Last night I spoke with a good friend of mine who is also an adoptee from Korea. We’ve known each other for years, and I am very familiar with his story and his search for his biological parents. In fact, he has agreed to be the subject of one of my upcoming column articles – although his story doesn’t have a happy ending, it is still incredibly fascinating and shows the very realistic side of searching for one’s birth parents.
During our conversation last night, he asked me about my own search story. He said it is funny how after all these years of knowing each other, he has never heard me share my experience. And it’s true — we’ve been good, platonic friends throughout the years. I have seen him through numerous deployments with the U.S. Army including three to Iraq, the death of his colleagues, his struggles with PTSD and the many surgeries he has had to recover from as a result of his military service. He has also seen me through several job changes, relationship ups and downs, and recently, I have been happy to know him as he experiences fatherhood for the first time with the birth of his new son. So yeah, I guess it is kind of strange how throughout the years he knows so little about me and the shared experience we have as adoptees.
Like many people, especially those who have tried for years to find their biological parents, he was surprised to learn that I have no interest in searching, especially since I do have my birth mother’s first and last name. I felt a little guilty telling him all this knowing how hard he has tried to find his biological parents while all these years I have been sitting on a first and last name (which may or may not be a real name) and yet I have not really made an effort to track my birth mother down. The truth be told, only until recently have I even been able to open up to people about my desire to keep the past and present separate despite the many unknowns surrounding the early part of my life.
As I tried to explain to my friend — and unfortunately I still don’t think he can understand it — I am afraid to learn the truth about my past. I don’t think I am emotionally strong enough to hear that I was unwanted as a baby; I don’t think I could stand hearing my birth mother ask me when my birthday is since she can’t remember it (as is common among Korean adoptees who have reunited with their birth parents — and I realize there are legit reasons for this question, yet I still don’t think I could stomach hearing it asked), and I don’t think I could stand having her ask me what my Korean name was because she didn’t name me after giving birth.
The rational side of me has learned to accept all these possibilities, but if it makes any sense at all, it is one thing to be able to accept such realities personally and completely different to hear them spoken to you from the person who made a series of decisions that put your life as you know it today, into motion.
I must admit that I was very lucky. I was adopted into a very good family, I have had opportunities presented to me that would never have come my way had I stayed in Korea and frankly, had I been adopted by any other family than the one I am a part of. Because of this, my choice to not dig into my past is really more of a form of self-protection from the hard realities that I know await me should I choose to push further. Ignorance is bliss in this case. Why ruin the Disney fairy tale when you know you don’t have to leave the Magic Kingdom?
Some adoptees might call me a coward, especially since unlike many out there, I do know the identity (whether true or not) of my birth mother. But I realize that on the flip side, my birth mother might not want to meet me. Maybe she lied about her pregnancy to her family and has therefore publicly denied my existence all these years. Again, that is something I can accept in my mind, but it’s probably something I cannot bear to hear with my own ears.
Am I afraid one day I will regret not learning the truth, and it will be too late? A little. But like many milestones in life, reuniting with one’s birth parents should only happen when both parties are ready. And honestly, I’m still not there. I’m still not ready.