Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Damned if I do... Damned if I don't

There is an adult adoptee whose story I have followed, and who I have grown to respect sharing her journey and trying to change things. I even met her in Korea. Today I found a blog: which offers people considering adoption the chance to ask questions of adult adoptees of color. The post I linked to was called, "Is it my search to begin? How far should I go? How can I prepare her?" As I have helped my under-age kids search, I was interested. Imagine my surprise when one of the adoptee replies was from the woman I met, and it was (in part) about me! Here it is (and I hope copying from a blog is legal... if not I'll put in a link later...)


I think I am less inclined to be a purist about principles, even though I agree with Daniel that this action is yet another example of who really holds the cards in the power inequities of social injustice, and how that power relationship is perpetuated and inflicted upon the adoptee.

I know a woman who searched and found her adopted child’s family with positive result. Now, it may be argued that this act serves mainly to further ingratiate the adopted son to his adopted mother, and I chafe at applauding it because she does not acknowledge that the act of adopting in the first place perpetuates a system that limits choices in societies that oppress women, and that the lack of a child’s access to their own identity only shows how adoptee civil/human rights are violated and controlled by this system which awards the privileged and robs those who are powerless.

However, to that boy these ugly politics do not matter. What matters to him is that he has been able to meet his brother and his grandmother. And because of this act, done for whatever reasons, he now has data from which he can sift through, when he is ready, from which he at some point can form his own opinions. Which is something most of us are denied until we find the strength to search on our own: some of whom will never find the strength to do so, and some of whom who do find the strength to do so will never be successful. So I thank the adoptive mom for at least giving him back some opportunity to at least meet the blood he came from.

The thing that infuriates me and angers me to no end is when adoptive parents have information and hold it for some magic later date, determined by them. The other thing that infuriates me and angers me to no end is how most adoptive parents don’t bother to do any on-the-ground fact checking of the children’s social histories prior to adopting. For many of the adoptees who do manage to reunite with their families, their social histories turn out to be very different from reality and are often outright fabrications.

So I tend to think the original proposition is too little too late. It is not a matter of dealing with when the child begins to have questions or is in touch with their own emotions enough to grieve, or is not in touch with their own emotions and shows signs of grieving by acting out, or is not in touch with their own emotions and despairs life without an identity after decades of not facing the trauma of adoption – it is a matter of always recognizing the truth that there is living flesh and blood family and that it is everyone’s natural right to have access to them.

Because of the politics of adoption, that boy missed about nine years of relationship with his Korean family, that he is enjoying a small part of now. Every year you wait is more years of relationship missed. If she had waited until he was the age of legal majority, he would have missed 18 years of relationship. His grandmother might not even have lived that long, and each year the odds of being able to locate family goes down.

In my world, most adoptions would be unnecessary because proper social services and family planning would be provided, women would have a say in their futures, control over their own bodies, children would not be the spoils of war, and entitled people from other countries would recognize that benevolence is giving aid to preserve families instead of taking their human resources. But for those adoptees who have already been subject to this trauma, for God’s sake don’t continue to subject them to more violence. To me, being barred from access to my own identity, history, and family relationships is violence.

ADDED: So I think the search should begin immediately and followed up on with ACTIVE relationship with the child’s family. I’d rather the disruption had never occurred, but to have done nothing while enjoying the child’s company is, to me, criminal and/or exploitative.

Parents searching on behalf of their disempowered adoptee will suddenly find themselves disempowered due to acting against the status-quo and the adoption industry. But despite that, we know that the adoptive parent part of the supposed triad always has the most power, and you may be the only people who can wrestle that information out of the adoption agencies. In doing so, you will get merely a taste of the frustration we adoptees go through trying to reclaim our own history and identity.

My reply is below...


I am the woman who is referred to in the above post. First, I DID NOT search for my son’s family to ingratiate him to me – that statement is so offensive to me. I searched because since he could understand that he was adopted (about age 5 that he really understood) he as asked about his Korean mother. He NEEDED to know. I searched because it was the right thing to do.

