Pandemic Disrupts South Korean Adoptee Reunions, but Some Find a Way

The twins’ mother is now 85 on a farm in rural South Korea, afflicted with dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

“When I heard that, I was very worried,” Ms. Doerr said. They became more worried when their June trip had to be postponed. Her condition is still mild, they believe, but the fear is “less and less of her memory will be available as she gets older.”

Their biological brother, who speaks some English, told the twins that their father wanted sons rather than daughters.

“Coming to terms with all that,” Ms. Doerr said, “has been an interesting ride for me.”

Undeterred by the prospect of two weeks in a hotel, Allison Young, 38, traveled in August from her home in Frederick County, Md., to South Korea with her husband and three biological children. She was returning as both an adoptee and a soon-to-be adoptive parent.

The purpose of the trip was to adopt their fourth child, now nearly 2 years old. Ms. Young and her husband had planned a lengthy stay to help their new son adjust to the family. But the weeks before they gained custody at the end of September also provided an opportunity for Ms. Young to try, for a second time, to meet her birth mother.

Two decades before, Ms. Young had studied abroad as a college student. She had found her birth mother and scheduled a meeting, but two days beforehand her mother canceled.

“Soo Eun Lee, don’t cry,” her Korean social worker told Ms. Young, using her Korean name. “You have to understand Korean culture.” The stigma of single motherhood is the impetus for many adoptions, which are also still viewed unfavorably. Her mother’s family did not — and still does not — know about her.


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