Kristin and I also got connected over Facebook thru a Korean Adoptee Group. She lives in Metro Detroit and is a the author of “A Widow’s Guide to Healing”. Small World: Kristin and I were at an automotive conference together in 2017 where I was working as the main photographer. Her best friend Mike was the keynote speaker that year. Instead of me conducting an interview Kristin chose to provide me with a written piece from Psychology Today. Posted on Feb 25, 2019.
This is the first essay in a multi-part series which gives a glimpse into my Korean adoption story, and a somewhat peculiar view into what it was like growing up some forty plus years ago in a predominately Caucasian culture with some vague notion of why I would hear people (usually complete strangers) ask me: "Do you speak English? Is that your mom? Where did you come from? How did you get here? Can you see out of your eyes?"
In answering these questions as a child it was hard to distinguish between what people wanted to believe and the truth.
The truth is that I don't know my birth name or the date I was born. The Seoul (Korea) based agency with ties to the United States gave me a generic Korean name and approximated my birth date as there are various dates on my records.
Growing up, there was a game I sometimes played in my head. If I could somehow travel to the Seoul adoption agency, I could find a clue perhaps, such as a name, my actual birth date, a fragment that could lead me to discover something about my birth story, or better yet find someone who shares my DNA. It is worth noting this was before DNA kits and the internet.
Over the years I prepared different endings to this game. The occasional one where I would get a glimpse into my early days, either from a nurse or foster parent would result in me being able to seek more information. Another ending which was far- fetched would give me the precise time I was born, and birth name. Then there was the miracle ending- where I would be reunited with my birth family.
A handful of years after completing graduate school at the University of Michigan with a major in social work and being rejected from an entry-level social worker job at an adoption agency ( I was told I didn't understand anything about adoption and my experience as an adoptee wasn't "real clinical experience") , I was married to my beloved husband. He had a strong sense of self and sometimes I think knew me better than I knew myself.
Shortly after we were married, he directed his energy to helping me, with the practical matters of searching for my birth family. This was no easy feat, since, the internet in 2003 wasn't as robust. His wisdom came down to this - contact the Seoul adoption agency, and we would go there. This kind of trip demanded not only careful planning on his part but serious emotional strength on mine.
And in 2006, I was 32 with my heart lodged in my throat, we boarded a plane to Seoul, Korea. We arrived in the dark, and days later figured out how to hop on the train for the post-adoption appointment.
The female staff greeted us and ushered us up the stairs to a small, dimly lit office. She handed me a folder with my name on it, and upon opening it I saw my adoptive father's original signature. I remember touching it because he died when I was two weeks shy of turning five, and somehow I felt feeling his signature with the raised ink was a blessing.
After looking through the papers I realized I had seen them all before. I felt like I was in the eye of the storm. Neither the staff or my husband moved. Silence.
My husband took charge of the brief meeting and asked questions about possible relatives and if anyone came looking for me. We had heard from other Korean adoptees that birth family members would sometimes go to the adoption agency seeking information about their child, thus, resulting in a reunification.
They could all be dead, we were told.
I listened for some hope.
The 20-minute conversation ended. Her tone conveyed something I'll never forget. It remains in me as a vague expression of some pious greeting.
I tore down those stairs like there was no tomorrow only to discover there was nowhere for me to go. We were several miles from the hotel, and the train was the only transport. It was hard to see anything because there tears in my eyes. I started to walk parallel to the train tracks and my husband questioned, "Where are you going?"
I said, "I want to be alone."
He responded with this request- "Please stay where I can see you."
Upon returning to the United States, I put to rest any hope I'd find anything about my birth family.
Over a decade later, I felt terror when I learned this adoption agency was less than transparent with their Korean adoptees. And when I learned they would actually withhold pertinent identifying birth information from adoptees and birth families alike (seeking information) this discovery echoed like some kind of villainous nightmare. It came across as heartless and caused a tremor in my voice when I second guessed this practice aloud. And yet, I knew it was not a lie. I felt duped in a way that reached far into my heart.
When I learned of this my husband had since died (2007) from cancer, so I couldn't turn to him with this pain. I do not know what if anything was withheld from me, but I chose to realize it is possible that I wasn't given everything.
And still, this I do know for certain the longing remains rich to solve a part of my birth mystery.