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A Saga Comes to an End: From the Horse's Mouth on Korean Adoption

02/05/2015 09:34 am ET | Updated Apr 07, 2015

For the past 19 days, I have been so confused and angry about the one-sided article "Why a Generation of Adoptees Is Returning to South Korea" by Maggie Jones, published in the New York Times magazine section on January 14, 2015. I wrote a 100 word letter to the editor, which was published on February 1, 2015 in the NY Times in which I was able to express an intelligent opinion about one perspective that I thought was missing in the story. I focused on how adoption is not the fix for the millions of orphans in the world and reinforced the responsibility of communities and governments abroad to create new models of care to help abandoned children survive and thrive in the future.

The article depicts a very tiny minority of Korean adoptees who have left their American families to live in South Korea. There are no interviews of adoptees who have not gone back to South Korea and there were no other perspectives or research cited about adoption to help shed some light on the complex issues about abandoned children, orphans, and adoption in general.

Thousands of people have written to the New York Times and reached out to Facebook and other forms of social media and hundreds of families who I served as an adoption medicine specialist have called or written to me in tears with anger, panic, and distress about the future of their adopted children, not just Korean adoptees, but adoptees from many countries. I continued to be baffled by the article and I have not slept or found comfort in this almost three weeks because it seemed as if after 30 years of growing understanding of adoption, it was all lost in a poorly conceived and irresponsible journalistic moment.

I have written thousands of words over the last few weeks searching to settle down and find a way to express my anger and the upset of so many in the adoption community, but this went no where. I wrote aimlessly and unintelligibly and even though I asked a brilliant writer who has five adopted children from Bulgaria and Ethiopia to help me, she failed to be able to edit my work. She did however inform me kindly and humorously, that my writing was miserable and useless. She took a stab at editing, but upon reading her poetry, I felt that the heart of the matter was still not unveiled. I almost gave up, but then as always, destiny entered into my life and this is what happened.

Last night at a wee hour, Brittany Levinson, who is a Korean adoptee, and who was a long time New Yorker before moving to Singapore in 2011 with her husband and family, called me to just "catch up." We were on the phone for an hour, but not for the purpose of reviewing this article. We were planning how Brittany wanted to support Worldwide Orphans this summer as she did last summer, for our "Night of 1000 Dinners" and we also spoke of her three children and my two children. We caught up on how life was going in Singapore. We spoke about what friends speak about, including how I should download, "Whatsapp," so that I could communicate with her and everyone more conveniently at no cost. Then Brittany asked me what I thought of "the article" and for 30 minutes she told me what she thought.

She has a lot in common with Laura Klunder. Brittany once lived in Bisabel Baby Home, an orphanage in Korea until age 3. At the time she spoke fluent Korean and she too boarded a Korean Airlines flight direct to Chicago's O'Hare Airport with escorts provided by Holt agency. She stayed in contact with these escorts while growing up. Brittany also lived in the rural area of Franklin, Wisconsin and attended Pius XI High School in Milwaukee. As a child she too heard taunts about her eye shape and race. In the 1970's she was one of only a small handful of minority children in the local area. Brittany also attended University of Wisconsin and the Fashion Institute of Technology.

She was passionate and reflective as she worked to drill down her thoughts and I will share them in a recollection on Huffington Post. I believe that her insights are crucial and it confirms for all of us how the article did such an injustice from a simple journalistic construct - the need for commitment to the many aspects and points of view that are so essential to any story. The one-sided story is never a good moment for a journalist or a newspaper and it can victimize and hurt many people and it casts great mistrust on the media that supports such poor practice. We cannot afford to be lazy when we write any story, simple or otherwise.

"They didn't call me."

This is the title of Brittany's story and what is funny is that I identify with that title. They didn't call me either. Brittany explained that one girl, Laura Klunder featured in the story grew up in the same town as she did (Franklin, Wisconsin) and that she, Brittany, identified with some parts of this story during different times in her life and noted that being an adoptee of the '70s seems like it was an altogether different experience than this adoptee's experience. She then went on to say that that just like there is no "pan-asia," there is no "pan-adoptee" and that cultural provenance plays different roles in adoptees experiences. She said although I'm almost a decade older and I don't feel right now how these adoptees feel, I can identify with their experimentation, confusion, and mixed emotions about their adoption, but self-pitying and blame is a negative game that only leaves the player the loser. Brittany did mention the concept of "HAN" a word in Korea that identifies with the collective feelings of resentment, unavenged injustice and bitterness. It is a kind of Korean characteristic that is well-known by anyone who cares to understand Korean culture and it is called, "Han".

Brittany went on to explain that Han is a very deep and likely in the DNA and is part of the Korean psyche; it is a kind of depression and resentment. Look it up and you can learn more.

As we begin to sort out the DNA of the human genome, we are discovering that there is DNA that is about behavior. She like many adoptees, traveled to Korea in search of her birth parents but could find no records which is a typical outcome for Holt adoptees, later spent time as a tourist in Korea, and has learned about Korean culture and she does not admire the attitudes of Koreans when they judge single women who get pregnant or how divorce leads Koreans to abandon their children in orphanages when they remarry.

She explained it's very hard to know yourself when you hold onto ideology that you elevate and make stronger than the belief in oneself. She was surprised that the article didn't explore the psychological issues of "trauma" and how people don't experience adoption the same. She asked me why the article didn't look at the experiences of adoptees from other countries and compare those experiences. Brittany thought that for adoptees who feel wounds that can't be healed, the smoking gun might always easily lie at the feet of the adoptive parents' responsibility, upon closer inspection, looking for blame can take you away from being closer to Nelson Mandela's famous quote, "I am the master of my fate and the captain of my destiny." All parents, whether adoptive or birth, are just parents with human weaknesses and Brittany's parents are far from perfect, but what parents are?

Brittany does understand the intense emotions that the adoptees have for their adoptive parents but doesn't understand the fruitfulness of seeking a future of acceptance while leaving a wake of discountenance. "I always felt like a sort of 'gifted alien' growing up," Brittany added, "one with special powers and abilities. I could see things from many points of view. This empathy has helped me my whole life."

Brittany wrapped up our conversation the way she often does, with optimism and excitement about life. "I'm adopted and I explore my own concepts about adoption almost daily. I'm grateful for the experience." Brittany shared that she didn't understand the "sensationalism" in the story when the story could have been so tender and gentle and could have given us all a chance to really explore the very deep psychological issues of adoptees in general. "Honestly, Brittany added, "I thought that the article ended up being a "Trojan horse" -- what seemed to be the story was not the real story at all. This led to misunderstanding and hurt for adoptees around the world."