Marion Potriquet is looking for her birth mother in Vietnam. Photo acquired by VnExpress
On April 10, 1996, a baby girl was born at Tu Du, now a major obstetrics hospital in HCMC, and named Niem Thuc Nu.
But Nu did not have a chance to see her mother.
Niem Nhuc Kieu, the mother, who was 25 then, decided to abandon her daughter just a few hours after giving birth without even leaving a note or message.
Doctors had no choice but to send the baby to the Go Vap Orphanage in the city’s Go Vap District.
Around that time a French woman named Brigitte Potriquet, 44, had traveled all the way to Vietnam to find and adopt a child. And, she was looking for a newborn baby girl.
Staying at a hotel in the city’s downtown, Brigitte, her husband and their daughter waited anxiously for news from the Go Vap Orphanage that a new child had arrived.
The French couple got married quite late and they had agreed that if it was hard for them to have children, they would adopt.
They had arrived in Ho Chi Minh City in March that year but there was no newborn at the Go Vap Orphanage. They were over the moon when learning the news that there was a baby girl two months later.
In June 1996, baby Niem Thuc Nu officially got a new name: Marion Potriquet.
“My adoptive parents told me that the first time they took me in their arms was fabulous and wonderful. They said I was very small and thin so my French mother was very worried about me. She told me that it was very hard for me to gain weigh but day by day my conditions were better,” Marion, now a young woman with a passion for traveling and fashion, said.
Shortly after their first meeting, Marion got on a plane with her new parents and five-year-old sister and left Vietnam. A brand new life awaited her in France.
The Potriquets receive Marion Potriquet, who was then called Niem Thuc Nu, at Go Vap Orphanage on May 27, 1996. Video acquired by VnExpress.
A new, better life
“I have always had strong link and bonds with my French parents. They are lovely, nice and very supportive. I grew up in the unconditional love. They are always there when I need them and they love me. I am very thankful for the life I have. I have everything I need and I love them so much. They support me in every decision I make,” Marion said.
Her father was an accountant and mother a nurse, and Marion grew up a happy girl and has beautiful memories of a childhood filled with summer trips to Italy, Greece, Croatia, Malta, and Vietnam.
Marion Potriquet (dark hair) and her sister Anne-Lise Potriquet between 1996 and 2015. Photos acquired by VnExpress
Marion talks about her sister Anne-Lise Potriquet with respect.
They are completely different: Anne is tall, has blonde hair, and big blue eyes while Marion is smaller and has black hair and small eyes.
But right from the start, when she saw Marion more than 20 years ago, Anne has held her close with the protection and care of a big sister, Marion says, showing photos of her and Anne.
Two years after adopting Marion, the Potriquets brought her back to Vietnam for the first time. In 2003, when the girl turned seven, the whole family, including Brigitte’s parents, visited Vietnam. And when they came for a third time in 2009, Marion started to ask questions about her origin and birth parents.
From a very young age Marion was aware she had been adopted by Jean-François and Brigitte Potriquet.
“My adoption is a topic that we all feel good to talk about,” Marion said.
Her adoptive parents kept a box with all the adoption papers, photos and videos of Marion as a baby at the Go Vap Orphanage.
“Thanks to this box that I keep very carefully, I was able to remember where I come from,” Marion said.
The Potriquets always reminded Marion of her roots, especially during occasions like Christmas and her birthday.
“I can feel emotional when it comes to the topic of my birth parents. This is a question that hunt my head and I want answers. Yes. I had my throat knotted because it is always emotional to talk about it. At some point, sometimes I can feel the tears coming.”
“I want to know who my birth parents are, how they look like physically, if I have some similarities with them, like physical appearance, I want to know if they are ok now. And I want to know why my birth mother abandonned me… I’m wondering if I was abandoned by my birth mother. I want to know who she was and how she look like I also want to know who my father was, and if I was conceived with love? It keeps haunting me, it is frustrating to not know my history,” she said.
