Thanksgiving Reflections

Being thankful and expressing gratitude has never been hard for me, however this year I found it incredibly difficult. Actually, it was nearly impossible.

While thinking about the perfect words to express what I’m thankful for (for a Facebook status of course), I realized that all of the words felt empty and meaningless, like something being said merely for the sake of saying something. I had lost the ability to articulate, or even come close to articulating, what I’m thankful for. This was deeply troubling, as what does that say about someone?

Slowly, I realized that I still felt a tremendous amount of gratitude, however due to all of the contradictions and conflict occurring within, I couldn’t find a way to clearly express everything (nor did I feel right in doing so).

This entire search process is being conducted in secret; only two other people know. As such, I’m constantly carrying around an overwhelming sense of guilt when surrounded by friends and family, as keeping something this big a secret is nothing short of inauthentic…and I have a big problem with that.

But, perhaps the worst part about this search is that it juxtaposes the feelings I have toward my birth parents with those toward my adoptive family; pulling me closer to one and pushing me further from the other.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, my adoptive family and I are not close…at all. I know that they love me and I love them, but we’ll never have that deep love for one another that is only achieved by truly knowing the other. I’ve come to terms with that and sadly, I’m well beyond the point of wanting it. (And I get that this admittance makes me a horrible person.)

While eating Thanksgiving dinner I saw a stream of pictures of my brother with his sister-in-laws, each picture accompanied with a full recount of the corresponding memory. Watching the happiness beam from their faces and hearing their laughter as it reverberated throughout, I couldn’t help but feel happy for him; happy that he had found a sister(s). I can only hope that having found them helped fill the void that I (might have) left, and that it has given him peace (that is, if he was ever conflicted by our lack of a real relationship).

This led me to thoughts about my parents and how thankful I am that they have a son that they’re able to be close to; someone to receive that treasured parent-child connection from. Nonetheless, I’ll always feel guilty for not giving them that relationship from me.

The next day, while eating leftovers with my dad I became inundated with sadness. As we were silently eating I looked over at my dad and noticed how he would turn his attention to the television in the background and then back to his plate, rarely looking up at me. While his eyes were downcast, I could see and sense his sadness at the display of how distant we were– two people, not talking and not even looking at each other. His sadness instantly became part of me, and as I melded it with my own, this image of the epitome of sadness forever etched itself into my memory. It was enough for me to want to breakdown and say “I’m so so so sorry,” but as the sadness of it all overtook me, I found myself hurrying to escape the room.

All of this is occurring in the context during a point where my mom and I aren’t on speaking terms. After hearing about things she has said regarding my current life decisions, one of which being that the reason my ‘life-fail’ occurred was because I “no longer had Jesus,” I find myself actually angry for the first time. I feel cold. And I hate that; it’s so uncharacteristically like me.

Needless to say, this Thanksgiving has been rough and has left me hoping that the holidays hurry up and pass.

The faster, the better.


Return to Kyung Dong

By Sunny Jo (July 4, 1999)

Kyung Dong Babies’ Home in Suwon. The orphanage where I lived for a few
months before being was adopted to a family in Norway at age 1 1/2. I
was 23 years old and I it was my first time back to Korea and Kyung

Accompanied by 4 of my Korean friends who were to act as translators, I
was about to visit a place I used to call “home” yet was unable to
consciously remember. It was very special to be back. The original
building was still there, the same one that had housed myself and
probably thousands of other children through the years.

We were welcomed by the orphanage director and the staff. The director,
Chung Uei-Soon, had been the one in charge even back in the 1970s when I
was in there, so she was very touched by my visit. Due to her lack of
English language skills and my lack of Korean, it was difficult to
communicate. Luckily I had my friends there to translate, but a lot was
lost due to linguistic and cultural difference. Some things though, do
not need words to be expressed. She hugged me over and over, and she was
holding my hand most of the time.

I got my Korean name, Jung Ahn-Sun, by the director. Jung (Chung) is her
own family name, and Ahn is because I came from the city of Ahn yang.

I got to see my file from my stay in the orphanage. It contained the
name of the woman who brought me there + her address! That was
completely new information to me. When I had contacted my adoption
agency some years back, they told me all my files had been damaged in a
fire in the orphanage. Turns out that my file had been there the entire
time. I was in shock.

