From There to Here

Every adopted person or parent of adoption is on a journey of one sort or another. What we have experienced on our journeys colors our thoughts, opinions, and actions regarding adoption. We support, oppose, speak, and shout from the places we've been and the things we've seen and felt.

My experiences have taken me from staunch adoption supporter to adoption questioner. I do not yet totally oppose adoption, because I believe it can be an appropriate response to the need of children in certain circumstances. But this opinion may change, too, as my journey takes me further into the future.

My husband and I came to adoption via infertility. We simply wanted to have a family with children. We had no experience with adoption and knew no adoptive families. Our research (pre-internet, therefore all by phone, mail, and meeting), led us toward intercountry adoption, and ultimately to Korea. We chose an agency with an ethical reputation, a non-profit organization with strong ties to Korea.

We began to learn about Korean adoption: That it began after the Korean War, when Harry and Bertha Holt adopted eight children and triggered a wave of adoptions by American families. The Holts ultimately devoted their lives to Korean children, established a home at Il San and other facilities, spent much of their lives in Korean, and are buried there.

We learned also that the adoptions that continued after the Korean war ended were a result of the patriarchal, Confucian Korean cultural system. Familial relationships were paramount. Korean men often would not take children from their wives' previous marriages into their families, never mind those born out of marriage. Adoption was relatively rare, usually found within families related by blood. Children born out of marriage were registered as "head of household" on their hojeok, the Korean family record needed in many social situations (such as getting a job), and had few chances to move forward in life. (A positive note - the hojuje system will be abolished by 2008; legislation to start the process was passed last year.)

We learned that single parenting was largely unaccepted, and Korean familial and societal pressure on single women to relinquish their children was enormous. There was very little social support for women or families in poverty. And it was made crystal clear to us, through the stories of mothers who committed suicide when found by children they had lost years before, that our children's mothers' privacy was never to be invaded. New lives, once built, could be shattered in an instant by the appearance on the doorstep of a child placed in adoption years ago.

We who considered Korean adoption were told that our children would have two options if they remained in Korea: institutional childhood followed by lives with few opportunities, or adoption, possibly in Korea, but more often abroad. We believed that adoption was the sad but necessary solution to cultural pressures outside of our hands to resolve. We developed enormous respect for our children's mothers, and for their privacy.

Following our homestudy, our agency provided us with information about an infant, a little boy. We accepted immediately, and waited the final months to his arrival. He was escorted to us from Korea, as our agency did not allow adoptive parents to travel to meet their children then.

My first encounter with his Korean mother was at the airport the day he arrived. Holding him, I began to see the arms that had held him first, and ultimately had to let him go. By the simple act of holding my son, his mother became real.

The next few years are a blur: parenting, adopting our daughter in 1991, all the things the first years of a child's life are made of. And, being the parents of Korean children, we did our time as Tourist Parents, learning, absorbing, inhaling our children's culture. We became advocates for our children, educating those we encountered who were ignorant of adoption, correcting the misunderstandings and errors as we understood them then, protecting our child's dignity. We made a conscious decision to share all of our children's information with them, explaining how hard life would have been for their mothers and them had they stayed in Korea, believing we were being as truthful as possible.

And then there was Jeongseon.

Jeongson is where our daughter was born, a little jewel in the Korean mountains. I visited there on my first trip to Korea in 1992, the highlights of which were visits to both of my children's birthplaces. My travel friend and I went there on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in October, crisp and sunny. What a lovely place it is - a smallish town, ringed by mountains, with a river on the outskirts. We walked through side streets, heard music through windows, a piano being practiced. We bought ice cream and souvenirs. Kids ran through the streets, couples strolled. I searched every face for a sign of my daughter, in vain. But I did find something else - I found the place that could have been her home. And it was very, very good.

This is the point at which I really began to wonder what my children had lost by coming to us. Others were questioning, too, I began to learn, especially adoptees, who were beginning to return to Korea to find their heritage, and to search for and find their parents. I read the story of Wayne Berry, who essentially "outed" his birth family, aghast at first that he had placed his mother at such risk, but then, surprised - they reunited, he met his family, and life went on.

It was becoming evident to me that our children's first families were more open to reunion than we had been told. Some certainly remained silent, making no effort to reunite, and rejecting efforts by their children to do so. But adoptees, and first mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents were searching and finding and reuniting. Katy Robinson's book A Single Square Picture, the story of how she located her first father, opened my eyes further. Deann Borshay Liem's film First Person Plural was a revelation.

