The infinite moment: details that define adoption

In answering the last question I started thinking about my search and my writing on adoption and I realize that much of it centers on rather banal discoveries which end up being defining moments, often devastating emotionally speaking. For example, for the thousands of times I had gone over my adoption documents, I had always managed to not really read the paper that gave jurisdiction to the orphanage to create a name for me. On my 40th birthday I was going over the papers again and found it and I recall the feeling of knowing that the one thing that I thought connected me to my country of birth was in fact bogus. This led to a later “infinite moment” when comparing my paperwork with another adoptee who had been given the same false name: We realized that there was, in fact, a list of false names that they simply cycled through. I thought I would ask everyone to contribute one or more of these “infinite moments” to this discussion.

10 thoughts on “The infinite moment: details that define adoption

  1. Ooh I like this question…

    I recently had one of those moments. When looking at the document filled out on the day I was abandoned, (I had to fight for many months to get this document they denied existed) despite having looked at it dozens of times and it being in my possession for two years now, I noticed (and this is only because I can read Korean now) that it said I was to be sent to Holt.

    Now, this was THE SAME DAY I was found. I realized that there had been ZERO EFFORT put into finding a local solution, such as: trying to locate my family, trying to locate extended family, trying to see if someone in my community who shared my culture and language would take me in, or putting me some place where my family, should they change their mind, could retrieve me.

    This was just a stunning revelation to me: I never had a chance in hell because of the system that had evolved in my country. Only six weeks later, my adoptive father had already signed off after having been sent my referral photo. The wheels of this machine moved frighteningly fast. Especially frightening because it’s such a permanent and irrevocable solution to what is often a temporary situation or circumstances which can be changed given a little time or resources.

    And on this same document I thought about the date of my abandonment, in early March, where in Korea it is about ten below zero. I realized no mother would leave a child outside alone in that kind of weather. It dawned on me that I was abandoned mostly BECAUSE THE SYSTEM EXISTED.

    Whether it was abandonment due to economic hardship in the past or family shame today, abandonment / relinquishment happens BECAUSE THE SYSTEM EXISTS.

    But you know, sending money or food aid or birth control education or helping unwed mothers doesn’t net babies for adoption, so there’s very little incentive for that kind of compassion.

  2. Realizing that my biological parents’ address had been in my files all along.

    Also realizing that they loved me but didn’t have the support versus outright abandoning me was like a knife.

  3. @adoptionparadox: In your files but you never found it? Or in your files and it didn’t register to you what it was? This kills me. I’m obsessed by these oversights. Because like you both I had gone over my papers a million times. I had a friend’s father re-translate everything. Handwritten words became symbolic of everything and nothing; as if they belied the bureaucratic efficiency of it all. And if I had looked at it all with such microscopic precision, how did that one sentence escape my view: “We have therefore bestowed upon this orphan child the name….”

    That was another moment for me: When, at the orphanage, I saw all of the trays stacked over each other with all of the disparate papers that I thought came from different places all there 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 pieces of paper and thus an adoption. It stunned me.

    @girl4708: Your abandonment story–how was this related to you? There are police documents? I have police documents as well, attesting to being abandoned on a beach. Yet another moment: I had steeled myself to the idea of “benevolent abandonment”, meaning, someone leaves you in a place where you will obviously be found. The idea that I would be abandoned to die was devastating….I no longer believe this story. It doesn’t make sense for a million reasons. And I believe it was paperwork that was bureaucratically necessary for the adoption to take place.

  4. Ha ha ha. How was it related to me? It wasn’t really…

    All I was told was that nobody knew anything, and that they were surprised at how fat I was, so my foster mother must have taken good care of me.

    Actually, it turns out I didn’t have a foster mother at all, but lived in an orphanage, and that I was fat at the time of abandonment, so it was my mother who took good care of me. So I don’t believe I was left out in the elements to die, but was naively sent away because everyone had convinced the people in my community that their children would have better lives through adoption. I spoke with another officer during that time and he said a child was abandoned about every one or two weeks during that period, so I don’t believe that portion of my story was fabricated. However, MANY later adoptees (when the country was in much better circumstances) seem to share one or two abandonment stories over and over again – that reunion often reveals were total fabrications – simply to fulfill the bureaucratic requirements. Stories like mine (you hear of being left at the police box and train station the most often, and these are the most suspect) became the cookie cutter story used to process future adoptees faster because less questions were asked. Korea, being the model for international adoption, may have taught adoption agencies in other countries that it was a more expeditious process to label as many as possible abandoned…

    I also recently spoke with the head of Social Services for Korea during that period, and he said the rate of abandonment directly coincided with the price of heating fuel. He believed abandonment had everything to do with impoverished circumstances and the reason he took on the job was to develop programs to assist families in financial crisis. It greatly grieves me that the money spent to pay for my adoption most likely went into greasing the wheels of the adoption machine instead of helping families stay together. He said he is sorry for what happened to us and that he has trouble sleeping some times.

    It is clear by looking at my documents that they were designed expressly for exporting us. For example, on my first medical record exam form is a field for Visa physical…it seemed pre-determined that children were all to be sent away. Only one day after I was officially made a ward of Holt, I was given official certification as an orphan, making me available to be given away for international adoption.

