How It Is Not That Simple: The Emotional Costs of Doing a Birth Search

Throughout different times in my life, I have had numerous thoughts about my birth mother. Sometimes it happens when I am doing the most mundane things. The other day while eating breakfast, I noticed my face in the mirror, the creases along my eyes and I wondered if she looked like me when she was 47-years-old. Every so often, I imagine my life reunited with my birth mother. With all the lost years between us, would my birth mother want to have a relationship with me? And how would I be able to deal with the unresolved hurt and trauma that I have buried for years? Perhaps a meaningful connection is not even possible. The loss would be too great. 

When I was younger I rarely thought about my adoption because it was never discussed. My parents never sat me down and told me I was adopted. However, I knew I was  adopted considering I was, and am, the only person of color in my family. When people realize that I am a Korean adoptee, usually I am asked whether I have done a birth search or have met my birth mother. On the surface this may seem like a simple straightforward question, but underneath the answer is much more complicated. When I reply no, that I have never tried, it usually unearths feelings of regret, guilt, and sometimes sadness. 

While exploring my Korean identity, a birth search was something that I would occasionally think about but I chose not to pursue, mostly because other Korean adoptees I knew experienced fractured reunions. Some adoptees have discovered the birth mother wanted to keep her baby but the pressure from her family was too severe and was forced into adoption. Others have learned about family members who relinquished the baby sometimes without the birth mother’s consent. Oftentimes, if the birth mother was located, she refused to meet, leaving the adoptee once again rejected. Seldom did I hear about the happily ever after endings featured in the nightly news stories. 

In spite of these feelings, five years ago, I decided to contact my adoption agency. I am not sure what prompted my decision. Perhaps it was the assumption that my birth mother could be in her seventies with grown children. Possibly she could have grandchildren, and she may be more open to a reunion. 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 a person receives a 20 page document describing the first six months of their life, but there is not one.   

Yet, I knew whatever information was included (or omitted) in my file could potentially alter the course of my life or leave me incredibly disappointed. My adoption, like all Korean adoptions during the 1970s, was closed. Did I really think it would be that simple? Did I hope to discover my birth mother’s contact information, and there would be an instant family reunion? I was abandoned on the street in a city of three million people. Was I completely naive? I was not even sure if my birthdate was accurate. I can not help but be angry that she did not leave her name, or even a note. Maybe she never intended to be contacted.

As I try to piece together the fragments of my birth story, I have so many unanswered questions. A part of me understands that it is unlikely I will ever have the opportunity to experience a relationship with my birth mother or I may never know the circumstances that lead to my adoption. There are many losses that come from adoption, but not knowing who my birth mother is remains my deepest heartbreak.