how to be found

Early this year, I did something that for many years, I said I would not do. I registered with an online adoptee search database.

I looked through the slim file of paperwork that my mother left me and composed my query text, following the template of the other entries I had browsed:

Searching for my birth parents. Was found abandoned at Dongdoochun Home for Babies in Seoul. Birthdate was estimated to be October 12, 1971. Adopted by American family in New York in March of 1973. Adoption facilitated by Mrs. On Soon Whang in Korea and Mrs. Berneice Gottlieb in New York, USA.

After that, nothing to do but wait.

I have had several opportunities to do a birthparent search – an active one – but I have not been able, even when I have seriously considered it – to bring myself to take the necessary steps. I am resistant, I think, for reasons too deeply-seated for me to put words to. The reasons are still a mystery to me, may always be.

There is a way in which I’ve viewed the search as too much looking back. After all, I had parents who loved me, provided for me as best they could. I lost them young, yes, but the privileges of my life so far outweigh the challenges that I am embarrassed and a bit ashamed to linger there too long. And yet.

The fear is this: That this is the one question, so large and so deep, which so overshadows everything else that I think and that I do and that I want and fear and love that unless I can put something around it – some kind of resolution – that I will never be free of it. That I will carry it to the end of my days.

That this is what gets in the way of any progress as a writer. As a mother, as a lover. As a friend, even.

Once I was asked if I had forgiven my birth mother. The answer came so quickly that it surprised me. It was as if I had rehearsed it for years:

My heart is not big enough for that. My heart is still a child’s heart.

Forgiveness, though, is a complicated thing, no? There are days when I feel no anger, only empathy, only sadness, only longing. Is that, in itself, a kind of forgiveness?

Often, people are surprised about how little information I have about my adoption, about my birth.

You don’t know anything about your birth parents?

Do you have any memories of Korea?

There are no records of the circumstances?

In the slim blue folder, I have:

1. A 3-page document called a “Social Study” provided by Social Welfare Society in Seoul:

The child’s name was given by the Orphan’s Home as Mi Jin Kim, which means: Mi-beautiful, Jin-true, Kim-a most common family name.

The child looks cute with round face, less and dark brown hair, ordinary back of head, thin eyebrows, black eyes, low nose, small mouth, round cheeks, olive-colored complexion. Her body has balance. She has 8 teeth on both sides.

2. A booklet called “Guideline for Adoptive Parents” also from Social Welfare Society:

Now your beloved adoptive child is at your hand, whom all your family has been eagerly waiting so long time. However, your adoptive child may be uneasy at your home for the time being because everything including your different appearances is seen strange enough to your adoptive child and each other, that is, your family and your adoptive child, can not understand each other owing to the different languages. 

3. A 6-page document called: “Notes Concerning Arrival and Early Adjustment of Children” (source unknown):

The children usually arrive with colds which spread to the inner ear due to the long flying time (24-26 hours) in the pressurized airplane cabin.

 We urge that the children be tested for worms. The children have been found to have pin worms, round worms and whip worms.

And also a few pages of English phrases, with the Korean translation, presented phonetically: 

I am your mother: Nai ka nay maw ni da

He is your father: E pun e nay vaw ji da

You are my daughter: Nay ka nai dolle da

There are some letters between my (adoptive) mother and the woman who assisted in the facilitation of the adoption from Korea. Holiday cards, mostly, and a handful of photos. I also have a gallon-sized ziploc bag with a shirt, a pair of tights and the shoes I wore when I arrived.

I know people who have searched and found relatives. Some who have searched and found nothing. I know stories, certainly, of some who have searched and been rejected. Even some who have themselves been found. It is hard to know, really, what I would hope for. Which I think, is what has kept me from searching. In the best possible outcome, or at least, the best possible one my limited imagination can conjure – where I find my parents, who want to be found, and who are loving and good and kind – what kind of life can we have, separated by 7,000 miles and a vast wide ocean? How much can my small heart be expected to hold?


Now, night has fallen in Seoul. I begin my day as the day there ends, and I think that maybe my mother is there, busying herself with her evening rituals. Perhaps she is changing into her night clothes as I lace up my sneakers for a run.

Is it strange to say that I miss her, although we have never met? Or at least, not in a way that I can remember. She is there, of course, in dreams.

In dreams, she is beautiful, but weary. In dreams, she is kind, but she has seen much suffering. In dreams, she is looking for me, searching – always searching. And I am here, just out of reach.