When it comes to search and reunion, the first people we tend to think about are birth family. It’s almost a given, right? A blood relation is the first logical connection for an adoptee to seek out. For a while now, I have been so focused on birth family only. On a mother who relinquished me the day I was born. On a father who might, to this day, not even know that I exist. People who, other than the obvious biological connection, have never actually played a role in my life; who never got to know anything about me. I forgot about the one key person who did know me as a Korean baby and cared for me as her own for five months: my foster mother.
I actually did meet my foster mother at age 10 during my first trip back to Korea. I remember being struck by the emotion of the meeting. She cried upon seeing me and the whole time we were together, she kept smoothing my hair or touching my face. Korean poured out of her mouth in rivers. At 10, I was a little lost and, in retrospect, possibly experiencing a little culture shock. But her affection was moving. I felt that she genuinely cared. She recalled what a non-picky eater I was as an infant (still true today). She called me ‘beautiful’, even gesturing at my glasses and braces which I had been so self-conscious of. A lot of the details of our meeting are blurred now, but what stays with me the most is her love. In spite of the language barrier and the years and miles between us, I could sense that she still had love in her heart for me and it was an extraordinary thing to realize.
When I went back to Korea this past summer, I had the chance to look for her again. We did not maintain contact—at the time it seemed that our one meeting was enough closure for everyone. She found out that I was healthy and doing well. My mom and I finally got to see her and thank her for caring for me. It felt like enough. Still, I pursued the opportunity to find her again, but I was also considering my birth family more than ever. When the agency told me they were unable to find her, I shrugged it off pretty easily. I had overlooked her. At the time, she was not my focus. We had already met. I considered myself thankful that we got to reunite once and simply moved on.
Today, only a handful of months later, I’m viewing things differently. Maybe this is just a delayed response, but in this moment I do feel sad that we could not meet again. She would be up in age now; it could be that she is no longer living. Wherever she is, I feel as though I finally understand my connection to her. She was maybe the only person to really know me as Soo Hyeon before that name was erased and I became someone else’s child in a new country. She filled in those puzzle piece months of my life that no one else in my life can speak of. Some people wrongly view an adoptee’s life as starting the day they come to their adoptive families. My aunt who had my parents over often to help them navigate the adoption paperwork likes to say I was “conceived on her kitchen table”. This belief is a misconception to say the least (no pun intended!). I had a life before my family, before the word 'adoptee' even became a part of my identity. They might not have known me then, but someone else obviously did.
It amazes me how much this journey continues to unfold. Took me my whole life up until this point to realize the significance of my foster mother in my life. I strongly believe that she loved me as her own for those five months, even though I can’t remember them. A lot can happen in five months! They should not be counted as less than any other months in my life. I had been a very sick infant from the start, so my foster mother had a lot of caring to do and I have no doubt that she did it with a sincere heart. And, speaking of hearts, she finally has a rightful place in mine. I don't want to forget her again.