I went to play with the kids. They were so cute. When I held one little
girl in my arms I could not help thinking that she was about the same
age as I had been when living there. I also got to see and hold the
youngest babies. The youngest was only a month old. I could not help but
to think about what tragedy must have caused their mothers to abandon
these little ones. But even more, I thought about what the future would
hold for them, if they were to be sent off to an uncertain fate far away
the same way I had been. My heart sank when thinking about it. Maybe 20
years into the future, one of these children will return to Kyung Dong,
speaking another language than Korean as their mother tongue. Maybe one
day even they will visit Korea, the country of their birth, yet be
nothing more than tourists. Maybe.

Flesh from Their Flesh, Blood from Their Blood

By Sunny Jo

Mirror, mirror on the wall . . .
I used to look at myself in the mirror and see her — my mother, my unknown Korean mother, my biological mother. Or, at least, that is how I imagined she would look, since I had no memories of her, no picture, name, age or other information. So, all I could do was dream and fantasize about her, create pictures in my head, wonder if she was beautiful. And then she was there, looking back at me whenever I saw myself in the mirror. Of course she had to look like me, she carried me in her womb, shaped me from her own body. So when I saw myself, I also saw her.

*  *  *

From as long as I can remember I used to hate when new babies were born into my adoptive family. Everyone would compare the nose, the toes and other body parts to see if the offspring was most similar to the mother’s side of the family, or the father’s. And then there was me, always the black sheep standing out, not looking like anyone else in the family, the only one with black, straight hair and almond shaped eyes. The external differences were small compared to the mental and emotional alienation I felt.

I hated the fact that I was always standing out. I hated being different both in physical and emotional terms. And I never felt like I fully belonged, or that anyone could understand me. The well-meaning assumptions and expectations of my complete assimilation into my adoptive parents’ culture did not leave room for my loneliness, grief or experiences of racial discrimination. They tried to hide the fact that I was different behind my all-Western name, their own mono-culture and my perfect language skills. I had nowhere to turn for support from someone who knew what it was like being a minority, from someone who had experienced racism. And, it was all based on a fear of destroying the myths that “love is enough” and that “race does not matter.”

All my childhood years I was dreaming about this unknown woman, my biological mother. My hopes of ever meeting her were slim, my adoption papers gave little hope.  “The child was brought in to Kyung Dong Babies’ home from Ahnyang city. Father — Unknown. Mother — Unknown. Family origin: Han Yang,” stated the court document. So my fantasies were all I had. And I built up my life as an individual, completely different from my adoptive parents and extended relatives. I felt few ties holding me back, I could not identify with anyone else, so I had to create my own path walking it all alone. It was a lonely walk, but all I knew. My journey lead me to foreign countries and exciting experiences. I lived both through failures and successes, attempting to fill the emptiness inside. But the emptiness was always there, the feeling of being alone and disconnected from everything and everyone around remained. No amount of colorblind love, education, unique experiences, new friends and well-meaning “acceptance” could ever make it go away.

*   *   *

Twenty-three years after the day I left Korea for an unknown destination in Norway, I could for the first time look into the faces of my biological family and see my own flesh and blood. Fate had succeeded in the seemingly impossible task of reuniting a family which should never have been separated in the first place. My parents never intended to lose their two children to international adoption, but they survived this personal tragedy and later had another child who they raised. When looking at my little sister, I saw my life as it should have been, if not for a long line of tragic and unfortunate circumstances that ripped my family apart and sent my brother and I on two separate journeys to different lands and continents, touching several hearts along the way.

When I met my birthparents again in Kimpo Airport, we clung to each other while living through an emotional tornado. I met my own mirror images in the form of foreign strangers. The physical features gave no room for doubt, I was truly the daughter of this Korean woman and man in front of me. The girl in front of me was a younger version of myself. For the first time ever, I felt a true belonging, a deep connection, with other people. I felt the tie of blood, of family. My entire body was investigated and each part of my flesh was properly traced to its originator — my nose from my father, my eyes from my mother. It might seem trivial, but to me this was proof that I came from somewhere else, that I had roots and a family tree after all. It was the evidence that I wasn’t only a transplanted item, like a donated organ — accepted by the body but forever a “foreign object.”

But not only my physical traits could be found in my relatives. Even my mental and emotional personality was mirrored in blood. My restlessness was a legacy from my father, same with the mood swings. And my small, trivial habits of folding the edges of my clothes and tapping my fingers on the table as if I was typing on an invisible computer keyboard, were shared with both my mother and sister.

To find these similarities in people who did not share either my language nor my culture, touched my heart at the deepest levels. We could not have a decent conversation due to the linguistic barriers which separated us. But the unity we felt and the family atmosphere did not need any words.

