into the deep of the adoption conversation

By Michelle Hwang

Last year, when my close friend Heidi told me that her little brother Ed was adopted, I was astonished. But now, I’m a little embarrassed by my surprise. I am familiar with adoption as a method of starting or growing a family, but beyond that, there’s not much else I know. 

I’ve noticed that we, as a society, still view adoption as a fragile and foreign concept. Both in real life and in popular media, we often see people tread lightly on the subject of adoption, especially in the presence of adoptees. But in reality, 135,000 children are adopted in the U.S. each year, and adoption, with all of its beauty and hardships, is a discussion worth diving head first into. 

I sat down with Heidi’s mom, Kim Ji-Hyun, to find out how she thinks about adoption and what it’s like for her to be an adoptive parent. 

This conversation has been translated from Korean and has been edited for clarity and length. Translation assistance by Kim Jung-Eun.

How did you end up adopting?

My parents got divorced when I was 7. So I lived without my mom, only with my dad and my grandma, and not having a mom made me really really sad. At that time, there was a kid in my class who didn’t have a mom or dad. I wasn’t even that close to them. But for me, living without my mom was this difficult, so I thought about how hard it would be without my mom and dad. After that, I think I naturally had this desire to grow up and become a mother to kids who didn’t have parents. 

So the day you brought Ed home was the day you first met him. What was that day like?

That day was September 9th, 2009. Even though he was only one month old his eyes were so sad. Babies usually cry a lot at one month old. They cry when they’re just a little bit uncomfortable, they cry when they’re hungry, and they cry a lot when they soil their diapers. But as soon as Ed met our family, he didn’t cry and his face went stiff. For one day he really stayed still without eating anything or crying. I didn’t know at the time, but it was because the baby was so nervous and scared. 

What’s the most memorable moment since Ed became a part of your family?

After he turned 9 last year, Ed started thinking about adoption more. I thought Ed had received adoption well because I had taught him [about it] beforehand. But on his 9th birthday he was really sad, and he started asking about his biological mother for the first time. We decided Ed’s birthday would be September 9th, the day we first met him. But I regret that decision a little bit. Ed was born on July 31st, and I regret that we didn’t set [that] day as his birthday instead of the day he was adopted. Even though it’s supposed to be a happy day, I always end up crying on his birthday. I cried on Ed’s birthday and again on my birthday. He wrote a birthday card for me, and in it he thanked me for choosing him among all those children. He thanked me for choosing him to be a part of our family, even though we’ve been a family from the beginning. That kind of stuff makes my heart hurt a bit. 

What was the difference between the first time you met Heidi and the first time you met Ed?

The moment I met Heidi and the moment I met Ed for the first time felt different. In Heidi’s case, as soon as I saw her I could see parts that looked like me and parts that looked like my husband. And while in my stomach, the baby was constantly moving and connected to me. Ed was a baby I’d never seen before. But there was so much happiness and gratitude that was different from when I met Heidi. With Ed there was this feeling of  “Oh, he’s truly a gift from God to my family. I should raise him with care” and I felt a greater sense of responsibility.

What are your thoughts on how people react when they first find out Ed is an adoptee?

I think I am a little cautious. I’m worried there might be parts of Ed they look at differently. And sometimes I meet people who think adoption is not a good thing. For example, some people have said to me “People aren’t supposed to be adopted”. Then I say, “No, I don’t think so. I am very happy.” and move on. But in Ed’s case, there are times when babies come and talk. “Why are you living with a fake mom?” They’ll ask those types of questions. There was this one time that a kid said to Ed, “You’re just like trash. Your mom threw you away like she would throw away trash.” He heard those kinds of things a lot when he was in first and second grade, so for a while he called himself trash a lot.

So I tried to explain it to Ed in a way that he could understand it. “Ed, your mom really loved you, but she couldn’t raise you because she wasn’t in a good situation and didn’t have the money.” Then his thoughts must have been, “Parents can’t raise their children if they don’t have money.” A few years later, there was a time when our family didn’t have enough money, so my husband and I were thinking about what to do. Ed heard that and he was so worried. He came to me and said, “Mom and Dad, you’re going to abandon me because you don’t have money, right?” I was so surprised, and I said, “What do you mean?” And he said, “If parents don’t have money, they can’t raise a child. So you and dad can’t raise me because you don’t have money right now.” When he told me that, I realized that this was a child who had been deeply hurt, and I said, “Don’t you worry. Mom will go work and make a lot of money.”

Do you have any last thoughts or advice for people who read this article?

Raising Heidi is the same thing as raising Ed. We’re all just family. There are a lot of people who think adoption will be hard, but it’s not that adoption is hard, it’s that parenting is hard. It’s always hard to raise children well. But there’s nothing particularly more difficult about raising an adoptee. If there were, it would be the phase Ed is going through now. But with this too, all teenagers go through puberty. I would like it if people read this sort of article, thought well of adoption, and became parents to those kids [in need of a family].