Emma, Dear Baby: A South Korean Foster Mother Shares Her Story
By Youn, Eui Sook
July 13, 2011
It has been ten years since I met Emma. On the day Emma was born, she was handed over to Eastern Child Welfare Society to be taken care of by a foster mother until she could find the dreamland where she could get unsparing love.
I was very busy because I owned a small store, and I lived with my old parents and my own three children. But during my busy life, because I wanted to do meaningful things, I made up my mind to take care of a non-biological child. I brought Emma to my home. I became Emma’s foster mother and took care of her until she would be adopted.
Emma was a very weak baby. Her head was shaved for the continuous injection of Ringer’s solution due to lack of nourishment. Her face and legs were very skinny and her abdomen was bulging like a frog’s. She kept on crying. She had developed dermatitis between her two legs because of poor ventilation in the diaper. She cried all night through, and she seemed to be always hungry. I fed her with milk in the corner of the kitchen at nighttime because my family was sleeping. I had forgotten most of how to take care of babies because my youngest one was already seven years old. So I got to learn again how to take care of a baby.
I was so busy. I had to get the lunches ready for my children and take care of my old parents. On top of that, I had to take care of Emma. But Emma gradually started to adapt herself to her new circumstances, our home, as if she knew my difficult situation. When she awoke from sleep early in the morning, she smiled and played by herself. My family gave her all the love and we called her “the baby of luck.” After three months, she became a healthy baby. Her growing up made us cheerful.
I made white rice cakes and shared them with neighbors and prayed for her health on the one-hundredth day after her birth. I bought her new clothes, and I took her to a photo studio to take a memorial photo. Emma was like my own child. Her cute tricks and the joy of bringing her up made me forget the passing days.
At that time, a social worker at ECWS called me to tell me that Australian adoptive parents had been arranged for Emma, and she asked me to take care of her carefully until she left Korea. I couldn’t do anything after receiving the call from ECWS. It was a very fast separation for me. At last, that day came. I washed her carefully and put pink clothes on her. When I left home with Emma, a part of the sky had clouded up. I was walking toward the opposite direction. Emma wanted to play on my back.
I arrived at ECWS suppressing my desire to run away with Emma. There was a short chapel service then a prayer from the President of ECWS. Strange to say, she became like me. She cried in surprise when she met the strangers who would escort her in the airport. She left this land like a small bird. There were a Korean flag, a handful of soil, traditional Korean clothes, and a doll that our children had given her—all in a small sack on her back. I sobbed in the lobby of the airport holding her diaper. It had been raining heavily from the cloudy sky since the morning. It was August 24, 1984. “Good-bye, dear baby.”
As I returned home in sorrow, I was seized with an irresistible yearning for her. In the end, I pulled myself together. Could I communicate with her, I wondered, if Emma visits Korea in the future? Of course, I couldn’t. It was more tragic. started to study English by myself at night. My dull fingertips and rusty brain made me tired, and I found studying hard. When I could read the first letter from Australia, I wondered how I could better understand the letter in English, and I tried to study harder.
On Emma’s first birthday, her adoptive parents sent me a photo of Emma wearing Han-bok. I heard that they named her Emma Lee Wallace and they were going to adopt one more child next year. When Emma was three years old, she and her adoptive parents visited Korea, and they called me. My heart skipped a beat. Emma didn’t recognize me and didn’t part from her mom. It was natural that should happen, but I was disappointed.
Our family welcomed them wholeheartedly. We prepared rice cake, Bulgogi, Japchae, Kimchee, and other Korean foods. We guided them to the Korean Folk Village in Yongin and museums to inform them about Korea. According to their schedule, they returned to Australia. As soon as they arrived in Australia, Emma’s adoptive mother put an article in a newspaper about her good impression of Korea and me.
I worried that Emma seemed too fat compared to other same aged children. Her adoptive parents and I have written numerous letters to each other. They also sent videotapes that recorded Emma’s activities. I paid attention to Emma’s education, so I sent music texts and books. Emma got very good marks at her school. She has been proficient in swimming and tennis. She has shown a special talent for art. Her adoptive parents said that their home seemed like a Korean museum because of all my presents.
I held a secret in my heart: “I could go to see Emma someday. I could spend money for Emma.” Wishing for that, I saved coins in a small pot everyday. This secret made me happy.
One early spring day, I was enjoying my free time. When I was reading the magazine Eastern Child and, thinking of Emma, I fell asleep. I saw her in my dream. In the dream, Emma’s face swelled up. There was a whisper, “Emma is sick. She has an acute nephritis.” In my dream her condition was severe, and a kidney transplant operation was needed for her. But they couldn’t get the proper kidney for the transplant. As soon as I heard the bad news, I prepared to fly to Australia to save her. My family persuaded me to consider again. Still dreaming I heard a phone ring, I fell into a faint. Finally, somebody woke me from this bad dream.
“What’s happened?” They were my own children. It was a dream. But I realized an important thing through the dream. If the dream were real, I would do the same as I did in the dream. I will do my best for her. Emma’s biological mother turned away from her. Emma didn’t have an adoptive family in Korea. I couldn’t turn away from her. I love her.
Adoptive parents have the worth and joy of raising the child. But foster mothers take care of babies under the proposition that those babies should leave them. This is impossible without considerable love. The relationship is formed only for a short time, but it cannot be ignored. A biological mother gives a baby her life, but a foster mother has the big responsibility of taking care of the baby until he or she is adopted. After they grow up, sometimes the children search for their biological mothers. If they can’t find their biological mothers, foster mothers become their only Korean acquaintances. Foster mothers watch them grow up from afar until they become adults who have overcome their conflict and pains.
Emma’s parents wanted me to visit Australia. I put it off from day to day. They invited me again. This time, I flew to Australia with my husband. My husband was deeply moved by their welcome and kindness. We met so many people—grandmother, grandfather, uncle, aunt, friends, Emma’s teacher, her tutor, and others. Friends of Emma’s mom visited us with homemade cakes and breads. All of them have adopted children and showed us their children’s pictures. Korean adopted children are growing up in happiness. We toured very beautiful places in Australia. We had a great time.
At the airport, I gave the money that remained after shopping to Emma, her brother and her sister. I held back the tears as I had determined I would the night before as I anticipated leaving. But as Emma’s mom told me, “Emma cried so much last night because of your leaving,” I couldn’t bear to hide the tears any longer. I hurriedly entered the gate to the airplane. Emma watched me with tearful eyes without saying “good-bye.” But all of us know that we are one family and our love will continue though we live far apart. “Grow up well, dear baby, Emma.”
Youn Eui-Sook lives in Seoul, South Korea, with her husband. Her own children are grown now. Emma is also an adult now. Youn recently visited Australia for the second time with her own family to attend Emma’s wedding. This essay and others by Youn have been published in South Korea.