Adoption by Sara Clark
I don’t remember being told I was adopted because I feel as if I have always known. Because my adoptive family is white and I’m Korean, it would have been difficult to explain my existence without adoption becoming an active part of the dialogue. Also, I was two years old when I came to America so I was old enough at the time to remember my life in Korea but young enough to forget those memories a couple years later. Growing up, I used to imagine that my biological parents were star-crossed lovers who would reunite later in life, then would miraculously find me in America and reclaim me as their daughter. It turns out that narrative is more befitting of a K-drama than real life. If anyone was finding anyone, then it would have to start with me, specifically with my adoptive parents (parents).
It would be a huge disservice to mislead you into believing that my parents were anything but loving. Just because I fantasized about my biological parents, it does not mean that I had a terrible childhood. It is only natural to wonder where your place is in the world, and part of that wondering means pondering your origins. My parents never tried to stifle my curiosity regarding my cultural and biological roots. They brought me to a Korean culture day camp once a year for six years. My mom sought out all the Korean-American adoptees in a fifty-mile radius of the small town we lived in in rural New Hampshire so that I could be friends with if not likeminded people then people who looked like me. My mom would buy Korean cookbooks and make meals of Korean dumplings (mandu/만두) and meats (bulgogi/불고기).
Twenty years of daydreams of my birthparents had not prepared me for the truth. Even before my parents initiated a search for my birthmother, I started to research my adoption for a creative nonfiction class. When my mom sent me the documentation, I thought that I had no expectations. So I was surprised to find that I was emotional when I found out that I was illegitimate and that my birthmother had had an affair with an older married man. I don’t believe that marriage sanctifies birth, but I couldn’t help but feel that there was something so sordid and pedestrian about mine. My birthparents were star-crossed lovers—at the expense of my birthfather’s wife’s happiness.
After I graduated from college, my parents successfully found my birthmother through my adoption agency. I exchanged a couple letters with her and discovered that she had married, though not my biological father, soon after giving me up for adoption and had gone on to have two children. Although that marriage ended in divorce, I immediately suspected that she had given me up for adoption in order to get married. It would have been impossible for her to marry in Korea in the 1980s, saddled with the product of her affair. I asked her if my half-siblings knew about me, and she said that they did. Her ex-husband used to get drunk and taunt her by bringing up my existence.
I couldn’t help but feel that she was blaming me for the demise of her marriage, and I wondered if my half-siblings thought that, too. Did her ex-husband get drunk because the very idea of me infuriated him? Would they have stayed together if I didn’t exist? When my parents and I went to Korea in 2007, I never asked her if I caused her divorce. I think it was because I wanted to be the reason for it. I felt that it wasn’t fair for her life to continue on as if I were never born. There had to be repercussions for her actions. I know that is not a particularly mature way of thinking. I am a spiteful person.
I did ask her if she gave me up because she wanted to get married. She told me that she didn’t even know I had been given up until it was too late. My maternal grandmother raised me in the countryside with my aunt and uncle for two years. It was my grandmother who actually brought me to an orphanage. When my birthmother later went to the countryside to visit me, she found out that I was gone, given to the orphanage months ago. She said she went to the orphanage, but I had already been adopted.
My grandmother died of stomach cancer before I could meet her. Before her death, my grandmother made my birthmother promise that she would find me when I was twenty-five. She told my birthmother that she had branded me on the shoulder so that they would be able to tell who I was. I’ll never know if my birthmother would have kept her promise; I beat her to the punch and found her when I was twenty-two (twenty-three by Korean aging). I do know that the scar on my shoulder signifies that I was wanted at some point, and maybe that is enough.
Sara Clark, Cambridge, MA
Sara Clark supports Holt International.
Holt International pioneered international adoption 60 years ago and they remain the leaders today, uniting families with children who truly need them. They stand by adoptees and their families for their entire lives — providing world-class care to children waiting to come home, as well as resources, education tools, and support to families and adult adoptees. You can rest assured that they are doing adoption the right way.