Jill Callison: Filling gap left by adoption

Documentary examines South Korean family's saga

By: Jill Callison

When Brent Beesley and his mother approach a street corner, she reaches out to grasp his hand.

Fingers entwined, they cross the street, mother protecting son.

Sounds typical, right?

It's not. Because Beesley is no toddler but an adult.

Myungja Noh, however, intends to spend the rest of her life making up for a 30-year absence.

"He was always in my heart," she told a documentary filmmaker who recorded the reunion. "I lost everything when I lost my child."

The documentary, "Resilience," is being shown at film festivals this spring.

It tells how Noh and Beesley were separated and follows their reunion and subsequent attempts to bridge the barriers of culture and language.

Beesley grew up in Sioux Falls, the second son of John and Carol Beesley. It wasn't a Beaver Cleaver boyhood, he says, but he has no regrets.

He attended Axtell Park Middle School and Roosevelt High School before dropping out and obtaining his GED.

After his daughters were born - Lexi is 14, Alyssa 9 - he became curious about his Korean family. He wanted to obtain medical information that might prove useful as his daughters grew.

Beesley thought he was born in Seoul. His birth certificate gave no clues as to his parents.

"It was kind of a lazy search," Beesley, 35, says. "Whenever I had time, I'd go on the Internet. I made a couple phone calls here and there to some police stations in Korea because that's what I was told to do, and nothing turned up."

Then he found G.O.A'L, which connects Korean adoptees with their birth families.

Beesley was given the chance to meet his mother on a popular television show called "Beautiful Forgiveness." Participants learn the background to past events, then are sent to a soundproof booth to decide whether they can forgive the other person.

"It's cheesy and almost like a soap opera," Beesley acknowledges.

But it gave him the chance to meet his mother, who got her first glimpse of him in almost 30 years over a television monitor.

A DNA test was offered, but Beesley declined. He looks like his mother, he says, and "I just knew she was my mom, and I wanted to protect her and make her happy."

In a re-enactment, Beesley learned that Noh, now 51, did not willingly give him up for adoption. She left baby Sungwook with her husband and his family while she went in search of work.

The paternal grandparents took Sungwook to her parents' house, leaving him on the ground on a cold winter's day.

Details blur a bit here. Noh's family apparently decided she must not want Sungwook and took him to an orphanage. But after she returned from her job search to claim her baby, they would not tell her where he had been taken.

She spent years thinking he was living with a rich Korean family, she says in the documentary.

Beesley has visited Noh and her daughter, 12-year-old Hyojung, several times since then. Because he relies on a translator to speak with Noh, Beesley is hesitant to probe too deeply.

"They're apologizing left and right. To this day, my grandmother is extremely guilty," he says. "I'm not mad. I'm not that type of person (to hold a grudge). It's in the past. You can't do anything about it."

When Beesley returned from the reunion, he decided to involve himself with the Korean adoptees' community. Estimates place the number of Korean children placed for international adoption since the 1950s at 200,000.

It was on a public forum that he learned filmmaker Tammy Chu was preparing a project about birth mothers and wanted adoptees' perspectives.

Beesley contacted her to indicate he would help.

"She emailed back, 'funny you just emailed me because I just got done interviewing your mother, and I was going to contact you anyway,' " he says.

Eventually, Chu decided to focus on just Noh and Beesley.

One of Beesley's incentives for participating is a desire to start conversations about adoption.

"There's so much money involved in adoption now," he says. "It's understandable you're going to have some expenses whether the child is in foster care or an orphanage. But where's the other money going to? Should it be a profitable thing? I don't agree."

In the 1970s and '80s, many adoptees and their new parents weren't told the truth behind the parental surrender, Beesley says.

"That's why you're going to come across a lot of adoptees who are really bitter and really angry because they were lied to as were their adoptive parents and even the birth parents."

Beesley doesn't think all adoptions should be banned. He just wants to make sure it is the right thing for the birth parent and child.

Noh, however, has become an activist in South Korea, hoping to ban all international adoptions. She, along with others, is seeking signatures on a petition to bring it to South Korea's general assembly.

Noh and Beesley haven't seen each other in about two years. Tickets to South Korea have been too expensive recently, he says.

His attempts to learn Korean have faltered without the impetus of an upcoming visit, but Beesley hopes someday to be able to speak to his mother one on one.

The time they lost cannot be replaced, nor can the pain ever be erased.

"The heartache doesn't go away," Noh told Chu. "It's always there."



I had pain in my heart just reading this...

