I began my official birth family search in March 2014 by sending a letter to Holt International Children’s Services. I was sorely disappointed when I received a letter back stating that they could not find a record of me. They ended the letter by saying that it was possible that I was adopted from a similarly named agency called Holt Children’s Services of Korea.
It took me a full month to recover from the blow I was given. It took a lot of effort to finally get over all the emotions I had to send that letter. Now I was back to square one and had to go through it all over again. “Am I really supposed to be doing this? Maybe this is a sign that I shouldn’t start The Search.” It may seem like something so small and easy to someone who isn’t adopted, but for me this was one of the biggest decisions of my life.
On April 7, 2014 I finally decided to contact my American adoption agency, Bethany Christian Services. You can read the full details of [how that played out]. I had better success with Holt Children’s Services of Korea. My case worker from HCSK was Lee, Yoon-Joo and she is a phenomenal woman. She always got back to me quickly and treated me like a person.
After she sent me a copy of my birth records, I told her I was going to visit Korea that summer. I expressed an interest in visiting the orphanage I stayed at and contacting my birth family. Lee, Yoon-Joo explained that I never stayed at an orphanage. I was cared for my a foster family. Unfortunately, that family no longer worked for HCSK so I would not be able to meet them. I would only have the possibility of contacting my birth mother since she was the only one to leave identifying information.
On June 30, 2014 I met with Lee, Yoon-Joo in person. She explained my paperwork and then explained my search process. Since I hadn’t sent any pictures with my letter I wrote to my birth family, she wasn’t sure if I was ready to start the “person search” as she called it. I told her to start the search, and I would send her pictures if I heard anything back.
In Korea, it is a federal law that a person must register his new address with the government when he moves. This can be tracked using the individual’s 13-digit Korean registration number. The agency can request a last known address from the government and send a telegram to the home. After the birth family has received the letter, it is up to them whether or not to receive the prepared letter or not. If the agency does not hear back from the birth family, no further attempts will be made. Korea has laws against harassment and repeated contact could be interpreted as such. If the family agrees to receive the letter, then open contact can be initiated through the agency.
In my case, a telegram was left at the address listed with no response. A week later, they tried again and was able to personally deliver the letter. After about a month of not hearing anything, Lee, Yoon-Joo contacted me with the news. She said that if I wanted to try again in a few years, I could contact her.
After I got the email, I felt a small sense of relief. The fact that I actually tried makes me feel like I won’t have regret. But somehow I don’t feel like this is the end. I have read a lot of articles and research about Korean adoptions and I am having serious doubts about do-good nature of the adoption agencies. I have learned about Korea’s culture and the social stigma related to unwed mothers and their children. I have read stories from unwed Korean mothers about how adoption agencies have coerced them into giving up their children for adoption and their struggles to get their babies back.
Had I not dug deeper into what adoption truly is, I would have been content just leaving it at that. My birth mother must not want to contact me because she has started a new life. But after what I’ve learned, I can’t help but wonder if I have been lied to. Is Holt trying to cover up lies they told my birth mother by preventing our reunion? The agency said they haven’t heard a reply back. I have nothing but their word that they even sent anyone out there. As nice and as wonderful as Lee, Yoon-Joo was, I can’t leave the fact that I now distrust Holt off the table.