'All I have are their names'

Madam Thanapakiam and a photo of her as a child with an adoptive cousin.

She may be 68 years old and a grandmother of seven, but she still wants to find her birth mother.

Madam Thanapakiam is Chinese, but can hardly speak a word of Mandarin or Hokkien.

She was given away to an Indian family when she was one or two months old.

Instead, she considers Tamil as a language close to her heart.

This year, there can be no better Christmas gift than a reunion with her birth mother.

"Everybody has a mother, and my greatest desire is to see the lady who gave birth to me," she says.

She is aware that her biological mother may not be alive, but hangs on to the frail hope that Madam Gam Soon Hiang and her husband, Mr Koh Ah Bak were young when they had her.

Both were born in China.

"I remember getting a glimpse of my birth name, which I remember to be Koh Siew Moi or Koh Sui Moi, when I was young and my brother handed the birth cert to school authorities," explains Madam Thanapakiam.

She says the birth certificate went missing after her brother's death.

Later on, she managed to get a copy of the birth certificate from the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority of Singapore, but it did not display her birth name.

A family friend who facilitated the adoption told Madam Thanapakiam that she was given away because of her father's superstitions.

"He told me that my father wanted to give me away because of his superstitious beliefs; they said his stars and mine were at odds, and that I was a curse to his life," she explains.

Although she admits to feeling a bit sad about the circumstances, Madam Thanapakiam says she does not blame or resent him.

"I'm guessing they had many children, so I'm hoping to reconnect with my siblings too," she adds.

She emphasises that her desire for a reunion is strong, but not because she was mistreated by her adopted family.

Instead, she was the apple of her mother's eye.

"I was the youngest in the family, and I had two elder brothers, and one elder sister. I was never treated differently or felt less loved because my skin colour was different from theirs.

"My adoptive mother and I shared a close bond. She passed away years ago and I still miss her," she says.

The urge to search for her birth mother only began after her adoptive mother died, and at the encouragement of her daughters.

"I didn't want to make my adoptive mother feel that I didn't treasure her or that I was going to leave or anything like that," says the soft-spoken woman.

Apart from the names of her biological parents, she has no other leads.

But there have been glimmers of hope across the years - Madam Thanapakiam said that her husband bumped into a woman who looked like her many years ago, but did not dare to approach her then.

"She was with a man and he did not want to send the wrong signals, but if I was with him, I would definitely approach her to ask if we were related," she says with a laugh.

For now, an anecdote from her elder adoptive sister gives her hope.

"My sister said that for some time, my birth mother used to come and visit me in tears," she says.

"It was only after she became pregnant with her second child that she stopped. I'm guessing I meant something to her too."


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