by Frances Edstrom
Friends of ours, Bruce and Margaret Johnson, late last month became grandparents when their son Hansi and his wife, also a Margaret, adopted a son.
Baby Tae was born in Korea, and is about ten months old. He was cared for in Korea by a foster family that Hansi and Margaret describe as wonderful and loving. He was placed for adoption through Children’s Home Society. We all have people in our lives who have adopted children, or who were adopted as children. But for me, Hansi, Margaret and Baby Tae’s story holds a fascination I have not felt before. Perhaps it is because I have recently become a grandmother, and have seen babies and parenting intimately again, yet from a generational separation that allows me a window for contemplation not apparent to me when I was the new mother.
Last fall, a photo of Tae arrived in the mail with an invitation to a baby shower. He is adorable, and in the photo is dressed in a formal white suit and sits on a red and gold throne. He looks regal and healthily plump. I began then to think about the wonders of adoption, of a child and parents being united not in the womb, the test tube, or the delivery room, but by an arranged meeting, a mutual desire for family.
I wondered about many things. How will the baby be separated from his foster family and united with his new family? How will a new and inexperienced mother and father cope with a baby whose habits they have not grown accustomed to from day one? How will a ten-month-old accept new parents? What would it be like to have a new baby come who can already sit and stand?
Hansi and Margaret are keeping a diary on the Internet, a blog, and I can’t thank them enough. From it I have learned the answers to all my questions. Margaret and Hansi are quick studies. Crabby baby? Try the bathtub, and if that doesn’t work, try the backpack. Margaret is a massage therapist, so she does baby massages for Tae. Mom and Dad are very active and health-conscious, so he enjoys being pulled behind cross-country skis and familiar food thanks to newfound skills with Korean cuisine. Pictures they include show a smiling baby, and a happy family, all very lucky to have found each other.
But in addition to answers to my practical, day-to-day questions, I have also gained an insight into adoption that has surprised me with its emotional intensity. When Hansi and Margaret arrived in Korea, their bags did not arrive with them, so for the first several days, they had nothing but what they wore on the plane, and they did not have the gifts they had brought for the foster parents. The bags arrived at the end of the visit, in time for church services on Christmas Day, Tae’s last with his foster parents, the day before he left for his new home in Minnesota.
Here’s what Hansi wrote about that day:
“Tae’s foster parents love him literally like a son. Margaret and I have some incredibly huge and loving shoes to fill and it makes me cry just to think of how lucky he was in the first 9 months of his life. We will certainly be challenged to live up to the example they have set for us. We will do our very best work as parents.
… “at church we ended up being placed in a special spot…Thankfully we were seated next to Daniel, a graduate of Northwestern, currently living in Chicago and the son of the Pastor. Daniel translated the whole sermon to us, which was good because it was ABOUT us and the adoption of Tae…for 15 minutes people turned and looked directly at us. At the end of this sermon, the Pastor kindly asked us to come to the front of the church and address the congregation as to what our hopes and fears were, what we were thankful for and what prayers we would need. The place was packed to the gills, at least 300 people. Daniel came up with us to translate, to our astonishment he was pretty nervous, we had no choice so we just got up there, grabbed a microphone and said whatever came to mind! After we sat down the service ended and we were besieged by very emotional and happy people who wanted to thank us, shake our hands and hug us. We went from there to the home of the foster family, Daniel and his Pastor father included. It was awesome, full Korean barbecue and sushi.
“As the day grew on the tone and the emotions of the foster family grew more and more somber. By the end of the evening, 10:30, it was obvious that they were really ready to grieve, in a good way they were really saying how happy they were that Tae was going to a good place and that they really loved us. It was hard to see them so sad; it was so hard I can’t begin to explain it. Finally in a huge emotional and teary mess we left the place, different completely than we went in. …As he dropped us off at the adoption agency he hugged us both so tightly it was obvious he was truly very sad, yet happy at the same time. I have had some pretty emotional times in my life but today was by far the most delicate, human emotional experience I have ever lived through and out of it comes a new life in our hands which is Tae. Today underlined the commitment and set the tone for how we need to raise him and carry him through his life. We will be forever grateful.”
As wrenchingly beautiful and wondrous as birth itself, isn’t it?