The Realities of Doing a Birth Search

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As an adoptee, I’m often asked if I’ve ever done a birth search or have met my birth mother. On the surface this may seem like a simple straightforward question, but the answer is often much more complicated. When I tell the person that I’ve never tried, I’m usually left feeling regret, guilt, and even sad. Throughout different times in my life, I’ve had numerous thoughts about my birth mother. Does she ever think about me? Maybe she’s waiting for me to contact her? Has she told her family about me? If I ever meet her, how will I deal with the unresolved emotions that I’ve compartmentalized and buried for years?  

About a year ago, after spending considerable amounts of time going back and forth thinking about doing a birth search, I finally decided to take the first step. I’m not sure what prompted my decision. Perhaps it was the assumption that my birth mother is in her sixties with grown children of her own, possibly with grandchildren, and she may be more open to a reunion. Regardless, I sent an email to my Korean adoption agency requesting my file. Surprisingly, three days later, I received an email with my adoption paperwork. I didn’t know how to feel or what to expect. I wished there was an instruction manual on what to do when you receive a 20 page document filling in the gaps of the first six months of your life, but there isn’t one. I knew that whatever was written in my file could completely alter the course of my life or leave me feeling incredibly disappointed. My adoption like all adoptions in Korea was closed. Did I really think it would be that simple where my birth mother’s name was listed and I would be instantly reunited with her? I was abandoned on the street in a city of three million people. What did I expect? I didn’t even know if my birthdate was accurate. Or if my birth mother named me. I can’t help but wonder why she didn’t leave her name, an address, or a note. Maybe she never intended to be found.

Sometimes I try to imagine my life reunited with my birth mother and having a relationship with my extended Korean family. I wonder how that would play out. Would I be accepted into the family or be a shameful secret? How would my birth mother who is a complete stranger try to manage a relationship with me in spite of all the years in between? Would the loss be too great? Perhaps it’s not even possible.

As the years pass, it becomes easier to let go and accept the fact that I may never know the details of what circumstances lead to my adoption.  A part of me understands that it’s unlikely that I will ever have the opportunity to experience a mother/daughter relationship with my birth mother. There are many losses that come with adoption, but beyond any other adoption loss not knowing my birth mother in a personal meaningful way remains one of my most profound losses.