Bringing Home Ben

Adoptive mom Quinn Hofmann writes about choosing international adoption to build her family, her son Ben, and the process to bring him home from Korea.

“Mama, Da-dee, Bey…Mama, Da-dee, Bey.” My husband and I must hear that utterance from our son ten times a day, and each time we hear it, we look at each other and smile.

Our son Ben just turned 3, and has been home with us for 14 months. Some days, it feels like just yesterday that we were sitting in front of the computer talking to our social worker on both phone extensions, preparing to look at his picture and file for the first time. Other days it feels like he has always been a part of our life. It is hard to remember what we did with our time prior to having this active, loving, curious and beautiful toddler in our family, but we certainly remember the process, the waiting and the utter joy we felt the day we met him for the first time.

My husband and I always planned to be parents, and we had talked about adopting or fostering a child at some point in our lives. However, we initially did not intend to start our family through adoption. After struggling to conceive, we decided that international adoption was the right choice for us. We had heard about Holt International from two other adoptive families, and spent time learning more online. We met with the director of the New Jersey branch of Holt International in August 2011. She immediately put us at ease with her calm demeanor, and she was more than willing to answer all of our questions about adoption from South Korea. We decided to move forward with our home study and started the process in November 2011, with our home study sent to Korea in January 2012.

I look back on that time now, and can’t believe how driven we were to complete the paperwork, interviews and fingerprints in as little time as possible. There are two wonderful side-benefits when you complete an international adoption: one, you are forced to become organized to keep all the paperwork intact and safe; and two, doing something mundane — like renewing a driver’s license — becomes a piece of cake!

One afternoon early in January 2012, our social worker called me. She peppered me with hypothetical questions about a potential future child — things like what health conditions and ages we were comfortable with. I remember thinking (and asking) over and over, “Why?” My gut told me something was up, but she didn’t let on.

Fast-forward a couple of weeks to January 20, 2012. Our social worker emailed in the morning and asked if she could call us both that evening with some good news. When the phone rang our social worker told us about a little 13-month-old boy, Hyeok-jun.

The poor woman couldn’t finish talking without me cutting her off — I was beside myself with excitement, and that doesn’t even begin to describe how both my husband and I felt as we opened the email with his file and photos with the heading, “Here he is!” We immediately fell in love with the little boy on the screen, and felt we were looking at our son. We sent our acceptance to South Korea as fast as humanly possible.

Now came the hardest part for us. The wait.

I remember our social worker told us to stay away from the Internet and the adoption blogs during this time period because it is dangerous to try to compare one adoption experience to another, since each family’s process is so unique. If I could redo anything I would have followed her advice!

We knew we had a wait ahead of us, and initially thought that we would be traveling in late summer 2012. However, we were one of the families in process as adoption laws began to change in South Korea. There were a lot of unknowns, and Holt International did its best to keep us abreast of the changes and what they meant for the waiting families. In the void of hard and fast information, I turned to the Internet and read about other families’ timelines. All we could think of was our son in Seoul waiting for us, and we wanted to go get him.

I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I needed to be talked off the ledge once or twice by several kind, considerate and exceedingly patient members of the Holt Korea team in Oregon. We lived for the well-baby checks and analyzed every piece of information, trying to picture how our son was growing and changing thousands of miles away from us. Photos were the best, and when one popped into my inbox, I would quickly forward it to my husband and print it out to share. We had fun shopping and sending care packages for our son, and I used retail therapy as a way to combat the impatience I was feeling.

Things started to move for us at the end of July 2012, and our son was approved for his exit permit in early August. I started the school year in September, my fingers crossed that we would be traveling to bring our son home before Christmas. Then, at the end of a stressful week without power, water or Internet due to Hurricane Sandy, we got the call we had been waiting for. It was time to bring our son home! This was November 5, 2012.

We booked our flights, worked through endless to-do lists, and finally boarded a flight for Seoul-Incheon Airport on Sunday, November 11, 2012. It was time to meet our son and become a family. Our son was 23 months old, and had already lived with two foster families. We would be his third family in almost two years. As we traveled westward, I frantically crammed information from adoption books into my brain, and began my maternal worrying… Were we ready to be parents? Would this child accept us as his parents? Could we handle his grief? And, most of all, I battled feelings of sadness from having missed so many firsts — first solid foods, first birthday, first words, first steps and so many more. What we didn’t know is that we had so many more “firsts” ahead of us, and they would be just as important and just as wonderful.

It was cold and sunny on Wednesday, November 14. My husband, mother-in-law, brother and I woke early and tried to fill the hours until we planned to walk to the Holt Korea building. We attempted to eat breakfast at a local Starbucks (where I could only cry because I was so nervous) and then decided to visit The Tricky Eye Museum. We walked around the campus of Hanjik University and ate lunch. Finally, it was time to head to Holt. We arrived at the building and quickly entered. We took an elevator up, and actually rode with our son’s foster mother, who we recognized from photos. Between the language barrier and general uncertainty, we could only smile at each other. As we waited to set eyes on our son for the first time, I re-organized our gifts over and over while my husband anxiously paced.

