Imagine you’re an infant or child left alone in a long, dark tunnel. Your voice cries out, but no one can hear you. You reach out a hand, desperate for the warmth of your mother.
They used to sell miniature horoscope scrolls at our grocery store checkout lanes. Every month, I begged for the chance to read my fate spelled out as fact on pastel paper. I’d spend an hour poring over each word, preparing for what to expect.
Not long after I was born, it was decided that I would become someone new. Too young to understand or protest, I was ripe for the taking. At six months old, I boarded a plane in South Korea. My escort reported that I wouldn’t sleep. When I landed in North America, a sea of white faces surrounded me. Hands patted my clothes and skin. New sounds and smells flooded my senses. It was a big day for two strangers and their two daughters because from this day forward, I was to wear their mask of adoption.
I was about seven years old when it happened. Sitting in the living room, as I liked to after dinner, I gazed out the bay window at the stars in the sky. There was a big etched vase with decorative feathers sweeping out of it. I’d often get lost in my thoughts as my eyes traced the swirls of its surface. My father had come home late from work and was, as usual, upset with the state of the place.
There are too many stories of abuse, neglect, and murder. People wonder, “But why did they adopt?” As an adoptee connected to an ever-growing network of other adoptees, I’m here with some insight into how this happens.
Little girls are raised to be aware of strange men lurking around schools in vans. They’re taught how to properly cover their bodies so not to appear like they’re asking for ‘it’. And when you’re a kid, ‘it’ equals sex. If you’re lucky, you don’t really understand what rape means beyond unwanted sexual attention until you’re much older, or it happens to you.
When I was a toddler, I envisioned the woman who bore me as a nameless, faceless saint. Her love transcended the physical realm. She was more like a spirit than a person. I thought her akin to the Virgin Mary in our Christmas manger, because there was never any talk of male involvement; just this ethereal figure who loved me so much that she sent me away.
At seven years old, I already knew to protect my innermost feelings. I loved to write. A relative gifted me a locked diary—which I treasured but did not trust. In a household with surveillance cameras in bedrooms, boundaries weren’t up for discussion.
At five years old, my white adoptive mother was already asking me to choose between my race and hers. “Do you think you’ll marry an Asian man someday?” I shook my head—not because I hated Asian boys but because I’d never met one.
Like every story about a woman who tries to have children and can’t, mine is deeply personal. It begins with my own adoption. I arrived from Korea at six months old, expected to be one of those clean slate babies with no memories or trauma.