In 2017, 20-year old Jenna Cook went to China to find her birth parents. Her expectations were low. But she was overwhelmed by what happened next. She met more than fifty families, all desperately seeking their lost babies, hoping that Jenna was the one.Her story starts on March 22, 1992. A baby was left at the busy bus station in Wuhan, China, which sees 12,000 travellers each day. She was picked up and taken to the Wuhan Children Welfare House nearby where she was cared for, named Xia Huasi [which means ‘China’s’] and assigned a random birth date chosen by the director of the home. There was no formal adoption process in China, where couples faced heavy fines for breaking the country’s one-child policy. It was also illegal to abandon children. Later that year, China passed a law enabling foreigners to adopt Chinese orphans. American Margaret Cook collected Xia Huasi, renamed her Jenna, and took her home to Massachusetts. Jenna was one of the first wave of adopted babies taken abroad; 80,000 to the USA and 40,000 to the Netherlands, Spain and the UK.
Jenna had a happy childhood, along with her sister [also adopted from China] they learned Mandarin and Margaret encouraged them to socialise with Chinese people. ‘Even just looking at your own belly button, you think to yourself: ‘Oh, I used to be attached to another human being. That’s the body I came from, but who is that? Does that person even really exist?’ It all seems so abstract. It sometimes just feels like you appeared on the planet.Most people are just born into the families they’re born into and they never think twice about it. Whereas for adopted people there is always this possibility of another life.’
After taking part in a television documentary, ‘Somewhere Between’, Jenna worked for the summer at the Chinese orphanage where she had been taken as a baby. Later, as a 20-year old student, she returned to China again with Margaret. This time to search. She handed out leaflets around Wuhan; people were interested in her story, and shared their own experiences.‘I was pretty amazed that people were even paying attention to me, because I felt like I’m just one story in a huge migration of children from China. I felt like I was just one raindrop in the puddle.’ When the local newspaper published a story about Jenna’s search in May 2012, her search went viral. From amongst hundreds of messages, Jenna drew up a shortlist of 50 birth families each of which had left a baby on the same street in Wuhan in March 1992.
Jenna decided to approach the interviews as an academic exercise rather than thinking ‘maybe this is the one’, which would be emotionally exhausting. The stories told by the birth families were touching. ‘They all remembered their babies forever – it was this experience that they really regret and that they would never forget.’Each family approached Jenna as if she were their daughter – are you happy, are you being cared for? DNA tests were done with 37 of the families. All were negative.
Since her search, Jenna has returned to China but is no longer actively searching.
Watch ‘Somewhere Between’ below.
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