Surviving, Learning, Laughing: A Little Girl’s Smile

Through candid (and often funny!) observations and heartwarming personal stories, a Holt adoptive mother shares the challenges and joys of parenting adopted children. Read more of Jane’s post adoption blogs by clicking here.

by Jane Ballback, Holt Adoptive Mom

Unlike the day we picked up the boys at the airport, my husband Steve and I were cool, calm and collected when it was time for our daughter, Stacee, who arrived in May of 1990. It was also the boys’ third birthday, so there was much excitement. We got to the airport at 10 a.m., her plane was on time, and everything went smoothly. I thought she looked very “lost” and exhausted, but that is understandable, so I thought a nap might make things right.

That evening at her welcome home party, she continued to look very sad and tired, but I didn’t think this would last long. I was wrong. The next morning when I went to pick her up from her crib, she was very awake and rested but wouldn’t let me hold her close to me. Every time I tried, she would push me away with her little arms. Despite the fact that she was only five months old, she was strong! I spent the day trying to see if this behavior would easily extinguish itself, but it did not. She didn’t cry and fuss a great deal. She just wouldn’t let me hold her.

I had my husband babysit while I went to the nearest store and bought one of the baby “slings” that allows you to have your baby face you while you hold her on your chest next to your heart. She literally couldn’t push me away at this point, and the behavior soon disappeared, even when she wasn’t being carried. I continued to carry her next to my heart as long as I could hold her weight. By this time she was very calm and receptive in my arms, but I knew she loved being next to my heartbeat.

What didn’t go away though, was the incredibly sad look on her face. I knew that Stacee had been born in Daegu Metropolitan City — the third largest metropolitan area in South Korea — which is about 146 miles from Seoul, South Korea. I didn’t know how she was relinquished or how she got to Seoul, I just knew that those five months were very traumatic for her. I don’t know how many “hands” she passed through, I’m just guessing she got sadder and sadder as time went on. Even a five-month-old baby can begin to lose all hope.

I did everything I knew how to do to get Stacee to relax and smile. Like my two boys, I put Stacee on a structured schedule where everything was predictable and stable. The boys would also spend many hours doing goofy things to get her attention and make her smile. She continued to eat and sleep well and began to adjust to the rhythm of our home. After a while she didn’t look incredibly sad, but she didn’t look incredibly happy either. She arrived in May, and it was about seven months later in December, in time for her first birthday, when she began to laugh and smile. I don’t think it was any one thing that finally brought about this first smile, just a combination of calm steady love and care that finally allowed her to begin to believe she finally had a home of her very own.

Please enjoy this slide show that depicts Stacee’s first years in our family.

Read Jane’s post-adoption blog, here!

President and CEO Kim Brown sits down for Interview with KACmedia

Kim Brown holding a child in ChinaKim Brown, Holt president and CEO, recently sat down with Kwon Cho, executive director of Korean American Christian (KAC) Media for the network’s “Faith, Power, and Influence” segment. In the interview, Brown discusses his adoption story and Holt’s humble beginnings, issues facing adult adoptees and adoptive families, and the future of Holt’s work.

“It’s a humbling position for me to be in,” says Brown. “I feel the weight of all the children who have been placed by Holt through the years, and I also feel the responsibility of the children who need homes.”

Brown also discusses Holt’s work as a child welfare organization…

“We are not just an adoption agency. We are concerned for the kids who don’t get the opportunity to find a home of their own.” We’re expanding what we’re doing, and we’re excited about being able to help more and more children around the world.

To see Kim Brown’s full interview, click the video below…..

Faith, Power & Influence #314 Kim Brown: “Rescuing Orphaned Children” from KAC Media on Vimeo

Intercountry Adoption—Moving Forward From a Fifty-Five-Year Perspective

An International Forum in Washington D.C.


by Susan Seunkoom Cox, Vice President of Policy and External Affairs

Adoptees and family gather for a picture with David Kim and Molly Holt

Participants from around the world gathered in Washington D.C. (April 14-16) to celebrate fifty-five-years of intercountry adoption at the International Forum sponsored by Holt International and Adoptees for Children. The conference was an unprecedented examination of international adoption and child welfare through the lens of adult adoptees.

