In Shanghai Girls, Pearl begins to claim Joy as her own daughter when she assumes the role of her main caregiver when she and May separate in California. However, mainly owing to her mixed feelings toward her sister, May, who is Joy’s biological mother, Pearl continues to experience conflict about the extent of her involvement with Joy. In addition, when Pearl was injured in China, doctors told her that she could not become pregnant. Her ongoing sense of her physical limitations and belief that her adopted daughter will be her only child makes her more committed to caring for Joy.
This situation changes, however, when Pearl does get pregnant and carries the unborn baby to term. As she believes she will soon be raising a child who is biologically hers, her attachment to Joy cools somewhat. The grief she experiences when this baby is stillborn also contributes to her emotional alienation. A significant turning point occurs, however, when Joy learns the truth about her mother. Her anguish and disappearance make Pearl reevaluate her feelings; she then decides she must be the one to pursue Joy to China.