In case you didn’t know, I’m adopted! I thought I’d share my story this week since November 15th was the anniversary of the day I arrived into my adoptive family’s arms, and it’s also coincidentally World Adoption Day. I’ve gone with an FAQ format for this post so please feel free to comment or ask questions about anything I’ve shared.
(FYI any references to my biological family will be specified as such since I consider my adoptive family to just be “family” – e.g. I just say “my parents” and not “adoptive parents.”)
So you’re adopted? Where were you born and how old were you when you were adopted?
I was born Sook Hee Ahn (안숙희) in Seoul, Korea, in June of 1985. I was five months old when I was adopted into a Chinese-American family who was at the time living in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Do you know anything about your biological family?
I actually know a fair amount from all the paperwork associated with my adoption. For a number of reasons, it’s hard to say how much of the following circumstances described are true and how much of the real story might be left out, but I’ll just share the information that I have.
My biological father is Seung Cheol Ahn (안승철). He was born in Uiryeong-gun, Korea, the second of five siblings. He was reported to be 35 years old at the time I was born, around five foot seven inches tall, and a high school graduate. My biological mother is Sook Kyeong Seong (성숙경). She was born in Pusan, the eldest of seven, and was only educated through middle school. She was around five foot two, 30 years old, and living in Seoul when I was born. The two had met years prior through a neighbor and began living together. My bio dad worked at an ironworks and over the course of their relationship they had two daughters together, Jeong Hee (정히) and Hyo Soon (효순 – ages six and four, respectively, at the time I was born). At some point they ended their relationship and mutually agreed that my bio mom would take care of my older sisters. She found out she was pregnant with me after they broke up and “tried to find out his whereabouts but failed.” She then decided to put me up for adoption because she didn’t have a steady job and felt she didn’t have the resources to support another baby. She admitted me to the adoption agency the day after I was born.
What happened in those five months before you arrived in Albuquerque?
I went into foster care in Korea for the five months until I was adopted. (The picture at the top of this post is of me with my foster mom.) Then in November of 1985 I flew from Seoul to Denver in the care of a lady who was an executive for a partnering children’s agency. Apparently I cried the entire flight. Oops! In my defense, she was probably one of the first non-Asian faces I’d ever seen and she later said she believed that I was getting a lot of grieving (from being separated from my foster mom) out of my system. She was probably right because after a short flight from Denver to Albuquerque, I arrived into my family’s arms and just smiled contentedly.
An extra anecdote here…My parents had been told I’d been hospitalized at some point and at two months old was only about six pounds. So they prepared to receive some small, sickly baby but I arrived chunky and healthy and didn’t fit many of the clothes they had for me. I had clearly made up for lost time and my lifelong love of eating probably started back then.
Speaking of your adoptive family, tell me some more about them. Had they always wanted to adopt?
Yes, my mom always wanted to adopt, and her plan was to have two biological children if possible, and then adopt two. My dad was 100% on board with that and by God’s grace that’s what ended up happening. My older sister was 13 and my older brother 10 when I arrived in the family. After me, they adopted a second time from Korea and my little brother (not biological) arrived into the family exactly one year later from the day I had arrived.
As for why they adopted, my parents would say that as Christians, they felt blessed by and thankful to God for His love and provision and wanted to extend that love and provision to others, particularly vulnerable children. Their lives have been a testament to their care for such children, not just in adopting two kids from Korea but in fostering many other children over the years too.
How did your parents tell you that you were adopted?
Every adoptive parent will go about this their own way, but I am thankful that my parents raised both my younger brother and I with the reality of our adoption from day one. In other words, I have never not known that I was adopted. Not only were they honest with us, but they instilled in us the idea that adoption is beautiful and special. We both have scrapbooks lovingly prepared by my sister and mom, telling the story of how we came into the family, and how joyous and wonderful each event was. My mom has always joked, “We just ended up with the older two, but we chose you.” They spent loads of time and money to bring my younger brother and I into the family when they didn’t have to, and that speaks volumes in and of itself.
My parents also helped cement the truth in our minds that the very act of putting us up for adoption proved how much our bio parents and especially our bio moms loved us. She could’ve aborted me or thrown me in a dumpster, but my birth mom endured nine months of pregnancy and labor, held that little baby in her arms, looked into her face, and was still able to release her in the hopes of giving her a better life in another family. So whether I was actually unwanted or it was only the life she foresaw for me that was unwanted, I consider her actions to be only courageous and loving.
So would you ever want to try and find your biological family?
No and yes. No in that I feel no emotional void in my life (more on that later) that would motivate me enough to spend time and resources in a pursuit with zero guarantees for any positive resolution.
But yes in that I have the normal curiosities like what did my parents look like? What are my sisters like? Did my bio mom have any other children later? How did nature vs. nurture play out in my situation? What are they all up to now, if they’re even still living?
But mainly I’d love to meet my bio mom and tell her the same things I said earlier, that I am so grateful that she made the difficult decision to put me up for adoption, and that I hold absolutely no ill will toward her whatsoever. I would want to try and unburden her from any guilt she may have and tell her about the incredibly blessed life I’ve lead and currently lead as a result of her decision. And I would want to tell her about the God who loves both of us, who has changed my life in every way.
