I want to give it to you as straight forward as possible. No fluff. Okay, maybe a little. But honestly, you should know these realities in advance so this way you have some idea of what to expect. Some of these I knew ahead of time from talking with Korean adoptees (KADs) and the others I figured out on my own. Every search is going to be different, however many of the following are universally experienced across the general adoptee community.
Reality #1: The birth search time frame varies for everyone.
I’ve heard of instances where it only took a couple of days to a week and others where it’s been over a year and they still haven’t heard back yet. Some take a couple months, other’s take years. Mine took 11 months. It’s going to be different from one adoptee to the next.
Reality #2: Expect the unexpected/expect nothing/however you want to phrase it.
This has to be one of the most important pieces of advice I could share with you. So listen carefully. Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, is guaranteed. Until you get official word confirming a piece of the puzzle, don’t assume anything. By assuming, you’re setting expectations. And when you set expectations, you’re only going to incur more disappointment and heartbreak for yourself. By all means be hopeful, but don’t expect specific things. I thought I was doing well with not setting expectations until I received the news that altered my reality. As it turns out, I subconsciously set an expectation that I didn’t even realize was an expectation until I got the news. So that’s why I say, expect nothing. Just take things as they come. One by one, day by day.
Reality #3: As unfair as it may be, they definitely prioritize birth search cases.
And the priority goes to adoptees currently living in Korea. Like I said, it’s unfair, but in a way it’s logical. They have x amount of cases they’re working on at any given time, so focusing on cases that can advance without having to work through as many logistics makes sense. My advice to adoptees who are initiating the birth search overseas is reality #4.
Reality #4: Calling your agency directly, as opposed to contacting via email, is the best way to get answers.
Add some money to your Skype account and call your agency directly. They prefer email, at least my agency does, but calling is sometimes the only way. It not only keeps your case fresh in their minds, but you’ll get answers more quickly. I would strongly not recommend harassing them with daily phone calls, but don’t be afraid to call if you do have a legitimate question. And don’t be afraid to check in periodically for any updates on your birth search.
Reality #5: The agency generally goes greater lengths to protect the birth mom (& family) over the adoptee.
The harsh reality. I’ve heard stories. Perhaps you have too. If not, here’s an example (and something the agencies are open about when you begin the search): it’s not unheard of for some birth moms and dads to provide false information when filling out the adoption paperwork so that it’s virtually impossible for the adoptee to search later on. And the agencies are entirely okay with this.
Reality #6: The information in your case is most likely not 100% accurate.
Another harsh reality. Even if the names, ages, occupations, etc. are all accurate, other details may not be. In my case, the paperwork stated that my parents were never married and separated before my birth mom discovered she was pregnant with me. None of this was true. They are married and they never separated. This is actually a common one. I’ve had other adoptees tell me that similar phrasing was in their paperwork too. Apparently (and this is something I heard from another adoptee, so I cannot confirm this as fact), it used to be the case that only single women could legally put a child up for adoption. That being said, agencies would fudge the details. Again, this is just what I heard from another adoptee, so don’t quote me on this.
Reality #7: Waiting is the worst. And it’s normal to experience some anxiety.
Depending on how short or long your search takes, you’re going to have to wait. It is completely out of your control and all you can do is pray that you get the answers you’re looking for. And at least for me, it caused anxiety. I’m naturally prone to anxiety anyways, so it didn’t exactly come as a surprise. But the lack of control over the situation and feeling a sense of helplessness really affected me.
Reality #8: It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be an emotionally draining process.
I’m sure you’re already anticipating this, so there’s nothing else I can really say about it. The only thing is, you literally don’t know which direction your search will go in. It may go exactly how you had hoped, it may be a mediocre experience, or it may go nowhere. So going back to reality #2, just be prepared for anything to happen. And know that however it turns out, you’re going to be extremely vulnerable to every single emotion out there.
Reality #9: The majority of birth search cases are unsuccessful.
This is another “expect nothing” type of reality. As disappointing as it seems, this is the ugly truth. You may never find the answers you’re looking for and you may never make contact with your birth parents. It sucks, but mentally prepare yourself for this to possibly be your reality.
Reality #10: No matter how “successful” your case is, there will always be some tragic element.
If you do end up being one of the lucky ones, know that it’s not as glamorous as it may seem. I don’t want to minimize successful cases or come off sounding ungrateful for having a successful outcome myself, but I merely want to share this perspective with you from the start. There will always be some aspect of your situation that is unfortunate. I like to call it tragic, for lack of a better word. I would definitely label my outcome “successful,” no question about it. But there are two tragic elements that can’t be ignored: 1) My birth parents are refraining from telling my siblings at this time, so my siblings are still unaware that I even exist and (obviously) I haven’t been able to meet them yet. 2) Distance. It’s heartbreaking to be miles away from either my mom and dad or eomma and appa at all times.
Distance will probably be the number one tragic element for most. Again, I don’t want to sound ungrateful because I’m actually quite the opposite. I’m extremely grateful for how everything turned out and the time I got to spend with my birth parents. I just want to be as real as possible with you; it’s never going to be 100%.
Reality #11: Regardless of the outcome, everything will be okay.
Your parents adopted you for a reason. They love you, they want you, and you are their child. Nothing will ever change that. Sure, I feel a sense of completion from meeting my birth parents, but meeting them never wavered my understanding of how intensely my mom and dad love me.
You may not find the answers to your questions, but if you look outside of the box, you’ll find so much more. Visit Korea. Even if your search is unsuccessful. I think you’ll be surprised at the profound meaning you can gain from merely being in the country you were born in. If no person can give you answers, then take it upon yourself to find meaning in unconventional ways.
And lastly, become a part of the KAD community. You can always rely on a KAD friend for support and guidance throughout the birth search process. A KAD friend phrased it to me in such a brilliant way recently; in the end, we are all on the same team.
And again, everything will be okay. I promise.