Finally, the door opened and this little bow-tie-wearing ball of energy burst in, went right up to my husband and gave him a huge hug.

The next 30 minutes moved like a well-oiled machine. It was obvious how loved our son was, and that his foster mother had taken wonderful care of him. Our son’s foster father came to Holt that day, too, but was too emotional to come in the room. We asked his foster mother to describe our son to us, and she told us that he was “all boy.” We laughed at the time, but now we look back and think about how well she knew him. She described him perfectly.

Before we knew it, the final medical check-up was over, our travel charges were taken care of and we were getting into a cab. Fifteen months after our initial meeting with Holt, and ten months after seeing his picture for the first time, we were officially the parents of 23-month-old Benjamin Steven Hyeok-jun!

We returned to our hotel and spent several hours getting to know our son. He was fascinated with our half-full water bottles and stickers. We kept waiting for him to grieve, but as we look back, we realize Ben was in a state of shock. The remaining day in Seoul passed in a blur and before we knew it, it was time to fly home. I have blocked the turbulent 14-hour flight out of my memory, and suffice it to say that the stewardesses on Korean Air are amazing and so accommodating — we couldn’t have made it home without them. The candy and earplugs we handed out to surrounding passengers may have helped, too.

Then, it was time to settle into life as a family of three. Prior to bringing Ben home, both my husband and I wondered if we would love our son right away. My husband believes he fell in love with Ben the first night we were home in New Jersey when the two of them were up for 24 hours straight, trying to overcome jet lag. For me, I started to fall in love with our son the first night he fell asleep nestled on my chest in the hotel in Seoul.

Our first month home, we kept Ben’s world small and really only ventured out for walks around the neighborhood and doctor appointments. We agonized over finding food he would eat, and worried about keeping weight on his little body. Our son was non-verbal and still has quite a speech delay, so we struggled to communicate and explain all the changes he was facing. We scheduled and attended weekly occupational therapy and speech therapy sessions. We dealt with stares from people who saw a 2-year-old who wasn’t acting like a 2-year-old. We co-slept for three months and dealt with night terrors and tears nightly. I cried along with Ben as he asked for “Umma.” We quickly realized that our son — who had only ever slept on the floor with his foster parents — wanted nothing to do with a crib, so it was on to a toddler bed. We constantly reassured Ben that we loved him and would be his forever family. We also made a book of photos from our trip to Seoul and looked at it often, along with photos of his foster family. We talked early and often about our son’s foster and birth families, and plan to continue to do so for the rest of his life.

The months passed quickly, and we enjoyed every moment as parents — Ben’s first photos with Santa (not a success), our first Christmas as a family, Ben’s first haircut, our first trip to the beach, Ben’s first swimming lessons, his first play date, his first ice cream cone, first Easter Egg Hunt (he didn’t get any eggs), first unprompted hug and kiss, and the most emotional — the first “Mama” and “Da-dee,” which took almost ten months.

Now, we have been home for over a year, and we have settled into a new normal. Our life is more structured than it ever was before becoming parents. We have learned to function on much less sleep and our evenings are filled with storybooks and bath time, rather than adult conversations and long, leisurely dinners. When we turn on the television, it automatically is tuned to Sprout instead of the Phillies.

Adopting our son was simultaneously the most challenging and wonderful thing that we have ever done. Becoming a family through adoption was a perfect choice for us, and we continue to marvel at this brave, precocious and resilient child who we are lucky to call our son.

Quinn Hofmann | Ewing, New Jersey

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2 Replies to “Bringing Home Ben”

  1. Quinn, your story post adotpion sounds exactly like ours – right down to the speech delay. I think we picked our boys up from Holt just one day apart. Congratulations! If you ever want to connect – let’s find a way to do so… Best, Marnie

  2. Andrew came home to us 41 years ago. In that day, mother’s permission (which isn’t known anyway) wasn’t required, and he came to us via KAL with a companion “nanny” so our experience started in a ride back to Jersey. What a beautiful ride. He is our second of 4 children (3 biological daughters – his super loving sisters). Presently living in Chengdu China running 3 restaurants (called Book Worm) he has bachelor’s degree form Johnson and Wales, and we WeChat nearly every day as he does with his sisters. We visited last September and we hope he will marry a most wonderful “native” with whom he has celebrated his last 2 birthdays (actually tomorrow will be the second) in China. A most wonderful experience, USA news seems very biased towards China’s flaws when it should also high light it’s beautiful people, places, and history, in the company of which, anyone would enjoy. Quinn, we know your joy and are happy for you.

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