March 29, 2006

Expectations

My husband and I adopted for one reason: to have a family with children. Very simple, really, no mystery in the decision, no psychology needed to understand it.

It gets more complicated when I try to explain why we chose to adopt Korean children. Prior to adopting, we had no connections to Korea, Koreans, Korean Americans. We knew one family in our neighborhood that was in the process of adopting from Korea. We looked at various programs, and simply came to this decision because it felt right.

At the start of our adoption journey, our expectations looked something like this - all based on what we had learned through infertility support, through our adoption agency, and through gut feeling:
  • We expected to have a typical family life.
  • We expected to learn about our children's culture and homeland.
  • We expected to exercise "parental control" over how much of that culture to weave into our family, and that the decision would focus on our family rather than its individual members.
  • We expected to raise our children as if they had been born to us, not to others.
Here's our reality:
  • We have a typical family life.
  • We've learned about our children's culture and homeland, but we've discovered that it's equally - perhaps more - important to know their community, its issues and its challenges. The Korean American community has become our community, and its members are now our friends. I never anticipated how deeply I would connect with this community.
  • We have come to realize that nurturing our children's cultural identity isn't our parental choice, it's our children's right. I didn't anticipate how firmly I would believe how "non-negotiable" this is, and how much of my life would focus on spreading this message.
  • Our children were born, they have birth families who are real, our phantom extended family - ever-present in our imaginations, hopefully with us some day in reality. This is the most unexpected facet of our family's reality.
Much of what we expected has come to pass, especially daily life, which looks to us much as it looks to every other family with children. Family, school, homework, sports, events, parties, clothes, vacations - these are the stuff of our everyday lives. But my identity and our family's is firmly connected to our children's families in Korea, to the Korean American community here, and to Korea itself - something I never expected, but for which I'll be forever grateful.

March 14, 2006

Some Statistics

It's difficult to obtain accurate statistics for the adoption of Korean children by U.S. parents, but by cobbling together data from the two main sources, the following picture emerges:

Adoptions of Korean Children by U.S. Parents:
99,061 1953-2001 (From the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare)
5,285 2002-2004 (From INS statistics)
104,346 Total (Note: Some sources place this number closer to 150,000)

Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare statistics:
62,100 Domestic adoptees in Korea 1953-2001
148,394 Overseas adoptees outside Korea 1953-2001
210,494 Total

It's easy to extrapolate a community of millions that are touched by the Korean adoption experience. Although not every extended family has the same makeup, the following model offers a way to quantify how many have been touched by Korean adoption.

Assuming 2 Korean children in a family:
2 adoptive parents
4 adoptive grandparents
4 adoptive maternal aunts, uncles, and cousins
4 adoptive paternal aunts, uncles, and cousins
15 members in the extended family (a conservative estimate)
750,000 extended adoptive family members touched by Korean adoption in the US
1,500,000 extended adoptive family members touched by Korean adoption worldwide

Think of this model in terms of members of Korean birth families touched by the adoption of their Korean child, and the number doubles yet again. Think of this number in terms of friends and community members touched by the experience, and it grows exponentially.

Another spin on the numbers:

In the 2000 census, the total US population was counted at 281,421,906 and the Korean American population at 1,076,872 (Korean only) and 1,228,427 (multi-ethnic Korean). These numbers represent 35% and 54% increases over 1990 population figures, respectively. Based on the 2000 figures, Korean Americans make up between .38% and .44% of the US population. And Korean adoptees comprise 10% of the Korean American population.

(Thanks to Sunny Jo and Tobias Hubinette for the adoption stats, which can be found with many more at http://www.geocities.com/sunny_jo888/kadfacts.html.)

March 7, 2006

A Little Background

Let me tell you about all of my mommies!" said my five-year-old son one day as we sat in our kitchen. He began counting: "There's my first mother in Korea, then Mrs. Cho (his foster mother), and then you - you're my third mom!" So simple to his five-year-old mind - but of course adoption is anything but simple. By sharing my thoughts here I hope to better understand the experience that has shaped my life.
About Me

I'm Third Mom, known to everyone else as Margie, adoptive mom of two Korean teens. I live in Northern Virginia, with my husband Third Dad, our 17-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter. Third Dad and I have been married for almost 32 years. We met at Georgetown University, our alma mater, and have lived in the DC area ever since.

I studied foreign languages and applied linguistics at Georgetown, and taught for eight years in the Fairfax County Public School system, followed by several years teaching at a private ESL school for adults. I now work as a program manager in telecommunications, but my dream is to return to school for a degree in sociology.

Third Dad is a stay-at-home-dad, and has been since our son arrived in 1989. His passion is antiques, so I've grown used to a parade of furniture and things in and out of our garage. And I've also learned how to snag the good stuff for myself.

Our children, The Boy and The Girl, are now teens. The Boy is the intellectual in the family, a highly-motivated student who is totally devoted to drama and theater at his school. The Girl is the athlete, and is competing nationally in taekwondo, her passion.

In 1996, a group of close friends and I co-founded an organization called Korean Focus. KF's mission is to help create connections between the Korean adoption and Korean American community in our area. KF sponsors programs on Korean culture and adoption issues, and now has chapters in Maryland, Cincinnati, and Seattle, and a new one underway in Indiana. For a small organization it has done some great events, and I've loved every minute of my involvement.

Our Story

My husband and I came to adoption by way of infertility. We adopted through a large agency in Washington, DC. Our first child, our son, arrived in 1989, and our daughter joined our family in 1991. They are exactly two years apart, and were six and four months, respectively, when they arrived.

Our decision to adopt Korean children was influenced by nothing we can think of other than a desire to work with an agency that would work with a couple nearing forty. When we reached our decision, we learned that a neighbor was also in the process of adopting a Korean child. They shared their experience, we felt it was a good path for us, and so we proceeded.

We knew absolutely nothing about adoption. We took an adoption preparation class and attended seminars, but that's about it. At the time, our agency offered little preparation outside of the homestudy. Reading helped somewhat, but at the end of the day we were little prepared to support our children's emotional needs.

Reality hit me at the airport on the day our son arrived. His birth mother's presence was overwhelming. Who was she? And who was his father? His grandparents? Where were they? Why were they separated in the first place? And why did we need to stay separated?

In the intervening 17 years I've learned that the complexity of the adoption of Korean children offers many questions, many concerns, and few answers. The joy I now and always will feel at being my children's mom will never dampen, but I recognize now more than ever that my joy cam at a great price. And so, I do what I can now to increase their chances of finding their birth families in the future. And I keep the hope for those reunions in my heart.