this June during this emotionally raw trip was humbling.  I was able to lean upon his physical and emotional support throughout the trip and his meeting my birthmother was deeply meaningful.  It is with great joy that I can announce we are engaged after making this special trip together.
During the reunion, when you encountered difficulties, what helped you through it?
Whitney: The most difficult part of the trips was the many complex emotions and feelings. I’d tried to talk with my adoptive mother, but it’s hard for her to understand. With my adoptive mother’s help, I sought and received counseling regarding adoption after the root finding trip in 2006. During college, I took a course about Asian American literature and found that I was not alone in some of my experiences growing up as an Asian American.  Additionally, I read many books specific to Asian American adoptees.  When reading some of these books I realized how to verbalize many of the emotions that I had and that these emotions were not wrong to have.  I have also learned that I’m not alone in these feelings. Before, during and after the second trip I have had support from my fiancé.  He helped me to plan the trip and calmed me when I had anxiety and fear.  While in Taiwan he was my support, and he has continued to be supportive and since returning from Taiwan. 
You’ve shared with us that there’s a hole in the heart unfillable by adoptive parents, what will you suggest the adoptive parents to prepare for their child?
Whitney: It’s complicated.  The hole is more than an empty space to be filled.  It is a void that is created by a strong feeling of loss. My parents love me very much and have always showered me with unconditional love.  However, the feeling of loss still exists. It is grief for the family that existed first.  I believe that this feeling of loss, or hole in the heart, is not unique to adoption and can occur in many different family situations.  Similar feelings of loss happen among children of divorced parents or children raised by extended family. Transracial adoption is unique in the way that adoptees are perceived by society.  While I grew up forming my identity within my family unit based upon my interests and personality, society forced me to form an identity based on race.  This racial identity and the experience of being a person of color is not something that my Caucasian parents can completely understand.  What has helped me to cope with the racism and discrimination has been for them to listen and recognize that these experiences are real and valid.  No parent can shelter their child from the prejudice that occurs in society, but they can provide support, validation, and love.