How has being an adoptee shaped your identity and perspectives?
On a personal level, my adoption is very much a part of who I am. I am very open about telling people that I’m adopted and it will forever be a cherished part of my story. Also, it’s really nice to be able to breeze through family medical history forms because I just write, “??? I was adopted.”
It has also impacted how I view adoption (and also foster care) in general. I not only think adoption is wonderful and something my husband and I want to do ourselves someday, but I see it as a social justice, a way to care for the marginalized and forgotten.
But my adoption’s intersection with my Christian worldview has ultimately been the most impactful. When I think about the fact that I could’ve been discarded far less gracefully, or the fact that I could’ve ended up with any family in the world but was placed in mine, which set the course for so much of my life – socioeconomic status, the quality of my education, etc., I can only continually marvel and be humbled by what I believe to be God’s great undeserved grace and blessing in my life. (Side note: I still believe God’s grace to be true even if I had been placed into a horrible and abusive adoptive family, but then we’d be getting into questions of where is God in the midst of suffering and evil in the world, and that’s obviously a whole other post. But if you’re curious about that, ask me!)
The Bible also presents the idea of being “adopted” into a spiritual family and community when one becomes a Christian, so I and many other adoptees have been able to internalize those concepts in a very special way, having experienced a physical adoption.
But most personally, my Christian worldview has helped fill in and transform any identity gaps left by adoption. Because of God, my background, history, etc. shape my identity but they don’t define it. I am not adrift in this life because I don’t know where I came from or the biological forces that shaped me. I don’t worry about what I’m missing out on by having no ties to my biological family.
In God I am perfectly loved, perfectly accepted, and commissioned to live with purpose no matter what has happened or what will happen in my life. That kind of security grounds my identity and worldview and makes me whole. Sure, I have questions, but finding the answers to them will not suddenly “complete me.” The hows and the whys of my adoption may be interesting to explore, but whether positive or painful, they do not change the foundational truths that determine who I am and how I live.
So it doesn’t define you, but have you managed to hold on to some of your Korean cultural identity?
In a couple of ways I have, but really at the end of the day I am mostly Chinese-American and White, culturally speaking, from both my adoptive family’s culture and from growing up in not-very-diverse Albuquerque. My mom signed my younger brother and I up for Korean language lessons when we were kids, but despite several years of lessons I sadly didn’t retain much of anything, except an elementary knowledge of the alphabet that allows me to sound out and pronounce Korean words with no understanding of what I’m actually saying.
My parents also took our whole family on a trip to China and Korea when I was in middle school. It was the first and only time to date that I’ve visited Korea, but it was a very special trip to see the country of my birth. Someday I’d like to visit Korea again as an adult with my husband and daughter and any other kids we might have in the future, but if that never happens I’ll always be grateful for the trip we took when I was younger. It was an incredibly meaningful experience in which we visited the adoption agency my younger brother and I came from, and it included a meeting with the amazing man who founded the agency as well as some time with my brother’s foster mom, who was still fostering babies 13 years after she had fostered him!
I also love and crave kimchi, so that makes me sorta Korean, right??
Um, sure. Anyway, in closing, what would you say to anyone considering adoption?
I think I would say the same thing both to those considering adoption and to those who don’t think adoption is for them. Just start by asking some questions*. Ask adoptees and adoptive families about their experiences. Find out what the adoption process looks like. Find out if the fears you have are legitimate. (If I could rid the world of the blanket statement that “adoption is too expensive,” I would!) Find out what and where the needs are in your community – spoiler alert: they are staggering.
I know not everyone will adopt or foster, and that’s okay. But I think we’d find that there are so many ways to help vulnerable children and their caregivers short of actually adopting if we just take the time to find out a little more.
So that’s my story. Again, feel free to ask me any questions!
A final note: I realize that not all adoptees have the same glowing and wonderful experience as I did. I think I am in the rare minority who do not have a number of unresolved and/or painful issues related to their adoption. For me, I think a number of factors eased my experience beyond what I’ve already mentioned. For instance, I was adopted into an Asian-American family and never had to wrestle with the question of “why do I look so different from the rest of my family?” I was also adopted as a young baby and generally the younger the child is the less traumatic the transition. But adoption always entails some sense of loss and brokenness, both for the adoptee and for his or her biological family. So I’m not trying to minimize those difficult experiences or pretend they don’t exist because they absolutely do. Case in point, my younger brother would have a very different and much rockier adoption journey to share even though he was raised in the same family. So while I am very open and positive about my adoption, I’d encourage you to remember that my experience is generally not the norm, and many adoptees need a lot of love and support as they wrestle through the hard questions.
*For any readers in the Houston area, there’s a non-profit organization called Anchor Point that does an adoption info class several times a year. There is no pressure to take any steps toward adopting. It’s purely to provide information about adoption and the adoption process, and equip you with some resources should you ever choose to take that step. The class is just three evenings over three weeks and my husband and I thought it was extremely helpful and informative when we took it a few years ago. Their website can be found HERE and the class is called “Discover Adoption.”