Last week I asked KAS to close my search. The emotional toll it has taken on me is one that has left me exhausted. Paired with my adoptive father’s death this year, I can say without a doubt this has been one of the most difficult years I have lived through. I don’t consider myself to be an extremely optimistic person, so I had little faith that I would be able to find my mother. I guess I should be “grateful” that I did. However, instead of gratitude, I feel an immense amount of sadness and grief. This was not the first time I searched for her, but it will be my last. I will not put myself through the torture of searching again; searching for a mother who does not want to be found.
There are many lies ESWS told me, the biggest being the circumstances around my relinquishment. They told me my mother was orphaned, with only a brother left in her family. She apparently met my father in a youth group at church. According to ESWS, my father left for military service and there was no way of her finding him. She then relinquished me at the insistence of the church.
While the church is plausible, everything else appears to be a lie. My paperwork reflects part of the lies. I have seen countless intake papers from other adoptees. Their paperwork has stated, “abandoned by mother.” Mine lists abandoned by “father and mother.” KAS and ESWS believe this was just an oversight, but I don’t.
As to why they went to such great lengths to concoct these lies is beyond me. I don’t think there is any justification for it. The story they told me was not included in my paperwork. It was a story they sent me during my first search. There was no reason for them to lie about any of it other than to perhaps make themselves look better. I really can’t say what their motive was or why they continued to peddle it to me this past year as well.
With the story from ESWS, it was very easy for me to paint a picture of my mother as being something other than what she is. I was naïve enough to believe what I conjured in my mind to be true. Kind, perhaps timid, it was quite easy for me to make her into anything and anyone. I assumed she was not well off, or in the very least, she was not financially stable. Having read about orphans in Korea to understand that it would be very difficult for them to live a life other than poverty due to the social stigma and lack of opportunities afforded to them.
The KAS staff seemed extremely surprised that they did not find a woman who was living in poverty, which I think attests to the assumption that she was in a different financial/social state than what was presented/what they went off of.
I have told my mother via letters that I am not angry with her decision to relinquish me. I understand the reasoning behind it and truly hold no animosity because of it. My issue lies with her disregard to me as an adoptee searching for their mother. While she can attempt to deny or pretend I don’t exist, I am still her daughter. The fact that she cannot dignify me with a response is just beyond disrespectful.
As difficult as everything has been, the most harrowing part of searching has been coming to terms with who she is. The lack of acknowledgment, the disrespect- that is who she is. It is who she has shown to me and the basis by which I see her now.
My Mother, My Self
I’ve never seen myself in anyone, literally or figuratively. Yet when I think about her actions, when I think about how she’s presented herself to me, I can now see myself in her. I have always thought that my standoffish demeanor was due to being an adoptee. Now, I am starting to think it is more genetic than anything else.
I mentioned to my husband that I have seen a lot of parallels between my birth mother and my adoptive grandmother. The only difference is that my grandmother considered me “hers” whereas my birth mother does not. My grandmother was fiercely protective of anyone that she considered her family but in all honesty, didn’t have time for anyone else. I can see this in my birth mother now. I am but a stranger to her, one who she has no time for, regardless of the fact that I am her daughter.
Moving Forward, Moving On From Searching
I’ve had to make a few difficult decisions in my life. One was cutting ties with my adoptive father after he relapsed and continued to lie to me. I think that was the most difficult decision I have had to make thus far and one that was painful, yet necessary. In a similar vein, the decision to close the search has also been painful, but necessary. I can’t say that I am not disappointed because I am.
As disappointed as I may be, I am also happy that I can acknowledge this and begin to move on from the search. I can grieve the loss, the pain, and know that I did everything I could to find my mother. The end result was not one that I expected, but one that was necessary for me to see in order to cut my losses and move forward.
Re-Writing My Narrative
While my experience is not unique, I have gone back and forth whether or not to discuss the feelings around my mother. As a Korean adoptee, I have been taught about the birth mother’s plight in Korea. I was taught to attempt to understand the social stigma and how much of a role it has played in Korean adoptions. I was taught to respect someone who in the very least, I assumed would respect me. Respect me not just as a human being, but as her child.
So to say anything less than positive about her has proven to be a difficult task. On one hand, I readily acknowledge the reality facing single, unwed mothers. There is no denying the struggle that they face, still today. On the other hand, I can’t pretend that my mother is some type of saintly figure, one to be revered and to uphold.
As an adoptee, I have been continually asked to put the feelings of others before myself. “Have you thought about how hard it is for her?” is one of the questions I’ve been asked when discussing my search. Quite frankly, it’s insulting to assume that I haven’t. The compassion and understanding I have been asked to freely give cannot be properly expressed through words. It is something that has been ingrained within me, almost like second nature.
When a friend told me they thought my mother was selfish, it was the first time anyone dared say anything negative about her. It was also the first time someone acknowledged that whatever my feelings were about her, they were valid. It made me take off the rose-colored glasses that I saw her through and I was finally able to see her for who and what she is.
My Experiences and My Evolving Point of View
To be clear, the feelings that I have regarding my mother are mine, justifiably so. This reflects my experiences with her and her alone. It does not reflect any other adoptee’s experiences with their mothers, birth or otherwise. It is not a condemnation of birth mothers.
I think too often adoptee experiences are relegated to those with “good” experiences and those with “bad” experiences. A black and white purview, when in actuality, there is a hell of a lot of gray.
My journey thus far has felt like purgatory, endless and ever-present. The re-abandonment this search has triggered is something I was unprepared for. It is something I will continue to reconcile and something that will require much patience from me (not one of my strengths). After my first search, I never allowed myself to grieve, let alone acknowledge the fact that the abandonment issue reared its ugly head.
This time around, it’s staring me square in the face. It’s something I can’t run from, it’s something I can no longer deny. Learning to acknowledge and accept it, learning how to heal from this pain, is ultimately what pushes me forward. It is what pushes me to endure. It is what motivates me to move onward and not look back.