How are you handling COVID in Korea? I assume you still live in Korea, but I honestly do not know where you are living. I do not even know if you are still alive, actually. However, today I am going to assume you are both alive and living in Korea. I heard Korea is doing really well with the pandemic – probably the decades of habit in wearing a mask really helped. And the homogenous culture. In Louisville, Kentucky, it was as controlled as it could be for a little while. But then people started getting antsy and making “wearing a mask” a political statement or protest and our numbers have increased. My husband and I do not go out much. We were homebodies before the pandemic but we certainly are even more so now, uncomfortably so.
I suppose I’m small talking at the moment because I’m not sure where to start with my letter to you, and current events seems like a global thing to talk about. I have recently been involved in the adult adoptee community online. It has basically given me a purpose in life. Prior to the pandemic, I lived my life without any kind of community. I stopped going to church because it has been a painful process of understanding my time at my college ministry. It was a cult. I was in a cult. So I took a step back after being in several ministries for 13 years of my life.
So back to the adoptee community. Did you know there is such a thing? Where adoptees from all over the world use social media to communicate and build friendships? It’s amazing. If there was one thing that came from this pandemic, it was this community coming into my life. We talk about things that only other adoptees understand in similar ways. Abandonment. Rejection. Identity. Racism. Of course there are so many people who understand these issues, but adoptees GET these issues to our core.
What kind of community do you have in your life? Do you know any other birth moms? I know the culture of single mothers is so different in Korea and very much not accepted by society. I hate this about Korean culture. Ultimately, it seems to be a huge reason why mothers relinquish a child.
I hope to hear from you soon. Some days I have hope to meet you and other days, I feel the impossible weight of our separation. I hope you are well.
I wrote about this experience in 2009, when I was on an adult adoptee trip in South Korea and searching for my birth family for the first time. I took a train trip with a Korean native who was helping me find any pieces of my story and translating everything for me:
I sat on the crowded subway and leaned my head against the window. The light vibration created a calming rhythm that made me feel at peace from the morning’s investigation. My eyes were strained and fighting to keep open. Jenna looked over at me and asked if I was okay. I gave a weak smile to reassure her.
I scanned the car and saw strangers that shared the same features as myself. Black, silky hair. Small, skinny eyes that looked at me as if to say, What are you doing in our country? What they did not know was me looking back at them, answering, Why didn’t you want to keep me? All of them were unusually light skinned, almost porcelain, in comparison to my dark brown color on my arms and face, the most obvious pieces of evidence that I spent more time outside in direct sunlight and did not mind the change of color. I couldn’t help but wonder…How could my life have been like this? What if my mom decided not to give me up? I could have been carrying an umbrella in fear of the sunshine. I decided not to think about it and my mind immediately started blinding me with snapshots of the earlier events from the morning.
Standing in the middle of Guri City Hall, I could not help but say under my breath, this is my hometown. This is where I was born. I stood there in awe, my stomach twisting and turning because I knew today would not be easy. I have always grown up being told there was no information concerning my adoption and that it was impossible to find anything more. Today, my Korean interpreter Jenna, and I took on the monstrous task of finding the hospital of where I was born.
We were investigators. We spoke to a female employee, asking if the Nam Yang Joo County Office still existed because this is where I was taken after I was abandoned after my mother gave birth to me. The woman looked at me, then looked at Jenna and said that the office was probably very different than before because of the economic boom in the city. Knowing my files said I was born at Seoul Clinic, I could not help but feel a little despair in my heart. What a creative name, I thought. Jenna had a list of fourteen hospitals and clinics with the same name, and started calling each one. Her first question in Korean was to ask if their existence dated back to 1984, the year I was born, and two matched the description.
I sat patiently outside while Jenna made more inquiries about the two clinics over the phone. I remembered the woman at City Hall had mentioned something about Korean medical files being thrown away after ten years. How can they do that? Take away my own identity? Even if I sat in a filing cabinet for 25 years, at least I would still exist, right?
