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The Gift of a Family

After 37 years of celebrating her adoption day with her family, Holt adoptee Leh Beal-Cook decided she didn’t want any presents. Instead, she sent a gift to Holt International in hopes that another child will be able to have a loving family of his or her own.

Leh

When I was twenty-one months old, I flew to Chicago to meet my adopted parents. My “adoption day” is a celebration my parents have for me every year, filled with a present, card, stories, cake and a meal of my choice. Thirty-eight years later and after 37 years of celebrating my adoption day, I decided I didn’t want a gift. I have the gift I may never have if it weren’t for my adopted parents, a family. As a South Korean girl whose history was not known, I was just a baby Jane Doe. My name and birthdate were probably randomly created. Before I was adopted, I went through three orphanages and two foster homes, but my mom says I was obviously very loved. My grandmother had read about adoptions from Korea and shared it with my parents who were looking to adopt. Even though my parents wanted a baby, they chose me after they saw my picture — thus, my new life began as a Holt adoptee.

woman smiling

Did you know Holt provides support to all adoptees?

Every adoptee has a unique and complex life experience. Holt strives to support all adoptees, regardless of their placing agency, by providing help with birth search, citizenship and more.

leh in korea
Leh in her referral photo as a child in Korea.

My mother was always honest with me about being adopted and even allowed me to review my papers when I was older, but it was difficult to understand or accept that I’d been a Jane Doe once upon a time. I had never met any other Korean children and the Asian children I met in school were unsure of me. I have always known I was adopted since my parents and I looked different. I had slanted brown eyes, black hair and a slightly different skin tone than my parents, who had brown hair and double-lidded blue or hazel eyes. My grandfather was in the Navy and fought in WWII, so I often heard him tell me about going to Korea and for me to be proud to be Korean. My mother used to read me a book called “Chinese Eyes,” but both of my parents raised me to never judge a person from an outside appearance. Did I ever feel out of place? Absolutely! However, they always loved me and I never knew neglect or real hardships. I had no interest in finding my biological family, who I believe either didn’t know I existed or didn’t want others to know of my existence. It could only create more hurt, confusion and anger was how I felt about finding my biological ties.*

Leh with her parents when she was little.

It wasn’t until I had my daughter that I finally felt whole and at peace with being me. It wasn’t until my daughter became interested in her Asian side that I finally began to research and try to understand the heritage I had never known or was even angry at. She didn’t ask too many questions about my adoption since she has celebrated my adoption day with my parents every year since she was born, but she did misunderstand a bit. She told her class at school that her mommy was born on a plane and that the plane then flew her to meet her parents. That story still tickles me! Through my research, I learned Hangul and some of the proper ways to address people if I’d been raised in Korea. I reviewed the history of Korea, read blogs and did a lot Google browsing. I’ve even learned some Korean dishes. Most importantly, my confidence and pride in my nationality has grown. Some day, I do plan to return to Korea at least to see some of the places I’ve read or heard about.

A few years ago, I began to read some of the stories on Holt’s Facebook page and felt I was reading about myself. Some of the things I had never acknowledged or even understood I realized other Korean adoptees had expressed, which comforted me. I have read about how some people are against international adoption, but as an international adoptee, I have to disagree. I am sharing my story in hopes that those who do not agree or perhaps don’t understand can see why I disagree. I am sharing my story as others bravely or proudly have shared theirs and to say thank you to Holt for finding such a great family for me. My adopted parents are not “adopted” to me; they’re just my parents. They’ve loved, argued with, cried for and raised me. I may not know the circumstances of why I was given up for adoption, but I was given a wonderful chance and a good life.

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Leh’s mother and daughter. “It wasn’t until I had my daughter that I finally felt whole and at peace with being me,” Leh writes.

For my adoption day, I wanted to give back to the same adoption agency that joined me with my family, in hopes that another child with no history will have the same opportunities as I have had. My name was Won Kang Mee, but on March 2nd, I became Leh Anna Beal. It no longer mattered that my birth date was not my true birth date or that my mother and father were marked “unknown” on my Korean birth certificate. My adopted name has history from both sides. My name has ties to a great grandmother who had the same birthday as me and told me every time she saw me that we were special girls for all that we shared. All of the adopted people and names in my name are a part of me. I want people who read my story to know that the difference in nationality didn’t disconnect me from my biological heritage; it was maturity, love and all I gained in my adopted life that connected my two backgrounds into a solid one.

Leh Beal-Cook | Fort Mill, South Carolina

Like Leh, when children come into Holt’s care overseas, they often don’t know their exact birthdays — or even what a birthday is. But every child deserves to feel loved and celebrated on one special day of the year. Give a child a happy birthday on June 1 this year when Holt staff and partners hold special celebrations on the International Day of the Child!

woman smiling

Did you know Holt provides support to all adoptees?

Every adoptee has a unique and complex life experience. Holt strives to support all adoptees, regardless of their placing agency, by providing help with birth search, citizenship and more.

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