Fast forward to 2001 - year of our Korea homeland tour. We and a group of close friends made plans to travel to Korea for three weeks that summer. As part of our preparation for the tour, it was recommended that we do a file check to ensure we had all the information that was there. Shortly after initiating the check, we received a little note in the mail from our adoption agency, two or three brief lines, not on agency letterhead. The agency had more information that had not been made available to us before. Please call.

We realized from this information that our child was here for one reason alone: a family's financial need, for which there had been no support to help them through their rough time. And our child had built an identity on the information we had originally received. That identity now had to be dismantled and rebuilt, at who knows what emotional cost to our child.

That was my turning point. That was when my adoption world changed forever, from less and myth to reality.

From there to here, a journey of experiences. Each one altering my perspective, changing my direction and my family's. Where I go from here is unclear, but I know this: This is no longer a journey for my children, my husband and me alone. Their families in Korea are with us, now in spirit, hopefully one day in person.

Comments

suz said…
beautiful post. i love that you accept their natural family is not a replacment of you but an extension.

sadly, there are many many lies in adoption. with the numerous reunions i have faciliated the lies became very obvious. home studies that were "changed", natural parent profiles that were "embelished". its quite shameful.
Mia said…
This was an amazing and insightful post. Wow.
toni said…
hi margie,
there are two yahoo groups that might be of interest to you and i am linking them (w/ a brief blurb about one IAT - i think you might it very useful as you process some of the things you are now writing about...(i don't know how to make a good link in a comment box, but you can copy and paste).

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Discuss-IAT/

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/International-Adopt-Talk/

This list is open to families in the IA triad interested in honest, in-depth exploration of difficult issues -- who wish to learn from adult adoptees and other families with experience parenting older IA who are willing to discuss and delve deeper into the issues and complexities of adoption and how it affects those we love.
Margie said…
Thanks, Toni,

I belong to both IAT and Discuss-IAT, mostly lurk but have occasionally piped in. They are both excellent resources, and I recommend both. It's unfortunate the many adoptive parents - including me for sure - have a hard time reading these early in their experience. But I think there are more and more who are reaching out, which is a really good thing.

Thanks for stopping by!
I really love the way you see the whole picture and how much care you show.

MSP
soon young said…
wow. as an adoptee, all i can say is...wow.

your blog is the first blog of an adoptive mother that i think i will check back on. i'm really interested in learning more about what you have to say.

thank you for writing...
Margie said…
Thanks, Soon Young, I've been reading your blog as well, and appreciate your thoughts, too. It's a complicated experience we're in, for sure. I'm learning all the time.

Margie
Great post. Lovely writing. Adoption is one of those onion things....
Andie D. said…
Incredible post.

I am an adoptee in the beginning stages of reunion. I'm learning as much as I can from all members of the triad.

It's adoptive parents like you who have helped me go from hard core anti-adoption to having a more balanced, hopeful, positive view of adoption (OPEN adoption, that is).

Thank you.
FauxClaud said…
I continue to adore you!!

That was trully beatiful!
Jennifer said…
Lies in adoption hurt everyone - it matters not who has told them. I pray that a reunion comes to happen someday. Your children are very lucky to have wise parents who trust them with the truth - no matter how painful it may be. I am glad to learn from you that you cannot protect your children from pain - but you can provide the environment needed to grow.
Nina said…
Just discovered your blog and will continue playing catch up with your story. The mere existence of such an open adoptive parent - who is willing to question and improve - makes me hopeful for the future of the younger generation of adoptees. Those of us from the infamous Closed Era have much to say and contribute so that the same mistakes aren't repeated, but we often find ourselves marginalized and frustrated by the prevailing rosy view that adoption is an all wonderful institution that rescues unfortunate children. Your writing is clear and crisp and wonderful and...important!
Mom2One said…
Oh, Margie. Thank you for directing me to this. It is truly beautiful.

There are so very many emotions, so many thoughts. Many times my thoughts go in circles and I have to just stop them and let them lie for awhile until I can start the process all over again. It's very confusing, unsettling, a lot to absorb. I know an inkling, a smidgeon, but may not know the truth unless, until . . . I hope for that day, for my son's sake. But it has to be his hope, that's what I know; it can't be mine. It has to be his and on his terms. I'm really just a supporting player in this. At least that's how I see it now. Other times I wonder if we could search and establish a relationship before he's of age.

Like I said, so confusing . . . so very confusing.

Thank you so much for your always intelligent, thoughtful words.

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