• Heather Graham

Across the sea as an adoptee

Updated: Sep 20

Charlotte Mehmke answered the phone call from China. Finally, after two years of paperwork, she was allowed to meet her daughter for the first time.

Photo: Charlotte Mehmke

Her daughter is Ayse, 20, and the pair have recently gone viral on TikTok talking about all things adoption.


America adopts the most children from China than any other country in the world. When Charlotte was filling out the adoption application, she left all her options open. It was the adoption agency who decided a girl from China would fit her best as she would be a single mum.


Ayse is now studying at university and the pair are closer than ever, which is why they want to debunk some myths about adoption.

Photo: Charlotte Mehmke

Ayse was born during the one-child policy era in China, which spanned from 1979 to 2015. It is estimated that 400 million births were avoided due to the new laws, but it also led to a surge of parentless children.

As couples were only allowed one child, there was a cultural preference for boys to ensure the family’s economic stability, which unfortunately left many girls abandoned in busy markets or in the worst cases, killed by their own mothers.





If a woman decided not to have an abortion, they would have to hide for the rest of their pregnancy and hope the neighbours would not report them. Ayse’s biological parents were very young and not married when she was born, which was against the law. If the police had caught them there would have been severe consequences.


“When you got married you got one ticket to go to the hospital to give birth once. Obviously, if you have twins you don’t have to pick but you only got one hospital visit. If you weren’t married, you get fined or have a forced abortion.”

Ayse was found in a busy market and then handed over to an orphanage by the police, it was too risky for her biological parents to give her to the orphanage themselves. Unfortunately, not all newborns are found in time and there are many stories of babies dying in the street because of this.


“When I was put up for adoption, you couldn’t even be seen giving a child to an orphanage or else you could be arrested, put in jail and fined.”

Photo: Charlotte Mehmke

Since she was left in a market, nobody knows the time or day that she was born. She was given a day by the government for legal reasons, but there is no evidence that it is the exact date.


Once a child was in the orphanage many biological mothers volunteered until the adoption was complete; Ayse and her mum believe this is what her biological mum did because of the letter that was found with Ayse.


The letter was translated into English, with pictures of both parents and their names. Ayse was born in January and adopted that same November, but this detailed and personal letter was dated June, which indicates it was someone from the orphanage.


This letter is the main reason Ayse is so content with not knowing her biological parents, it has provided her with more closure than most people will ever hope to get.

Photo: Charlotte Mehmke

Her life after adoption started in Wyoming and then she later moved to Montana, both of which are predominantly white areas. In Wyoming, she was one of two Asians at school and when she moved to Montana it was slightly more diverse as she was now one of five Asians. Thankfully though, this never impacted her negatively growing up.


“I didn’t feel super different at all. It [the adoption] wasn’t even used in a mean way either. The only thing that I felt different was just being Asian and being a really awkward kid.”


Charlotte was aware that as a Caucasian mother of a child of Asian ethnicity, she would have to do some work to keep Ayse connected to her heritage, but like many other children, Ayse had no interest in learning about a country she had no memory of.



“She tried really hard to get me into a lot of Chinese culture. I don’t feel super connected to it, I’m trying to get more into it now, but she definitely tried.”


Since she found connecting to her heritage a little difficult, Ayse feels more comfortable with an Asian-American identity.


“Obviously, I look different and I’m not technically from here, but I grew up in really small communities, I went to high school, went to prom, I went through the awkward middle school phase and everything."


She hasn’t experienced blatant racism but there has been the odd microaggression now and again; she is now teaching her mum how to be aware of it.


“If I adopted kids from a different country, I don’t know what exactly would be considered a microaggression. She never had to step in for me and defend me. We’ve had to defend our family status a lot more than the race issue.”

Apart from the clear difference in their looks, having a letter was extremely helpful to Ayse to understand more about herself and where she came from. It was framed in the hallway of her childhood home and was a good reminder that she was always loved. She also credits her mum for always being open, honest and supportive about the adoption.


“When I was old enough, she explained that my biological parents couldn’t keep me, but they really loved me and wanted me to have a better chance. They couldn’t keep me because of the [Chinese] government and that’s how we ended up crossing paths.”


Photo: Ayse Mehmke

More so since using TikTok, Ayse has spoken to many others who have had great experiences with adoption, and she wishes the media would portray it in a better light than the shameful secret stereotype that is often seen.


“It’s the child’s right to know that this is where they came from and it’s a good thing, you don’t have to be ashamed of that.”


Contrary to popular soap storylines, Ayse has no intention of finding her birth parents yet and she thinks a lot of that is due to the letter and her close relationship with her mum.


“If I didn’t have the letter I would have all those questions, it’s very unusual to have so much closure. They did this for a good reason and they loved me.”

She has no memory of China or her birth parents so she is unsure of what she would ask them.


“Is there something I need from them? I don’t have any burning questions and I don’t know how I would deal with that relationship, especially with a huge language barrier, I can’t always have a translator there in the intimate moments.”


She also has a lot of respect for her mum, who used to have nightmares that Chinese nannies or her biological parents would take Ayse away, even though it was impossible.


“If I were to meet my biological parents I would have to talk to my mom about it, she would allow me, she told me she would but it’s just I have her feelings to consider too. If I ever met them I would never call them mom and dad because to me I don’t have a dad and I already have a mom, not that I can’t have two but they didn’t raise me so that’s not who they are to me.”


If she were to go look for them, Ayse thinks that would be a lot to navigate and she is so content and focused on school right now that she does not want to rush into a life-changing decision.


“What if we’re not what each other expected or what if I’m doing things that are culturally rude? It’s just little things. I have a lot of closure and a lot of love and support from my mom, and at the moment I don’t feel the burning need to go find them.”


Other people can find this hard to understand and do not realise that their curious comments can actually be quite hurtful.


“People want me to meet my biological family but I don’t want to and I’m so happy with my mom. It hurts my mom and I’s feelings when they push it like that. I’m trying to understand where people come from but it’s insulting to my mom, which is why I really try to differentiate between mom and biological mom.”

Photo: Ayse Mehmke

It goes without saying that Ayse supports adoption and would do it herself in the future.


“I understand some women want to go through pregnancy but especially since I have such a positive outlook on adoption and know what these kids go through, I just can’t think of any reason to need my own biological children when there is a child out there that I can raise and love.”


However, it worries her when prospective parents speak about the possibility of not loving an adopted child as much as a biological one. She knows it is not meant maliciously but it can still be frustrating.


“My relationship to my mom is so tight and we’re not the same blood or genetics but I still have a lot of her personality traits because she raised me.”

She hopes that people who are really concerned about their ability to love an adopted child don’t adopt because that would be detrimental to the child in the long run.


“How can you say that just because you’re genetically related that’s the bond that brings you together? It’s just very closed-minded to me. No parents have favorites, but to love your child less because they’re not biologically your own? Just listen to that, it sounds awful.”


Unfortunately, this does happen and it is called adoption dissolution, or more colloquially known as, ‘un-adopting’. It happens to less than 5% of adoptions in America but for those that it does affect, it can cause immense trauma.


Just recently a YouTube family rehomed their 5-year-old adopted son saying they could not cope with him anymore as he was recently diagnosed with severe autism. They received major backlash and as a result the parents are now getting investigated.


“If one of your biological children got diagnosed with autism, giving him up would not be an option for you, so it just makes me mad that they still saw him as their adopted son, after having him for years.”


At the end of the day, Ayse is more than happy with her experience of adoption and wants more people to consider it, there is a perfect match for everyone.


“Just because you’re blood-related does not mean anything, it’s really about who you are as a person and how you treat your child.”



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