BFS: Try again in 5-10 years

9.41 am EST Thursday, 2015.10.1 

I just got off the phone with the policeman in my hometown who was searching for my birth family. I can’t stop crying. Because of the time difference this sort of news always comes first thing in the morning when I’m at work. And I become a mess at work.

He explained many things about the search, and I want to write it all down before I forget it.

First he sent me an official document explaining they couldn’t find them. Then he explained he was sorry. I responded by asking him specifically how they searched. I wanted to know if she couldn’t be found because she was dead, because she lived outside the country, or because she just didn’t want to be found. He responded with: “Can I phone you?”

Here’s what he said.

The police department believes that the birthdate I have for my birth mother is correct. And her name is unusual so they assume that also to be correct. In their systems they searched for people with her name and birthdate and they gave a span of 10 years before and after her birth year, so approximately a 20-year span. They collected all the names and came up with a list of between 10-20 people. (This number is his estimation but he said probably a maximum of 20 people.) The list had addresses. The list was then sent to the police agency (he explained each town has an agency) and each person was then contacted and asked: “Is this your name? Do you know Saebom? She has been trying to find you. Are you her real parents?” And all of them said either they are not or they asked not to have it mentioned again.

Then that information was sent back to the police station and it was determined that none of them were my birth parents. But the police officer said he thinks one of them probably is but they don’t want me to contact them.

He took a moment, a pause in our conversation, to stop and explain or ask me if I understood that in Korea if you had a baby before you get married it is something you want to hide forever. Throughout our conversation he made many references to “our country” and “our nation.” And I know what he’s talking about. Because I have read articles and talked to people and studied on my own the history and culture of this country. I know that in that one sentence, in that one sentiment he is trying to explain centuries of tradition and culture and that even if he was a professor of history it would take ages to unpack all he was trying to cover. I know. And it hurts.

My han hit peak levels and even writing about it now a half an hour after we talked, tears come to my eyes. There’s nothing I can do about it. It’s history that happened way before me. It’s a collective thought that expands and grows in a collective mass I cannot penetrate. And it is frustrating. It’s a battle I cannot win. How many things in life can you really truly fail at, can you not persevere at after trying for 15 years?

His advice was to try again in 5-10 years. He said that after that amount of time goes by my birth mother won’t consider the past anymore. She will be the oldest person in her house and won’t mind the thoughts of other peoples’ opinions. At that time she will be able to say for sure that she is my mother.

I asked him if there was a way a letter could be given to her with my children’s photos, conveying that she is a grandmother. Maybe instead of a letter I can send a flyer—it won’t be addressed to her and she can see her grandkids. He said he cannot search for her himself because that would be illegal. If he were to ask for more detail the woman police officer he has been working with would be held responsible. He talked about the many phone calls that went back and forth regarding my search, the many people involved. He pointed out how hard it is to find people in Korea. (Yes I know, there are television shows about missing people reuniting, high drama.) I mentioned the one police officer known for searching for missing people in Korea and he responded that he is very famous and yes, he was also involved again.

He pointed out that I have already tried to find my birth mother many times through many different agencies; that these women have been contacted repeatedly and that my actual birth mother probably knows I am looking for her and is stressed. He strongly believes that one of these women is my mother. He said there is a 70% chance she knows her child is trying to find her. “You have tried to find her so many times—I am sure she remembers your name.”

My birth father, on the other hand, is too difficult to find because I don’t have enough information about him.

Towards the end of our conversation he told me, in a somewhat state of disbelief: “You know that all the police agencies in Korea are connected and they saw that you have contacted many different departments and have tried to search for them many times.”

“I really want to find them,” I said through tears.

“I know,” he said. “I am so so sorry.”

His apologies, while meaningful and heartfelt, made me cry harder. Why is this so hard? Why can’t I find them? I wasn’t hopeful–after 15 years how hopeful can I be–but I thought it was fate that connected me to him. My search had dead-ended, and in desperation I thought the only way to keep it going was to find a police officer and then voila I found him. But maybe it’s fate that I don’t find her. 운명

A Korean friend of mine recently told me that I trust Korean people too much. When I meet them I think they can do no wrong. She pointed out that Korean people are just like other people and that there are many of them who are bad and have mal-intentions. She repeatedly asked me if I was sure this person helping me was actually a policeman. (And why would he want to help me?)

I explained to her that with birth family search, because as Korean adoptees we don’t know how to navigate the culture or the country, and we don’t speak the language, we have to jump at the kindness of strangers, at anyone who is willing to help. Because we don’t have any other choices. I tried to find my family through my adoption agency. And through the government agency set up to help adoptees find their birth families. And through the organization in Korea run by adoptees. And through countless other channels. For 15 years. Anyone who offers to help I jump on their offers. What else can I do?

I guess for now I have to give up. (But can I?) Again. Or try again in another 5-10 years. What other options do I have?

I think I will keep trying until I die. I can’t stop. I can’t give up hope. It’s just not in me. 

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