I was placed on the steps of the Baby Green Meadow Home on May 26, 1957. It was estimated that I was less than about two months old. I was named Gwi-ae, but it was translated to sound alike “Ki-Ai Lim,” which is on all my official documents.
I started researching the background on my adoption around 1996. I felt so guilty because I felt like I was betraying my family that adopted me. However, with both parents passed by the time I was 35, I just had to do something for me. My mama and I had talked about this very day, where one day I would want to find out who my birth parents are if I could only find them. “What would I say and do and what were all the scenarios?” For example, “What would I say? Why did you adopt me out? Did any other family members know about me?”
Eventually, I went to Korea and went to where my orphanage once stood, as it is no longer there. The trip was so overwhelming. To know that is where my life was for almost six years of my life; yet, I could not remember a thing! I wish I could! I wish I could of kept my native language; though my parents had tried hard to find a Korean person who knew Korean. When I was in Korea at the daycare facility, I asked my translator if he could ask the lady, “Are there any pictures of the orphanage?” She said, “Yes.” I then asked, “May I take pictures with my phone of the photos in the album?” She said, “Yes,” and so I clicked away! When I took a shot of the photos of the dedication of the orphanage, and saw that they were dated with 1957 and the month, it suddenly hit me that I had been there not too long after that. If it wasn’t for the lady and translator, I would have burst into tears. However, I held it together, which was so hard to do.
I have learned and accepted that life will be what it will be. We can’t make things happen when we don’t have the resources.
Those of us who belong the generation of first wave Korean adoptees, we had disadvantage of what our younger generations have today. The majority of the younger waves of adoptees have the internet at their disposal to assist them in finding and searching for their birth parents. We didn’t have computers, which only came around, in the early nineties. For much of our lives we didn’t have support systems, such as the Korean adoptee (KAD) groups on FB, that we do now. (I am grateful that I have been able to bear witness to how accessible to both information and community has evolved over time for my fellow Korean adoptees.)
The stories below, which have shared with me by my mother, brother, and other family members, are about my life after I came to America.
Missionaries from my adoptive family’s church were instrumental in connecting my parents with my orphanage in Korea. They also provided some helpful hints so that my adoptive family would be able to better prepare in helping me to adjust to my new life in the States. For example, they said that I would not be familiar with Western things like the type of bed, the style of food, and non-Korean people. They also explained that just the general environment would be a shock for me. Due to the cultural shock, the missionaries predicted that I would either remember my past or just shut it out of my mind. The psychologist whom my parents spoke with said that if the past were memorable then I would remember, but if not, that as a child I would push it back into my subconscious and make the decision to not remember. My subconscious told me my memories were not worth remembering.
I was born on April 1, 1957. I was left on the doorstep of the Green Meadow Baby Home Orphanage (I entered the facility on May 26, 1957). I was almost six years when I arrived in the United States on March 17, 1963.
The orphanage people sent a picture of me to adoptive family. They asked them if I would be the one, and if would they like to adopt me.
My mama had to support me with clothing, and had to give the orphanage monthly payments for the next two years.
During these two years of supporting me, my mama would write to the orphanage and ask about her little girl, what was I doing, and so forth. The orphanage kept in contact with my parents about me and would always thank them for the money and the clothes. The Republic of Korea’s Child Placement Service would correspond and write back to my parents on very delicate and fine rice paper!
Once all of the paperwork was completed, the money was sent for the airline ticket. The adoption agency sent an escort with each child that was on the flight to Seattle, WA. I came with a blue bag with some clothing.
I traveled from Korea to New York, and onto Seattle, which is where my life started. Mama told me that she was in tears when she saw me in person for the first time. She said that she was so scared. She was hoping nothing bad would happen, and she hoped that I got there safely. Mama came by herself. I guess the adoption agency had suggested that one person from each family member come to greet their new child, as they thought it would be too overwhelming if everyone came. I just wished someone had taken photos of that moment.
