Relinquishment due to social stigma and lack of support, encouraged by the church. From what I know, that is where my story begins. The decision for an initial search wasn’t one I expected to ever make. To numb the pain of loss and trauma, I denied for a long time the desire for more information. It was easier to do than to face raw emotions and vulnerability. My denial for wanting more information proved to wane amid medical concerns. The need for the truth and knowledge superseded my reluctance to face potential rejection.

Many Questions, Few Answers

A search in 2007 ended up opening up more questions rather than answers, with neither my US or Korean adoption agencies being helpful. Just recently I’ve come back to this because I realized there was more information in my original US file than I had previously believed.

How could I have overlooked information? It seems implausible. To be completely honest, reading my US adoption papers has been painful and difficult. The words “illegitimate” and “abandoned” deterred me from reading them for years. Stamped on the front page like a brand to my the soul, it wasn’t until last year that I looked closer at the second page.

The second page describes my relinquishment and my subsequent time in a foster home before my adoption. Not sleeping as much as other babies, crying to be held, and stopping as soon as I was embraced. Hot-tempered. Knowing I was relinquished a month after birth, I can’t help but feel immense sorrow for that infant longing to be held. Even at a month old, the pain and trauma can be readily seen. On a foundational level, the loss and its impact is something that has shaped my existence. Scars so deeply buried that it has taken years to acknowledge, to admit the trauma and loss as truth.

Secrets and Lies

Names are withheld but are on the original documents, inaccessible to me. My US agency refuses to hand over any information without payment for services-services that do not require a fee from Korean agencies. Any communication with them has ended with them pushing their “service packet” on me, detailing the fees for anything associated with my files. When pressed further, they have informed me that any information that they received from Korea will be done via email, in summary form. They would not be able to provide me hard copies of any files.

Not without fault, the Korean agency has emailed me information for which they refuse to provide hard copies or proof that what they’ve sent is true and verifiable. The story they’ve concocted is one so ridiculously unbelievable that in no way can it be anything but a fictitious story, not just a fabrication but outright lies.

Another Complication, Another Consideration

Added to the lies is the purported claim that the Korean agency found my birth mother. They apparently reached her while offering no verifiable record to prove this to be true. Upon reaching her, she denied it was her, and she said they contacted the wrong person. Given the citizen ID on my Korean papers (which I have never seen), the Korean social worker was hesitant to believe her denial.

Knowing the stigma surrounding unwed mothers, it is entirely conceivable that my birth mother is married now, with a family that has no knowledge of my existence. It’s also entirely feasible that she did not expect to ever hear from me. My US caseworker at the time was an adoptee herself and was incredibly compassionate when discussing the situation. She explained that there is a lot of guilt and shame among birth parents in Korea. She also discussed that my birth mother may not be ready to forgive herself yet or ask me for my forgiveness.

The cultural aspect of adoption in Korea is one that I never really thought about until this situation presented itself. Nonetheless, it is an aspect that continues to play a role in my adoption story. It is one that has played a much larger role than I had initially assumed, one that has continued to play a role beyond relinquishment. Regardless of whatever guilt or shame my birth mother may have felt, it does not negate my feelings or desire for the truth.

Searching, yet Again

Which brings me to an unexpected place, looking once more for information. It’s a place I never thought I’d be in again. After 2007, I didn’t think there would be any new information that would be available to me. Additionally, the emotional aspect of the initial search was one that weighed heavily. One that deterred me from searching again until this past year.

Obtaining information from Eastern Social Welfare Society (ESWS) has proven to be difficult, with this being the rule, not the exception. The struggle for access is real and poses many difficulties, with many unable to obtain the information they seek. Just recently I have received new information from ESWS, information that has been withheld from me (files in Hangeul, my birth mother’s last name, as well as an unseen photo of me with my foster mother). After 3 months of back and forth communication, they begrudgingly sent me this information. Which makes me wonder what other information they have been keeping from me. The filtering of information has left me frustrated, angered by the lack of respect given to adoptees asking for information. I’ve often felt powerless, being at the mercy of these agencies that don’t really care.

Battle for Information

The battle for information is one that many adoptees face. Some end up with information that leads to a reunion, while others do not. This is part of the complicated nature of adoptee experiences. One aspect of an ongoing struggle for the truth. There has been an assumption (from non-adoptees) that it’s an easy process or that every search ends in a reunion when that is simply not true. It’s an emotional process, one that is fraught with mixed emotions, and one that is going to be different for every adoptee. There can be many triggering topics related to adoption, and I have found questions around searching to be particularly painful. There’s pain in not knowing what to believe. There’s pain with knowing information is still being withheld from me. There’s pain knowing there is really only one person that knows everything and there’s a good chance I might never meet her and find out the truth of everything.

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