Thursday, June 17, 2010

I Wish for You a Beautiful Life. {Book Review and Thoughts}

I recently read this book and couldn't put it down. I also couldn't stop the tears from flowing and feeling a sense of closeness to each and every one of these birth mother's stories. I got completely lost in their words as if they were speaking directly to me. And to be perfectly honest, I flipped to the next letter with such excitement to try and recognize any details of my own adoption in case one of these anonymous letters were written to me. They were not, but still so important to read and still have quite an impact.

The letters were written by women temporarily residing at Ae Ran Won, a home for unwed mothers in Seoul, Korea, to their child. Mrs. Han Sang-soon, Director of Ae Ran Won, made these letters available for publication so that people outside of Korea might better understand the difficult situations of birth mothers.

What I found most interesting about this book was that each and every letter portrayed the guilt and anguish these birth mother's felt, referring to giving up their child for adoption as "sin". Thinking that they weren't deserving of forgiveness by their child.

That breaks my heart.

There was a brief time in high school that I struggled with the thought of my birth mother abandoning me. I was left at the gate of an all boy's orphanage very late at night. But I'm not sure that I ever thought she had committed a sin. The more I understand and learn about the Korean culture though, and how they view unwed mothers, I can see why birth mothers would feel this way. And I can also understand a little more about why I was abandoned, assuming, of course, that my birth mother was not married.

Feeling like they and only they had done something so unforgivable, they weren't deserving of the love of their child. Yet most express a wish to one day meet their child again and have a relationship. It's unfortunate that most of the fathers decide to walk away, especially when the birth mother's refused to terminate the pregnancy. Many of them considered this, as they believed it was their only way out and pressure from outside sources was weighing down heavily on them. But none of the women in this book made that choice, and all express that they couldn't go through with it once they heard the heartbeat of the life they had inside of them.

The greatest message that I took from this book though was the fact that these mothers will never forget, even though most of them were able to move forward in their lives after giving a child up for adoption. I believe we could fill the ocean with the tears these women have shed and it gives me great comfort to know that there are two women in my life, though I do not directly know them, that will never forget two little girls who were given up. While they wish for us a beautiful life, I wish for them the same. I wish for peace and happiness in their lives amidst the pain they had to endure.

As I read letter after letter, I longed more and more to have a letter of my own.

On that cold February night in 1982 when I was left at that gate, there was a short note at my side. My parents were given a rough translation upon my adoption, but never had the note translated directly onto paper for my reading. I have always known the note existed, but never thought it contained more than just my birth date and family name. In fact, I had never even looked at it until I was preparing to adopt. While in Korea, the social worker at Eastern had also roughly translated it but not in great detail and in very rough and un-orderly English. Half way through this book, I was inspired to have it translated. I was shocked to see what had been written. Though short in length, it read like a thousand words. I have not yet decided on whether to share it's contents publicly, but I can assure you that it brought great comfort to me yet great heartache for my birth mother, who I assume was the author. While very personal, I believe that in sharing it, it gives a voice to my own birth mother, who as of yet is unspoken for.

This book is not for the faint of heart, but in my opinion, a must read for all adoptive parents of children from Korea and Korean adoptees. Not recommended for children by it's author, I myself believe that I was not prepared to read this book until now, at 28 years old and having become an adoptive parent.

I am now reading the follow up book to this one, called Dreaming a World, recently published this year. I am half way through this second book, which focuses on why the birth mothers made their decision and the circumstances that surround it. I am stunned to read some of these women's stories.

Reading these books has inspired me to do more. The Korean government gives very little money, very reluctantly to help sustain this unwed mothers home, Ae Ran Won, one among I believe 40 homes throughout Korea. There is a great need for financial support at these homes that allow mothers to make the best decision for themselves and their unborn children, including scholarships and education to help them find good jobs to keep their babies if they so choose. Click here to read more about their efforts and browse their website. A project is already in the works for me, details to follow soon!

And might I just add that this post comes from me, as one adoptee. I do not intend to represent the entire population of Korean adoptees and am more than aware that not all of us feel the same way. My only intention of this post and book review is to give a little insight from my point of view and what adoption has brought to my life. I would love to hear your thoughts as an adoptive parent or another adoptee on this book that has changed my life and way of thinking.

This quote from the book seems to say it all...

I wish for you a beautiful life, with a beautiful face and a beautiful heart. Think of your life as precious, because you are a beautiful flower born out of pain. I cannot give you any help, but I will always pray for you...You will remain in my heart forever...I wish you a life with God always.


  1. I think giving up a child for adoption is not only not a sin, but the greatest gift a mother can give a child. It shows true sacrfice and being able to put the needs of a child above that of her own. Every child deserves to be brought up by a loving, stable family and these women recognize that they are not able to provide that. I worked for years w/ foster kids for years. Sadly their mothers did not have the resources to raise their kids, but kept them anyway and the children paid the price. I can only impagine the heartbreak that must come with gving up a child, but it's nothing compared to the tradegy I've seen foster kids endure. I think birth mothers should be celebrated and honored for their sacrifice and I pray that each of them will find peace. (Adoption rocks -I got 2 sisters and a niece out of it).

  2. Thank you for sharing, Kim. I would love to hear your project on this. I went to the website you mentioned as this is also near and dear to my heart.

  3. I recall loving that book when I read it. I've actually been meaning to go back and re-read it now that I am home with my son. Maybe we can discuss when I am done!

    I love hearing your viewpoint as an adoptee as well.

  4. I remember how heart wrenching this book was. I read it right before Noah came home and even though I was crying during most of the book, I still couldn't wait to turn the page to the next letter. I can only imagine how meaningful this book is to you being an adoptee. And I agree that this is a must read for every adoptive parent. I didn't know there was a follow up book. I'm headed over to amazon to look for it right now.

  5. Thank you for your take as both an KA and AP. I loved the book but shed many tears as we prepared our hs, I should go back and read now that my DS is home. I had planned to give the book to my DS, when he is older and able to process. Just ordered the follow up as well as "Once they hear my name" today!