When I arrived in Seattle, I was very sick. The escort lady said I had been sick the whole trip. I was very malnourished. I had rickets and a vitamin D deficiency. Before any foreign children or babies leave their country to enter into the United States, it is required that the child has a full examination and has all of their required shots. This is how they found out I had rickets.
My health got better as time went on. I was learning to like some of the American food. Since, to my parents' knowledge, my diet consisted mainly of rice, having a variety of food was overwhelming. It was a lot to take in at the age of almost 6 years old.
How well did I receive the rest of the family? I guess I liked my dad and my older brother, Jim, who was 19 at time. Byron was 10 years old. He gave me a present, a full-sized doll, which was the same height as me. I loved the doll but I did not receive him as well as he had hoped.
I was afraid to sleep in a regular bed. Mama gave up the comfort of her bed for the floor for about a month. I was still sick and they had to give me some good ol’ Pepto-Bismol (Yuck!). I remember I would let it drizzle out from the corner of my mouth. I would hear my mama say, “Don’t let it drizzle out, you need it so you can get well.”
Mr. Sheets, a member of our Pentecostal church, gave my family a Korean dictionary. They thought they would try to say some words from the dictionary, but I just laughed at them. I’m sure they weren’t saying things correctly.
My brother Byron didn’t know what to think when I didn’t like him. However, I did like the doll he gave me. My mama told that I made some jesters [sic] about him. I would have bad dreams that boys at the orphanage around Byron’s age were hurting me. My parents finally figured out that I was mistreated by boys around Byron’s age. They had pointed guns at me and put lit cigarette out on my back, which also explained why I hated guns and cigarettes. I also hated war movies. I guess I would hide my face and not watch any type of violent movies.
Eating was a challenge for my family. They tried everything, but they had to be careful about how much they gave me. They would give me rice, which I hated. The orphanage fed us rice every day and that was our main diet. They assumed that I liked it because that was what I got in the orphanage. However, I must have done something to let them know that I hated it! Byron said that I did not eat rice for about four years, and that it took me a long time to eat it again. It’s funny that when I look back, I recall how I hated eating rice. It is weird that I only remember that.
I had some habits that I had a hard time breaking. I actually still do them to this day. For example, I would hide non-perishable snack foods in my dresser drawers. I never thought about why I did it, but now I understand why. Food was important to me when I was little. My family said that when I got any kind of food, especially non-perishable food, like crackers, I would take them and hid them and save them for weeks! Mama caught me one day, and when she caught onto what I was I was doing she saved 15 shoe boxes (from the dozens of pairs shoes she would buy me). She lined them up along kitchen floor, and I would put my food in them. One day, I caught her going into the boxes (she was putting in fresh bread, crackers, canned food and cookies); I thought she was going to take my food supply away from me. Obviously, this was a result of my having been on food rations at the orphanage.
I did finally start liking American food, though I was never sure of the food on the first try. For example, I tried ice cream, and every time I tried it, I liked it more and more until it became one of my favorite foods when I was little.
I turned six two weeks after I first arrived in the States, and mama made me my first birthday cake. I didn’t know what to do with it! So, they had to show me what I was supposed to do. I got to blow out my first candle. It was like being a baby with experiencing so many firsts!
My family said that one day I started to sing two songs. Byron said he still remembers me singing them, which surprised me, as I couldn’t believe he would remember them (he thinks one song was addressed to the soldiers). The other song seemed to be for an audience of kids and grown-ups.
Song 1: (These are spelled phonetically as I don’t know the correct spelling)
Hunga, u-jay-me-jay, mi-jay, com-i, me-she-shy-daaa
Key-fallda, keya wanda, key-fallda (Repeat.)
*I would pantomime as I sang this song for my family, and they said I must have performed it at the orphanage.
My mama would say to me, “It’s so funny how we think alike and how we do things so much alike.” She sometimes said to me, “I see you and I look past you being Korean, I don’t even think you’re Korean sometimes. I don’t see it unless someone brings it up or points it out to me. I get mad at them when they do.”
These stories are dedicated to my loving family who raised me with unconditional love. They will always be in my heart and their spirits will live on in me.