My adoption story does not begin at birth as most do. My story begins at age 5 when my mom and dad flew to South Korea to pick me out of a group of kids at a local Korean orphanage. I had just arrived and I imagine I was very nervous and frightened. I was chosen to be with this family.
I grew up as part of this wonderful family with 4 brothers. I was treated like one of them, but I have always wondered about my biological family. Who were they? Where are they? Why did they give me away at age 5? Did they love me? I fantasized that they were wondering about me too. I imagined them spending the rest of their lives searching for me and trying to get me back. I imagined that they regretted the day they gave me away.
Being a teenager is always a very difficult time in one’s life. There were so many times during my teenage years where I felt unwanted due to my adoption. Don’t get me wrong: I was loved by my adopted family. I was surrounded by parents, siblings, aunts, and uncles, cousins, and grandparents who all loved me. But I still felt low at times.
As you can imagine, I was shocked and surprised to receive a letter from an international adoption agency. They told me that my biological father was looking for me. I was so excited. I wondered what they wanted after all these years. I imagined that they would send me a letter and state how much they regretted the day they gave me away. I was ready for the amazing apology and the request to meet me. That was not to be.
The process was very slow. I wrote my letters to them and sent them to the agency, who, in turn, sent them to my family. Then, I received letters back. One was from my biological dad, who just merely stated that he was happy to know that I was with a good family and doing well in life.
To my surprise, I also got a letter from my older brother and sister. I couldn’t believe it. I had biological siblings? One letter, however, was missing. A letter from my birth mother. I wondered about that. Where was she? Why was she not around? I also received some pictures. Family pictures of us when I was with them, then other pictures of them when I was not with them. That was when I got angry.
Why did I have a family in South Korea and why was I not with them? What happened that I was given away and they all got to stay together? Was I a bad child? And where was my birth mother? These feelings made me hold back from continuing communication with my biological family. Over the years, my older siblings attempted to communicate through letters, then phone calls. There were a few times when they tried to contact me and had even gotten a translator on the phone to try to help with the language barrier. It was very difficult but I did appreciate them trying.
Then one day I received a letter that my birth father had died due to heart failure. I really did not know him and did not feel bad about the news. He was the one that gave me away and didn’t seem to care or want to see me again. My sister, however, stated that I was listed as one of his kids and would inherit some money. She told me that I had to come to Korea to sign the paperwork and I would get the money. At this point, my sister had gotten married, had a child, and was living in California. It would take another couple of years to plan it, but I finally was going to meet my birth family.
I had a child of my own who was 4 years old. I planned to take him with me. So, in November of 2004, my son and I boarded the plane in Detroit, Michigan that would take us to Tokyo, Japan, then on to Seoul, South Korea. I was very, very nervous. I did not speak Korean. My sister, who had learned a little English from living in California, was not going to be there for a couple of days after I arrived. I was going to be meeting my birth mother, my older brother and his wife, and my younger brother first.
We left our hometown at 9:00 a.m. Saturday morning and arrived in Korea around 9 p.m. Sunday (due to the 12-hour difference in time). My son and I had traveled for 24 hours. We got off the plane, picked up our luggage, and walked through the gates to meet my biological family. They were standing there waiting for me with a sign that had my Korean name on it.
I actually don’t remember what emotions I was feeling at the time. There were so many– happy, excited, nervous, scared, etc. They embraced me. My birth mother kept hanging onto me and would not let me go.
We visited for 3 weeks. I met many members of my family. I met my brothers and sister, aunts and uncles, my grandmother who I had lived with as a little girl before going to the orphanage, nieces and nephews, and cousins. I was 30 years old and was meeting people that I hadn’t seen in 25 years.
There was a moment when my birth mother and my brothers and sister were sitting around the table with me eating dinner. I looked around at them and realized that even though I didn’t grow up with them and didn’t know them very well, this was my second family and they would always have a place in my heart. But my real family will always be my adoptive family, the one that I grew up with, laughed with, and cried with. I love both my families very much.
Since meeting everyone for the first time, I have stayed in contact with them, especially my sister. She just recently flew out here to visit with me and my family. It was a great time.
I believe the one piece of advice that I would give to both birth families and adoptees is to have patience. Don’t expect to connect right away. It takes time to develop a relationship with somebody, even if you are biologically related. Don’t expect too much too fast. I first came in contact with the biological family when I was 16 and it took almost that much time again to actually get to meet them for the first time. I have since met my birth mother and my sister again when I visited her in California and have developed a closer relationship with them both. Just know it is not going to happen overnight.
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