Do You Want to Go Back?

Do you want to go back?

It’s a question I have been asked numerous times throughout my life. No matter how many times I have heard it, I have to admit that I am always a little taken aback when people ask me that question. In a way, it’s a reminder that, while I am an American citizen, I won’t ever fully belong here. And, because I was born there, I am also a Korean citizen, but I will never belong there, either. I realize people mean well when they ask, but for me, it’s a really difficult question to answer.

When I was found abandoned in a subway station in Seoul, South Korea, I was crying and had bruises around my eyes. The back of my head was abnormally flat, presumably from not having been held enough. I was left without any identifying information, so I was given a birthdate of July 20, 1982, and I was given the name, Soon Duk Kim, which means kindness and virtue. I spent about a year in a foster home in Korea prior to my adoption. I have a photo of my foster mother holding me. I don’t think I will ever forget the gentle face—wrinkled, yet kind and serene—staring back at me from that photograph. It’s the closest thing to a baby photo I will ever have.

When I think about the way in which I was found, and when I feel the back of my head, I have a very difficult time believing that I came from a place of love. I look at my sons, both of whom have perfectly shaped heads, and I think about how I couldn’t hold them enough when they were babies. It saddens me to think about my first year of life. I know a majority of birth parents give their children an opportunity for a better life out of love. However, when I think about my birth parents, I have a hard time believing that they ever loved me. Many adoptees try to imagine what their birth parents must have looked like. Whenever I try to picture what my birth parents looked like, I don’t see faces. In fact, I have never seen anything but shadowy outlines of figures standing over me, but I have never been able to visualize a face.

For many years growing up, I actually feared going back to Korea to visit. My fear was that, if I went back to visit, I would not be allowed to leave the country. I know now that my fears were completely unrealistic, but those fears were very much a part of me for a very long time.

I used to wonder all the time. I used to imagine having another family in Korea. I used to imagine what it would be like to someday meet them and for them to tell me that they were searching for me and they loved me. Now, more than anything, I fear going back and looking at the crowds of people who look just like me and wondering. I don’t want to think that I might have a sibling or a relative living in Korea. I stopped wondering a long time ago because, now, I don’t want to know.

I have found comfort in the belief that there is nothing in Korea for me. I am well aware of the fact that because I don’t have knowledge of my birth name or my birth date, it would be nearly impossible for me to ever find any information about my birth family. I don’t read many stories about adoptees making their homeland journeys. It’s painful to read about the adoptees who found their birth families, and it’s heart-wrenching to read about those who were never able to find any information.

By leaving me without identifying information, I believe my birth parents were sending me a message that they don’t ever want to be found, and I’m okay with that. For me, it’s easier not knowing than feeling the pain of rejection again. It’s a pain that I don’t think I would ever be able to bear.

When my sons are older, I’m sure my family and I will make the homeland journey together. The purpose of the journey won’t be about trying to find my birth family, though. It will be an opportunity for my family to learn about the Korean culture together. For me, that will be a much more valuable experience than trying to find pieces of a puzzle that I was never meant to complete.

13 thoughts on “Do You Want to Go Back?

  1. Kim Stevens says:

    This was your most powerful poece and so needed to be written. We so often hear another view point and need constant reminders that for each adoptee, the experience is unique and uniquely THEIRS. And so must be respected, acknowledged and honored. Thank you.

  2. Thank you for sharing your unique perspective. Your voice is an important one, and is too often lost in the polar debates that happen so much in discussions of adoption.

    • Thank you so much, Margie! It really helps to know that even though my perspective doesn’t necessarily echo that of other intercountry adoptees, my voice matters. It’s an honor hearing that from someone so respected within the Korean adoption community.

  3. chinamom2 says:

    Hi there,
    I really love your blog and writing. I’m mom to two daughters from China. Your statement about not feeling like you fully belong to either the U.S. or Korea was profound. Have you heard of the movie “Somewhere Between”? It is a documentary featuring 4 Chinese adoptees (girls) who are wrestling with this exact issue. I believe it will have a limited release in the fall. ( Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. It is valuable information for younger transracial adoptees and their parents!!!

  4. Denise says:

    sometimes Asian kids have flat heads in the back simply due to genetics. My DH is Korean and his family still lives in Korea. When we adopted our daughter at 6 months old, she had been living with a foster mom who has been fostering kids over 2o years. I noticed the back of my daughter’s head was quite flat. My SIL heard me say something about it and pointed to my husband and her uncles’ heads who were balding who were with us at the time. My SIL said our daughter just matches the rest of the family. What she meant was we could see how flat the back of the uncle’s heads were also (because of the lack of hair, the flatness in the back of their head was obvious) so i don’t think it necessarily means neglect since i have no reason to believe my husband’s uncles were neglected as babies. Korean babies are placed on their backs for sleep :). FYI, thanks for writing this blog!

    • Thanks for your insight, Denise! There were a few things about the way in which I was found that make me think some neglect may have been involved, but I very much appreciate your comment!

  5. Heather says:

    You brought tears to my eyes as I think of what my daughter may be going through at this very moment. It will be an adventure to learn how to best love and care for her while still honoring her journey.

  6. I feel the same way about visiting the countries my families came from, myself. I’m so proud of you for gaining so much wisdom and acceptance through your journey to Korea. I hope that your next trip to Korea will be much more fulfilling.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing your experience wih us!
    I would just like to make a few assumptions about your birth parents…
    The fact that you were found abandoned, does not necessarily mean that it is your parents who have abandoned you….. You may have been left there by someone else, other than your mother.She raised you for a year…. So this makes me think that no mother, unless really desperate, could have done such a thing… And what if something happened to her and you were found by someone who then left you in the subway? I am telling you all these to relieve you from thinking that you were abandoned because you were not loved… There might be another truth out there….
    Recently, a family from Syria whose house was bombarded, left the country believing that there 1,5 year old son died in the ruins…. Out of a miracle, the boy survived… He was found by the rebels who delivered him to a village… He was then recognised by family members and arrangements were made to find his family.
    The baby is now safe with his parents in the island of Cyprus after 6 months of agony.

    I wish that you find the truth about your past.. All the best!

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