Trish and Jack Miller are happily married with two beautiful children: Nora and Helena. They live in upstate New York in a middle class, suburban neighborhood, where Jack is an attorney and Trish is able to stay home to raise the kids, who will be entering fifth and second grades this fall.
Trish feels lucky to be where she is at this point in her life. When she thinks about the past and what could have been, the tears start to well up in her eyes. But she’s an optimist and is grateful for where she has landed. “You have to find that bright spot in your life, or it’s not worth getting out of bed every day and living your life,” she says. So that’s what she does.
Trish was one of more than 1,600 children who were adopted from the Sacred Heart Orphanage in Da Nang, Vietnam, which was in operation in the midst of the Vietnam War. Her dad, Allen Schaefer, was an airplane mechanic at the Da Nang Air Base at the time, and he and his wife, Tina, wanted to start a family. When he found out about the kids at the orphanage who needed families, he asked for permission to leave the Air Base to find the little girl who would become their daughter.
Her given name, Phạm thị Mộng Hà, meant “Beautiful Dream,” and that’s what Allen saw in Trish when he picked her out of the two little girls who were sharing a crib at Sacred Heart. She was born on or around November 23, 1971, and she was nearly adopted by another American before Allen chose her. By the summer of 1972, Trish was on her way home with her new dad to the United States.
When she arrived, she was underweight and malnourished. Allen and his wife, Tina, gave her an enormous amount of love and affection, and she officially became an American citizen in August 1975. By that time, she had become a welcome addition to the extended family, mainly on her mom’s side, and started becoming very close to aunts, uncles, cousins, and even her babysitter and her family.
But growing up in the Schaefer household wasn’t without its turmoil. Most Americans know about the Vietnam War as a time of conflict and protests. Many of our soldiers who went there never came back, and those who did were often not treated very kindly. Many of the men and women who served had a difficult time reintegrating into society once they returned home. Allen was no different. And on top of the difficulty that likely came from his service in Vietnam, he had a hard life growing up. Ultimately, the past took its toll, and Tina and Allen were divorced.
As with any child, Trish had a difficult time dealing with her parents’ divorce. And although she was close with her cousins, she never had any siblings to share her feelings with. But as she reflects back, she is forever grateful for the chance in life she has been given as a result of being adopted and brought to the United States. She often thinks about what her life could have turned out to be had she remained in Vietnam. Many poor young girls there were coerced into prostitution, and most have lived hard lives without much opportunity.
Trish is here in the United States now, and she has a happy life. She is grateful to be able to give her two girls the opportunities that she herself almost never had. For now, she has no desire to dig deeper into her past or to visit the land she came from. She knows that one day, Nora and Helena might feel differently, and she’ll have to wait and see what their desires are before knowing whether or not she’ll change her mind about that.