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Korea*

March 4, 2011

My dad forwarded me a newsletter from my adoption agency a few weeks ago, but I didn’t  look at it until last week, when I found it while cleaning out my inbox. My parents have been encouraging me to go on one of their Korea Tours to see my birth country. I felt kind of weird about it when they brought it up the past two times I was home. I didn’t think I was ready, and I didn’t really want to discuss it with them. However, as the idea of adding children to my life grows closer to reality, it occurred to me that perhaps it is time to face my adoption, head-on.

My adoption was never a secret, for obvious reasons, but we didn’t really talk about my birth mother, or how I felt about it. I heard my “airplane day” story every year, about how my parents drove up to New York to pick me up at the airport. How they should have gotten a hotel and stayed the night, but they just wanted to get me home. How I played with my Granny, but wouldn’t let her hold me. How my dad saved my diaper the first night I was home (ew!). How I never slept.

Once, I wrote a very short story imagining my birth mother’s story. My mother thought it was fantastical fiction. I never brought it up again. I felt that it was not safe territory. That bringing it up might hurt my parents too much. Maybe I was wrong, but either way, I wasn’t ready to have that conversation with them, or think about it in more than a very abstract, almost detached way.

I filled out a form on the adoption website asking for more information about the tour. I dug through my files. I found the manila envelopes my mom gave me shortly after I was married. I guess she thought it was time I had the paperwork that documented my own life. I had perhaps glanced at the folders before, but I had never read any of the information before. It was all hearsay, gleaned from the stories my parents told me in my childhood. I found a treasure trove of funny and heartbreaking documentation. A whole life, laid out bureaucracy by bureaucracy. The birth, foster care, medical records, the transfer of guardianship, to naturalized citizenship. One of my favorite letters is from Senator Sarbanes congratulating me on becoming a citizen. It’s a ridiculous form letter, effectively asking a 2-year-old to keep him informed of opinions on matters important to the state of Maryland. Still, it’s a nice gesture, I suppose.

The adoption agency replied with a digital brochure. I needed to renew my passport and send a $50 “reservation fee.” Yesterday, I crossed my fingers and mailed both. I still have reservations, and I know I will need to make a decision about whether I want them to do a family search to try to find my birth parents. That costs extra. I guess I figure that if I’m going to do it, I should really do it. No holding back. I don’t really  intend to visit again, so I better get it right the first time.

There was a helpful link on the agency site that a woman wrote about her experience meeting her birth parents. Her situation is different than mine because her parent looked for her. She compiled a “10 things to consider” list that I found useful. One thing she mentions is the idea of what happens after. What if you meet family members? Do you stay in touch? Do you remember birthdays and holidays? Do you try to send money in support? I have perhaps felt like there was something missing in my life because when there is a huge piece of information that you can’t access, how can you feel anything but? Yet, I don’t necessarily want another family. I have a family. Actually, I have two families. But, if they can locate blood relations, how can I not meet them? And how will I feel if they can’t? What if my past remains a mystery? Will I feel disappointed or relieved?

My parents have offered to help pay for the trip. Apparently there is money set aside for this purpose. I wonder why we never visited as a family. Maybe they couldn’t afford it when we were younger. I worry about the testimonials on the agency website. They are all so overwhelmingly positive. I hope I will be left alone to experience everything however I want. I hope they will respect how sensitive this might be. I dread having to share this experience with a roommate who is a complete stranger, but I feel this is something I have to do on my own, and double-bunking seems to be par for the course with this group.

At the end of one page on their website, there’s an explanation about adoption, and why the adoptee shouldn’t feel badly. It’s very God-centric and not very helpful to me. “Because it’s God’s plan” doesn’t make me feel better about my birth mother giving me up and not providing her name or the name of my birth father. I hope this trip isn’t going to be full of crappy parables and bible verses.

But I am resolving to be positive. These people have done lots of these tours, and surely they understand this is an emotional minefield, despite the creepily enthusiastic testimonials they feature on their brochures. I fully intend to have a good time, but I am prepared for a sobering, and possibly shredding, experience, too. I plan to eat a lot of kimchi, take pictures, and embrace whatever comes. I know that whatever happens, it won’t “solve” anything. I won’t suddenly know what to do with my life, or understand the mysteries of the universe. But maybe I will understand something a little bit better. Mostly, it feels like something I need to do before becoming a mom, so off to Korea I will go.

*Ed: “Facing my past” sounded a tad overly dramatic.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Jaycee permalink
    March 5, 2011 2:01 pm

    Hey girl, I feel so moved by your posting…, and congratulations on the important decision you made. I hope you enjoy the trip and get a good first impression on Korea. I am pretty sure the country has changed dramatically since you and I left. I clearly remember how Korea was in 1980’s and 1990’s (well, you know, I lived there until 1999.), so let me know if you want to know how the country looked in old times. 🙂

    • Betsy permalink*
      March 5, 2011 7:58 pm

      Great to hear from you! It should be an interesting trip, and I have many months to prepare.

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