I recently got an email from an adoptee who had found my blog and asked for advice on starting a birth search. Below is my reply to him; I thought it might be useful for other adoptees out there searching as well. Bear in mind, that my advice stems from my own personal experience (which still baffles me that went so smoothly); other adoptees surely have varying situations and experiences that aren’t relative to mine at all.
I’m sorry for the delay in getting back to you; the month around finals always tends to get a little crazy. I’m glad you found my blog/youtube videos helpful—reaching out to other adoptees was one of my main reasons for starting the blog. I had relatively little information going into the search process—ages, general background, circumstances, etc. but the search once initiated actually went very quickly. Because my academic research focuses a lot on adoptee birth searches and reunions, I had of course heard all of the horror stories about working with Holt, and going in, I was prepared for them to be really uncooperative. But when I actually sat down with the case worker, we really ended up connecting on a personal level, which I think helped “fast track” my case. They had the old address of my birthmother from 26 years ago when she relinquished me at birth, and from that, they were able to track her down to her current residence. I met with Holt’s case worker in August, and was exchanging letters with my birthmother by October.
As far as suggestions on searching, my first piece of advice is make sure you’re ready. You opened your email with a statement to that regard, which I think is really important. I had had numerous opportunities to start searching once I reached 18, but didn’t feel I was emotionally ready to start the search until I was 26. A lot of times I think adoptees don’t think about how any of the possible search results may change them. I needed to prepare myself for all of those possibilities—that it could be a complete dead end; that they could find her, but she was not willing to communicate; that she could have passed away; that we could reunite but then not be able to maintain a relationship… I think a lot of adoptees search when they’re really feeling like the whole world is against them, but reuniting isn’t that magic bullet. I actually found I had to be secure enough in my own self-worth (which has definitely been a lifelong and uphill process!) without that puzzle piece before I went in search of it. Which has, I think made it possible for me to “go with the flow” in terms of my inchoate relationship with my birth family. Because I don’t feel the need for my Omma to fill a certain “mother” role, it has been easier to establish a close relationship that isn’t based on unrealistic expectations.
In terms of actual search logistics, it’s really important to sit down with a Holt Korea case worker face-to-face. Which, obviously means, going to Korea. While you don’t necessarily need to remain in Korea during the search process, initiating the search and/or file review face-to-face is key. Try to appeal to the case worker personally, and keep them talking, keep asking questions. I went in for a file review with my younger brother this past May, and the case worker told us in the first minute that there wasn’t anything of significance or use in his file. We kept asking questions, pursuing a bunch of different side topics that she initially thought were irrelevant, and ended up sitting for an hour, extracting a TON of info about my brother’s birth and family (including names and ages of his siblings). Once you formally initiate your search, keep yourself on their radar. E-mail them every month or so to see if there have been any developments. At my case worker’s suggestion, I wrote an introductory letter to my birthmother that Holt translated for me, and sent along to her once they established contact. My mother was initially reluctant to connect because she was worried that I would be angry and resentful, but after reading my letter and learning that I had grown up in a loving home, she was willing to continue communicating.
I certainly recognize that my experience with search, reunion, and continuing relationships post-reunion have been relatively free of difficulties, and I count my blessings for that. But I also recognize that for many adoptees, their experiences have been far more difficult. Good luck to you, and feel free to contact me if you have any other questions!