Christmas season in Korea. Tonight is the first ASK/TRACK (Adoption Solidarity Korea / Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea) Christmas party for unwed moms and their children. We support them in their efforts to increase social services to struggling families, in an effort to reduce the supposed need for adoption, and we wanted to ease their struggles for an evening by hosting a party and providing gift items that might be beyond their reach.
I get to Koroot (an organization that provides connection to Korean society and temporary living quarters for visiting and returning adoptees) late and the party is in full swing. Little children are running around chasing each other and playing sock’em with balloons. One toddler sits at the piano banging at the keys – Jane Jeong Trenka slips in a Christmas song then slips away – the entire room claps and the girl is amazed she played so well and grins from ear to ear at the applause.
A smorgasbord is laden with ham, turkey, cheese, a heavenly high calorie casserole, bulgogi and lettuce wraps. Cookies and tangerines are omnipresent, and wine flows.
Everywhere the children have taken over the floor, the table legs, and people legs. I watch the adorable kids playing and watch the families interact and eat the western food, my mind freezing each image of mother and child hugging indelibly in my brain.
Each of the moms introduce themselves and their children and say something thankful. The children ham it up for the momentary spotlight or turn to their moms and almost knock them over with the enthusiasm of their affection. It’s almost unbearable, separated from my family, to see so much love and affection. The little abandoned girl in me is envious. The women are not teenagers, but in their 20’s to 30’s. One is a hairdresser. One is fluent in Russian. Another is fluent in English. Smart, capable women all.
Then to my horror it is our turn to introduce ourselves. I tell the mothers I think they are brave and strong, and that they help adoptees (end international adoption) by being a success. Being a success meets some difficulty being translated.
Mads the Dane says something in perfect Korean, which is because he’s been in Korea fifteen years, and then the typically ebullient and irrepressible Alice follows.
Alice tells the women in Korean that she was adopted to the Netherlands, and that she thinks the women are very brave. Then she switches to English, her voice cracking, her eyes filling, and she says she wishes her mom had been so brave.
Both Mads and Alice have reunited with their birth families.
And there we are, all of us adoptees, attempting to hold back a flood, dabbing our eyes with napkins. I’m not sure the unwed moms are aware of how affected we all are by the evening, but it is hard to make small talk after that.
I tell Alice – how can it be possible to feel so heart-warmed and heart-broken at the same time? “Yes,” she says, “and to think all these children were to be sent away.”
All of these women were pressured by their families, significant-and-now-absent others, and the maternity homes to give their babies away for adoption. Some were outright coerced into giving their babies away, and had to fight to get them back. Most of them are totally estranged from their families because they chose to keep their babies. All of them face job discrimination, social ostracizing, and economic disadvantage.
To see these brave pioneers forge ahead in spite of these odds is inspiring. To know that this is just the beginning of feminine empowerment is encouraging. They are telling other unwed mothers that they have a choice, and that choice is love. And love does not mean having to send your baby away.
Everyone considering international adoption from Korea should witness this love and these women and these children and what they have between them. They are struggling, but they have each other.
In the adoption solution scenario, these women would have been left grieving. They would be glorified for loving their children enough to get rid of them, and at the same time vilified for being harlots or concerned only with themselves. Their children would grow up to be like us adoptees – also grieving. Silently, because we are supposed to be grateful for a better life. It is a solution which benefits adopting parents, but it is a flawed solution, when the real solution is to help these women keep their children.
One chubby little girl who looks a lot like me, the same age I was when I was shipped to America, has lost sight of her mother. She is standing at the door, distraught, hitting it and wailing, “Omma! Omma!”
I run and tell Jane. And then I have to leave.