My recent San Francisco trip with PunditGirl was the first step on a journey that I never knew I would need to take — the one to try to discover who she was before we entered her life.

I was a bit busy upon our arrival back in the U.S. with instant motherhood and night terrors (hers, not mine) and the unexpected end of a career that I had assumed would be there when we returned from China, but wasn’t.

I was preoccupied with all the things new mothers get bogged down with like nap and feeding schedules, assessments by the pedatrician’s office of PunditGirl’s general physical health after a year in an orphanage, and how to deal with being cut-off almost instantaneously from the professional and social support network I had created for myself.

I didn’t really have a moment to focus on her missing year. I only had energy to keep my head above water.

Now that PundiGirl is seven, life is different. There are new issues, but the overwhelming demands on my time to be there for her each and every need have morphed into a different kind of parenting. Not less taxing emotionally, but I do have a few spare minutes to shower and eat.

And more time to think about the days I missed. And the months.

And the fact that PunditGirl was going to have a hole in the history of her life most children don’t.

So I came up with a plan that sounded a little crazy — to find out as much as exists about her life before the red thread brought us together.

I’m lucky in a way most adoptive families will never be. There is someone I met after we became PunditGirl’s parents who visited the orphanage just weeks before we traveled there. She and her family took scads of photos.

And videos.

So even though it seemed like folly, I bought plane tickets to meet with this family and talk and see what information they had.

It was worth every penny for one thing alone — a videotape.

There on one of the many videotapes they had shot inside the orphanage was my little pumpkin head.

A PunditBaby.

One who was totally different than the child presented to us in a hotel room just days before the Year of the Dragon turned to the Year of the Snake.

Inquisitive. Smiling. Playful. Cautious.

Scooting around a playroom in one of those baby walkers with wheels that American parents are now cautioned never to use.

Listening to tinny Chinese children’s music emanating from an old cassette player hung from the ceiling. Following her nannies when called to the door to return to another room for lunch and a fresh diaper.

I’d had thoughts of her, not knowing what her life was like, worrying that there were no smiles or toys or affection in her life. We were warned that the babies’ lives were hard but that the nannies did their best with the few resources they had.

I didn’t expect to see a happy baby, though.

And while I know she was not happy all the time (what baby is), the video filled my heart with overwhelming joy to know that one of the stories that we created for PunditGirl — that the “aunties” who took care of her also cared for her — was, in fact, the truth.

I saw what the nannies did for the 100 or so infants and toddlers. A routine of hard labor — I can’t imagine the thought of dealing with 100 babies. Every. Single. Day.

Of course, we were told lots of things while we were there and had some basic information about when PunditGirl slept and what she ate and their characterizations of her personality (which were not off the mark).

But in a living room in New Chinatown in San Francisco on an unusually beautiful August morning near the bay, I got a peek into PunditGirl’s life that I never thought we would have. Most children like her never will.

Only the sheer coincidence that there was another little girl from the same baby home, whose parents travel to China frequently, who wanted to write a book about where she came from led to the making of a videotape that will be able to answer a multitude of questions for PunditGirl when she is older.

Concrete answers. Real answers. Not conjecture or supposition.

Her real life. As it was before she became PunditGirl. Not her whole life, but a big part of it.

It’s not a lot. It’s not the same as the first lock of hair or the first baby tooth or all the firsts that parents get to document for children who become theirs at the moment of birth that those nannies couldn’t.

But it’s a start. It’s more than we ever thought we would find.

And that makes me profoundly happy.