Someday

Happy National Adoption month?

In America, the month of November is celebrated as National Adoption Month. This has been celebrated since 2000 and is a month to recognize children who are waiting to be adopted, children who have been adopted, and all of the caregivers involved. It’s a month where individuals can share their stories and shed light on the positive and negative consequences of adoption.

In an ideal world, it would be a month to critically examine and re-write the laws that deeply affect adoptees and their birth parents. (It would be nice to have an original birth certificate, rather than one that has been fabricated to accompany a new, entirely different narrative.) But, we are still a long way away from this, so individuals are left on their own to obtain their personal histories and weave together some sort of a beginning, similar to a big bang.

Earlier this week, I read this story about a transgender woman who was able to secretly copy down her information while her social worker left the room. (I’m still kicking myself for becoming paralyzed and losing my chance at doing something similar while in Korea.) She tracked down her mother, with the help of the local authorities, and what followed was one of the most beautiful, touching reunion stories that I’ve ever read.

Reading this reignited my determination to obtain information* about my birth parents. I’ve promised myself that someday, I will return to Korea and will do whatever it takes to have the information that rightfully belongs to me, and I won’t leave until I succeed.

Has anyone else had any luck with receiving any of their information?

*Information would be enough for now. As a fairly responsible human being, I would never walk up to my birth parents and wreck their lives (aka: tell everyone I’m their daughter). 

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Because of You: A response to Bethany Christian Services

Bethany Christian Services released a series of three videos for what they refer to as “birthmothers day.” Contrary to the opinions of many others, I’m not upset that they decided to label it birthmothers day as opposed to mothers day because it helps distinguish and spread awareness that yes, adoptees have (at least) two mothers. Many people, if they are not adopted themselves, tend to forget that an adoptees’ adoptive mother is not his/her biological mother. This is not a fault of their own, nor is it careless. If anything, its a sign that the adoptee has assimilated quite successfully into whichever context they were placed.

All of that said, what does upset me are the nature of the videos that were released and encouraged by the organization to be sent to individuals’ birth mothers. Aside from the lack of authenticity, the videos are further propaganda (yes, propaganda) to be used by the organization, at the expense of birth mothers and their children.

The beginnings of Holt International are rooted in this same propaganda, propaganda where the real message is ‘your child can only have a good life away from you.’ The founders of Holt have often been accused as baby stealerssnatchers and other similar names, as many of the early adoptions were haphazardly explained to birth mothers. Many birth mothers were under the impression that they would still be able to communicate with their child throughout the years and when they realized that this was incorrect, they were overcome with grief.

The acquisition of children was usually done by talking about Christianity, asking if they (birth mothers) had ever considered sending their child to America, and then proceeding to show pictures of their country’s (in this case, South Korea’s) children, happy and smiling in America. Can you imagine what impact this must have on an already vulnerable, single woman?

I can.
It manipulates their view of themselves and their ability to raise their child.
It provides even more guilt for something that a woman already feels embarrassed about, covertly saying ‘you were selfish, now be selfless.’
It demeans her by saying ‘you’re not adequate to provide for your child.’

With these messages being sent, is it really any wonder why adoption agencies were, and are, so “successful?”

Unfortunately, this model of adoption has had a lasting impact. Agencies all over the world are using the same ‘look at this happy child!’ form of propaganda. (Some may argue that this is transparency, but transparency gives both sides of the story, not one.) Bethany’s most recent “birthmothers day” videos are just further proof.

Here is the transcript from the adoptees’ video:

Because of you I’m alive. I’m blessed and I have an awesome family.
I am thankful for you because if you didn’t make the choices that you did, the people that I call mom and dad, would have just been known as Pam and Lou.
Because of you I have been able to share a lot with others, about my faith and god’s providence.
Because of you I have a great mom and dad and brother and I love them all.
Because of you I feel protected and I’m home.
Out of all of the things that you could’ve done, you thought about me and what would be best for my future.
Because of you I know what it means to be a strong Christian woman and even though I’ve never met you I will never stop loving you.

