By Olivia Wolf
AsAmNews Staff Writer
On the evening of May 19, 1999 of the lunar calendar, Wang Sheng Jiao gave birth to her child in her family’s farm house in Xiefang, China.
To her dismay, the child was female, and not the son that she desperately desired. Within hours, the child’s grandparents took her outside the gates of a retirement home called the Honored House, where the newborn lay until caretakers discovered her at dawn.
Over the next few months, Wang Sheng Jiao returned to the Honored House to visit her daughter, provide essential supplies, and to occasionally bring her child back home.
Eventually, the manager of the Honored House sought the intervention of the government, which placed the child into an orphanage. The orphanage named the baby Jin Hua.
When Wang Sheng Jiao heard this, she attempted to retrieve her daughter, but was told that she was too late. Jin Hua was to be adopted by a family in the United States at the age of 10 months.
Eighteen years later in Chesaning, Michigan a young woman named Kaylena Wiederhold celebrated her birthday on June 27, 2018 of the Gregorian calendar.
Wiederhold was a student at Central Michigan University, studying Spanish and education with the hopes of becoming a high school principal. For her birthday, she was hoping to find out what she long believed was impossible.
A few months before, her American mother hired a Chinese birth family searcher named Xixi to locate her birth family. Less than a week later, a family came forward claiming it was them. They had been searching for their daughter for the last eighteen years, with limited access to social media.
When Wiederhold opened her birthday gift she began to cry.
The results of the DNA test confirmed that she was the daughter of Wang Sheng Jiao and her now ex-husband. Wiederhold also had three siblings by blood (an older sister, a younger brother, and a younger sister) and a niece.
“Before that moment, I was excited about the possibility of having a birth family, but I wasn’t emotional because it didn’t feel real,” Wiederhold said in an interview with AsAmNews. “That was the first time I truly felt the significance of what was happening, though I’m still waiting for it to fully hit me.”
Wiederhold believes she’ll need a physical reconnection with her birth family for that moment to finally come.
As of now, she is communicating with them through WeChat, a Chinese social media platform (Facebook, Google, Gmail, and many other websites are blocked in China).
When Wiederhold and her Chinese family first reconnected, they talked constantly, but communication has since slowed. Her Chinese mother can’t read, and her siblings only know limited English. Wiederhold has never studied Chinese. When they video chat, her friend from college translates.
Wiederhold corresponds primarily with her older sister. While all of her siblings studied English in school, neither her older sister nor her younger brother were able to finish their education.
“I never realized how much they were struggling. My little siblings told my older sister, who helped raise them, that they wished they were adopted too.” revealed Wiederhold. “My family often talks about how they don’t have enough money to eat meat.”
The socioeconomic disparity makes it difficult for Wiederhold to open up to her Chinese family about her life in the United States–the more she reveals about her privileged upbringing, the more inadequate her family in China feels. However, their feelings are also combined with a sense of pride for Wiederhold’s accomplishment as the first member of her family to attend college.
Although Wiederhold has reconnected to her Chinese family, she remains as close as ever to her American family. Besides her parents, she also has a sister adopted from China and a brother adopted from Russia.
Since Wiederhold discovered her Chinese family, her brother’s interest in finding his own birth family has piqued. However, her sister remains largely uninterested, a sentiment that Wiederhold once held herself.
It was Wiederhold’s mother who took the initiative to hire Xixi. Since her children were growing older, she wanted to take the opportunity before it was too late. Oftentimes, locating birth families of adopted children becomes more difficult as time progresses.
To find Wiederhold’s birth family, Xixi first consulted the police in Xiefang, who advised her to visit the Honored House, where the disabled and the elderly without family are cared for.
There, many of the residents remembered the baby girl who once lived with them. They recalled that she was a farmer’s daughter, whose family lived about five kilometers away.
The woman who found her, now 94-years-old, but still with a sharp mind, was amongst those that remembered.
Unfortunately, nobody could recall the name of Wiederhold’s Chinese family.
Determined to find them, Xixi created posters with the information from Wiederhold’s documents and posted them around the city. Although her parents were now migrant construction workers, members of her extended family still lived nearby. It was Wiederhold’s uncle who found the poster and notified her immediate family.
Although the majorities of the two families were happy to finally reconnect, both Wiederhold’s Chinese and American fathers felt less enthusiastic about the reunion.
“It sounds like my birth father thinks this is in the past, and he’s not very interested in me,” said Wiederhold. “When I first heard this, it was kind of hard, and I still don’t understand it completely…. Maybe he feels guilty.”
Initially, Wiederhold’s American father also felt that her Chinese family was no longer relevant in their current lives. However, his interest has since grown.
One of the most emotionally impacted family members has been her mother, Wang Sheng Jiao.
“When we first video chatted, I’m pretty sure she was crying,” recalled Wiederhold. “She’s very self conscious and always apologizes to me. If I don’t respond to her right away, she thinks I’m mad at her. I think she’s scared she’s going to lose me again.”
Wiederhold plans to reconnect with her birth family in China next May. It will be her first time in China since being adopted.
“I’ll have to use a translator, but I’m so excited to actually see their physical characteristics and individual personalities,” said Wiederhold. “After all, pictures can only say so much.”
(Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Kaylena’s age. We also incorrectly reported the birth mother abandoned Kaylena)
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