by Yung Fierens adopted from South Korea to Belgium.
This is Lee Keun Soon, my mother.
In 1976 and at the age of 26, Lee Keun Soon was trapped in an unhappy marriage with a violent husband and she was a mother of two little girls. She was bullied on a daily basis by a dominating and spiteful mother-in-law and according to local tradition, had to live with her to serve and obey as the dutiful daughter-in-law.
Right after the birth of her youngest child, she couldn’t cope any longer with the abuse, beatings and cheating of her husband, so she ran away.
It wasn’t only an act of desperation, influenced by probably postpartum depression and exhaustion right after giving birth, but foremost it was seen as an act of open rebellion. Such disobedience wasn’t only slightly frowned upon in a paternalistic and hierarchical society, it needed to be punished in the most severe way possible.
After a family council, led by the child’s grandmother, it was decided that the baby girl should be taken to an orphanage and be put up for adoption. When Lee Keun Soon returned home, they told her little Yoo Hee had died due to her mother leaving her behind. Broken by guilt and shame she resigned into being the dutiful and submissive wife and mother society expected her to be and had two more children.
Thirty years later, her dying mother-in-law admitted the sick baby she left behind was living somewhere in a country far away, probably given a different identity.
Lee Keun Soon left her husband, this time for good and started searching for her lost daughter.
At the same time, a girl somewhere in Belgium, was testing out this new thing called “the internet” and sent an email to the orphanage she came from. The email was just to say, “Hi.” She hadn’t any other expectation as she was led to believe she was an orphan.
Fast forward a year later, mother and daughter finally met at Seoul airport.
This isn’t just a rare story that happened decades ago in some poor backward country with little means or infrastructure. It’s not a slight blip in the history of a country that prides itself on respectful, spotless and impeccable behaviour towards others.
Jung Yoo Hee, who by then went through life known as Tamara Fierens (that’s me!), visited the same orphanage her grandmother relinquished her at. In this orphanage she counted 25 little babies, amongst them one tiny premature girl still in an incubator. These babies were all waiting to be shipped abroad to live a new life with adoptive parents.
Their nurse told me that 20 of them were delivered to the orphanage by family members of the birthmother; mainly fathers, brothers, uncles or grandfathers.
When I asked her if the birthmothers had given their consent for the child’s adoption, she remained silent and changed the subject. The date was 20 December 2007.
by Annick Boosten, adopted from India to Belgium, co-founder of Adoptie Schakel. Many thanks to Maureen Welscher & Jean Repplier for original text and translation.
I was adopted from India at the age of four. My parents already had a son David, who is four years older than me. There was another son but unfortunately he had a metabolic disease that killed him when he was eight months old. Due to the disease being hereditary (David appeared to have it too, only to a lesser extent) my parents decided to adopt a child. My parents are hardworking people who are always busy, the type who always say, “Don’t whine, just get on with it.” That’s how they raised me.
My mother worked furiously to teach me the Dutch language so that I could go to school as soon as possible because I came to them in December then by January, I had to go to school. When I used to object and say, “I’m sure they do that very differently in India,’ my mother replied, “You’re not in India, you’re in Belgium and that’s how we do it here.” I am very happy with my parents but sometimes I would have liked them to have known me a bit better, to have been a little more empathetic. As a child, I was overloaded with expensive clothes and all kinds of electronic toys as compensation because my parents worked so hard. During the holidays, I was sent to all kinds of camps so that my parents wouldn’t have to take off from work. I would have much preferred if we had been closely involved as a family and my parents made time for us to do fun things together. I’d have preferred a day at the beach than an X-box or Playstation.
Now that I have a son of my own, I give him a kiss every day and tell him how very happy I am with him. I do this even in those moments when I might be a bit angry because he doesn’t want to sleep. I missed that sort of interaction with my parents.
Thoughts about being Adopted
When I came into our family, my parents had already been told by the children’s home, “You better be careful, she remembers a lot of things”. I told my mother whole stories about a blue house, about a lady who took care of me, that there were rooms with other small children. I told it in such detail that my mother decided to write it down. When I visited the children’s home in 2018, the walls turned out to be painted blue. The woman in my memories was probably my biological mother. The official statement is that both my biological parents had died and that I was therefore eligible for adoption.
At the age of twenty years old, all kinds of scandals became revealed about abuses in Indian adoptions. I had already heard these stories from other Indian adoptees, but my parents were annoyed if I started talking about that. They just could not believe that something as noble as adoption could be fraudulent. My parents are strict Catholics and had wanted to do something good by adopting. These stories did not fit into their view of things. When the adoption association responsible for bringing Indian children to Belgium, De Vreugdezaaiers, was dissolved, they could no longer close their eyes to the abuses within Indian adoptions. As a child, I always went to the family days they organised for Indian adoptive children and their parents. I then decided to establish the Adoption Link. Adoptie Schakel means connecting people and bringing them into contact with each other. In doing so, we mainly focus on the world of adoption in which we strive to strengthen the bond among adoptees and among birth parents. We also help adoptees who are looking for their biological parents by means of DNA research.