How many AP's have believed all these years, that they were told the truth about their adopted children from Korea?  Adopting special needs children has always made me believe the parents could not have kept them, because they had no hook-up with the proper medical facilities.  Placing a child with an agency like Holt Korea, might have been their only option to guarantee their children would receive the help they needed. 

I was brought up short when reading this article.  My son would have died 23 years ago without Holt's intervention with hospital care and surgery.  I have the pictures of him just after surgery; they are gruesome: they used adult staples in the 18 inch incision; his round scars where the tubes went are not smooth; and the look of sheer terror on his face after all he had gone through alone makes my mind weep to remember the pictures.

 He is experiencing pain in his right side, and I will have to find out by the process of elimination what is wrong.  Is this a complication from the near-death experiences of his first 3 months?  Or is this something in his bio family that we don't know about...

God have mercy on this son.


Care, and support-systems, ICA-Style

I was brought up short when reading this article.  My son would have died 23 years ago without Holt's intervention with hospital care and surgery.  I have the pictures of him just after surgery; they are gruesome: they used adult staples in the 18 inch incision; his round scars where the tubes went are not smooth; and the look of sheer terror on his face after all he had gone through alone makes my mind weep to remember the pictures.

23 years ago...

If a woman had a C-section 23 years ago, how big and ugly do you think that scar looked after surgery?  If a person had knee surgery 23 years ago, how long would that incision be, after the doctor was done?  If we were to compare the time spent in surgery, the size of scar, (and time it takes to recover), to a modern day C-section or arthroscopic procedure done here, in America, we'd be comparing apple sauce to orange ice pops.  If we compared modern American surgery to procedures done in places like Africa or Eastern Europe, we'd be comparing lasers to knives.  I would NOT want a C-section, or reconstructive knee surgery in a country that did not have the advantages modern technology and updated medicines, that's for damn sure. [The list of future complication can be terrifying.. and my scars are bad enough, thank you!]

Where am I going with this?

How many people take the time to read and see where huge hungry ICA "savior" eyes are eying these days? 

I got a good look when after I posted, International adoption - as easy and as American as apple pie?!?,and an anonymous poster wrote, "there are only 22 children currently legally available for international adoption from Serbia. I have met the majority of them. Every single child I have met has significant physical or mental disabilities, or needs medical care not available to them in Serbia."   My response and the follow-up comment went like this:

My first thought is:  why must a child be adopted before effective treatment for a condition is given? 

It reminds me of children with cleft lips, and the people who adopt an easy-to-fix "special need" ... something very odd about the agreement.

Sat, 2011-03-12 00:38 — Adoptive Parent (not verified)
The reason

The reason for this is there are certain agencies claiming that people can get healthy infants...something highly sought after among adoptive parents...and will take A LOT of money from prospective parents. (I was just contacted by a family who just paid a US agency $40,000 to adopt a child from Serbia!) Then the parents wait YEARS for a child that doesn't exist. Serbia makes it clear. All healthy infants are adopted by Serbian families. If you want to only adopt a healthy infant, go elsewhere.

Sadly, like most of Eastern Europe (Serbia is actually considered Southern Europe but tends to get lumped in with EE) children with disabilities have no place in society. It's changing. Slowly. But it is where the US was in th 40's as far as disabilities go. In the meantime, those children get little-to-no medical care and die very early deaths. The child I just adopted has Down syndrome and is an amazing little boy who was destined a very early death in a Serbian institution.

The problem is, what's the #1 working rule in Adoptionland?  Create a demand, the supply will be made available (just give it time). 

The big demand these days is.......? 

Correct:  Special Needs.  Special needs can be anything a sending country does not want.  Older kids, large sibling groups, minority infants, infants/small children with congenital problems, kids with signs of retardation, kids with expensive medical problems, or disturbing crazy-weird stuff, like RAD/mental illness.

Note the "savior" stance, how ICA is seen as the best answer for all supporting the benefits of an every-growing industry:

 Serbia is working toward 

Serbia is working toward membership in the Hague convention. To do so, they need to make improvements in all of their facilities such as orphanages and mental institutions. Part of that means greatly reducing their numbers while also increasing staff ratios. Allowing children with disabilities to be adopted internationally, where medical care is more readily available, helps reduce those numbers. Still, with only 22 children registered for international adoption, and very few families willing to adopt children who have significant disabilities, that process isn't going to happen very fast.

How many times do we need to go down this ICA path to realize the signs behind a great humanitarian effort are, in fact, a wee-bit fishy?

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