Smile Politely

A painful truth

Last week, I called my adoption agency in Korea to hear what was happening. The social worker told me that they had located my birth mother and her older sister (my biological aunt) and told them of my plans to come to Korea in May. Apparently, my birth mother was afraid that her husband (not my biological father) would end their marriage if he finds out about her previous pregnancy. I went to bed excited that my birth mother might meet me when I come to Korea.

The next morning, I found an e-mail from the Korean social worker in my inbox. Here is an excerpt of the relevant information:

As I told you on the phone, we could locate your birth mother recently and talk with her several times. As you can imagine, it is very hard and surprising calls for her. Whenever I called her she wanted to avoid to talk with me. With my call today, she stated that she feels very shameful and guilty. She thought thousand times and decided not to meet you. Oh, Mica, it’s really hard for me to forward her message to you as well. She thinks it is better to return as not knowing about your contact. I know it is unfair and very sad but hope you understand her. She says that she will be regretful if she refuses to meet you but it would be better to meet you.* She couldn’t sleep or even eat last week. She wanted me to tell you so sorry on behalf.

*I think this is supposed to be “it would be better not to meet you.”

Though I had acknowledged this possibility, I don’t think I could have fully prepared for the emotional blow of this e-mail. Extremely discouraged, I wrote the social worker back, asking if my birth mother or aunt might be able to have “non-identifying” contact with me. I explained that I still wanted to know if I had siblings and whether my biological father was still alive.

I received this in response:

I understand how much you are painful with the result. I really wanted to avoid to be ended up as like this so it was not easy for me to write you. Hmmmm.

Your birth mother didn’t want me to call her again. She was very steadfast. I can contact to her no more.

She wanted to know about you more but on the one hand she wishes keep her present life without any trouble. When I read your letter to her by phone, she cried a little bit. But a couple of days after she gave me a call back and said very flatly that she decided not to meet or contact with.

From the several calls with your birth mother I got to know that your birth father passed away due to stomach cancer.

I don’t have your ann’s contact number. She just called me from public phone and didn’t give me her phone number.

I am very sad that my search turned out this way. It upsets me that my birth mother has founded her new life on the premise of my non-existence. I have no way to find the rest of my biological family, and the only thing that I know about my family medical history is that stomach cancer killed my biological father. My birth mother’s decision blocks me from seeing where I got certain physical traits and whether I have half-siblings in Korea. Unless she changes her mind, they will not know that I exist either.

It is extremely frustrating that my birth mother is both ashamed of and frightened by the fact that I exist. I do not believe that I am a person of which to be ashamed. In fact, by most accounts, I am a fairly successful person; I am almost finished with my Master’s degree. Unfortunately, I have no way to prove this to my birth mother. And unless she decides to have contact with me, I have no way to tell her that she shouldn’t feel guilty about giving me away.

Finally, in sharing this chain of events with friends and family, the complexity of the situation has become painfully clear. While I feel that my birth mother is being selfish in denying me access to this information, I must acknowledge that I am also being selfish in trying to impose my presence on her security and happiness. As I have never known societal constraints such as those on Korean women, I cannot understand her decision, but I certainly do not want to ruin her life. And although my friends and family have been extremely supportive, their well-intentioned comments sometimes fall short of their aims because without being adopted, it is impossible to empathize fully.

I still plan on going to Korea in May. While I am disappointed with the outcome, I do not regret having initiated this search. A few people have told me that my birth mother’s motherly curiosity and instincts might override her fear and that she will change her mind. While I won’t plan on this happening, I hope that it does.

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