In 2008 sometime happened to Steve and I that would send us on a path that I guess no one in our families could have guessed. We had a couple of miscarriages. Thankfully they were quite early in the pregnancies, but my doctor told me it was a sign that something might wrong with my reproductive organs and recommended I go to see a fertility specialist.
Now, the background of this story is that I had spent a year at a foster placing agency writing homestudies for foster parents. I had heard at least half a dozen stories of couples with reproductive issues. I’d heard them sob as they explained how they’d spent all their money on invitro or how they’d lost baby after baby, or how they’d ended up in a hospital.
So, Steve and I talked about the situation for a long time, and we made a decision. There was no good reason to waste all of our money and emotional sanity when adoption was such an easy solution. And then, since there was no longer a biological clock controlling our lives, we decided to hop on a plane and spend a few years teaching English in Korea. We had a friend doing it, and it sounded like just the break from reality that we wanted.
The last week of June 2009 we landed in South Korea. We did all the things people say you’re supposed to do, payed off all of our student loans, and even managed a trip to Europe. We had a thousand experiences that we never would have had if we had managed to keep that first pregnancy.
But all the while, we were quietly trying to get pregnant. Not with any kind of treatment, just you know, the elbow grease way. The results were a bunch of negative pregnancy tests and a few more early miscarriages. Oh, and crying. Lots and lots of crying.
Now, this is where I guess a lot of people will ask, “Well then why didn’t you just go back to home and adopt?”
At some point during our time in Korea, a friend of a friend introduced us to a local orphanage. We did a bunch of different stuff there, and maybe a year into our time volunteering there, we met two middle school boys. They were always hanging around, and something about them was just really special. I don’t know how, exactly, but we just kind of knew. Those boys were our sons.
Now, the problem with that, unfortunately, was that legally, not only were they not our sons, they could not be our sons. You see, you can’t just go around adopting whoever you want. So we were in a bit of a mess. We loved them, and wanted to spend every moment with them, but they could only spend weekends with us. And then they graduated high school and a second reality became clear. They weren’t Americans. Not only were they not Americans, they were exactly the kind of people America did not want immigrating. We couldn’t even find a school to give them a study overseas visa.
So we found ourselves committed to living in Korea. It was fine from most perspectives, but it did basically kill all plans to adopt. But who cared about adoption, right? Our boys were great and we were happy. But in some ways there was still a longing. We’d been on the sidelines all the time we’d known them, and had missed their entire childhood. So, while I never questioned if they were my sons, I did feel a bit sad that I’d never actually gotten to raise a child in my home.
One day it dawned on me; maybe we could adopt here in Korea. So, we dialed up a local adoption agency. They chatted with us for a bit and informed us that we could not just adopt a Korean kid if we were American citizens. And even if we took the plunge and switched our citizenship, a Korean judge might not agree to let us adopt. We moped about a bit and then a friend gave us some good news.
Holt International had recently started an expat program. As long as you had $30,000, they would help you adopt a child. We talked it over. And then we talked some more. And then did some research.
I started reading blogs written by Korean adoptees. If you think you want to adopt internationally, I highly recommend you do the same. You will not feel good about a lot of what they say. At least I didn’t. They were angry at their white parents for raising them up in communities where they were the only Asian, sometimes the only minority. They were angry that they hadn’t learned anything about their home country. They fled back to Korea, often fully cutting ties with their adoptive families.
I read blogs about interracial adoption. Also not encouraging. They continually brought up the fact that no matter where you went and what you did, people were going to question the validity of your family. They were going to ask questions that would hurt your child’s understanding of who they were in your family. They were going to make jokes that would damage your child’s self-esteem as an adoptee. For a bit, I really considered giving the whole process up.
But the thing was, even though I knew that this adopted baby was going to have a lot of problems, I also knew the other option. He would not be adopted. He would not have a family. I’d spent years hanging out at the orphanage. I knew what that looked like. I thought about what my boys would have chosen if the law allowed us to adopt them. And finally, I decided that even with all of these negatives, the positives were too big to ignore. We contacted Holt.
This was 2018. Everyone tells you that international adoption moves slow. You just don’t understand what they mean until you’re in the process. At the start, I firmly believed that sometime late 2019 a child would be in our home. We jumped through crazy hoops to get paperwork notarized, begged a dozen different Korean facilities to do a dozen different things that they had no experience in doing. We dropped crazy amounts of money on things that we had not known were going to be expensive.
Time dragged on. The agency had a bunch of internal issues. The US shut down a bunch of immigration centers and suddenly no one had any idea where we were supposed to turn in paperwork or do our immigration permit interviews. The paperwork that took a day in the states took a month here. Corona happened and the courts shut down. We planned for a baby in sometime in 2019, and then sometime in 2020. Now we just laugh when people ask.
But that’s not the end of the story. We haven’t gotten to the end yet. In the end, there will be a baby here. Well, he’s going to be three when he gets here. He was a year and a half when we agreed to his placement. He’s going to have two big brothers who will love him. He’s going to have to sleep with a slightly neurotic and very over protective terrier. (She growls at me if I have the audacity to shake the older two boys awake.) He’s going to spend his life eating kimchi and pasta.
But there is always more than one side to every story. He’s lost his birth mother along with all of his genetic history. That stuff isn’t small, it’s huge. He’s going to live in a family with white people, which means that no matter which country we chose to raise him in, he will be conspicuous. He will carry emotional scars and baggage that Steve and I will not fully understand. And somewhere out there, his mother is up at night crying and worrying about the baby she had to put up for adoption.
So why did I write this blog? I guess to let people who are considering international adoption know what they’re really signing on to. And to let people who see transracial families out and about know that the words you say will deeply impact that child. There were several years where our boys were anxious to be seen with us here because people stared and asked awkward questions.
And also, I wanted to remind families who are struggling with infertility issues that there are other, good ways to have a family. Yeah, it sucks when every person on your feed is getting pregnant and you’re sitting around twiddling your thumbs. But only if you look at the negative side of things. Not being able to get pregnant releases you from a lot of burdens. You’ll never have to lose baby weight. You can travel and do whatever you want without worrying that your eggs are getting old.
Most importantly, you’ll get to be part of a very necessary institution. Adoption is absolutely necessary. And by the way, international adoption is expensive, but fostering to adopt is not. And when you foster to adopt an American kid, you don’t have to worry about learning a new language so your kid will be in touch with their culture, their culture is your culture.
Overall, I guess I just really want to encourage people to be a little more mindful and loving. And for those of you considering how many kids to have, maybe add at least one adopted kid to that mix. You won’t love them any less. And you’ll be helping to make the world a little better, brighter place.
*Just a note to anyone who wonders “Why didn’t you put a picture of your family on this blog?” the reason is that we don’t put many pictures of our boys up online to protect their privacy. They’re college kids, but we firmly believe that it’s their right to decide when or if their friends and peers find out that they’re part of a blended family. So we never put anything of the four of us up anywhere online.