On January 28, 2015, I received confirmation from KAS that they had provided my contact information to ESWS and that I should be expecting contact soon. That same day, I choose to be proactive and instead of waiting for ESWS to contact me, I emailed their post adoption services department.
My first email to ESWS had two purposes- to follow up in regard to my search and also to obtain a copy of my adoption certificate, which I needed as part of my F4 Visa application.
Two days after I sent the email, I received a response from a social worker with post adoption services at ESWS. The social worker that contacted me advised that she was in charge of all of the Love the Children cases, which was the agency that processed my adoption on the American side.
The worker confirmed that she did have my adoption certificate, and that I could come to the ESWS office to pick it up Monday through Wednesday in the afternoon. Besides that, the email also read:
“And as you may heard from KAS, I was able to contact your birth mother the other day. She was very happy to be found since she has been wondering how you are. She is eager to correspond with you and can’t wait to see your picture. She hasn’t known yet about your visit Seoul because I didn’t know either.”
I was pleased with the prompt reply from the worker at ESWS. I was even more pleased that it sounded like my eomma had been thinking about me over the past 30 years just as much as I had been thinking about her.
I had heard from other adoptees that ESWS would require me to go through a process in which I had to submit pictures of myself and write a letter to my Korean family before any meeting would be setup. I was not eager to do this. My thought was, since I’m in Korea, why don’t we just setup a face to face meeting instead of having to exchange letters in languages that neither of us can understand. Of course, ESWS would be in charge of translating the letters and I did wonder if my words would be altered or translated in a way that didn’t actually reflect the content of my letter. Overall, I was hesitant to write anything, what do you say in a letter to your mother that you’ve been separated from for nearly 30 years?
So, I proposed my plan to the worker and expressed my discomfort in writing a letter. I asked if we could forgo the letter and picture exchange and if she could just call my eomma back and ask her if she’d be willing to meet with me. This was the worker’s response:
“But I think that exchange the letter and photo before the meeting would be better for getting to know each other and less awkward when you meet her in person.”
Okay. I tried. I don’t know that anything would make this less awkward, but okay. So, now I have to write a letter to my eomma. I setup a meeting with the social worker at ESWS for February 4, 2015. The night before the meeting, I wrote what I felt was right. The only picture I had with me to submit was an old passport photo.
The next day, I made my way to the ESWS office and I met with the worker that I had been corresponding with. I brought my letter and passport photo.
I arrived early for my appointment and had some time to walk around the block and calm myself. Deep breathing and a quick phone call to my partner helped to ease my anxiety. I feel so fortunate to have someone in my life who inspires me to be strong. Also, the ability to anchor myself in the breath has been something I’ve worked towards for years.
I went inside and met with the social worker in a little room that sort of looked like a living room. It reminded me of the family rooms that are used during supervised visitations for kids with their parents. There was a couch and a coffee table, a bunch of children’s toys and books, and colorful posters on the walls. The worker put me in this room and then left for what seemed like a long time, but it was probably only a few minutes.
When the worker came back, I received my adoption certificate and we talked about the worker’s exchange with my eomma. I was told that my eomma is married to a man that is not my father and lives in Busan with their son. What!!?? I have a half-brother. I wasn’t expecting that news. I always assumed I had siblings out there somewhere, but to hear this was a bit of a shock. The worker also told me that I was a secret, and that my eomma’s husband and their son do not know of my existence. Only my eomma, and her mother, my maternal Korean grandmother, are aware of me.
After telling me all of this, I was cautioned again that this is only my presumed eomma, as she remembers details of my adoption differently than what my file reads. I guess I was confused by this. On one hand, the worker was consistently using language that made it seem like this was my family. On the other hand, all of the information I was receiving was being disclaimed. Thankfully, the worker suggested that we do a DNA test to be sure that this was in fact my Korean mother.
I readily agreed to do the DNA test. I submitted 10 strands of my hair, handed over my letter and passport photo, and received a complimentary ESWS calendar that felt like a consolation prize. On my way out, the worker escorted me through the part of the building where they keep all of the babies, which was disturbing and uncomfortable for me. I was so relieved to get out of there and take a deep breath of polluted Seoul air. I put the calendar in the trash bin as soon as I got home.
Keep checking back for Part 5!