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The final piece

June 22, 2011

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Today was a good day. We set out towards Incheon this morning in hopes of seeing where I was born and where my birth parents lived. I knew that the maternity home was no longer there, but I wanted to see the area just to stand there and be in the same vicinity where I was 31 years ago. I wanted to see where I was built, cell by cell, and where I was relinquished.

We went to the maternity home location first. Apparently, the way addresses work, you may have a general sense of the place, but then you have to ask a village elder for specifics. This whole experience of driving up to a street that has seen 31 years’ worth of change, and trying to track down what is old and what is new, and who knows what, and how things used to be gave me a much better understanding of how hard it is to make successful reunions. It is hard work. Unless you have the time and ability to question the elders, practically by going door to door, you are probably not going to find what you’re looking for.

However, by chance, we talked to a guy who called over another guy who happened to be that area’s volunteer representative. Mr. Park is 58 years old and has lived there for 40 years. He explained that the maternity home was actually the midwife’s home. There were a few rooms, and she was kind of famous in that area. He said he knew her. He owns an electronics/appliance shop just a few doors away from where the house used to be.

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The house itself is no longer there because it was torn down three years ago in order to put in a new street. The midwife had stopped practicing over a decade ago, and then she moved away, but the house remained until the road construction. He lamented that if I had only come five years ago I could have seen the building. All of the surrounding buildings are old and were there at the time of my birth, including the church at the top of the hill. It’s yet another unfortunate missed opportunity in my story, where everything else on that block is the same except the one building of import to me. However, I am extremely grateful that Mr. Park was so willing to share what he knew, and I feel like I got a glimmer more of understanding since he actually new the midwife personally. He thinks she is either dead now, or very, very old.

Next, we went to the address that the midwife gave Eastern as my birth parents’ residence. But when we got there, again, it was a little confusing and we had to ask around at the local shop. We learned that the address we were given was incomplete. It is kind of like knowing a zip code, but not a house number. The old women at the shop suggested we talk to the realtor next door, but he was at a lunch. So we went to the local community center, which is like a district government records office, to see if they had any records of my birth family living there.

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Unfortunately, since we don’t have ID numbers, which are like the Korean equivalent of Social Security Numbers, just names and ages, we didn’t have any luck. Their database isn’t set up to do that kind of search. I did get a look at this map of the district, though. My birth parents lived somewhere in section 8. Dukkyung seemed to feel badly that we couldn’t make more progress, but I just felt so lucky that we had met Mr. Park earlier. It seemed like I received all the good will I could have wished for.

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When we got back to the guest house, we were able to spend some time at the babies’ home. I got to play with an 11-month old boy whose foster parent was ill, and hold a tiny one who was waiting to be placed in a foster home. The little boy was quite active and crawling a lot. He is much older than the rest of the babies and was sleeping in a crib instead of a low bed. He was trying to stand and would walk when you held him up. He was also very interested in tasting everything. He had a sweet disposition and chubby cheeks.

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The little girl I held was kind of fussy. They said she had been crying all day, and she ended up spitting up on me a little bit. I guess she was having a bad day. She was very cute, though, and I managed to keep her from crying. I have never held a baby that tiny before. I got the distinct impression that babies are like little aliens. But I left wanting one of my own. Mom reminded me that I’ll have one soon enough.

I hope that all of those babies get placed in foster homes, and then adopted out as soon as possible. They have lots of help, but still not enough for each chid to get the attention he deserves. It is much harder on everyone nowadays. The waiting period is much longer before the agency can even begin the process of placement, and then because of the time it takes to do the paperwork, and the cap on the number of visas the government will issue, many babies are over a year old before they are placed permanently. I think it must be harder on the foster mother, on the child, and on the expectant parents. Yet, there is still a long list of people waiting, and plenty of babies needing homes. It seems like if the wait was shorter, and the cost burden less, perhaps more babies would get homes. I don’t quite understand the Korean government’s position, but I guess I am grateful that they didn’t pull out of international adoption completely.

To end the night, we had a farewell dinner at a Chinese restaurant close to the guest house. The meal was delicious, and we got to sit with Dr. Kim, who told us about her life growing up during and after the Korean War. She was born in North Korea, and had interesting stories about her family. She seems like a wonderful lady, and I think she is doing good work here.

Rosalyn put together a slide show of our trip, and it was fun to see all of the different things we did, epecially stuff from the very beginning, which feels like it was such a long time ago. Dukkyung said that she missed us today because it felt like it had been a long time since seeing us since she has been seeing us all day, every day. We each got a chance to stand up and say what was memorable, and then we took our final group photos. I will treasure this one of the adoptees. They made me feel normal and not alone. I am glad to have met them all.

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Well, I still have to figure out how I’m going to fit eveything in my suitcase, but I am mostly packed, and ready to head home tomorrow. It has been a wonderful trip, but I am happy to be going home. Everything about it has exceeded my expectations. I feel like I got more than my (parents’) money’s worth. When I signed up, I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I thought this would be the one and only time I would ever visit. Now, I think I want to come back and bring my husband and baby sometime. Maybe on the family tour in a few years, or perhaps on a mission trip. I fell in love with the country and the people, and it feels wrong to say goodbye again forever. Until then, I know I will keep doing more Korean cooking at home, and trying to find ways of learning about the country and culture. Now, I feel I have at least a little something real and authentic of Korea to pass on to my children. I have actual knowledge and experience instead of just mythology and supposition.

It has been healing to be on this trip, with other adoptees. I feel a part of something greater than myself, more connected to the web of humanity, and more at peace with my less conventional family tree. I know I will continue to think about this, to process it, and to keep asking questions, but I have more information, and a hope, even though it’s slim, of possibly one day finding my birth family. I know they are out there. Real people who are the mystery branch of my story. Perhaps I will find them, perhaps not. But at least I will have tried, and grown, and lived, and loved in the process.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Julia Bates permalink
    June 23, 2011 4:53 am

    You are such a wise woman. This experience has been the event of your blossoming into your full self!! What a blessing!!

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