I want to talk openly about one of the most emotional parts of my trip to Korea. Although I have already discussed it with my mom, I feel compelled to share it here as well. It occurs to me how stoic I might come across on this blog at times and, truthfully, that has been intentional. I have always been guarded (if not overly so) with my emotions. However, I literally reached a breaking point on my trip which involved me crying in front of a group of people. I wasn’t an exception since everyone was crying, but for me it was a rare moment of vulnerability and has led me to face a difficult aspect of being adopted.
The context of all this emotion was at a maternity home where unmarried women reside during their pregnancy. Our group met with a handful of young women, most of whom were pregnant, and one who had recently placed her child for adoption. Also joining us were two older women (maybe in their 50s), both of whom placed their children for overseas adoption years ago. One had reunited with her child and the other had not. We were to have a discussion with the help of a translator and eyes were glassy before it even started. The girl sitting opposite me was 17—the same age as my omoni was when she gave birth to me and that hit hard. She was so much a child, speaking softly with averted eyes. To see her breathing, talking, crying right in front of me brought that which has always been so far away into startling focus. One of the older women could barely speak and simply held her face in her hands. She was the woman who had not reunited with her child, but desired to and her anguish spoke to the reality of adoption: one family has to come apart in order for another one to come together. The room was so heavy with sadness from everyone. We continued to cry throughout the discussion as people shared their stories of fear, rejection and uncertainty. It was both intense and surreal to be there. We were so drained that most of us slept afterwards on our bus ride to Busan.
I think we knew that this experience was destined to be a highly emotional one, but I don’t know if we were all crying for the same reasons and I realized that my tears were coming from a very specific place. It was actually another adoptee’s words that got me thinking. She commented on how, in a way, it was comforting to see the women crying over their decision. And I instantly understood what she meant. We saw it with our own eyes; their struggle that came with parting from their children or the thought of parting from their children. The choice of adoption for these women was not one easily or painlessly chosen. For the older women, their decisions still had a strong emotional impact so many years later.
Perhaps you think it cruel for someone to find comfort in their pain, but I don’t want you to misunderstand. I am not sitting here with a vengeful heart sticking pins in a voodoo doll. I am saying that some adoptees (or maybe more than some) would like to know that, on some level, we were wanted by the woman who gave birth to us. That she fought internally over us and cried over us. That she desired to be our mother even just a little bit. That she cared. Simply that she cared. The women we spoke to were having a hard time and it was almost a relief to see that. I don’t wish them a lifetime of regret and sorrow, but to see someone not hurt at all over letting her child go would be even more heartbreaking to witness. Because it begs questions you don’t want answers to, but do. Was I that easy to give up? Was I that easy to get over?
One of the women at the maternity home told us that we must know our birth mothers all hold a place for us in their hearts and love us. I understand that she was coming from a truly compassionate place in telling us this and I appreciate her kindness, but I don’t really know if that is how my own omoni felt/feels. It was not her voice saying those words. She did not even know she was pregnant with me. She went to the doctor complaining of stomach pain, found out she was pregnant and gave birth to me three days later. I was relinquished for adoption and brought to Eastern Social Welfare almost immediately. Did she ever want me? Did she have enough time to process even a thread of desire? She only had three days and she was probably extremely traumatized by the realization. Barely any time to bond with me, to cry and deliberate over what to do as the young women in the maternity home were doing. What was she thinking and feeling at that time? There are so many questions which may never have answers.. I am a person who has a place in this world and who is loved beyond description, but that doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to experience some hurt in all of this.
Even if she knew she didn’t have a choice, I hope some part of her wanted to choose me anyway.