Reading through my file again (that fortunately my parents requested when I was younger before the law changed) I noticed that my birth mother had left her actual name; for some reason that had never clicked with me before.
Recently I asked for a copy of my file to be sent to me from my adoption agency but it just contained all the information that I already had; they had removed all the papers that explained more about my birth mother’s history (again they can’t share this information anymore due to the new law), and they had deleted their names from the file (luckily I already had them. Thanks mum and dad!) The laws surrounding adoption have changed in Korea and now biological parents names are blacked out from your file; you are not allowed to know them. Like so many other adoption laws, this was done to protect the birth parents. Shame no body thinks about the adopted children; who has our best interests at heart?
In the majority of cases, birth mothers left a fake name so I am not even really sure this is actually her name. Steve always tells me though that if she is anything like me, then she would have had the heart and integrity to leave her real name.
I have spent hours searching these names on Facebook. Holding up profile photos next to my face and asking Steve ‘does she look like me?’ or ‘maybe this is her?’ It’s become somewhat of a game. Sometimes I will just pick a random person and ask Steve just to see what he responds.
‘Does she look like me?’
But jokes aside, Mee Hwa Kim is only 46 years old, she could be very well on Facebook, right?
The search so far has been far from easy. It’s taken nearly a year to get where I am now and I am none the wiser as to the whereabouts of Mee Hwa Kim. As I was adopted in to Australia through Eastern Child Welfare Society, I had to go through the Australian Government to complete all my paperwork and kickstart the birth family search. Having this middle man has proved extremely time costly and very ineffective – but hey, that’s the law. We Aussie adoptees have it the worst so I learned at the IKAA conference; everyone else can just go directly to their adoption agency to start a birth family search. Due to the fact that my parents moved around a lot within Australia (Melbourne, Perth and Sydney), it took 6 months for the Government to actually locate my Order of Adoption. It was supposed to be in the state of Victoria as my parents were living in Melbourne at the time, but they didn’t have it. I was then re-directed to Western Australia where they eventually found my record. More annoying was the fact that each state has their own paperwork – I can’t tell you how many forms I have filled out over the past year! In order to see my file or obtain any information about my adoption I must go through this process. When my adoption agency in Korea successfully receives my application/request for information, then there is another 3-6 month waiting list for them to begin a birth family search. My record and file then gets to sent to Korean Adoption Services which is a Government affiliated organisation and they will try and match the names with the most recent address for both my birth parents. This can also take between 3-6 months.#thestruggleisreal.
For the last 3 months, whenever I chased up my adoption agency on the whereabouts of my request, my emails would go unanswered for weeks, or they would just tell me to speak to the Australian Government again. A mentor at the IKAA conference said ‘Maree, you need to stop being British about this and go Korean on their ass! Demand to get your file and for them to start the search!’ So that’s what I did. After numerous emails back and forth with my adoption agency and social worker, another lot of paperwork, and me telling them that I plan on going to their office and demanding to know what’s happened if they don’t reply, I finally received confirmation today that my file has been sent to Korean Adoption Services – the last step in this drawn out process.
I’ve been told many times that as I have a lot of details like dates, names etc that my search shouldn’t take that long and should be relatively easy. Korean Adoption Services will try and find the last recorded address for my birth parents (using the names that they left at my adoption agency) and send them a message informing them that I wish to get in touch. They will send a translated version of the letter I wrote for my birth mother which is on my blog. They will also send a photo (I sent my wedding photo). So we shall see; for now all there is to do is wait.
So what have I learned from all of this? I don’t think the Korean adoption agencies were prepared for the influx of returning adoptees, demanding to know their history. At the time, they just wanted to get us babies shipped off to our new homes as soon as possible. This led to shoddy records, poor documentation and ultimately huge knowledge gaps in the lives of adoptees. Little did they know that we would all come back to our motherland demanding to know our past and how we came to be. I learned at the IKAA conference that upon relinquishment, most birth mothers were told ‘you will never hear from them again so do not try and get in contact’ – they wanted the process to be seamless and clean. Many adoptees I have spoken with said that when they did eventually meet their birth parents; what was on their file was so far from the truth.
To anyone going through the same thing my advice would be:
- Each adoptive country, agency etc has their own paperwork, rules and process. Whilst the Australian process is notoriously known to be long, I have also spoken with adoptees who’s agencies were extremely helpful, kept meticulous records and found their birth parents within a few months. I guess it’s luck of the draw. Where possible insist that you speak directly to your adoption agency or orphanage. Do all the paperwork and whatever is asked of you throughout the process – things are very bureaucratic here so unless you have filled out the required documentation, no one will help you. Even if that means filling out the same form three times!
- That being said do be realistic about your search. Know that it’s going to be hard. Bear in mind that some say the success rate is only 15%. Do the search in your own time. When I became overwhelmed with it all, I took a break from it for a couple months before Steve or my mum or dad would gently remind me that I had yet another form to fill out and the ball was still in my court.
- Try to understand your birth mother’s situation. The culture here in Korea is still very against teenage pregnancy and single mothers. Until recently adultery was illegal and so finding out your partner had a child years ago that she relinquished can in some cases be grounds for divorce.
- Be pushy, but polite! I was writing my emails to my adoption agency like this: ‘If it’s not too much trouble, it would be really helpful to have a copy of my file or as much information as you can give me. If you could I would really appreciate it’. Time to be direct! ‘Please send through a copy of my file as soon as possible.’ Done. Not only did I find that they responded more to this but nothing gets lost in translation.
- Reach out to an agency like GOAL (Global Overseas Adoption Link). They have a birth family search team that help adoptees – https://www.goal.or.kr. I really admire the work that GOAL does and recently became a member of them (I would encourage you to do the same). They help adoptees returning to Korea, conduct birth family searches, Korean language scholarships, mentor program and provide a lot of mental health help and resources. It is actually run by Korean adoptees so there is a definite understanding of what you’re going through. I have also sent my file to them to do a separate birth family search incase their process is quicker.
- Speak to someone! Speak to your friends, speak to a mentor, reach out to other adoptees. I thought it was just me that was going through this but then I met more Australian adoptees equally frustrated with the system. Or reach out to me – I’m always happy to help. Above all, when possible, speak to your mum and dad. I find it really sad when I hear that adoptees feel they can’t talk to their parents about their birth family search in fear of making them feel threatened. I know I am extremely lucky to have parents that are so open about my adoption and I do not take that for granted. Together with Steve, they have been my biggest support and fighters throughout this. There have been times where I just thought ‘I can’t be bothered anymore with this search’. They have been the ones to pick me up, dig out all my papers and insist I keep going. That resilience, I know, is something I get from both of them.