Firsthand: Born in S'pore & adopted by US couple, woman, 27, now searching for father she never knew

A 27-year-old armed with two photographs and a longing to know where she's from.

Emily Williams | March 23, 2024, 11:42 AM



Growing up, it was never a secret Bailey McNamee was adopted.

Her family are blonde-haired, blue-eyed Caucasians. She has brown eyes, brown hair, and brown skin.

She’s 27 now and based in the U.S., where she has lived for most of her life.

But from the other side of the world, McNamee can’t stop thinking about Singapore.

It’s where she was born and, she assumes, where her biological father lives.

She doesn’t know anything about him.

But she is desperate to find him.

Opening the floodgates

The first time I meet McNamee on a video call, she makes a joke about me “living in the future”.

She’s speaking to me from her art studio in California, 16 hours behind Singapore.

Her state is experiencing the wettest storm system since record-keeping began; we’re interrupted by thunder, flash-flooding warnings, and a leaking roof.

Aside from the wild weather, McNamee tells me she’s nervous — I can tell.

She speaks really fast, hardly coming up for air, and steamrolls through the story of what she calls her “chaotic life”.

The more time we spend chatting, the more comfortable she becomes.

She tells me she’s a Sagittarius, an artist, and she loves the beach and being outdoors; “the average 20-something”.

But the story she shares with me isn't so average.

A baby is born

At 6:05am on Nov. 26, 1996, a 16-year-old gave birth at Gleneagles Hospital.

The mother, a foreign student from the U.S., had been studying at the Canadian International School in Singapore when she fell for a dark-skinned, floppy-haired teenager.

The baby, Bailey Dalton McNamee, weighed in at 3.26kg. Like her dad, she was born with brown skin and a full head of hair.

McNamee as a baby being held by her adoptive mother. Bailey Dalton McNamee and her adoptive mother. Image courtesy of Bailey McNamee.

At 16, her mother wasn’t ready to raise a child. McNamee doesn’t know what the relationship was like between her biological parents; nor if her father had a say in the decision.

Instead, the baby was quickly adopted by an American expat couple, organised through a mutual friend.

A year later, McNamee relocated to the U.S. with her new parents and brother. She'd grow up knowing little of her biological family.

At least until more than two decades later.

Life as the odd one out

Early on in our discussion, McNamee stops to highlight how “awesome” her adoptive parents are, telling me how much she loves them and her brother.

“They're super caring, super generous,” she says.

“I had an amazing life growing up, like, can't complain about anything.”

But growing up as a brown girl in the “very Caucasian suburbs” of the U.S. came with its difficulties.

“I stuck out like a sore thumb,” she says.

There were instances where adults would go up to her as a child and touch her hair or ask if her father was dark whilst walking with her mother.

“It got to a point where it was just weird,” she tells me.

McNamee recalls one experience from when her family were living in Texas:

“I went to this camp and there's one other brown girl…everyone else was white.

And I'll never forget this white girl coming up to me and asking me if I was the gardener's daughter.”

Bailey McNamee as a child wearing a red shirt with yellow paint on her hands/face. Image courtesy of Bailey McNamee.

Many transracial adoptees struggle with their racial identity, which often leads to behavioural issues. McNamee agrees, telling me she was a "problem child".

She now credits the lack of racial mirrors — people of the same ethnicity — around her as the reason for acting out. It’s something which often comes up with her therapist, she says.

“I think my biggest issue growing up was just my lack of identity, and then we never talked about it,” she says.

“So, it was denying my reality kind of like… ‘Oh, I'm different, but no one talks about it’.

I know I'm adopted but I don't know why my skin is like this…or where my family's from."

McNamee as a child Image courtesy of Bailey McNamee.

Her biological mother, like her adoptive parents, is American Caucasian and doesn't share her colouring.

So over the course of her life, McNamee has tried to Tetris together an idea of what her biological father might be like and where he is from.

She has spoken with her biological mother, grandfather, grandmother, great uncle, and a very distant cousin, as well as her own parents.

But no one — except for her biological mother, who no longer speaks with her — knows anything about him.

Piecing the puzzle together

McNamee has known of her biological mother for "as long as [she] can remember".

But for the longest time, all she knew was that her mother was just 16 when she gave birth and not ready to raise a child.

The first picture McNamee saw of her biological mother was a mugshot she found online in 2016.

She had been found guilty of two counts of attempted first-degree murder in the U.S., spending several years in prison.

McNamee tells me it was, obviously, “pretty overwhelming”. Firstly, because of the circumstances, but secondly, because of their physical similarities.

“It's kind of trippy, because I'm like, ‘dang, that's me, but a white woman’... same features,” she says.

And they do look alike. They share the same high, straight nose; wavy hair; and and cheeky smile.

Baileys biological mother holding her/a mirror selfie of Bailey McNamee now. Bailey's biological mother holding her in front of the U.S. Embassy in Singapore and McNamee now. Images courtesy of Bailey McNamee.

Soon after, McNamee found her biological mother’s phone number and called it whilst sitting in her college dorm room.

“I was excited. I was really nervous. I felt like I was going to throw up,” she says.

The 27-year-old tells me she hung up the first time the woman on the other end answered. It was "just a reaction", she says; a culmination of her anticipation.

And then she re-dialled.

