Here, My Huong Le, tells the story in her own words.
T￼urning around in the car, I watched as the tiny village disappeared behind me.
After hugging me goodbye, my mother, Can, had started crying bitterly, her whole body shaking.
‘It’s okay, Mama,’ I told her. ‘I will come back.’
We were driving to the airport in Saigon, Vietnam.
Aged five, I thought we were off on a holiday, but in reality, my mother had adopted me out to an Australian man and his wife.
I squeezed my three-year-old brother Tam’s hand as we boarded the plane.
We were feeling scared, lonely and confused.
After arriving in Canberra, I’d cry myself to sleep each night, missing my family.
‘When am I going home?’ I’d ask in Vietnamese – but no-one would answer me.
Although I slowly learned English, my life never felt complete. I’d asked for Mum so much, my adoptive parents told me she’d died.
Then, at 15, I was looking through my adoptive father’s filing cabinet when I came across an old letter. It was postmarked Vietnam and had Mum’s address on. I’ve found her! I thought, feeling elated.
Writing a long letter, I asked if she was still alive.
Not long after I sent it, I received a short fax in reply.
Mother still alive… very happy to hear from you, it simply said. My heart soared – I hadn’t heard from her in 10 years!
For the next few years, I exchanged letters with my mother, Can, in Vietnam.
At first, I was thrilled to finally have contact with her. But as time went on, the correspondence became overwhelming and she started to demand money.
At only 15, it was far too much for me to take in. So I stopped responding, tore the letters up and tried to move on with my life.
But by 2004, after three decades apart, I had resolved to meet her.
Flying to Vietnam, I tracked down a childhood family friend in my home city, Can Tho.
Within 10 minutes, my mum was on her way over, and I waited nervously for her arrival. I recognised her face immediately as she bounded towards me, sobbing. Crying, I held her tight.
‘You came back,’ she kept repeating.
Taking me to see the rest of my relatives in Phong Dien, the entire village turned up to welcome me home.
Seeing their faces, fragmented memories of my early childhood in Vietnam came flooding back.
That day, I decided to stay there with my family.
‘I can’t leave you again,’ I told Mum.
But the cracks started to show.
Mum began hassling me over money and when I adopted my two beautiful boys, Daniel and Sam, she became strangely jealous.
So after four years of living with me, Mum moved out and we put some distance between us.
Then one day, 14 years after our reunion, I received a text message. Ho Thi Ich is your real mother, it read. Confused, I handed the phone to my cousin.
‘You’re not my cousin anymore,’ she said. ‘And Can is not your mother.’ It didn’t make any sense.
How could she not be my mum? And if she wasn’t, who was?
Calling my aunt, I bombarded her with questions.
‘Do you ever remember seeing her pregnant with me?’ I asked.
After a moment of silence, she said, ‘No’.
My cousin called Can to coax a confession. ‘Tell us the truth or she’s going to get a DNA test,’ she said. Finally, she admitted it.
Forty-eight years earlier, Can had taken me from my birth parents. She’d been friends with my real mum who’d become very sick after childbirth and asked Can to look after me.
But instead, Can took me and ran away when I was only three months old.
It turned out one of my biological nieces had seen a documentary about my reunion with my ‘mum’, Can. Instantly, she realised I was her missing aunty.
For two months, my real mother – Ho Thi Ich – had been trying to find me.
Now, my entire world came crashing down. Everything I thought I knew was a lie.
For the past 14 years, this woman had deceived me. Now I was desperate to meet my real mum.
The next day, she travelled seven hours to see me.
Finally meeting, Mum stroked my hair with her frail hands and kissed my face delicately.
‘I’m so happy I saw you before I died,’ she wept.
Aged 75, she had spent nearly 50 years of her life waiting for me to return… and she never gave up hope.
After our emotional reunion, I travelled back to confront my fake mother.
‘You robbed me of 14 years!’ I shouted. ‘Why?’
She didn’t offer a morsel of an apology. Disgusted with her, I left.
I’ll never understand why she stole me and then gave me up five years later.
It’s been eight months since I learned the truth and I never want to see Can again.
I was deprived of so many precious years with my real mother – but I am so happy to finally have her in my life.
She adores her grandchildren and loves me more than anything.
The deception and betrayal is hard to swallow. But I’ve finally found my mum and I’m so grateful for that.
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