Can you figure out what being said says, what really is being said here?

Because of you I’m alive. I’m blessed and I have an awesome family. Something that I would’ve never had with you. I certainly wouldn’t have lived?
I am thankful for you because if you didn’t make the choices that you did, the people that I call mom and dad, would have just been known as Pam and Lou. Thanks for making your choice. I’m so thankful that I can call them my parents, and not you.
Because of you I have been able to share a lot with others, about my faith and god’s providence. (Um…wait, this isn’t a good thing…)
Because of you I have a great mom and dad and brother and I love them all. Again, thanks! You never could have been a great mom.
Because of you I feel protected and I’m home. Something else you couldn’t provide.
Out of all of the things that you could’ve done, you thought about me and what would be best for my future. Or, you at least listened to what the agency fed you.
Because of you I know what it means to be a strong Christian woman and even though I’ve never met you I will never stop loving you. I never would have been a strong person if I grew up with you. 

No one would ever want to send such messages to someone, yet these are exactly what the birth mothers are being told. (I’m really interested in the parts that weren’t included in the video. By the emotion of some of the individuals, you know there was more to it. Do you think Bethany will ever release the outtakes?)

This time next week I’ll be on my way to Korea. One part of the trip is a visit to an unwed mothers home, where we adoptees will be paraded in front of unwed mothers as living propaganda. I really hope there are others there who realize the impact our words can have on these vulnerable women.

We need to be advocating for birth mothers to keep their children, not give them away.
We need a gentle way to say no one can replace you.
We need to show them how much their children will love and need them.

If I were to create my own video it would say the following:

I wish you would have kept me.
Regardless of how difficult things could have been, at least we would have been together.
Because of you, I’ll always be searching for home, a place filled with love and belonging.
Because of you I have never experienced more pain, pain that I’ll never be able to move beyond.
A lot of people say that you gave me life, but you may also be the reason it ends.
I want you so much.

October Baby

In the middle of making a list of “things to do to keep busy,” I landed on a website looking at showtimes for movies…since going out to a movie is a quite effective distraction-from-life tool.

When it comes to movies, I tend to be a ‘judge the movie by its poster’ type person: does the movie have a catchy poster? If so, I continue on and read the synopsis.

One of the movies, October Baby, was particularly striking for numerous reasons. You can read the synopsis here. Once you do, you’ll probably understand what caught my attention.

The quick synopsis is this:

Girl collapses due to a complicated birth –> finds out she’s adopted (after a failed abortion) –> becomes angry and confused –> goes on a journey to find her “hidden past and find hope for her unknown future.”

Ha. Now THAT is a coincidence.
Is this really a movie that’s in theaters right now, seriously? I realize I don’t really matter in the world, yet at the same time can’t stop feeling like I’m important enough for the world to go out of its way to make me miserable via throwing the topic of adoption in at every turn.

While browsing the reviews and the movie website, I learned that it’s a Christian movie (read: it has an agenda) and one its supporters is Bethany Christan Services (which is one of the partnerships for the trip I’m going on). Other supporters include Focus on the Family (gag) and Heartbeat International, among others. Given what I know about Holt International and Bethany Christian Services, I can imagine what the main agenda is– give your child up for adoption! It’s god’s plan! And it’s what’s best for you and your baby!

Although the movie looks like a bad lifetime movie, which means it must be pretty terrible, the allure and the reason I may pay close to $10 to see it, is the “find hope for her unknown future” line.

I’m at a point where I’ll read and/or watch almost anything if it gets me even a little closer to (re)finding hope, which is why I’m still going to Korea even though I’m dreading it…because maybe it won’t be that bad at all. I feel like being in Korea is my only chance at rediscovering the peace and hope I once had, like it’s my only way toward the possibility of healing.

There’s an urgency of needing to find out now if this will resolve things because I can’t hold out much longer.

And I’ll only know if I go.

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
Dong.

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.

Wow.

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.