I had never been so preoccupied with my origins before. For years I had a relationship with a boy who was not at all open to it. He thought it was nonsense to go in search of my roots. I had to continue to build my life here and leave the past behind me, or so he thought. So I didn’t really feel supported. When that relationship ended, I became involved with Ionut. He is a Romanian adoptee, something I didn’t know at the beginning of our relationship. After two weeks I found out. I had already noticed that he tanned very quickly in the sun, while all Belgian men were still pale during the summer. Then he told me that this was because of his Romanian genes. I was jealous of the bond he had with his Romanian family. Every year he went on holiday there. At one point I thought, “That’s what I want too! Maybe I can also find new contacts within my biological family.”
Having a Family of My Own
That feeling really took hold of me when I wanted to start my own family. I did a DNA test, and to my great surprise a number of matches appeared. It seems that many of my biological family had been given up for adoption. My father’s grandfather had seven children and all of whom gave up children for adoption. I have contact with some of them in America through Facebook. It also turned out that my father had not died. Through his brother, I came in contact with him and decided to visit in 2018. It was a terrible experience. I was just three months pregnant and felt terribly sick. My father also turned out to be ill with some kind of contagious disease. He was in quarantine and I had contact with him through a hole in the wall. I was not allowed to come any closer. The Indian taxi driver translated my questions and my father’s answers, which took forever. I had written down many questions, but in the end I forgot to ask them. Anyway, I did ask the most important question, ”Why was I given up for adoption?” And the cold answer was, “When your mother died, I gave my brother money to take you to an orphanage. That way I could get on with my life and marry a new woman.” My father thought that he was not at all to be blamed. That’s just the way it was in India. I was astonished. He had no remorse at all and never went looking for me. He had just continued his life, involved with another woman with whom he conceived children. He dared to ask me if I would enjoy meeting them. I told him, “Thanks, but no thanks. I’m not at all interested in half-brothers or sisters.” I also said that I would rather commit suicide than give my child away, which he thought was very strange. When I said goodbye I told him that I didn’t want any further contact, and he seemed fine with that. He did, however, give me a name of my mother’s family. He told me that she came from Sri Lanka and that I should look for her family there. One day I will do that, but now I don’t feel like it. I will do it when James is old enough to realise what it means to me to look for biological family – perhaps when he is about eight or ten years old.
When adoptees asked me, “Should I search or not?” I would always answer, “Yes.” I still think it’s good to know where you come from. It’s not always easy to deal with a bad experience. I know people I have advised to do so and who, after returning home, were very upset because the meeting was not what they had hoped for. I feel guilty about that. I too had a bad meeting but I prefer to share my opinion and my experiences. The choice is then up to them. Luckily I can look at it and think, “That’s just how it is.” I would have liked it to have been different, but that’s just the way it goes. Fifty percent of my genes are his anyway. So any bad qualities I have, I can attribute to my father, haha. When I’m in a temper, I shout, “Sorry, it’s my father’s genes!”
Being in a Relationship with another Adoptee
Having a relationship with someone who’s also adopted is very nice. Ionut and I really understand each other. For example, understanding what it means to be away from one’s biological culture and parents, having to adapt in adoptive country, the feeling of being a stranger. The areas we don’t understand each other on can be a stumbling block because we both have very different adoption stories and our own ‘baggage’. In that respect, our adoption history is completely different.
I had never realised how important it was for me to have my own biological child, something so closely connected to me who carries my DNA. I held James in my arms and saw how he looked like me and how happy that made me feel. James is clearly a product of myself and Ionut. I like to see similarities of myself in him, which I never expected would make me so happy. As parents, we both want to spend more time with our child than my parents did. The family bond is very important to both of us. I always say, “Your child is your heirloom, not your property.” We want to give him warmth, love, affection and trust and above all, he is allowed to be himself.
Have you already made an appointment with yourself?
I remember having to forge myself, like many adoptees! Forge my own personality without any stable benchmarks and this mainly due to the absence of biological parents. Indeed, children who live with their biological parents do not realise that their choices, their tastes, their decisions etc., are often (not always) unconsciously oriented, guided, inspired by the bases provided by their biological parents. Example: I won’t be a mechanic like daddy, but I know what I could have possibly done so because daddy did it. Mom is in the social business so I may have a predisposition for this area. Then there are the children who go directly to the same jobs as their biological parents because it seems to them to be a form of safe bet.
In short, what I mean is that I was dumped for a long time, like many of my fellow adoptees, I think. Not all but a lot. And I asked myself a lot of questions. So it is true that this also happens to children / teenagers who live with their organic parents, but in a different way. The basis of the questioning is in my opinion divergent. This is why I also remember having made an appointment with myself. I really took several evenings. Several moments to find myself within me. And ask me simple, banal questions which were of monumental importance to me.
Who are you Prad? What do you like? What is your favourite color? Not the one that will make your answer interesting or make you better. The colour you like. Black. No, come to think of it, I like blue. The same goes for music. What’s your dress style? What is best for you? What are you good at? You seem cold, sometimes distant. Are you really or is it a shell? Is there one area that attracts you more than another? All these questions that we have already been asked in other circumstances, I have asked myself. You love sport? Yes, but I’m not a football fan unlike all my friends. Don’t be afraid to say it, to assume it. For that and for everything else. Be yourself. Think of you. Only to you. Don’t live for others. Not for your friends, not for your great love, not even for your adoptive parents. Don’t lie to yourself, build yourself.
We can build our own benchmarks. Our own bases. It is such a difficult and wonderful exercise for us adoptees. But I think it is necessary because the main thing that remains is to listen to yourself.
If you haven’t already, take the time to meet. Make an appointment with yourself.