I looked around at the tall buildings that resembled the look of Manhattan. Would I have worked on this street? Would I have had a good relationship with my mom? My thoughts were interrupted by Jenna, who was commenting on how close one of the clinics was to us. We started walking and after fifteen minutes of walking, we stood in front of a building that had a small entry to the second-floor stairwell. The place was dark and looked almost abandoned, and as we trudged up the stairs, I felt a nervous twitch in my stomach. What if someone has been working here long enough to remember my story? We saw the doctor’s office and walked through the door. Everything is so small in Korea, I said, as I noticed the size of the waiting room. Jenna spoke in Korean so I glanced at various pamphlets and looked at the pictures. I wasn’t expecting an answer so soon but Jenna touched my shoulder and said, “No one who works here now has been here since it opened.”
I felt an overwhelming sea of disappointment, shadowed with a feeling of anger. Why can’t someone give me some answers!? At this point, I recognized that I was feeling alienated because I knew there were puzzle pieces missing and no one had the pieces. They were lost. Who could be blamed? We walked back down the creepy stairwell and was met by the bright sun on a humid August day. Jenna turned to me and apologized. I knew she felt sorry for me and was determined to help me as much as possible. She looked at her paper with the crossed-out hospitals and clinics that were no longer options and said there was one other clinic to go see. She looked at her map but looked confused. She made several phone calls, and while she was preoccupied, I stood on the sidewalk watching the busy cars rush past me.
I glanced over to her and she had hung up her cell phone. She looked at me with a grim expression. I knew what she was going to say.
“Can’t find it, can you?” I asked, more of a statement than a question.
“I’m sorry…we can come back and try more places another day if you want.”
I felt the blood in my body rush from my head to my feet all in a matter of seconds. I knew Jenna felt so bad for me. I think she wanted to find some piece of the puzzle, or at least a clue, more than myself.
“No problem, Jenna. I think we should maybe just go back to the hotel now.”
Had I given up so quickly? Was I afraid of finding a clue? In all honestly, I was so afraid of finding any kind of truth concerning my past. Not knowing is sometimes more comforting than knowing too much. Knowing, many times, reveals pain, and once it is confronted, there is no turning back.
Do I really even exist here? How would anyone even prove that I was born in Korea? My records were thrown out after ten years. The proof is gone. How could someone throw me out in the garbage, or shred me into a small machine? My eyes were burning, fighting back tears as we took our time walking back to the subway. I breathed in the somewhat clean air and tried to connect my mind to the smell of walking on the streets of my hometown. I don’t belong here. I don’t even exist here.
I have been searching for my birth family for 11 years. Actively searching for 11 years. In 2012, I lived in Korea and decided to pursue an adoptee’s last option – going on national television. For an adoptee who has no information, this is considered to be the last resort for our search.
I appeared on “I Miss That Person” on July 27, 2012. It was a popular show for anyone who had lost touch with someone in their life and wanted to reconnect. There were several adoptees who were interviewed on the show. The week before me, a Michigan adoptee reunited with his birth mother.
Much like any popular broadcast network, KBS (Korean Broadcasting System) likes a good show. Tears. Emotion. Drama. They told me it was okay if I cried. I had the feeling they were encouraging me to. But alas, I did not.
I felt nervous. Anxious. What if a family member was watching? What if someone put together some puzzle pieces of the past? I was sweating so bad, I was so nervous. I kept touching my face. Some makeup person kept powdering my face between breaks. I was nervous having to work with a translator. I was nervous about stumbling over my own words. I talk slow so I was also nervous about moving too slow for the hosts.
The interview went fine. It was as expected. I had 12 minutes with the hosts and translator. It was an adrenaline rush. It felt forever and flew by so quickly.
Nothing ever came from appearing on television. The KBS contact told me there were many callers after the show but no one had a solid piece of information on my family or my story. I left empty-handed and waited for anything to come from it. Weeks. Months. And all was forgotten.
Isn’t it something that I have to go on national television and share my entire adoption story just to attempt to gain some kind of information about my own life? It felt both liberating and embarrassing. But I did it. And I have been doing it over and over for 11 years. In online news outlets. Over the radio. In newspapers. Contacting my agency.
I would still like to return again and visit my hometown of Guri, located on the outskirts of Seoul. I have visited a couple times and would like to do more investigation with possibly some flyers.
