When I was six weeks old, I was abandoned and found in front of a steel factory in Daegu City, South Korea. The stranger who found me brought me to the nearest police station. I was referred to the White Lily Orphanage where I spent two weeks in their care until I was placed into a foster home and then finally adopted when I was six months old. When I first read this information from my file, I was shocked. The fictitious scenario that I had created in my mind of how I was adopted no longer matched the painful facts of my early life in Korea. Once the initial shock wore off, I was left with so many questions. How could my birth mother abandon me? Why didn’t she bring me to an adoption agency? What was she thinking the moment she lifted me out of her arms for the last time? Some days the weight of my unanswered questions feels overwhelmingly endless.
International adoption in Korea has a messy and complicated history. Since the 1950s it is estimated that up to 90 percent of children placed in orphanages or adopted have been to single unwed mothers, many of those children of who were abandoned. There’s a citizenship law in Korea that if you are abandoned then your birth father is considered “unknown.” This allows abandoned children to be deemed a citizen and therefore gives them access to government assistance, employment, and education. Yet, under this same law, if my birth mother had raised me as a single parent these same benefits would not be afforded to me. Maybe her only “choice” was relinquishment.
I’d like to think that during those six weeks while my birth mother cared for me, she didn’t agonize about her decision or was traumatized and shamed by her pregnancy like the pervasive unwed mother narrative suggests. Instead, this smart resilient woman knew exactly what she was about to do. Maybe my abandonment didn’t come from a place of sadness or desperation, but rather from a place of hope and love.
If I ever have the opportunity to meet my birth mother, what would I say to her? I would tell her that I understand her decision to relinquish me wasn’t actually her choice. I would say that I too, understand grief and loss. I survived. I am here.
Lee Herrick writes in his poem “Salvation”
…I wonder what songs my birth mother sings and if she sings them for me what stories her body might tell. I have come to believe that the blues is the body’s salvation, a chorus of scars to remind you that you are here, flawed, angelic, and full of light. I believe that the blues is the spirit’s wreckage, examined and damaged but whole again, more full and prepared than it’s ever been, quiet and still, just as it was always meant to be.