‘Try to have your own children first.’ But we wanted to adopt. Our son pushed us away. We cried with guilt.’: After infertility journey, parents adopt from Korea, ‘He brings us laughter’

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“Tim and I met each other in church when we were college students, and after dating for a few years, we decided to get married. Not sure if we were inspired by our pastor adopting a child from China, but we both wanted to adopt children right away. However, our parents in Taiwan thought we were joking and insisted we should at least try to get pregnant and have our own children first.

Courtesy of Judy Chen

Adoption isn’t really a topic or a concept anyone we know entertained. Even the few cases we heard of are direct families deciding to adopt children of their siblings and not anyone who’s unrelated to their bloodline. Tim and I decided to park this idea, and followed our parents’ wishes to try to get pregnant first. Little did we know, we would go on an infertility journey. We couldn’t figure out why we couldn’t conceive after 3-4 years, and after going through counseling and the frustration of every couple friends around us getting pregnant within 6 months, we decided to make a change and move to North California.

A year after moving down to California, through our faith and our new church, we felt we finally could get past our infertility pain. We decided it was time to start our adoption process again, 8 years after having this thought in our minds. When we traveled back to Taiwan to visit our parents, we decided it was time to announce we would be starting the adoption process.

Courtesy of Judy Chen
Courtesy of Judy Chen

We weren’t sure how our parents would react this time. Tim’s dad, as a microbiologist, started bringing up questions right away of how much health information we would be able to get and how much DNA testing we could know beforehand to know what the potential health risks we didn’t think of were. Tim told him we wouldn’t be able to get all the information we wanted, and there was also the potential it would be inaccurate. However, we had decided to go on this journey no matter what. In the end, we did get the approval (in Asian parents’ standard, which means no more questioning).

Courtesy of Judy Chen

We called several adoption agencies, and after a series of discussions and explorations, we decided to adopt from Korea. We went through a series of home studies, hundreds of pages of paperwork, 5-6 hours of psychological exams/interviews which included hundreds of questions, and an hour each in-person interview. We finally submitted our application to the Korea agency and began to wait to be matched. We heard it could take 2 months, but it could also possibly take 2 years.

We started to tell friends around us about our decision and process, and we thought we would get the same kind of excitement and rapport when we watched other couples announce their decision to adopt. However, instead, we got mostly questions like, ‘Why did you want to adopt?’ or ‘Isn’t that very expensive?’ to remarks like, ‘Oh, that’s great, you can skip the first sleep-deprived year,’ or ‘You’re lucky you can skip pregnancy.’

None of our friends knew anyone who had adopted before, and the idea of adoption seemed so foreign to all of them. It does hurt when you see other adoptive parents are throwing parties and having others so excited about their progress. We also didn’t know who to talk to when we were anxious about our match and our child too.

After 3 months of waiting, Tim got a call from our placement agency in the middle of the day, ‘Tim, good news, you’ve got matched!’ After our doctor reviewed the health reports, we accepted, and started our second waiting period. This second phase took another 9 months until we were able to see our son. This was our version of 9 months pregnancy, however without anyone asking us how we are feeling. We did feel jealous when all of our friends congratulated and had so much love when another friend was expecting a child, while we were on our own. We would look at Nathan’s picture, look at the bed we prepared for him, and just try to focus on the fact we would be able to meet him.

Since we couldn’t feel our child physically, we had to mentally prepare ourselves that we would become parents soon. Seeing the bi-monthly updates of photos and videos, although they were still a bit far from reality, pulled us closer to what our new parenting life could look like.

9 months passed by, we had our first court date assigned, and we were ready to fly to Korea to meet our son for the very first time. Although we had been to Korea once, flying there as soon-to-be parents to a Korean child let us see the land through a very different lens. We were able to tour the city for a few days, but when it came to the day we would meet our son, we were both nervous.

Courtesy of Judy Chen

Our first meet and greet was at the foster mom’s home (Korea places orphans to a foster family per child after they are matched with an adoption family), as we walked into the apartment complex and opened the door, we saw Nathan running around. He didn’t know who we were and didn’t know why we were there either. Although we spent months of paperwork and years of waiting, seeing him in real life was an indescribable feeling.

