I adopted my daughter and her best friend. Then my daughter was reunited with her identical twin, separated from her at birth and raised 9,000 miles away.

  • Keely Solimene adopted a Vietnamese girl and then her best friend.
  • Then he discovered that one had an identical twin.
  • She vowed to reunite the sisters who had been separated at birth and grew up 9,000 miles apart.

This essay as stated is based on a conversation with Keely Solimene. It has been edited for length and clarity.

A few months after I adopted my two daughters of Vietnam, I found a seemingly innocuous document buried in a pile of paperwork that I planned to sort and put in a cabinet with the other records.

Most of the forms were written in Vietnamese and difficult to decipher. But the one I saw that day, a letter about Isabella, the eldest of the girls, made me gasp aloud. She said that she had a sister of exactly the same age. they had been separated at birth.

The trajectory of my life had already been altered by foreign adoptions. But this latest discovery took it to a whole new level. The moment I saw that Isabella, then 4, had a twin, I thought, “That’s it, period! I need to find her.”

My husband and I originally decided to adopt a single girl, Isabella, in 2001.

I didn’t know the girls were identical at the time. But my intuition told me that they had to meet. I felt like it was the best thing I could do to honor Isabella.

It took her around five years to find her sister, whose name was Ha Nguyen, and the girls didn’t meet until they were 14 years old. Meanwhile, they were raised on opposite sides of the world: Isabella grew up in the US and Ha in Vietnam, some 9,000 miles away.

My husband, Mick, and I decided to adopt Isabella in the fall of 2001. One of my friends had recently adopted a child from Vietnam. The friend knew from a girl in an orphanage there that he was expecting a family. He showed me the adorable picture of him and I thought, “This is my fifth child.”

Isabella and Olivia Solimene pose together shortly after they were adopted as girls.

Isabella, below, and Olivia shortly after they were adopted as girls.

keely solimene

Our four biological children, Alexandra, Arianna, Victoria, and Will, who were between the ages of 5 and 9 at the time, were excited about the idea of ​​a younger sister. It felt natural to expand our family in this way.

We only intended to adopt Isabella. Then I found out about her best friend, Olivia, who was 3 years old. The older children in the orphanage took care of the younger ones. Isabella, even when she was 4 years old, was paired with Olivia. They were close, but the orphanage decided to move Olivia to another part of the complex. They thought it would be easier for them to part sooner rather than later.

“It hasn’t gone well,” the person from the adoption agency told me one day. “We think it would be better if they were adopted together.”

So we decided to adopt Olivia, who became our sixth child.

There was a revelation to come in the form of Isabella’s identical twin.

We met the girls in April 2022 on our first trip to Vietnam. I couldn’t wait to see them. I had never really traveled before, and it was overwhelming and eye-opening.

I remember picking up Isabella and Olivia at the orphanage and looking out the window at the rice paddies. The sounds and smells were so different. But since it was my daughters’ home, it also felt like home. It was a beautiful bonding moment.

They invited us to return to Vietnam three months later with the whole family. The formal adoption ceremony took place in July 2002.

When we got back to Chicago, it felt similar to bringing kids home from the hospital as babies. We had a 3 year old and a 4 year old who did not speak English. We don’t speak Vietnamese. We had a lot to figure out, but we got along happily as a family of eight.

Identical twins Isabella Solimene and Ha Nguyen

The identical twins were wary of each other when they first met at the age of 14, but soon became close.

keely solimene

Then I found out about Ha. The document said that the girls’ biological mother had wanted to give up the two twins. They were malnourished and she couldn’t raise them on her own. The orphanage took Isabella, but not Ha. I found out later that Ha was very weak. They didn’t think she was going to make it. The biological mother left with Ha.

The reveal felt a bit like the time I heard about Olivia. In fact, we look at Isabella and Olivia, just 10 months apart, almost like twins.

I recruited a Vietnamese woman to help track down Isabella’s twin sister.

“You’re not going to believe this, but we’re going back to Vietnam,” I told Mick, who was just as surprised to find out about Ha as I was. I never intended to adopt Ha, but I wanted them to meet.

He needed to locate Ha as quickly as possible. Traces of her grew cold and she knew that if she didn’t act fast, she might never find her. I returned to Vietnam in a year and recruited a local woman to help me. She was part of the vine of the community: my eyes and ears on the ground.

He finally located Ha in 2008. Her biological aunt and her partner raised her in a rural town. The two women clearly loved her, my contact said. “She’s safe and happy,” she told me.

Ha Nguyen pictured outside her old school in Vietnam.  The students drank a glass of milk every day supplied by the cow in the photograph.

Ha Nguyen in 2008 in front of his old school in Vietnam. The students drank a glass of milk every day supplied by the cow tied up outside.

keely solimene

I met Ha in 2008 on my seventh trip to Vietnam. She and Isabella had just turned ten. Engaged as much as Isabella, I felt a connection and closeness to her. But Ha and her mothers were skeptical. Like Isabella, Ha knew that she had a twin, but here was this white woman saying that her sister was part of a family in the United States.

I showed them videos of Isabella and they obviously noticed the resemblance.

Soon after, Ha’s moms agreed to involve Mick and me in their future. We bought him a bicycle. She wanted to go to a private school in a city that was relatively close to her. Mick and I paid for an apartment for her to live with his mother while she was there.

He Twins they finally met at an airport in Vietnam when they were 14 years old. By then, they were high school students. We don’t feel like they were mature enough to meet each other before then. I’m a bit of a Pollyanna, so I was a little disappointed that it was awkward at first. But as Ha introduced Isabella to Vietnamese culture, food, and traditions, they grew much closer.

The Solimene family at a recent wedding

The family recently celebrated the wedding of Will and Brittany Solimene. Olivia, Isabella and Ha were three of the bridesmaids.

Michael and Kristin Williams

In the summer of 2015, Ha told us that he wanted to come to the US for the rest of his education. It was entirely her decision. She became a junior at Olivia’s high school a year later, while Isabella was homeschooled. She has a special bond with the other six children in the family. The twins went to attend the same university. I am now the CEO of a luxury goods company named Bella/Ha, named after them.

Ha, who is in constant contact with her mothers, is now 24, six years older than the maximum age for adoption. But I always introduce Ha to people as my third adopted daughter.

The 9 points of the 3 triangles represent the 9 people in our immediate family.

Isabella, Olivia, and Ha all got matching tattoos near their ribcages, near their hearts. The three interlocking triangles represent the twins and their best friend. The points of the three triangles represent the nine people of the immediate Solimene family.

I feel like Isabella and Ha’s reunion was meant to be after all those years of living so far apart. I think her beautiful life with Olivia and the rest of us here in Chicago shows that we did the right thing by all three of us.

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