The journey back to the root
One night last January, Marion drove from Lille, a city in northern France, to visit her parents in Anzin Saint Aubin town in Pas-de-Calais Province.
It was cold and drizzling outside, and inside the car Marion was filled with mixed feelings.
In a month’s time she would leave France for Vietnam to stay for six months, joining a course and, more importantly, looking for her birth mother, Niem Nhuc Kieu.
“I didn’t know anyone in Vietnam. I didn’t have a lot of hope. I didn’t know how to do that.”
That night, sitting in her parents’ cozy kitchen, Marion watched her mother preparing dinner. Brigitte was busy but did not forget to remind her about the documents she might need for her quest in Vietnam.
In February Marion arrived in Hanoi for a marketing course under a master’s exchange program between Hanoi’s National Economics University and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“At first I felt very lonely since I knew no one here, but within a short period I had received a lot of help from many people. I am now more hopeful and optimistic.”
Marion Potriquet (L) with her adoptive family at their home in Anzin Saint Aubin town in northern France. Photo acquired by VnExpress
She speaks about two friends of hers who are also Vietnamese and adopted just like her. One of them found her birth mother a few years ago and that has made Marion more optimistic and confident about her trip back to Vietnam this time.
Her friend found her birth mother and two younger sisters, but the mother has not been able to explain why she abandoned her, Marion tells.
“But whatever the result, I’m sure I will not regret this trip. This allows me to re-connect with Vietnam, know more about its culture, its way of life, its people.”
Marion has visited many places in Vietnam, Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba Island, Mai Chau Valley, Ha Giang Province … and “admired the breathtaking natural scenes, enjoyed delicious specialties and met kind and warm people.”
“Unfortunately, I don’t speak Vietnamese. I took a few Vietnamese classes but it is very very very hard and every time I walk in the street, people speak to me in Vietnamese but I can’t understand them… It is frustrating that I wanna cry but feel funny also.”
Huge step in life
With photos and videos of her first days in life, Marion visited Go Vap Orphanage in March.
“When I came back to Go Vap Orphanage, the first reaction I had is that when my parents came in 1996, thanks to the video they took, I was able to recognize the place.”
In 1996, there was a church which was in construction, and now, the church is still here, next to the orphanage, she said.
“It was a huge step in my life, because after all these years, I was really stressed but also excited to re-discover the orphanage. Seeing all the kids and babies in the room was really special. I cried because of the “pressure” of coming back and also because all the babies in the rooms was… me, in 1996. I was in their place and I really hope that they will find a family that will raise them and love them as much as mine did.”
Ten years ago Marion first got the idea of looking for her birth mother, but only now, when she is strong, confident and brave enough, can she embark on that journey.
“I can’t tell exactly how I would react and what I would tell her if I could find her. I don’t know how I would react even if I have already thought about this moment a thousand times! But I know one thing for sure: if it happens it would change my life forever,” she said.
In 2008 the United Nations Children’s Fund estimated there were around 1.5 million orphans in Vietnam, and while it is not common for Vietnamese to adopt a child, demand is high among foreigners, especially those from developed countries.
According to the Vietnamese Ministry of Justice’s department of child adoption, foreigners have adopted 2,861 Vietnamese children in the past seven years, rising from 66 in 2011 to 539 last year.
The ministry said it encourages Vietnamese adoptees to return to their roots and learn about their origins but also warns them of possible negative impacts of meeting their birth families.
Marion Potriquet will return to Go Vap Orphanage in August with the hope that local authorities and the shelter can tell her about her birth mother.
She believes that with the strong growth of social media, the search for her mother will be easier.
“I think that my birth mother is an amazing woman with a huge amount of courage and love. She gave me birth and gave me away so that I can have a great life. A better life than the one that she could give me. This is an act of love and I can’t hate her for that. She gave me life and for that I am grateful. I want to thank her and to support her if she needs it.”