I am unable to share my interview via YouTube due to copyright issues, however if you would like to watch them, I can email them to you, via DropBox. I have held on to these 3 short videos since 2012. I haven’t shared these to many but in lieu of watching “Closure” and “Little Fires Everywhere,” I wanted to share.
I grew up in private schools in the east end of Louisville, Kentucky. I was one of a couple minorities in my school, and I had four older [white] brothers that attended before me. I was held back in kindergarten, so I was a foot taller and a year older than everyone else in my class. I grew thick skin quickly, because it wasn’t that I noticed I was different. It was everyone else in my grade who noticed I was different. And as you know, kids are not the most tactful or mindful of your feelings. Thankfully, I was just plain bigger than all the other kids, so I did not get bullied or picked on too much. In fact, I think I immediately puffed up.
Honestly, I was a mean kid. I felt defensive. I felt offended. I felt embarrassed. I felt angry. I was a little overweight. I wore really baggy clothes (thank you, 90’s). I never got in trouble at school. Or at home, really. I had close friends but kept them at arm’s length. In the most pertinent milestones of my development, all I wanted to do was fit in.
Perhaps it was and is part of the depression, but often in social settings, I would feel this loneliness come over me. It would hit me right in the middle of hanging out with friends or dinner, or some kind of social setting. A zipped up emotional Katie that completely shut down. For most of my life, I never understood where it came from, why I felt it, or how to prevent it from happening, but then I started educating myself more about depression and realized it was just part of my process.
It took me a while to acknowledge the anger that lived inside me. From defending myself of things I could not change as a child to injustice toward people of color. It took even longer to figure out how to redirect it. And I am relearning how to deal with it as a married person, because it is different dealing with it alone. It is another thing when you have to deal with your anger with another human being.
I no longer walk in shame of what I look like and who I represent. I know my experiences have taught me to be an advocate for others who feel silenced and those who suffer from any kind of illness. I am slowly letting go of the chips off my shoulder.
I was born at “Seoul Clinic” (the most vague name in the world), located in Kuri Town (구리), Namyangju County, Kyonggi Province. It takes about an hour and a half to get there by subway from Seoul Station in Seoul. My Korean name is Kang So Yung (강소영), however it is assumed my Korean name was given to me by an officer or someone at my adoption agency. This is actually a very common occurrence for adoptees – birthdays/date of birth were estimated or legal names were given by strangers. I was born 5 pounds and apparently loved taking baths (ironic, since I hate baths now).
A few days after I was born, my birth mother was no where to be found. She left me in the clinic. Alone. She did not register me. I was nameless and without my mother. Five days after I was born, I was taken to Namyangju County Office and then was taken to Holt Korea Reception Center, my adoption agency. I would love to know the strangers who transported me to each place. And I often wonder about my mother’s last thoughts as she left the hospital without me. What name did she have picked out for me?
Shortly after, I was placed with a foster family. These foster parents had four biological sons and had a good reputation of taking in many children preparing to be adopted. I was one of them. Ironic again, because unbeknownst to me, I would be adopted into a family with four biological sons to my adoptive parents as well.
I was going to be adopted quickly, however my eyelashes delayed my adoption – They were laying directly on my eyeball and there was much deliberation on whether or not I needed surgery. Thankfully, it worked itself out and after four months, I was flown to Memphis, TN along with other Korean adoptee babies.
My entire adoptive family was waiting for me in Memphis, TN. And then we drove home to Louisville, KY.
I have spent most of my life of people speaking for me on how I should feel about adoption, making decisions on my behalf as an adoptee, and even non-adoptees making legislation that affects my life.
This blog was created tonight in part of my exploration of finding my birth family, struggling with grief and loss, and encountering the narrative adult adoptees are sometimes cornered to live in due to what our society has socially accepted for us.
Recently, I have been grieving. Feeling like I don’t have community, which is something I valued and pursued most of my life. Sports, church, adoptee organizations. My hope is to not only use my own voice to share my experiences and thoughts on adoption, but to also open the platform and conversation to other adoptees.
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