With doctors saying her chances of survival were slim, Amandine Duran, aka Do Thi Ngoc Chau, was left at the Tu Du Hospital days after birth by her parents in 1995.
She survived and was transferred to the Go Vap Child Protection Center. When she was six months old, she was adopted by a childless French couple.
“Since my parents didn’t have children, I was a precious gift. I was given many opportunities, to study abroad in the U.K. and travel to many places,” Chau said.
Growing up, she was a shy girl, always hiding behind her mother to avoid public scrutiny and attention, aware of that her black hair and dark skin made her different.
Every time she visited Vietnam with her father, she felt more comfortable because people didn’t stare at her the way they do in France. “When I was 14, I wanted to find my biological parents. My parents agreed, but they told me to work hard and become independent first.”
At 23, though she was able to earn a good income with a market job, buy a house and a car by herself, and get involved with a charity, she wanted to find out who her birth parents were.
The photo and Chau’s birth certificate that she posted looking for her biological mother.
“I definitely will find my birth mother to know how I was born and support her financially if possible. More than 20 years of my living in France, she is my Vietnamese missing piece,” Chau wrote in the letter about her search for her birth mother when she returned to Vietnam last June.
The letter was quickly published in newspapers and social media. On July 12, a neighbor read the letter and let Chiem know. The mother immediately called the publisher of the letter.
After hearing the news, Chau travelled more than 80 km to meet Chiem in Ngai Giao Town in Ba Ria – Vung Tau Province. When she saw the shabby house with scattered furniture, Chau felt sorry for the woman. However, she asked the woman, who did not look like her, to do a DNA test.
Four days later, holding the DNA test report affirming their connection, Chau cried with happiness that she shared on social media: “I found my birth family. Now I have 2 moms, 2 home countries and 2 cultures. I am a lucky woman.”
Early morning of November 5 was the second time they met each other. Chau was very tense. “My heart was beating very fast. I stood in front of my closet and couldn’t decide what to wear.”
Eventually, Chau decided to keep the same look she had in the photo that helped her find her mother for months earlier: no makeup, hair tied up, and wearing a black, tight dress.
Chiem knew nothing about the meeting until that early morning. Her daughter did not want to let Chiem know it early, concerned that her mother would be too nervous to eat anything. Chiem, therefore, did not have time to eat breakfast, and left for Sai Gon in her casual clothes and old sandals.
During the reunion, Chau had many things to say but could only manage one Vietnamese word “Me.” Then she hugged and held her mother’s hands for more than 2 hours.
“I want to apologize and tell her that I am a terrible mother who doesn’t deserve forgiveness, but I can’t speak the foreign language,” said Chiem.
Chau and her biological mother
Memories of 1995 returned.
Chiem was pregnant with her last child when she was 43. Six months into the pregnancy, she began to bleed and had to be rushed to the Tu Du Hospital. Born prematurely weighing just 1,6 kg in weight, the baby was in a coma, and doctors said she only had a 20 percent chance of survival.
“We were very poor and still had 6 children at home. We felt really sad when many people said the baby would not survive. Not thinking clearly, my husband and I went home without telling anyone, leaving the baby at the hospital.”
Back home, they lied to the neighbors that the baby had dead.
“All the years later, we lived in regret. My husband Ut was so sad that he admitted abandoning the baby to our relatives. I did not search for her because I thought she was dead,” the mother said.
Ut passed away 3 months ago.
“Now that I can understand why my mom left me. I am not mad at her. Thanks to her, I had an opportunity to live a better life and be loved by my adoptive parents,” Chau said.
Chau at the age of plus one and her foster father
Chau has been busy with charity work in Vietnam over the last few days. She informed her foster parents about the good news. “My parents are very glad, and they told me to share my happiness with others. Sharing does not make one poorer, but enriches one’s life,” Chau said.
She is also learning Vietnamese to talk with her mother during their next reunion.
Michael Son Pham, president of Children with No Borders, said he currently keeps 25 records of people from different countries searching for their birth parents. Among these records, Chau’s case is the fastest.
It took only one week for Chau to hear the results, while others have taken years to find nothing.
“The reason Chau could find her mom that fast was because Chiem had left her real address. In other cases, most people would leave a fake address or would have already moved somewhere else,” Son said.
According to HCMC’s Department of Social Services, in 2011 – 2017, Vietnam’s foster care facilities had 21,000 children, of whom just 2,850 got adopted by natives and foreigners.