Nguyen Thi Mai Hanh went to a DNA testing center in Hanoi one day last autumn without telling anyone in her family.
After the tests were done, the 64-year-old sat outside, waiting for the result, butterflies in her stomach.
The door opened and a paper was handed to her. One look at it and she passed out.
“I was praying she would be my daughter,” Hanh told Thanh Nien amid sobs.
But the DNA test confirmed her decades-long fear that nurses at a Hanoi obstetrics center had given her the wrong baby girl 42 years ago.
The “32” baby
Hanh is the mother of four children.
After she gave birth to her third on October 10, 1974, she was weak and so the nurses let her rest.
When a nurse came with a baby 12 hours later, she immediately feared there was a mistake because the baby had number 32 written on its feet while her baby's number had been 33.
The nurse told her the number must have become blurred and looked like 32 after the baby had a bath.
Since there were no other babies born on the day, she had to accept baby number 32.
“The nurses insisted the baby was mine. But in my heart, I knew they were wrong.
“My mother's instinct told me that my baby was somewhere else.”
She and her husband returned to the center three days later, hoping someone would show up wanting to exchange babies, but that did not happen.
The couple named the baby Ta Thi Thu Trang.
Ta Thi Thu Trang (L) in an old family photo with Nguyen Thi Mai Hanh, her husband and their other three children.
They chose not to share their concerns with anyone.
“The more she grew up, the more she seemed different from all of my other children: her face, her actions,” Hanh said.
She raised the child amid whispers that she was the result of a love affair.
The urge to shield Trang from public criticism somehow made her love her even more than the other children, she said.
Her husband, who died 12 years ago, had told her to let it go because their family was happy no matter what.
But eventually she decided she had to know the truth.
She told Trang a couple days after the test on her 41st birthday on October 10, 2015, and Trang cried for three days.
The lost child
Ta Thi Thu Trang and her youngest daughter at their house in Hanoi. Photo: Le Nam
Trang and her husband sell noodle soup in the same house she herself grew up to raise their three children.
She remembers being teased often about being the odd one out in the family and Hanh protecting her every time.
She remembers one time when Hanh took her to visit some relatives. One of them told her that she might be “a neighbor's child” because she looked different. Hanh grabbed her by the hand and took her out of the house immediately.
“I saw her cry.”
Trang said she was her parents’ favorite child and dearly loved by her brother and sisters.
“Even in my wildest dreams, I never thought I was not of their blood.”
But after knowing the truth, her feelings are mixed.
“I feel sorry for myself for not knowing my origin. Who am I really? Where are my real parents? Are they still alive?
“And I feel sad for my mom. She has gone through a lot to raise me up.”
The family has spent the past few months searching for Hanh’s real daughter and Trang’s parents.
They have spread the message on Facebook and run ads in several newspapers.
They have visited the obstetrics center, now located at 12 Le Truc in Dong Da District, but the staff said the documents from that time have been lost.
The Hanoi police and health authorities have stepped in to help with the search.
A health official said the task is difficult because the people working at the center at that time are now very old or deceased.
Ta Thi Thu Van, Hanh’s eldest child, said whatever happens Trang would remain a beloved member of the family.
“It has been like that for more than 40 years, and nothing will change.”