Not all the inheritance from my biological family can be seen as positive. I carry my mother’s rheumatic disease in my body and my father’s hot temper in my head, both with me for life, not possible to escape from. They have caused obstacles and barriers, required me to adjust my life and forced me to change future plans. As a result, I have suffered losses and experienced deep grief. I worry about other illnesses which exist in my family, and wonder if I, or maybe my own children one day will suffer from one of them. I see my own weaknesses so clearly when I look at them in someone else. The clash of cultures and expectations lead to misunderstandings, offended feelings and disappointments. Tension built up from the frustration of not being able to properly communicate with people who I had so much to talk about. I felt rejected and excluded in my original Korean culture, due to the fact that I had been brought up with Western values and did not know the invisible codes of proper behavior.

Meeting my biological parents did not solve all of my inner problems, nor my outer ones. It did not answer all of my questions, but instead raised a set of new ones. But knowing who I was, and was not, where I started out and where I came from, gave me a solid foundation to continue my life. It filled in the missing pieces in my own puzzle, it gave me the tools I needed in order to find myself. And, it proved to me that I was more than only myself, that I have links and ties that go outside of my own being. And most importantly, I discovered that in the end I was who I was, not determined either by nature or nurture alone, but a delicate mix of both. And then something more. Finding my heritage brought my own being into balance. I am flesh of their flesh, blood from their blood. What else was there to say? So simple. So true. And yet so controversial.

After spending the day researching in secret, one of the things that I learned was that I was born in An Yang Hospital (Kyunggi Province), where I spent the next fourteen days in an incubator due to a low birth weight (4.6 lbs). After that I was supposed to be released into foster care, but was instead sent to Kyung Dong Babies Home (an orphanage). Between that time and the time I was sent over to the United States, I was hospitalized three times and later put into foster care.

Naturally, I’ve been googling my pediatrician, the hospital, and the orphanage. Turns out, there are a lot of Koreans with the name of my pediatrician, so I stopped browsing and immediately began to google the hospital. I couldn’t find anything on it right away, so I quickly proceeded to google the orphanage.

I’ve only gone through the first page of results and am excited by what I’ve found so far. The above story is one of the great finds, as it resonates within me in a variety of different ways, most notably the italicized parts.


In addition, I learned more about the orphanage as it is today. Not much, but remember, anything is something at this point. Here is some broad information about the orphanage:

Name: Kyong Dong Babies’ Home
Address: 71-3 Kodung  Dong, Suon; Kyunggi Do, Korea
Director: Mrs. Chung Ui Soon
Number of children: 135

It’s not much, but it’s a start.

Mailing the Invisible

Request for domestic and abroad adoption documents, as well as an assessment as to whether there is enough information to search for my birth parents

Enclosed within this envelope lies…

-the letter requesting my adoption documents
-a request to assess and determine if there is enough information in my files to conduct a search for my birth parents
-a large part of who I am and who I might become
-my hope

I plan on mailing it tomorrow and then (hopefully) not thinking about it until I receive the documents, as what happens next is out of my control.

Cloudy Darkness

Whether you stay or go someday the darkness will clear, the voices will be silent, and it will just be you and whatever it is your doing at that moment, and it will feel great.  And it might happen next week, tomorrow or 5 minutes from now or even right now.

Still waiting for this moment where the cloudy darkness disappears…for good, or at least for a decent duration. Every once in a while I have little moments that provide the illusion that I’ve finally arrived there, but they never feel welcome enough to make themselves at home.

In the meantime I’m left vulnerable; a captive to my thoughts.

I never realized how painful this time period was going to be.

The One Percent

One of the wonderful aspects about spending hours in coffee shops is that you’re able to get lost in your own world and go unnoticed. This is particularly helpful when you hit that ‘overwhelmed’ point, which is exactly what happened as I read the article from my last post. Tears silently streamed down my face in defiance of my will to remain okay and in-control, signaling my heart’s own resignation. As I sat there trying to erase and contain my tears, I couldn’t help but feed myself the highly narcissistic and erroneous line that says “you’ve been a good person, you have to be in that small percentage,” even though I’m well aware that there’s no correlation between the two. It’s entirely out of my control, so all I can do is hope.

