In September of 2006, while pregnant with my first child, I got a phone call from the agency that my biological little brother and I were adopted from. The handler told me he has a letter in his hands for me from MY BIRTH MOTHER and asked if I’d like him to send it to me! I was shocked at first—but very shortly thereafter, I recovered and told him that I absolutely was interested in receiving mail from her.
My entire life was spent knowing that my brother and I were adopted from an orphanage in South Korea, though the circumstances surrounding our adoption were completely unknown. As it was recorded in our very thin file, we were dropped off and left there with no information. The orphanage didn’t even know our names or birthdays.
We were adopted by a family in the United States, and through our years growing up, we were loved fully by our amazing family and felt a love for our sweet birth mother, whoever she was and wherever she was. We knew she had “made the most loving choice that a mother can make for her babies” by placing us for adoption.
Little did we know that we would ever—or COULD ever—be in contact with our birth mother in this lifetime. It was just too inconceivable that the odds would ever swing that way in an international, closed, orphanage-based adoption with no personal history. But sometimes life makes some crazy turns and, in my case, this has been one of the best twists I could ever dream of.
Becoming friends with my birth mother felt scary at first. I didn’t want her to be disappointed with how my life has turned out.
I spent the next few months writing with my birth mother, Hi Suk, via our handler with the agency. We sent emails to the agency and they would redact my letters to limit the personal information I wrote, such as, “The weather here in Idaho is just terrible in the winter!” After a few months of this type of correspondence, I knew this was not a crazy woman; I began to trust her.
Becoming friends with my birth mother felt scary at first. I didn’t want her to be disappointed with how my life had turned out. I wanted to reciprocate the love she had for me but felt stressed because I could tell that she spent her entire life thinking of her two babies, and I didn’t want my love for her to be forced and fake. After time, that love I felt for her became very real. She is my friend and I love having her in my life.
Now my birth mother’s story is unique. She did not willingly place us for adoption. In fact, she didn’t even KNOW we were in an orphanage at all, much less already placed into a home in the United States. Here’s the quick version: a physically and emotionally abused young mother called the final straw after a particularly violent beating from my birth father. A swift divorce ensued, and our angry birth father left my little brother and at an orphanage, all while Hi Suk searched for us everywhere.
The adoption moved swiftly; we were only in the orphanage for less than a year before we moved to Wyoming with our incredible family. Once my birth mother found out that we were truly gone and there was nothing she could do about it, she was enraged. The Korean government asked her to leave the country and not return after being “hassled” by a bitter and inconsolable young mother who had lost her children due to the system “selling her babies.” Forced to leave her family behind, she quickly met a French scientist who was on vacation in Japan (where she had temporarily moved), and they hit it off. They moved to France and got married. She was happy but unsettled about her children. Hi Suk and her husband hired a team of private investigators to track us down, and after nearly 20 years and many miracles, they found us.
It’s been nearly eight years now since that first letter arrived. I’ve learned so much about myself, as an adoptee and daughter and even as a mother. When I meet other adoptees and we talk about reuniting with our birth mothers, I always say the same thing: be sure to have your own anchors in your life before meeting them.
This goes for both the birth mother and child. I know that my support system grounded me immensely. I had a loving and supportive husband who felt the same thrills and fears that I did and reminded me to be confident of the life I was leading. We were expecting our first child, so my heart already felt full and at peace. My parents in Wyoming were happy for us and supported my decision to proceed with a relationship with Hi Suk. They still are! I can honestly say that without my strong support system, this situation would have felt much scarier for me. Because I was well-supported, however, my whole life wasn’t hinging on this one relationship with this woman I didn’t even know.
The same applies to my birth mother. She had a wonderful husband and many great friends and family to support her. She was in a place in her life that was calm, and her happiness was not based on whether or not we accepted her into our lives . . . this was important to her sweet French husband, as they had no idea how we would react to her. In short, we were both READY but not desperate.
When I meet other adoptees and we talk about reuniting with our birth mothers, I always say the same thing… be sure to have your own anchors in your life before meeting them.
One thing I sort of struggled with (and still at times do) is the feeling of obligation to her. She’s lived her whole life searching for us and, now that we are reunited, it’s difficult to tell her “No, we can’t visit France every spring, even though we’d love to with all our hearts” or “No, we probably won’t be living there any time soon.” Telling her no for anything breaks my heart. I want to make her happy, and part of me feels like I have an obligation to do so after she suffered for so many years.
Something I’m very grateful for is the day she and I spoke about what I should call her. She was the one to initiate this conversation, and all she said was, “Please, call me Hi Suk.” And then she hugged me . . . the kind of hug that only a mother can give. My heart still swells with love when I think of her and her respect for my own personal life. She adores my children and husband.
Nature vs Nurture? Ten years ago I would have said, “Nurture all the way!” but after meeting Hi Suk, I must admit nature has a very strong place in my personality! She and I are both CRAZY! We even have the exact same happy dance when we are being sung “Happy Birthday” in public restaurants. This is fact: We both LOVE attention!
My husband and Hi Suk’s husband both just sit back with slack jaws when they see us cracking up over the same goofy things or when we pull the same dorky facial expressions. We walk with the same posture. We slouch the same. We both have virtually no personal bubble that we know of, hence hugging and petting and stroking and holding are very natural to us. I love knowing this about us. I’m so proud to know that my sassy, vivacious (that’s a euphemism for nutty) personality comes from her. What a terrific life I have!
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