Since the environment for international child welfare and adoption is influenced by global concerns and challenges more than ever, Washington D.C. was selected as the conference site so national and international policy makers could participate. Notable presenters from various countries presented during the conference. This was the first significant conference to highlight the unique personal perspective of adoption professionals who also happen to be adult adoptees. Too often the influence and voices of those who have lived the experience are not represented. As the organization that pioneered intercountry adoption, Holt International benefits from the experiences of three generations of adult adoptees.

Many of these adult adoptees attended the International Forum and represented the critical importance of adoption in the lives of children. The adoptees met with government officials, international guests, child welfare experts and Members of Congress and their staff.

The International Forum began with a press conference at the National Press Club (entire event can be seen at and the premier book signing of the new adoptee anthology, “More Voices.” The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute hosted a luncheon in the Kennedy Caucus Room and Korean Ambassador Han hosted an amazing evening of Korean food and dance at his residence. The Forum concluded with a Gala dinner and program Saturday evening with Holt adoptive parent, the Honorable Marjorie Margolies serving as host.


Click here to watch an International Forum press conference at the National Press Club in D.C.

Click here to go to the International Forum homepage and learn more about the event

The Forum was made possible by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Forum photos and details at and

Contact Adoptee Outreach Director, Courtney Rader to order “More Voices” anthology


There’s a Little ‘Jerk’ in Us All

How a silly movie helped one girl keep it real

by Michelle Li

When I think of my childhood, I can’t resist thinking of good ole Navin Johnson. You know, he’s Steve Martin’s quirky character in the 1979 movie, The Jerk. Navin grew up as the only white kid in a black family from Mississippi and was obnoxiously delusional about his upbringings. And despite loving his adoptive family more than anything else, he had a whole world to see.

My mom hated that movie. But oddly, there’s something I can still relate to.

Just like Navin, I grew up a poor, white kid in rural Missouri. Okay, we weren’t really poor, but my parents certainly made sacrifices for me. I was a first-generation college student. My dad spent a lot of hours operating a backhoe on various construction sites to get me through my undergraduate years. My mother gave up her own education to cart me around to tap classes and basketball practice in high school. I was a good point guard, but I wasn’t that good.

For the most part, I grew up like any other white girl in the Midwest. I was the only Asian-looking girl in my class up until high school graduation. I had little interest in anything that sounded Asian-y. I once remember throwing a fit when my mom suggested I take a martial arts class. Of course, now I regret not knowing any self defense moves.

The point is, as a child, I thought I was white and nothing else. Then, I grew up.

Some people might assume it took meeting my birth family to make me realize that yes, indeed, I was Korean. That’s partly true. After all, we reunited when I was practically a kid. At 18, I discovered my birth family was intact. My three sisters and I were all born within about 5 years from one another. They were learning English. I had already coincidentally registered for Korean language classes at the University of Kansas. We were well on our way to adding each other to our family trees. My parents at home felt like they got three more Korean girls out of the deal. Life was good.

So, I took my newly-found Korean roots to KU. I joined the Asian American Student Union. I started hanging out with Korean kids from my language class. Then something weird happened. A few of my new friends turned on me.

“You’re so white-washed,” one girl said.

“You aren’t diverse enough,” another guy told me.

“It’s a shame you’re adopted,” another one said.

I remember feeling betrayed because I had put so much effort into becoming their friend. Here I was, unnaturally calling the older boys “ohpa” and learning phrases like “maekju masheetda” to cheers a beer, and what did I get in return? A swift kick in the shins.

It made me angry because these kids were actually born in the United States, unlike me. And they wanted to scold me about diversity? Most of them only hung out with Korean students in the science library, speaking only Korean to one another. Where were their non-Korean chingus?

I was confused. No white kid saw me as white. No Korean kid saw me as Korean. Who was I?