But it wasn’t the dream she had imagined. During their conversation, her biological mother requested a photograph of her to “make sure [she] wasn’t a weirdo”. McNamee obliged, hanging up and taking a selfie, which she texted through.

“And she just immediately went into a psychotic break...

She started saying I was the police, that I was an imposter, that I was a clone.”

It became apparent speaking with her biological mother would not get her anywhere, and McNamee gave up on learning about her biological father from her.

But still desperate to know her cultural heritage, she tried an ancestry DNA test instead.

“The biggest struggle about being adopted is not knowing anything about your ethnic makeup, you know, or traditions or culture,” she says.

From the test, she learnt her father's background was more than likely Indian, Sri Lankan, or Bengali.

But she didn't make a breakthrough until she sent an email to her biological maternal grandmother, using an address she found online.

“She was super transparent with me,” the 27-year-old says.

McNamee’s biological grandmother shared what she knew about the birth, confirming that it took place in Singapore.

But she claimed she knew nothing about it until months later.

Despite not knowing much about McNamee’s biological father, she had two photographs of him taken on the day of McNamee’s birth.

The two images of McNamee's biological father. Both seemingly taken in the same room, in the same green shirt. In one photo he is looking just past the camera looking solemn. In the other, he is smiling holding McNamee as a baby. McNamee's biological grandmother told her these two photographs, one of which features her, were found on a roll of film. Images courtesy of Bailey McNamee.

The 27-year-old recalls receiving the attachments via email:

“It was, I think, the most flooring moment of my whole entire life. It was just like, ‘oh my god, like, that's him’.

I've been literally trying so hard for breadcrumbs for so long and been through so much, like, he's right there. And these two pictures, you know, I can see my features in him and he's brown like me.”

When she showed her parents the photographs, they confirmed the man was present at the hospital the day of her birth and that they also believed he was her biological father.

But they had only met him in passing, as most communication had been with the biological mother.

About her biological father

From her digging, this is what McNamee knows about her biological father.

  • He lived in Singapore in the late 90s.
  • He went by "Nikon" — presumably a nickname.
  • Like McNamee’s mother, he likely attended the Canadian International School.
  • He would be aged between 42 and 48 now, if alive.
  • Based on her DNA test, he most likely has Indian, Sri Lankan, or Bangladeshi heritage.

It’s not much to go off, but McNamee hopes the two photographs will help her find her biological father.

McNamee posing with a large dog. The 27-year-old artist. Image courtesy of Bailey McNamee.

She has read books about the history of Sri Lanka, India, and Bangladesh; knowing her family lineage must exist parallel to one of them.

In lieu of a fixed ethnicity, McNamee calls herself a “world child” for now. But she tells me she’s “desperate” to know for certain.

And the only way to do that is to find the man in the photograph.

A last-ditch attempt

The first time I spoke to McNamee, she hadn’t told her parents about the renewed search for her biological father.

McNamee tells me her parents have always been protective of her and had her best interests at heart.

They had thus been reluctant to share too much information, and the thought of hurting them by going behind their back made her “want to cry”, but it’s a personal journey she felt was necessary.

Weeks later, she sends me a message:

“I have some updates to tell you."

When we jump on a call, she seems a whole new person: a lot lighter.

For the first time, she'd spoken openly with her parents. She told them about her search and it went well.

"They're really supportive... I couldn't have imagined a better outcome, honestly," she says.

They also showed her important documents surrounding her birth: her adoption papers, the family court documents, her birth certificate, her Gleneagles health booklet, and her first passport — with which she moved to the U.S. as a baby.

Bailey McNamee's passport, issued when she was less than a year old. The passport was issued when she was under twelve months old. Image courtesy of Bailey McNamee.

Immediately after our call, McNamee sends me all the documents she'd acquired.

Most notably for me, however, is the affidavit signed by her biological mother requesting the need for parental consent (from McNamee's biological grandparents) to be waived for the adoption.

Despite McNamee's less-than-pleasant interactions with her biological mother, the artist remains protective of her, asking me not to share too many details from the affidavit.

As I read through it, I understand why.

It’s the account of a 16-year-old child going through one of the most vulnerable moments of her life, alone.

In it, she writes about her fear of upsetting her parents, her reluctance to inform them of her pregnancy, her dreams of continuing high school and one day going to university.

At one point, she writes simply: "I love my parents very much".

Much to McNamee's disappointment, though, the documents — including her birth certificate — make no mention of her biological father.

When Mothership asked a lawyer about the birth certificate, he says there could be several reasons but suggests it's likely his name was left off because he was underage.

A blurred out registration of Bailey's birth with the U.S. Embassy. No documents include any mention of the father. Image courtesy of Bailey McNamee.

One thing missing

Bailey McNamee isn’t necessarily looking for a father — she already has one.

In a way, she’s looking more for herself.

For 27 years, she has gone through life not knowing who she is or where she is from.

She has built an entire identity off two photographs and a tether to a country almost 14,000km away from home.

But, she tells me, she needs to know more:

“I cannot stress to you how hard it is growing up with no cultural identity.

It is so hard…

I'm a really spiritual person and I believe that my ancestors watch over me and I feel that I see them in my dreams, and I just feel like I'm supposed to meet him, or I'm supposed to know about him and his family, and where I'm from, and the story behind that picture.”

And Singapore holds the key.

If you recognise the man in the photographs or have an information that may help, please get in touch at [email protected].

Top images courtesy of Bailey McNamee