    But all these details detract from your original question of “a-ha” moments which forever change your view on adoption’s meaning in our lives. For me, what happened is I realized these documents record not only information about ourselves, but also about the adoption process. The forms were mean and brutish, and the record of time transactions show what a violence was committed against us. But it was the gross omission, the exposure to extreme temperature, the antithesis of motherhood, which screamed that another story was not being recorded, which was what really forever changed the way I view international adoption today. That discrepancy, that thing that didn’t make sense, as a human being, is what made me explore the humanity of my abandoners and the circumstances which would cause someone to consider resorting to such a horrible thing.

    I believe that if Holt had instead delivered charcoal and rice to needy families, my identity reassignment and dislocation/exportation would never have had to take place. I believe if they had not been in Korea talking about streets of gold in other land of milk and honey countries, poor mothers would not have parted with their children. I believe that western people discount/erase eastern mothers by making them less human and blame them for the very act they hope to take advantage of.

    We must read our documents thoroughly to piece together what little we can. It is not a pretty reflection of anyone. But I tend to think the ones with no voice have the most to say.

    So reading these documents with new eyes allows me to forgive my mom. And they also make me very angry with the adoption agency. It’s no wonder they don’t want us to see these.

  5. I read my adoption documents the first time when I was 11 years old, that is 2 years after my adoption.

    The 9+ years of my life were reduced to “Parents: no record”, “abandoned” and “Place of birth: unknown”.

    I cried and told my parents that they lied about me. My father yelled at me to stop crying, he said it was not a reason to cry, so I stopped crying.

    My throat tightens whenever I think about it.
    I just want to cry, so I’ll write another time what else I discovered when I re-read the documents as adult.

    Following that day, my parents contacted the orphange to know about my siblings. The nuns said they have never heard about my siblings and pointed out that the responsible of my adoption was Holt agency. Thus my parents contacted the adoption agency whose answer was: no further information available. (12 years later, during a family tour organized by the adoption agency, they gave me “all” my documents, the same that my parents already had.)

    I finally found my family 27 years after separation.

    I didn’t bothered to try to get more informations from the adoption agency prior to my search.

    But there was another paper, with the title “Family Background Information”, that I didnt’ have. (I got it last year, when I asked them to send me ALL my documents, thanks to girls 4708). It would have been useless to search my family, as everything written on the paper is a pure invention from the adoption agency!

    An information that drew my attention when I re-read my adoption documents a year ago is the date admited to Holt (Jan 29, 1975), and the source of referal (Director of St. Paul’s orphanage).

    The date I was transferred from another orphanage to St. Paul: Jan. 28, 1975.

    My conclusion: the person who had promised me to search my father, and who had all the informations he needed to find him, had only one thing in his mind: put me up for adoption.

    If they could legally erase/change a 9 year-old child’s family background that easily without guilt, how easier it must be to change/erase a baby’s family background.

  6. Similar to Myungsook’s file, my file initially indicated, “Found abandoned,” and more specifically, the file indicated that I was born at Shin, Young Soon clinic in Seoul and “found abandoned” by the doctor who ran the clinic, Dr. Shin, Young Soon. I had always thought it strange & a bit fishy that I was born in a clinic but that there were not more detailed records on my family history and identity…

    Of course, I later discovered that I was not “found abandoned,” but that such language was employed at the time even if a child was “relinquished.” In other words, my Omma & Imo/Aunt actually met with an intake worker and left quite a bit of info with the agency–from old addresses to the details surrounding my adoption and my Omma’s relationship with my Appa. The agency had my Korean parents’ ages, the number & ages of their siblings, level of education, occupation, hometowns, and even a name for my Omma.

    But NONE of this was included in the file given to my American family, and much of the information was not divulged to me unless I pressed for it, multiple times over a seven year period. And even now, after reuniting, of course, there are still holes that will probably never be filled…

    Like the fact that no one seems to know how I ended up with the surname “Yoon” when my Omma states that she gave me the surname “Cha” (my Appa’s surname). (This however, I speculate was an oversight on the part of the agency, but I suspect that perhaps my Imo/Aunt did this, but won’t admit to it…maybe…just speculation…).

    But anyway…

    • I later discovered that I was not “found abandoned,” but that such language was employed at the time even if a child was “relinquished.”

      In my adoption documents (dating from 1975), there are three reasons for becoming available for adoption (parents reliquished, parents dead, abandoned) and they only needed to put a check mark.

  7. Today I had to renew my passport at the embassy; I asked how long it would take because my residency papers are contingent on receiving the new passport soon.

    “How is it that you are born in Lebanon but don’t have residency papers?”

    “I am adopted.”

    I hate these moments.

  8. Arrival at the United States border and customs control, which is strangely in Montreal’s airport, inside of Canadian territory.

    Brand new passport (recently renewed); endless questions as to what I am doing in Lebanon, my work there, my reason for visiting the United States.

    And then this:

    “Who was the petitioner for your citizenship?”

    I answered, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question.”

    “The petitioner for your citizenship, who was that?”

    I replied, “Can you give me an example? Because honestly I don’t know what you mean by that.”

    “You know, like the woman you married to get your citizenship.”

    I replied: “I was naturalized when I was five years old.”

    “…so your parents….”

    My reply: “Yes. I’m adopted.”

    And I’m thinking: At least the immigrants they are trying to snag like this entered this country willfully.

Adoptees, what do you think? We welcome your replies!

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