I’ve heard so many adoptees ask this question. Even though many are living happy lives, many will also tell you they don’t feel like they fully belong in any place. In one breath, my friends would tell me they just saw me as Michelle, but in the second breath, they’d make some wise crack about me being Asian. I could never escape looking different in the United States. Continue reading “There’s a Little ‘Jerk’ in Us All”

Surviving, Learning, Laughing: It Would’ve Been a Bit Awkward, Don’t You Think?


by Jane Ballback

I always knew that Holt International, the wonderful agency that brought us our children, offered “Homeland Tours”.  When your adopted child turns 18 they are invited to join other adoptees and return to the country and the orphanage where they were relinquished. It’s a chance to meet and interact with other adoptees, visit their country of origin, and even find out if the agency has other information about how, when, and why the child was relinquished. Tour participants also experience Korea together as they visit national and historic sites and learn about Korea’s rich cultural heritage.

I have always had an intense curiosity about all three of my children’s relinquishment history. At the point of adoption, we were provided with some information about that, but because it was a “closed” adoption, the information was scarce. I knew that our boys had two living parents and older brothers. And I knew that our daughter’s birth mother was young, single, and worked in a factory. That is all we were told and I was looking forward to hearing more of their story, and perhaps even finding my children’s birth parents. Holt even provides adoptees with help finding birth parents, if this is what they wish to do.

Our entire extended family talked a great deal about making this trip together. Our extended family is not that large, but we are all very close and it was a group effort raising my three children. We had all traveled together as a group many times, and talked about the impending trip to Korea.

When the boys were 17 years old, our extended family was together for dinner when we began to discuss our upcoming trip. As everyone was talking about how exciting it was going to be, I finally looked over at my twin boy’s faces. They could not have looked any more frightened, overwhelmed, or sad. I am so glad I was tuning into how they were feeling. As usual, they were not saying anything until they got me alone — my boys are intensely private people. Continue reading “Surviving, Learning, Laughing: It Would’ve Been a Bit Awkward, Don’t You Think?”

Adoptees and Adoption Advocates Become One Voice for Children in Washington D.C.

by Brian Campbell, Creative Services Director

On the first official day of discussions at the International Forum in Washington D.C., adoptees and adoption advocates —laughing and chatting — created a loud bustle in every room they entered. Some connected with each other for the first time, others reconnected with old friends.

More than just a look back into the 55-year history of international adoption, the discussions served as a tremendous resource for

adoptees and the adoption community — a wonderful opportunity to share experiences and look to the future of international adoption and how to best serve children.

When the welcome plenary began, chatting and laughing gave way to intense silence and devoted attention. Speakers shared stats

and figures that represented everyone in the room in one way or another. The attendees listened closely, taking notes and nodding as

Senator Jim McDermott speaks to International Forum attendees

topics about the importance of post adoption services and ongoing support for adopted children were discussed.

After the morning session concluded, a parade of forum attendees made their way from the hotel, down the street to the Russell Senate building and into the Kennedy Caucus room, where Senator Jim McDermott prepared to speak to the guests. An advocate for children and adoption for several decades, McDermott — between voting in the Senate —dashed across the street, eager to speak to the forum group about an issue for which he is passionate.

The Kennedy Caucus room has served as the setting for many significant events, trials and political gatherings that helped to move forward policy and legislation.  And on this important day — in a room alive with history and the voices of people moving forward with one goal in mind — over 200 adoptees and adoption advocates spoke out and became one voice for children, moving forward together to do what’s best for every child.

Adult Adoptees Kick Off the International Forum at the National Press Club

From left to right: Holt adoptees Dominic Pangborn from Korea; Kim Hanson from Korea; Glenn Morey from Korea; moderator of panel, Michelle Li from Korea. At the microphone: Tara Lihn Leaman from Vietnam; Adam Conner from Korea; Amber Stime from Ethiopia; Nu Wexler from Vietnam, and Holt President and Ceo Kim Brown from Korea.
A press conference at the National Press Club kicked off the International Forum in Washington D.C. this afternoon.