A few days ago someone asked me how I envisioned life if I never got married and had a family (which is looking more and more likely). The more I thought about this, the more I realized that the way I envision this life is highly dependent on finding my birth parents and finding those feelings described in a former post:

I want to be able to feel and experience that innate love and acceptance that a mother has for her child; love that doesn’t have to be earned and that you feel will always be there; love that gives you a reason to live and never leaves you questioning whether you belong here. I want to feel right, okay, and whole…like maybe I have a sense of place after all. Words can’t describe how desperately I’m longing to feel these things.

If I find my birth parents, regardless of if I find those feelings or not, I think life could turn out okay; I’d find answers, resolution and/or closure, and be able to move forward.

Not finding them presents a much more grim outlook. Can you imagine living your life without ever finding that kind of love, acceptance, connection, and sense of place? Without feeling whole, right, or okay? And perhaps worse, having to continually be haunted by the gaping question marks surrounding your existence?

I’m not sure if I can.

That’s why I want need, and hope, to be in the one percent…the one percent of adoptees from Holt who are able to be matched with their birth family.

I’m clinging on to this hope with everything in me.

Questions and Answers: An Update on Search and Reunion through Holt

By Laura Crawford Hofer, LCSW, ACSW
Former Director, Post Adoption Services

“Do you have the name of my birth mother in your files?” asked Lauren*. This 20-something Korean adoptee’s child file indicated that she had been relinquished by her birth mother, and Lauren wanted more information.

We pulled Lauren’s file from Holt’s off-site vault and discovered that we did not have her birth mother’s name. As Director of Holt’s Post Adoption Services, I explained to Lauren that in almost all adoptions from Korea Holt does not have the names of the birth parents in our files. While disappointed with the news, Lauren had her immediate question answered and was not interested in pursuing anything further at this time.

For those who call us as Lauren did, the Post Adoption Services program at Holt provides many different and needed services, such as copies of adoption-related documents or referrals to groups, literature, websites, and professionals. But the service that always generates the most interest and comment is searching for birth relatives.

Like Lauren, many adoptees have initial questions about search: Do you have my birth parents’ names in your files? Can you find my birth parent? How long do searches take?
While the answers to these questions are as individual as the people requesting the information, Holt’s Post Adoption Services is here to help adoptees in their next step toward finding information about themselves.

Jack* had believed that he had been abandoned in a police box. He had imagined a police box as a small box with blankets for the collection of babies. In fact, what is referred to as a “police box” is a police substation, a neighborhood office of only one or two rooms. The information in our files confirmed that Jack, as he thought, had been abandoned in a police box, and that he was initially cared for in an orphanage and then relinquished by the orphanage director to Holt-Korea.

In spite of his belief that a search would probably be fruitless, Jack wanted to search for his birth family. Karla Miller, Social Services Coordinator for Post Adoption Services, recommended to him that he take an intermediate step prior to requesting a full search. “If he wished,” she explained, “we would contact Holt-Korea to ask if they had enough information in their files to pursue a search.” We recommend this step to all Korean adoptees because we have learned that we cannot predict whether or not a search will be possible from the information in our files.

One of the reasons for this is that Holt International Children’s Services and Holt Children’s Services of Korea (Holt-Korea) are two separate organizations. We are often confused because we were once one agency, share the same founder, and continue to have very similar names and to work closely together. The significance of this fact is that files in each organization are sometimes different.

In Jack’s case, as in others, when staff at Holt-Korea contacted the orphanage for information about Jack, they learned that, although the prior orphanage director had reported to Holt that Jack had been abandoned at the local police box, family members had relinquished Jack at the orphanage. Unfortunately, orphanage staff had not taken complete identifying information at the time of relinquishment and did not have an identification card number. Now, as a result, because Jack’s birth family’s name was very common, it was impossible for Holt-Korea staff to find them.

Most searches by Korean adoptees end like Jack’s—without finding birth parents. From 2000 to 2004 two hundred and twenty-four (224) Korean adoptees requested a full search or the intermediate step of an assessment of their files in Korea for the probability of a successful search. In most cases there was no identifying information in the files for birth parents. In some cases, like Jack’s, although a birth parent’s name was known, an identification card number had not been recorded. In a few cases the orphanage had closed and its records lost; in a few cases a search was attempted but did not bear fruit; and in a few more cases the birth mother had been unmarried at the time that she relinquished her child.

If the latter is the case, in most, but not all, instances staff at Holt-Korea will not contact unmarried birth parents due to the risk of exposing them to shame. Unlike the situation in the United States, unmarried birth parents in Korea continue to face severe ostracism, including losing the opportunity to marry, if their past becomes known. In cases where they have married but have not told their spouse, a call to their home might put them at risk of losing that relationship. Because of these risks, Holt-Korea usually waits for unmarried birth parents to initiate contact.

