How a “special needs” adoptee turns his labels into opportunities.
In the past year, I have really felt more of a tug to speak about my life. Since I have dwarfism and stand at only 3 feet tall, most of the conversations I have about my life have to do with that. But lately, I have had a strong desire to discuss my other source of individuality – the fact that I am a Korean adoptee.
I can only talk about my own experience. I understand that all adoption stories are different and have their own difficulties and joys. I don’t want to tear down anyone else’s experiences. I just want to tell my story – my “Love” story.
I was found abandoned in the streets of Ilsan and was brought to the Ilsan center, where I stayed until I was adopted at 4 years old. During my time at Ilsan, I was placed in the “Love” house and was cared for by wonderful housemothers, including Molly Holt. Ilsan is where physically and mentally disabled children stay, receiving specialized care until they can, hopefully, be adopted. These children are called “special needs.” And I am proud to say that I am a special needs adoptee.
The Love Family
My parents Dwayne and Jackie Love lived in Pleasant Hill, Oregon and had previously adopted a sibling group and an older child from Korea. My mother had seen my picture in Holt International magazine, called up my dad while he was working as a truck driver and said that she had found their next son. She called Holt International and inquired about me. Apparently I was in hot demand, because another family was in the process of adopting me at the time. Fortunately, the other family decided not to go through with the adoption, and after a couple of weeks, my mother got a phone call asking her if they were still interested in me.
My parents made a lot of adjustments upon my arrival home. Adding a new member is always hard, but because of my dwarfism, I also had some physical limitations that would require surgery. From the age of 5 to 21, I underwent 13 surgeries. A lot of my childhood was spent at Shriners Hospital for Children in Portland, Oregon—having surgery, recovering from surgery, or having the doctor tell me that I needed another surgery. My mother never left my side during those times. As much as I feel my childhood might have been stolen because of all the surgeries, all that time was spent with my lovely mother, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
My parents are both Caucasian and had two birth children before they started to adopt. About a year and a half after I was adopted, they fostered my older sister, Trisha, who is mentally handicapped. They later adopted her. My parents went from being a family of four, to a family of nine in just over two years. They always told us that our birth parents loved us and chose to give us a better life by making the hard decision to put us up for adoption. I never have to question that. I believe it to be true. Throughout my life – from birth to the orphanage – there was never a gap in love. I always had a certain sense of protection that never made me question my identity. My birthmother knew she couldn’t take care of me and made the hard decision to give me up. Could she have gone about it in a different way? Sure. I was found wandering the streets of Ilsan. For how long, I’m not sure. But I have to believe that my birthmother didn’t have a choice. My adoptive parents have always been open and honest with me about my past and my adoption, answering any and all questions. They made me who I am today, and that’s all that matters.
As much as these next few words might be a little controversial, I’m going to say them anyway: by adopting me, I believe my parents saved me. I know a lot of people who would be offended by that statement and disagree with me, saying that I could have had a successful life in Korea with my birthmother. My parents would never claim that they saved me, and would probably say that I’ve blessed them just as much as they’ve blessed me. But listen to what I’m saying. By adopting me, my parents were able to provide me with access to quality medical care – care that I needed to survive. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Today, I am in a place where I am more accepted and have more opportunities to grow and succeed – opportunities that, because of my disability, I would have never had in my native land. This is why I believe my parents saved me. They gave me the best opportunity to be successful and accepted.
Being disabled and only 3 feet tall is hard to explain. But this is my life. I don’t know any different. For me, the shortest and best way to explain it is like this: imagine requiring special assistance in every part of your life. From a stool to help you reach the bathroom counter, to pedal extenders and a booster seat to help you drive, to asking strangers to reach something at the grocery store. I am very fortunate to live an independent life, but I constantly need help by something or someone to get through my day.
As I look at the landscape of international adoption and observe how it’s shifting toward special needs adoption, it’s my desire to be a voice for those adoptees, and to share my experience with them. I am never going to be shy or ashamed about the labels I am given. I am a Korean Adoptee. I am disabled, and I am a special needs adoptee. But, even with these labels, I am not any less of an American, or any less of a member of society. All of those labels define who I am as a person as much as my last name defines me as a member of the Love family. But I am not going to let those labels pigeonhole me or allow me to make excuses for what I can or cannot do. I know that through these labels, I have been given a voice, a platform to speak about my special situation.
One person I cherished the most during my short time in Korea was my physical therapist at Ilsan, who I was able to see for several days when I traveled to Korea two years ago. Because of my disability, I spent a lot of time with her. I had a lot of pictures of this lady when I was adopted and was able to have those photos explained to me. She told me that she would take me on special trips. She expressed how grateful she was to see me as an adult and how well I turned out. This amazing woman loved me without condition.
I could tell you that I have been successful because of my own drive and determination. But that would be disingenuous. I have been successful because of the people who have cared about me. The people who gave me a little bit of themselves. From my birthmother and my housemother, to my physical therapists and my parents. I am a reflection of all of them. My success comes from them. I thank them for their sacrifices, and hope that I can make them proud – showing them how much a “special needs” adoptee can accomplish in this life.
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By Jordan Love | Eugene, OR