From above: << I chafe at applauding it because she does not acknowledge that the act of adopting in the first place perpetuates a system that limits choices in societies that oppress women, and that the lack of a child’s access to their own identity only shows how adoptee civil/human rights are violated and controlled by this system which awards the privileged and robs those who are powerless.>>
This is not true, and I am sorry if I have given this impression. I did not understand this 13 years ago when I adopted. At that time, I knew that there were children who had been placed for adoption due to the social construct of the fabric of Korean society and its attitudes towards single mothers and their children. There is no social structure in place to help them. While I now understand that international adoption is helping to perpetuate a system, I think that first there needs to be social change in Korea – I have been to Holt and Eastern and seen ALL the BABIES… so many! And even with the ads and “incentives” to adopt in Korea,domestic adoption is not increasing quickly enough. Social attitudes towards unwed mothers are not changing quickly enough. I am all for that change and an end to international adoption. I speak on this to other adoptive parents. I am now aware of how agencies work with birthmothers and do not help them to keep their children – this is wrong. I now know that agencies lie. I NOW understand so much more than I did 13 years ago.
I tried to start this relationship from the beginning. We made it clear in all of our communications to the agency in the US and with Eastern that we wanted communication. We were ignored on this. We mailed countless letters and pictures (which were all in his file). We were only able to convince the agency to help us when my son was 11.5 (13 in Korean age) and we were coming to Korea. Eastern would not help us prior to this and we had to jump through hoops and threaten to get help this time. At this time Holt still refuses to help us on behalf of my daughter. They will only help my daughter when she is 18 – she has 7 more years to go. We hope that the laws will change. They will not even let her see that she has a file.

My son’s connection with his Korean family is a very good thing. It is a hard relationship due to distance and language, and his understanding of what happened. His Halmoni has said, “I’m sorry we had to send you away.” Not, “I’m sorry we sent you away.” She has made it clear that she feels this was the right choice… that is hard for a boy to understand, but at the same time she shows him love, which he so wants and needs. He looks like his little brother and his deceased grandfather – this means the world to him, to know who he looks like. We have been to Korea twice and will return again in 12/11 – we are trying to go every 12 to 18 months – it is expensive! But we have made a commitment to going as often as we can afford and spending as much time as we can to help foster a relationship as best we can. We call his Halmoni every month. We study Korean language, cook Korean food as part of our everyday meals, celebrate Korean holidays, participate with our local Korean-American community… It is from reading the blogs of adult adoptees that I became so much more informed and I have tried so hard to give my children as much as is possible of their culture/heritage/Korean-ness… I know that I can't replace what was lost. I know that living here is not living there, but I try to give back to them all that I can. Posts like the one above make me me feel like I am damned if I do, and damned if I don’t. I am trying. My kids are proud to be Korean, love their country of birth and are able to talk openly about their feelings related to their adoptions/Korean families, etc. That seems like a good start.
(Not meaning to sound too grumpy or defensive…really I’m not).

ADDED in this blog: Truly... if as an adoptive parent I do nothing, I'm damned. If I try to do what I think is right, I am only doing it to "ingratiate" my son to me?!I did it because I LOVE HIM. And while I support the end of international adoption and birth mother rights - I am so tired of the attitude towards all adoptive parents being that we are evil. I chose adoption, I am not infertile. I did not choose it to make the Korean government rich, or to make myself feel some sense of holiness for "saving" a child... I did it because I wanted to parent, and as I understood it at the time, there were children who needed families. Seemed like a good match to me. I NOW know more, but my intentions were never those that are so often portrayed by those who also want to see international adoption come to an end. (Throwing up hands in frustration!)


  1. Amen! I could have written that last paragraph myself. We chose adoption for the same reasons you did and, like you, know so much more now. I often feel damned if you do, damned if you don't too.

    The fact is adoption--international and domestic--exist. It would be wonderful to live in a world where they didn't, but we don't and we might never live that world. I'd love to see things change socially in Korea so that mothers/families feel they can keep their children. But even if that happens, there will be children placed for adoption. American families have all kinds of support and programs and children here are still placed.

    While it's worthwhile to work for change in Korea and other sending countries, and I think we should be working for that, I also think we must work to better the lives for those who have been adopted. We, as APs, need to do the things you're doing--learning the language, celebrating the culture, establishing relationships with birth families, learning about race/racism, becoming involved in the ethnic communities our kids are a part.

    Because until adoption ends, these are the tangible things that can make things better for the next generation of adoptees.

  2. Great post! I so agree. I will work for and support change, but we have to deal with the reality that is for now. As I am not in Korea to help change things socially there, I feel so strongly that I have to do what I can to change things here for my children and other adoptees. It is my responsibility.