Searching for her roots

Senior plans trip after graduation to meet her birth mother

International travel is common for many Minnehaha students during the coming summer months. Jetting away to Cabo, strolling through the streets of Paris, snorkeling in the pristine waters of the Bahamas.

Few trips, though, will measure up to the life-changing vacation senior Manda TenHoor will be taking this summer.

Beginning on July 3, TenHoor will embark on the emotional journey of meeting her birth mother for the first time in 18 years, in Kyonggi Do, South Korea.

In order to come into contact with her mother, TenHoor had to go through her adoption agency.

“The agency found her for us, and they’ve had all the contact with her,” said TenHoor. “They had to confirm that she was willing to meet me. We still aren’t positive we’ll be able to meet her, though. She could always change her mind.”

Alison Pluntz, who formerly worked to help adoptive parents work through the pre-adoption process at Children’s Home Society, a social services organization that specializes in adoption, and is the adoptive mother of two Ethiopian children, explained the process further.

The adoption agency, Pluntz said, “can do searches, they can do correspondence, all that sort of communication, once the child decides they want to pursue that. At the age of 18, they have that right to say ‘I want to move forward with meeting my birth parents.’ Then that information would go back to the social agency in Korea, where they would make those contacts.”

Going into this momentus, transoceanic adventure, TenHoor knows few things  about her mother. In fact, the information the adoption agency has supplied her with could be obtained from a driver’s license.

Her name is Kim So Young; she was 18 when she gave birth; she weighed 95 pounds and stood at 4 feet, 11 inches.

While these facts are vital, it’s hard to form a connection with someone so important from such a general description.

“I guess the thing I’m most excited for is to see what she looks like,” said TenHoor. “It sounds a little stupid, but I want to see if we look alike or have things in common.”

It can be difficult for many to imagine what life would be like to have been born in another country to another family, but TenHoor has a vague idea of what it would have been like to be raised by her birth mother.

“When my birth father found out she was pregnant, he ran away,” said TenHoor. “In Korea, if you have a kid and you aren’t married, your family basically shuns you. I know she only had an elementary level education, so she really wouldn’t have been able to take care of me.”

Entering into such an emotionally-charged situation is likely to draw up strong feelings and concerns.

“It’s scary to meet her,” said TenHoor. “I’m worried that she’ll have issues. Like, that she’ll be a drug addict or she’ll be in an unstable home or something.”

When it comes to deciding  when to meet one’s birth parents, adoption law states that the child must be 18 and contact must be initiated by the child.

Laws put aside, though, being emotionally prepared should be the key factor in deciding to move forward.

“You should always wait until you are mature enough,” said TenHoor. “I always wanted to meet her when I was younger, but I now realize I wasn’t emotionally ready. Even last year, I wasn’t ready. I knew I was mature enough when I realized it might not happen, and if it didn’t, I would be okay.”

A major struggle for adopted children is simply not knowing.

“I think the not knowing can be really hard,” said Pluntz. “The more information the child can have, the better. They’re just kind of left with not knowing what the situation was, not knowing what their story is and not knowing how this happened.”

Meeting a parent is one of the most personal things an adoptive child can choose to do, and should be given much thought.

“I think it depends on the child and what they are comfortable with,” said Pluntz. “It’s such a personal decision. For my own children, if they would want to meet their birth parents, then I would support that. But I would also be supportive if they didn’t think it was the right thing for them at the time.”

Speechlessness would be understandable when meeting a birth parent, but TenHoor knows exactly what she wants to say.

“There’s so much I could tell her-I have 18 years worth of things to say,” said TenHoor. “But I want her to know how blessed I am because she gave me up for adoption. I have amazing friends, a loving family and go to such a great school. I guess, most of all, I just want to thank her.”

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