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Last Updated: Monday, 16 July 2007, 00:34 GMT 01:34 UK
Our lone twin from China
Charlie, Jo and Evie
Charlie and Jo with baby Evie

By Jane Ashley and Emily Buchanan
BBC Radio 4's China Girl

Soon after bringing this little girl home from a Chinese orphanage, her British parents proudly posted photos of her online - only for it to reveal that she has an identical twin sister, also adopted abroad.

Adoption from China is a gruelling process, which takes many years. And Wiltshire couple Jo and Charlie have found it can bring dramatic surprises.

Children in rows of cots in a Chinese orphanage
The one-child policy in parts of China means abandoned children
"People think you are just going out, there are some nice smiley children in a row, we'll have that one, we're just picking a fruit off a tree," says Charlie.

It couldn't be more different. First there is a home study by British social services. Once approved, there are mounds of paperwork to amass, which the UK government processes and forwards to the authorities in China. Finally the long wait - currently several years - to be matched with a child.

Jo works for an animal conservation charity and Charlie in the airline industry. They are what's known as "preferential adopters" - couples who, although able to have biological children, chose to adopt. "We just felt there are enough kids on the planet that aren't being loved," says Charlie.

Just over three years after they began their adoption journey, last November Jo and Charlie went to China to collect the baby they had been matched with. They called her Evie, keeping her Chinese name as a second option.

Evie
Evie, now almost two
Adoptive couples don't get any information on the birth parents as abandonment is illegal in China, but Jo and Charlie often think about who they might be. "I'm endlessly curious," says Jo. "I look at her face and think 'Are those eyes her mother's?'"

And then, two months after coming home, the couple made a chance discovery that their daughter had an identical twin who had been adopted by a family who live far from the UK. Both families belong to an e-mail group for the orphanage.

"I had put some photos of Evie up there and they saw her," Jo says. "We were shocked. Having believed Evie would never know any of her blood relatives, we now have as close a blood relative as you can get."

Mirror image

When they were in China, the other parents had been allowed to visit the orphanage, unlike Jo and Charlie who had adopted Evie first.

Your instant reaction is she's my baby too - I want her here, but we would never dream of doing that
Jo on Evie's twin

"It dawned on us that maybe the reason we weren't allowed to go was because we would have seen the other little girl," says Charlie.

The families are now in regular contact, speaking over Skype, using webcams and e-mail, and sending each other DVDs.

When she sees photos of Evie's twin, Jo is torn. "Your instant reaction is she's my baby too. I want her here. And we would never dream of doing that. Neither family ever thought we should reunite them permanently. They are both settled and very happy. But I went through a stage of being really wobbly about it. She's a part of Evie and Evie is a part of her sister."

She hopes the two families might meet up when the children are older, possibly back in China. "I'd personally like the girls to be able to understand it and remember their first meeting."

And there might, after all, be a trail to Evie's birth parents. In China, identical twins are thought very special indeed and Jo and Charlie think someone would have known about them.

Evie
Evie steps into her new life
"It's unusual for kids from China to be able to go back and do that," says Charlie "Some of these kids grow up with a hole inside them because a part isn't there, part of the story that forever will be missing. I genuinely believe that Evie and her sister have this chance that isn't offered to many kids who are adopted from China. Whether she takes it up is her option, but at least that option is there."

More than ever, the birth parents are on the couple's mind. They would love to be able to let them know that their daughters have found each other.

"They must occasionally wonder what happened to their two girls and it would be fantastic if we could at some point reassure them that their kids were being looked after. They are so loved," says Charlie.

China Girl is broadcast in the UK on BBC Radio 4 on 16 and 23 July at 1100 BST, then online for seven days on Radio 4's Listen again page.


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