For me the birth family search was a formality…a line item on my master “life” list. Anyone who knows me knows I am an obsessive list maker, so of course I have a list of things I wanted to do/accomplish before thinking of starting a family.
This pre-baby bucket list spans several categories including things like pay off student loans, re-finance the mortgage, establish our careers, and visit my birth country, to name a few. Everything is checked off with the exception of visiting my birth country and initiating a birth family search (more about that under About).
With my big 3-0 birthday fast approaching, I knew that now was the time to go back to the “motherland.” My husband and I hope to start a family in the next year or so, and with our 20s coming to a close, in order to move forward I needed to be able to look back with no regrets and no apologies…so we booked our trip to Korea.
As an adoptee, the birth family search was always on the “to-do” list but was never that important to me… maybe a better way to say it is that I never allowed it to be that important to me. By keeping it at arm’s length all these years I was protecting myself from the possibility of disappointment. I hated the idea of being at the mercy of foreign social workers and agencies who held the key to your past in their back pocket.
Once we had decided that we were definitely going to Korea, I made the tough decision to initiate a birth family search. I knew that once that can of worms was opened, there was no going back. I’ve seen the search for one’s past consume people and I didn’t want to be its latest victim. I approached it in a very logical and methodical way, never letting my mind wander to the hopeful side.
What made it extra difficult was the social worker from the agency’s emails. Now, I’m not sure if it was her English but the way she worded things was very matter of fact and she sounded a little too sure of herself.
For example, I knew from hearing and reading others’ stories that they often sent a letter and pictures to have in their file, so I asked her in an email if I should send her those things. She replied, “No, not yet. Once we talk to your birth family then you can send pictures for them.” And after I told her when I was going to be in Korea, she said she would try to “expedite my file” so that I could meet them when I’m over there.
She made it all sound so easy, like it was a sure thing; but I knew better from talking with other adoptees. At one point in the process I caught myself becoming almost hopeful that they would be found because of how she worded her emails.
Being in this position deeply upset me, because I had always insisted to myself that I didn’t care and that it wasn’t important to me. For the first time ever I found myself, at first, upset at the thought they might never be found, and then, half a second later, I felt overcome with guilt toward my real parents. I couldn’t bear to think how that would make them feel…me…distraught at the idea of not finding my birth family (aka the people who didn’t want me in the first place) after they have given me everything. it was a concept that I, myself, couldn’t even fully grasp, so how in the world were they going to understand?
On April 19th it had been almost a month since I had had any communication with the social worker, so I sent her an email just asking if there were any updates.
The next night (April 20th) I got a reply
I have sent a telegram to your birth parents with mailing address we got from government organization recently to inform them you are looking for birth family. According to search result, they reside in same address located Daegue city.
The rest of her email basically said, “don’t contact us, we’ll contact you,” so it wasn’t sounding good. It was late at that point, so I went to bed. The next morning (less than 8 hours later), I’m lying in bed scrolling through emails quick and I see another email from her.
She was glad to hear your news and would like to meet you when you visit Korea. She lives with your birth father. You have three elder sisters, they all got married and know about you.
Please send a letter, pictures for your birth family. She cannot wait for hearing from your letter, pictures. I would forward to your sister once I receive from you as birth mother does not have e-mail account.
Needless to say, I was floored. It took the agency exactly two months from the day I submitted the initial request forms. Never in a gazillion years did I ever think this would happen. This line-item was checked off, for all intents and purposes, the moment I submitted the initial request-to-search forms. In my mind, the need to search was to satisfy my own personal requirement of being able to look back 50 years from now and tell myself “at least I tried” and have no regrets moving forward.
It has been just over a week since I received that life-changing email and I could never have predicted my reaction to it. All I can say is that the news wasn’t all “puppies and rainbows” to me.
When you’ve had a pretty darn good life and have worked endlessly to make peace with the things you can’t control, it leaves one extremely unprepared for such a plot twist. I had never even let myself consider the possibility that they could be found…and now I’m scrambling to process this information and what it all means.
I feel grateful to my fellow adoptees who have blogged and shared their experiences in this department. Thank you. I have truly enjoyed hearing/reading them and feel that I need to pay it forward. I will be sharing bits and pieces of my journey on here.
Thanks for reading!