We sat down next to him, watched him playing with the foster mom, eating fruits, and making noises. We gave him some snacks to eat, and afterward, Tim tried to reach out to hug him, but Nathan pushed him away. We didn’t know what to do or how to react, and Tim became quite nervous around him too, since we didn’t want to startle him as we were still strangers to Nathan.

Courtesy of Judy Chen

For our second meeting, we met at the adoption agency with Nathan and the foster mom. His foster mom tried to sneak away when we started to play toys with him, but after about a few minutes, once Nathan realized his foster mom wasn’t around, he started to cry. When we left the adoption agency building, we started to cry with a sense of guilt. Though we were trying to prepare our minds before this trip that we would be encountering emotional and difficult situations, being there and seeing Nathan’s reaction, we knew we couldn’t prepare enough for this.

Courtesy of Judy Chen

We flew back home with heavy hearts, as we could not stop thinking of the love and care from his foster mother and how he would be able to leave her and the country behind when we came for custody. We got notified by the court that our final court and custody date would be in 3 weeks, so we had to book a flight with 2 seats flying to Korea and coming back with 3. Thinking about what to pack for the custody trip was also very hard. What would Nathan’s reaction be when we took him from custody? What would the flight back from Korea be like?

We arrived in Korea after 3 weeks and couldn’t sleep well the night before custody. It was nerve-wracking to imagine what the process would be like, what Nathan would do when his foster mom left, and how we, as first-time parents, would be able to care for him from that day forward.

We took the taxi to the agency the next morning, took the elevator, and saw Nathan, the foster mom, and two social workers. The foster mom gave us his clothes, packed his last fruits and snacks, and talked to Nathan in Korean for a few minutes with her watering eyes. Then the social workers brought Nathan into our arms, we all started to walk towards the elevator. We walked in, the social workers and his foster mom waved at us. The whole process only took about 15-20 minutes, and when the elevator door started to shut, I don’t think either we or Nathan realized what had happened.

As we got to the first floor and started walking outside, Nathan started to realize something and started to cry. As we got into the taxi and started to ride home, he cried at the top of his lungs in my lap and would not let go of me. Our taxi driver got very concerned and started talking to us, but we could not understand what he was trying to say. We tried giving him fruits or snacks, but he didn’t even want to peek at them. The ride back from the agency to our hotel took about 30 minutes, but it felt like it was hours long.

Courtesy of Judy Chen

For the first 48 hours back in our hotel, Nathan went back and forth crying and resting, and no matter day or night, he would not let go of me. At nighttime, he held onto my shirt tightly and only wanted to sleep on me. Tim and I were both exhausted and didn’t really know when Nathan would be willing to even let go of me. After 3 days, Nathan started to smile and started to do walks with us in Seoul. Finally, we flew back home, and fortunately, he was quiet most of the flight.

Courtesy of Judy Chen
Courtesy of @welkinlightfamilyphotokorea

Our friends surprised us at the airport once we got back. They gave us a warm welcome as we brought Nathan back. It took Nathan a few weeks to be able to adjust to the new timezone and finally able to sleep overnight. As Nathan transitioned into multiple new languages (we speak Mandarin and English), he started to speak a few words after almost a year. Every night, we would let him say grace for having his birth mom, foster mom, and us as parents to him.

Courtesy of Judy Chen

We moved back to Seattle before our last post-adoption checkup, and Nathan started to go to daycare and enjoyed playing with his friends. He started to display a lot more of his emotions,  show attachment to us, and overall be more active. We’ve become much more like family over time. He’s full of surprises and brings us tons of laughter.

Courtesy of Judy Chen

These past two years, as we don’t know many adopting parents around us, we had to search for adoption communities and support groups. We feel fortunate to get to meet many adopting parents and hear and share their struggles. We also talked to many adoptees and listened to their struggles growing up, which we feel is even more important today as their voices aren’t often heard while they struggle with their identities.

We also started to publish videos about adoption in our Chinese-speaking communities, hoping to plant the seed and bring more light about adoption and the whole process. We thank God for the opportunity to be with Nathan and that we have found amazing communities we can be part of sharing this adoption journey.”

Courtesy of Judy Chen
Courtesy of Judy Chen
Courtesy of Annie Marek-Barta

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Judy Chen of Brave Gals. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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