Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Internet Can Help Adoptees (Even Foreign Born) Find Family

If you are adopted, you know that--in many cases--there can be a searing emptiness that accompanies your status. Despite whatever sort of life you've ended up living, despite love for your (new) family, despite all the good you may have experienced, there may also be a hole in your heart.

This hole never gets filled in until you know something, know your original story.

People who are not adopted may have trouble fathoming just what a big deal this is, but believe me, if you've always felt as if you'd dropped from the sky and no one would ever tell you anything (or didn't know anything to tell you), you would not be pleased. 

You might be despondent. You could be outraged. You would fight for changing the system, and if you couldn't help yourself, you would at least work to help others. 

Side note: I did both, actually--and I continue to do it. Also, one of my novels, "Pretty Freaky," is about both international and domestic adoptees, and it deals with issues of Not Knowing, Search, and Reunion.

It is now the year 2010. I write those words as if this means anything much. To be an adoptee right now is not as difficult, in some cases, as it was when I was born, in 1971.

Some states in the U.S now have open records laws, allowing adoptees to see their files when they turn 18, to erase at least some of the mystery (finding birthparents, search and reunion is still a whole 'nother story). Many states do not, and many people who are NOT adopted are trying to keep adoptees forever in the dark.

Yet some nations, such as the UK, have blanket laws that allow all adoptees to know their origins. They are clearly more civilized than we are...

Thanks to a downright miracle and great help I got from fellow adoptees back in 1995--on the prehistoric Internet!--I found my birthparents. Many people born before my time have little, if any, hope of ever finding theirs.

This is ironic: I would think that a 50, 60 or 70+ year old adoptee is certainly "mature" enough to handle the truth. Wouldn't you? I would think that an octogenarian birthparent might be really pleased to finally know what happened to her or his relinquished child.

Secrets and lies only hurt people, I believe. Besides which, adoptees never had any say in what happened to them. They cannot be treated as perpetual children.

What I'd like to talk about now is the story of an international (Korean) adoptee. I read her case this morning, and I wish her the best in her search for her birthparents and the closure of the mystery that surrounds her young childhood.

Imagine if all you knew about yourself is that you'd be found stumbling down the street, barefoot, as a toddler. 

Kim Yung-Hee is estimated to have been born in the summer of 1971. (Think about that for a minute: she doesn't even know her birthday!

Was she abandoned? Lost? Did her parents mean to give her up? 

This lucky child was eventually adopted by an American family (in 1975), but she is now wracked by the mystery that surrounds her. 

Can she ever find out what happened, or meet her birthfamily?

Here's to hoping, and here's to the great international community, the amazing network of HOPE we have because of the internet. Thousands of people from around the world are trying to help her with her search right now.

Good luck to all searching adoptees. Let me know if I can help you. I mean that sincerely. I "found" despite the odds, despite a near-total lack of information. If I can do it, so can you.

(Police photo of Kim Yung-Hee published in The Korea Times.)


  1. The internet is making us more connected and I hope more civil to each other, and yet there's also the seedy side, and the snarky part.

    Good luck to all searchers!

  2. This made me think about the book NPR journalist Scott Simon wrote about adopting two foreign little girls.


    People who adopt children are, for me, very inspiring and special people. For instance, I enjoyed the memoir written by Captain Charles Sullenberger (of US Airways in the Hudson fame) from page one, but once I reached the part of the book where he explains his two children are adopted, I developed a new admiration for him. I think it takes courage to decide to raise children who aren't one's biological children.

    I also commend the mother who gives her baby up for adoption so that her child can have a better future. It must be a harrowing decision to make. I do believe people have a right to know where they come from, and the fact that not all the states let adoptees find out their origins when they turn 18 is for me an aberration.

  3. When I was in grad school, I heard about a student who had died in a hit-and-run traffic accident at age 19, a few years before I got there. She was an adoptee (and the first person in her adopted family to go to college). I remember thinking about her birthparents, whom I imagined did not know where she had ended up, wondered what she was doing, if she was happy, etc, not knowing their child had been killed. Her adopted parents were of course beyond devastated too. That story was heartbreaking from beginning to end.

  4. Hi Aurelie,

    I felt like writing this post because of the Korean/American issue--so many adoptees are from other countries, and I always think (and this is something I've written about in my fiction) that their chances of reconnecting must be infinitesimal. On the one hand, this makes their life a bit simpler (in a weird way) because there is so little chance, perhaps, of finding their birthfamily. On the other, if it does happen, it is so much more remarkable.

    What I've noticed about being adopted is that no matter how settled or secure you might be in your life, you feel a million times more so once you actually know something. Biology really does explain so much. (Fascinating to me, always, have been the long-lost twin stories, and how the twins are still much alike in their preferences, etc.)

    I agree that it's undoubtedly hard for a bio-parent to give up a child...what happens more, right now, I think, is a conscious choice. What happened even when I was born in 1971--and certainly happened much more frequently even before that--is coercion. Young women have, historically, been "duped" or scammed into relinquishing their kids, being told they'd find out where they went, etc. It's heartbreaking on that side--though if someone give up a child in good faith, knowing facts (I like open adoption), I think it's fine, but I'm sure it's still absurdly difficult.

    Films like "Juno" and shows such as "Glee" make adoption look much simpler than it is, I think.

    Anyway--on the adoptive parents' side, I know it's hard, too. There's the waiting, the dashed hopes, the feeling insecure in case the bio-mom changes her mind, etc. And, of course, there's the not actually knowing what you're going to get, and the worry that you won't bond.

    There are also many upsetting stories about bait-and-switch of babies/kids for adoption, unscrupulous agencies and middlemen, etc--not to mention the exorbitant cost. I do admire people who do this and take the leap of faith. I think part of the arduous journey they go on to find their children may be instrumental in helping them bond.

    Anyway--for what it's worth.

    That last story you mentioned is indeed heartbreaking. As an adoptee (and I am surre as a birthparent), you wonder all the time if other people are wondering about/thinking about you.