“We are celebrating 55 years of children and adoptive parents coming together into real families across the globe,” said Adoptees for Children member and Holt adoptee, Glenn Morey. “But the real focus of this weekend is how to move forward with 55 years of real-life perspective from those of us who are adoptees.”

Susan Soonkeum Cox, Holt vice president of policy and external affairs, and Kim Brown, Holt president and CEO, were also in attendance.

“One of the concerns that I have about the way international adoption and adoptees are presented is that adoptees never seem to grow up,” says Susan. “We are always frozen in time and always referred to as the ‘little children’ and babies….but adoption is a lifelong experience.”

To illustrate this concept, nine adoptees from various countries and backgrounds stood before members of the press, adoptive families and fellow adoptees and shared their adoption stories, experiences and personal perspectives.

“I think it’s great to be here and share our stories. I think for many people adoption is talked about in the context of being a choice. It’s the choice of birth parents to give up children and it’s a choice of adoptive parents to adopt,” explained Holt adoptee Adam Conner, “but for the children, it’s just something you inherit. It’s a reality that you are born with, just like anything else that your are born with. I think this is difficult for individuals to understand.   [Adoption] for the child is not a choice…it’s a wonderful gift.”

To watch a video of the National Press Club conference and hear more adoptee perspective, click here




Intercountry Adoption — Moving Forward From a 55-Year Perspective

The international forum kicks off this Thursday, April 14th, in Washington D.C.!

As we speak, participants from around the world are gathering in our nation’s capitol to celebrate 55 years of intercountry adoption.  Sponsored by Holt International and Adoptees for Children, the conference will be held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Capitol Hill, April 14-16, 2011.

Saturday’s presenters will be adoption professionals who are also adult adoptees. “This will be the first significant conference to highlight the unique personal perspective of adoption professionals who also happen to be adult adoptees.  Too often the influence and voices of those who have lived the experience are not represented,” says Susan Soonkeum Cox, vice president of policy and external affairs at Holt International.

The forum will conclude with a gala dinner and program Saturday evening, where the Honorable Marjorie Margolies will serve as host and renowned comedian Alison Larkin, author of The English American, will provide entertainment.

It’s not too late to register online! If you’ll be in the D.C. area this coming weekend, please join us for this historic event. Adoptees, adoptive families, child welfare professionals and government officials from around the world will be participating in this unprecedented gathering. Join all the festivities, Saturday‘s panels, or the gala dinner only.

Follow Holt adoptee and news anchor Michelle Li as she live blogs from the forum!

My First Post! And… already, a Name Change

Holt adoptee Michelle Li introduces herself and shares about her relationship with Holt International.  Michelle will be sharing her experiences on the blog frequently, so check back to read her latest entry!  “I hope I can make some of my adoption stories relevant for your family,” she says.

by Michelle Li


Michelle with her parents Charles and Sharon and husband, Jim. Hawaii, 2008.

I am so thrilled to be writing for Holt’s blog. It’s funny because I write for a living, but when I was given the opportunity to write for Holt, I called up my family as if I had won a major journalism award. It’s that exciting, people!

I like to think of Holt as the “mothership.” Over the last three decades, a number of people from Holt made a tremendous impact on my life. I’m sure many of them don’t even know it. And, truthfully, I couldn’t remember all of their names anyway. But, what I do know is that without Holt, I would not be where I am today. And, as an adoptee, I’m sure many of you can relate.

Some dedicated Holt blog readers may know me as Michelle Sherwood. It’s MY name—a name I used my entire life and as recently as the main anchor at a television station in Southwest Missouri. I’ve connected with a lot of adoptive families on the blogosphere throughout the years. The best was when I went to Seoul in 2009 and shot video of a baby staying at a Holt orphanage. The minute I posted it to my blog, it hit a Holt forum, and next thing you know, his mother in the U.S. introduced herself online and asked for more pics!


These days, I go by the name Michelle Li. And, I’m still a news anchor, but now I’m working in North Carolina. The name Li is actually my biological mother’s maiden name, and I’m still not entirely comfortable with the switch. I’ll save that story for another day, but the short version is that it was a necessary evil to survive in a cutthroat industry. And, the truth is, I know other adoptees who’ve taken the same action for the same reason.

