After being separated for over four decades, a U.S.-based Korean adoptee decided to look for his birth mother in South Korea.
Today, 46-year-old American Layne Fostervold, who grew up in Willmar, Minnesota, is living with his biological mom, 69-year-old Kim Sook-nyeon in an apartment in Seoul.
South Korean Kim Sook-nyeon was 23 years old when she became pregnant back in 1971. Without a husband, she was left with no choice but to give her baby boy up for adoption or else her family would face stigma and prejudice.
“I was only around 23 years old. I was really too young to know about life, and I had this baby. I felt really sad and worried about him. But I was overwhelmed by all the pressures, and I couldn’t even handle my own life,” Kim was quoted as saying.
Although her decision to give her son up was final, Kim says the longing to know how he came to be lingered on, PRI reports.
“Even after I got married and had a family, I still worried about him. I wanted him to have a good life, and I prayed for him. And I wanted to see him, somehow,” she says.
Fostervold was about 2 years old when he was adopted by a caring American couple. But while he lived a comfortable life in America, he had always longed to know his South Korean mother.
“I always felt my mom tried to keep me for a while or was trying to make it work,” he says. “And then for whatever reason [it didn’t work], but I felt like for my entire life she really wanted to keep me.”
Kim has always been on the lookout for her son. However, without any idea of his adoptive name or state, she was helpless. Likewise, Fostervold also assumed that a reunion with his birth mom would be impossible.
When the International adoption of South Korean children started after the Korean War, it was crafted in a manner wherein reunions between adoptees and their biological families were not encouraged. Restrictive privacy laws and protocols have made it more difficult to make meetings even possible.
Korean adoptees who are in search for their biological parents are required to seek help from the Korean government.
According to the official government data between 2012 and 2015, only 14.7% from the 4,790 adoptees who requested searches were reunited successfully. The figure did not discourage Fostervold and eventually decided to embark on a search of his own.
In 2012, he visited Korea Social Service or KSS, the agency in South Korea that managed his adoption.
“There was really only a few pieces of paper in there, and then first page was just nothing. Then the second page, she came to a couple of lines written in Hangul [Korean] … and she kind of paused,” he narrated. “Then she said, in 1991 and 1998 someone who claims to be your mother looked for you.”
The revelation surprised Fostervold, as the agency simply told him that he wasn’t notified because of their protocol.
“I was really upset,” he said. “For me, it was like, well how I’m supposed to know it? My adoptive family didn’t even know it.”
Fostervold reunited with his “eomma” (mother) seven months ago in Korea and they have since begun reigniting their relationship through stories and facts about each other.
His birth mom showed him old worn photos of him and his adoptive family which she kept for decades, proof that the agency had a way to get in touch with his eomma.
While disappointed that he was not able to be with her earlier, Fostervold was thankful that he and his mom have finally met and are living together now. These days, they usually spend most of their time together at home.
“She basically just speaks to me in Korean, so it’s whatever I can pick up. She’s really good with hand gestures and things like that. The little bit I know is just the basics, like ‘tired,’ ‘hungry,’ ‘full.’ So it’s been good as far as us being together.
“I think most of the times she understands, but sometimes she doesn’t.”
Unfortunately Fostervold’s biological mother currently has stage four breast cancer and is now undergoing regular treatment. Fostervold has chosen to stay in Korea, for now, to spend more time with her.
“It was so good to have him here after my surgery,” Kim says. “I was so lonely and in pain and he was very supportive.”
Kim, who is now a widow, has a daughter who has a family of her own. According to Fostervold, his sister grew up knowing about him and they are in contact with each other nowadays.