My Life as an Adoptee in Q&A

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Almost any adoptee can relate to the curiosity one’s friends and peers might have about what it’s like being adopted. Some questions are household staples, others come dangerously close to being too personal and some are flat-out inappropriate. I’ve compiled list of some of the common questions I have been asked over the years and my responses to each:

Q: Do you know anything about the circumstances surrounding your adoption or details about your birth family?

A: All I know is what was included in my adoption papers and even those, I have come to learn, cannot be completely trusted. According to my records, my birth mother was in her mid-30s when she had me back in 1977 and in the process of separating from her husband. She lived in the Seoul area, and immediately after my birth, relinquished me to the care of an orphanage who soon arranged for me to be cared for by a foster mother. Apparently my birth mother specifically requested that I be adopted by a loving American family (which is something I am somewhat skeptical about, since it has been discovered that many adoptees’ records were severely altered so as to paint a gentler picture of their pasts and, perhaps, cast a more positive light on Korean society).

Q: How old were you when you were adopted?

A: I was six months old and adopted by a newly wed couple living in Minnesota.

Q: Do you speak any Korean?

A: I am told that I knew a few select baby words in Korean when my parents adopted me and often said the word “omma” (엄마) which translates into “mom/mother” in Korean. But other than that, the only Korean I know is what I learned as an adult, and it’s very basic to say the least.

Q: Have you ever tried to find your birth parents? Are you aware of any living family members living in Korea?

A: While I would be open to someday meeting blood relatives, I have not actively searched for my birth mother. I can’t pinpoint a reason why except to say that I have a very loving adoptive family, and they are the only family I have ever known. I respect my birth mother for her decision to give me up for adoption, as it was a decision I cannot even fathom making given the weight and emotional difficulty involved.

Q: Have you ever been to Korea since your adoption?

A: I lived in Korea for 5 years in my 20s, starting off as an English teacher and then moving into government think tank work, followed by a city government job in the foreign investment arm. Part of the time I lived in Seoul and the greater Seoul area; the other part of my time was spent in Busan. I plan to revisit both Seoul and Busan in a few weeks. It will be the first time in 10 years that I have visited, and I’m very much looking forward to it.

Q: Why did your parents adopt?

A: Everyone assumes that couples adopt because of infertility. And while in some cases that is true, it’s not always the case. For my parents, this wasn’t what compelled them to adopt. (I have also since learned that this wasn’t the case for many families who adopted from Korea in the 1970s and 80s.) My adoptive mother tells me she was inspired by a book she read, “The Family Nobody Wanted” by Helen Doss, a story about a family comprised of many adopted children. For some reason, that book made an impact on her, and inspired her (and my father) to consider making a family of both adopted and biological children. I have chronicled the story in an earlier blog post which can be accessed here. Much of this information I did not know growing up, and only discovered when I interviewed my mother about it all as an adult.

Q: Do you ever plan to adopt yourself?

A: There was a time when I thought about making adoption a part of my family, but as I near the age of 40 and am still unmarried, I have decided that in this phase of my life, I enjoy the freedom I have not being a parent, and given my lifestyle, demanding career, and the cost of living where I currently live, I am more than content to be an aunt and spoil other people’s children. 🙂

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