For the 224 Korean adoptees who requested an assessment of their file in Korea or a full search, 90% of cases were closed without any contact with birth parents. But adoptees in this situation have another option. If, after being unsuccessful with a search through Holt-Korea, adoptees still want to search on their own, Holt does offer advice on how to do an independent search. Please contact the Post Adoption Services office if you would like more information on this option.

Twenty-three adoptees of the 224 were successful in their search for their birth parents. In many of these cases one or both birth parents had relinquished the adoptee directly to Holt-Korea. In addition, in many cases the birth parent had been married at the time of relinquishment, and Holt-Korea has no reluctance to search for birth parents who are married at the time of relinquishment. They do not face the social stigma that unmarried birth parents do. In the other cases, although the birth parents were unmarried, the birth parents’ relationship was well known to their families, they had cared for their child for a while, or a life- threatening medical condition or a serious medical decision loomed. In those cases where adoptees can search, the process took an average of three months to complete in 2004. The shortest search took one week while the longest at 321 days at the end of the year is still on going.

When birth parents search for children whom they relinquished, they are much more likely than adoptees to be successful in their searches. From 2000 through 2004 we received 120 requests through Holt-Korea to search for adoptees on behalf of their birth parents, just about half as many requests as we received from adoptees during the same time span. We have currently completed all but 11 of those searches and in the completed searches have found all but 16 of the adoptees, a more than 85 percent success rate in finding adoptees. Because search technology has improved, our average rate of success in finding adoptees over the span of the last four years is lower than our rate of success in the last year. During 2004 we have found the adoptee in 93% of the completed searches. On average, searches during 2004 have taken just a little over three months. Our shortest search was done in 19 days and our longest took 254 days, about eight and a half months.

Though sometimes we are able to find an adoptee due to a recent contact with Holt or through an Internet search, we often can find adoptees only because of the generosity of their adoptive parents. Women who have married and changed their names are very difficult to find. We also, like our Korean counterparts, have particular difficulty with common last names, even though fewer than 3 million people hold the most common American last name, Smith, not even close to the nearly 10 million Kims in Korea. To make such searches easier, we welcome adoptees to update their records often with changes of last names, addresses, and other information.

Adoptees are usually floored when I contact them and let them know a birth parent would like to be in contact with them. In most cases they and their adoptive parents had believed that they had been lost or abandoned. There had been no information in their child material that prepared them for the possibility of birth parents searching for them.

Understandably, their first question is often, “How do you know that the person who is seeking me is my birth parent?” In about half of this group a birth relative had signed a relinquishment document at the orphanage, a counseling center, or a reception center, a key piece of information that often Holt Korea, Holt, and the adoptive family never received. The relinquishment document provides incontrovertible proof of the connection between the adoptee and the birth family. In other cases the adoptee’s name and birth date had been registered with the Korean government and birth parents are able to provide a legal document, called a Ho Juk, with this information, another piece of certain proof. In some cases there are only key similarities in the story that the birth parent tells about the child and the information in the child’s records, such as the date the child was lost. In cases like this one where the accuracy of the match may be uncertain, we let the adoptee know that DNA testing is acceptable in Korea.

Searching by both Korean adoptees and their birth parents will become easier for adoptees who were born in 1990 or later. In May 1990 Korea changed its laws so that agencies could not place children from orphanages or other institutions. As a result, more of the children placed for intercountry adoption after this date have been relinquished directly to the Korean agencies practicing intercountry adoption. While some adoptees will, of course, continue to be left in a safe place without any information, many have received some information about their birth parents and may not be quite so shocked to be contacted if their birth parent searches for them. In addition, most will know that, if they are interested in searching, they can do so.

Since the Post Adoption Services program began in April 1998, we have matched 165 Korean, Vietnamese, Filipino, and U.S. born adoptees with their birth families. Compared with the 35,000 adoptees that Holt has placed with adoptive families in the United States, 165 is a very small number, less than 1 percent of the total. But this percentage is growing steadily, and Holt’s Post Adoption Services is willing to give adoptees all the help they want. We recognize that each search is an individual journey, and we wish adoptees success as they search for pieces of their pasts.

*Names and profiles of Lauren and Jack are composites from hundreds of adoptees requesting search.

Definitely not encouraging.
Now I can only hope that I’m in that small percent (literally, percent).
If not, then what?
(…need more time to process.)