"I knew that adoption was in our future..."
Fortunately, my husband, Kurt, and I had always been of the same mind when it came to a path to start our family. We both did not feel strongly that a biological connection to our future child was all that important. In fact, as a 30-year-old art professional and wife of three years itching to settle down, I celebrated differences and felt excited to welcome a new little person who would be totally different from myself and my husband. I knew that adoption was in our future.
After doing some diligent research on local adoption agencies and programs, we decided to apply to The Barker Adoption Foundation in 2008 and prepare a dossier for their international adoption program in South Korea. It was an easy decision. Barker had impressed us with their professionalism and strong history of successful placements from Korea’s Social Welfare Society (SWS). At the time, South Korea was hailed as having one of the most stable international adoption programs, relatively swift paperwork wait periods, and young healthy adoptable children who were well cared for by loving foster parents. Being first-time parents who had little experience with kids in general, we aimed to be matched with a healthy child who was young enough to (hopefully) bond with us quickly. If things went well with this adoption, we told ourselves, maybe next time we would consider an older child and/or one with special needs.
"We will forever be grateful to Umma and Appa for giving our son a stable loving home during his first year."
As for the gender of our first child, neither of us had a preference either way. We were told to expect the referral of a boy 9-12 months old. At the time, there were more boys available and Korea had restrictions on requesting a girl. Only families who already had a boy could opt for the referral of a girl, or something to that effect. Anyway, I was motivated and extremely efficient with the paperwork turn-around. It was a lot of hurry up and wait, but within about 9 months, we were presented with the referral of a beautiful 8-month-old baby boy. Included in the referral was a brief health and family history of the child according to his birth mother, monthly medical reports, and 5 photos of our future child! I was over the moon and ready to accept the referral at once, but as we had planned, we scrambled to send the photos, health information and medical reports to a pediatrician we had picked out for our son. With her review and thoughts in hand a few hours later, we accepted the referral and started another round of paperwork to bring our son home.
Ryan spent his first 4 months of life in the SWS Babies Reception Home, a place where the youngest orphans are cared for while they wait to be placed in foster homes. On December 3, 2008, Ryan was welcomed into the home of a caring couple who lived in a high-rise just outside of Seoul. He lovingly called his foster mother “Umma” and was very attached to her. We will forever be grateful to Umma and Appa for giving our son a stable loving home during his first year. While we were waiting to get travel approval, Kurt and I sent Ryan and his foster parents a package with baby clothes, some toys, snacks, and small gifts. We soon received another round of photos of Ryan. This time, Umma was holding him and he actually smiled for the camera! Again, our hearts were filled and we couldn’t wait to meet this sweet boy we’ve been thinking and dreaming about.
Our family was excited too. Kurt and I are the first and currently only ones in our extended family to adopt. Thankfully, we received lots of support from family members on our adoption journey. They organized a wonderful baby shower of gifts and asked often for updates on how Ryan was doing and when he might come home.
"...having the honor and awesome responsibility of being Ryan’s mom has been one of the greatest gifts of my life."
On June 1, 2009, Kurt and I got on a Korean Air flight to Seoul to pick up our son! We stayed at the SWS Guest House, an adoptive family hotel of sorts, in the city next to the SWS offices. We were assigned an SWS social worker who acted as our guide and translator during our meetings with Ryan’s foster parents. On the second day of our trip, we were welcomed into the foster parents’ apartment where we met Ryan for the first time, talked about his likes and dislikes, personality and daily schedule - all this over a low table full of fruit and sweets to share. Umma and Appa were very warm and welcoming and clearly loved Ryan and took great care of him. We were so thrilled to meet them and see our son in his Korean foster home. A few days later, we would meet up with them again at the SWS offices to take custody of Ryan and soon fly home.
In the meantime, we took the opportunity to see the sites of Seoul – Gyeongbokgung palace, a museum, shopping, a fancy dinner at The Korea House and a cultural experience at Son’s House where we learned how to make kimchi and play the Korean drums while wearing hanbok. With a little planning before our trip, we were able to navigate the city without any problems. In fact, we often found helpful young people eager to answer our questions and practice their English when we looked lost. I found Seoul to be a clean, modern and safe place to tour.
On June 5, 2009, We again sat down with Umma and the social worker to discuss the travel papers we would need to bring Ryan home with us. Umma had prepared a bag of supplies for him including the formula he was drinking, snacks, diapers, clothes, and a few small toys. We thanked Umma for taking such good care of our boy and she tearfully gave him a hug goodbye. Appa was waiting outside to give his last goodbye and well wishes to Ryan. It was a surreal moment when we carried our son back to our room at the Guest House as his parents.
The Korean adoption process we experienced in 2008 and 2009 was smooth, relatively fast and rewarding! Becoming instant parents to a 10-month old who didn’t know us turned our lives upside down in ways I wasn’t prepared for. But, having the honor and awesome responsibility of being Ryan’s mom has been one of the greatest gifts of my life.