I hope I can make some of my adoption stories relevant for your family. I won’t lay it all out on the table now, but I have had an interesting experience with my birth family, and the relationship is constantly evolving.

Not only have I met my birth family, I’ve also built a real relationship with them over the last 13 years or so. My Korean family is intact. I didn’t grow up with siblings, but I am very connected to my three Korean sisters. I also have a biological aunt in California and have visited her twice in two years. And ironically, I learned about this “imo” around the same time my (adoptive) favorite aunt passed away.

And just when I thought the language and cultural barrier had taken its toll, my second oldest sister, Hyun Jeong, announced she was going to marry an American from Wisconsin. That is what I call a game-changer.

It changed everything about how I saw anything related to my Korean family, and I’ll be glad to share it with you soon enough. It involves my husband and I traveling to Korea, having a traditional Korean wedding, and talking about living with my sister when and if she moves to the states. Yeah, you could say a lot has changed.

Next week, Michelle will be blogging from the International Forum in Washington D.C.! This meaningful forum seeks to build on 55 years of international adoption experience, moving forward to strengthen the collective intercountry adoption community.

Watch for Michelle’s blogs next week!

Read more about Michelle, here

Surviving, Learning, Laughing

by Jane Ballback

Of the three of my adopted children, Stacee has always been the most curious and connected to her Asian roots. She began a very creative exploration process of what it meant to be Asian when she entered junior high. If you know anything about adolescent development, this is not at all surprising. Every adolescent begins to ask herself, who am I and where do I fit? This was much easier for Stacee to do in junior high, because her elementary school had very few Asian children. We are fortunate to live in Southern California where there is every ethnicity possible and every mixture as well. We however, live on an island that is primarily populated by Caucasians. Fortunately the junior high and high school my children attended drew from a larger pool of young people.

As I was picking Stacee up from school about a month after she started junior high, I saw her standing with a group of six girlfriends. What was so interesting about this picture was that every girl was Asian. When I pointed that out to Stacee, she actually had not been conscious of the fact. None of the girls was Korean but they all were different nationalities of Asians. This began an interesting journey for my daughter that I could not have created for her had I tried!

As she grew to know the girls, she began to form strong friendships — many of which still exist today. Because there were so few children on the island where we live, Stacee began to spend a great deal of time with these new friends and their families. She became so close to a few of them, that she took trips with the families.

When she spent time with her new Asian friends and families, she would come home and tell me how they would do things differently than our family did. I was always fine with that, and listened intently while she would tell me her stories. She was always amazed at how the entire family went everywhere together, particularly over the weekends. It’s not that our family didn’t do a great deal together, but we did not do every activity together for days on end. Since many of these new friends were recent immigrants, what Stacee was also experiencing was life with immigrants who had not been acculturated into the “American” way of life. I thought these experiences were very valuable as well. She did not ask me or my husband to do anything different than we were doing, with one exception. We bought a rice cooker and we had white rice in our kitchen cooking at all times. I found this fascinating and endearing.

I also found it very interesting that Stacee’s best high school girlfriend, Thuvy, and her first steady boyfriend, Kurt, were Vietnamese. Thuvy spent a great deal of time at our house, traveled with us many times, and even lived with us over a summer. This also gave Stacee what she had always wanted, a sister. Kurt also spent a great deal of time with us and I enjoyed him very much. They are still part of our lives, and when Thuvy read my blog she sent me a lovely e-mail saying, you are always my “second mama,” as well. Stacee remained very close to both Thuvy and Kurt throughout high school, but she also began to expand her friends to multiple ethnicities.

I’m so glad that Stacee found this very creative way to explore her culture and her roots. It is such a joy to have children — and now their friends — who have no issue with anyone’s color, creed, or ethnicity. In that way our world is becoming a better place.

Readers, Please tell me how your children have gone through their cultural exploration.

I’d love to hear from you.

Connect with Jane.  Go to to read more blogs from Jane.

Click here to read post-adoption blogs