Together, Mrs. Yang and Mrs. Kim have fostered over 140 children in Korea. In August 2017, they visited Holt families in Oregon — an experience they, and the adoptees and adoptive families they met, will never forget.
This story originally appeared on the Holt blog in September 2017.
Mrs. Yang sat in a room at Holt’s international headquarters in Oregon — sobbing.
She clutched the glossy photobook to her chest then set it down to cover her face with her hands. The photobook was sent to her by a Holt family, and full of pictures and descriptions about how their son was doing. Her shoulders rose and fell with emotion and a Holt Korea social worker and translator, who was helping me with the interview, put an arm around her.
“Separation is not easy,” she said to me.
Mrs. Yang looked up and a genuine smile pushed through her tears. “His adoptive family is just so nice,” she said. “He looks happy.” Her tears, both sad and happy, revealed one overarching truth — this child was cared for and loved deeply before he even came home to his family.
Along with Mrs. Kim, Mrs. Yang is one of Holt Korea’s longest-serving foster mothers. Together, this past August, they traveled to Oregon to be honored for their service to children and to attend a Holt picnic, where they met some of their foster children who are now with their adoptive families in the U.S. Many of the families who could not attend sent photobooks, like the one Mrs. Yang paged through in the Holt office.
Mrs. Yang has fostered over 100 children and Mrs. Kim, who unlike Mrs. Yang cares for just one child at a time, has fostered over 40. Together, over 140 tiny babies have become toddlers under their care — they held them, fed them, nursed them back to health after medical procedures, and loved them — before joining their adoptive families in the U.S. And even now, they say each one of them is in their hearts.
“I pray for all of them, every day,” Mrs. Yang said. That’s 100 children, prayed for and loved from thousands of miles away, every day.
And when Mrs. Yang and Mrs. Kim met their foster children at the Holt picnic just a few days before, it became clear that this love was felt both ways.
“Our family has always really had such a special place in our hearts for [Mrs. Yang] for what she did with him,” shared Mary Jesse, whose son Henry — now 9 — was fostered by Mrs. Yang for his first 11 months. They traveled from Texas to see her.
“His first year of life, she gave him the right start with love,” she said.
When Henry and Mary walked up at the Holt picnic, Mrs. Yang saw them from across the field and started running toward them, like a Hollywood scene, but beautifully and authentically real. Including the onlookers who knew neither of them, it was hard to find a dry eye.
William is 18 years old and headed to college this fall. He and his father traveled from California to meet Mrs. Kim, who raised him for his first four months of life. But at first he wondered, what do you say to someone who you barely know now, but who played such an important role in your life?
“There’s a lot that’s going through my head,” William said. “I want to ask her what I was like as a baby.” As William doesn’t know Korean and Mrs. Kim doesn’t know English, their initial meeting was without words.
“I was really nervous,” William said. “I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what she looked like. It was like, uh, what do I do? … But meeting her — when I finally hugged her — it just didn’t really matter anymore. We were together. You can tell that it means a lot to her.”
As the picnic continued, every few minutes there was another adoptive family and adoptee here to see either Mrs. Yang or Mrs. Kim. And with each family’s arrival came tears, hugs, kisses, gifts and memories.
Marni Petty remembers the last time they saw Mrs. Yang, when she introduced them to their son Zachary in Korea.
“She just astounds me,” Marni said about Mrs. Yang. “The day that we had to leave, when we had Zachary for good, she just sobbed into my husband’s chest. And I thought, ‘How have you done this 40-plus times?’ Like, I get being able to do it and detach yourself, but she doesn’t detach herself. She loves her babies and has a hard time letting them go.”
Zachary, who had a cleft, was fostered by Mrs. Yang until he was 8 months old. She met his unique needs and made sure he was chubby and healthy, despite the difficulty eating experienced by many children with clefts. Zachary is now 9, and felt it was very important for him to meet his foster mother.
“Zachary is a real deep thinker,” Marni said. “He really asks a lot of questions about his birth family, he wants to know and it’s hard for him to not have access to that information.” Because they live in Oklahoma, and only learned about Mrs. Yang’s visit several weeks before, at first they didn’t think they could make the trip.
But then Zachary said this:
“He just said, ‘I’ve been praying for years that I would have real memories of Korea and what I was like instead of picture memories,’” Marni recounts. After he said this, there was no question, they were coming. Through Mrs. Yang’s visit, Zachary’s prayers were answered.
Several days later, back at the Holt office, Mrs. Yang and Mrs. Kim looked through the photobooks sent by adoptive families, and shared memories about each of the children. They remembered each face and had details to share — even children who are now adults in their 20s.
“When I separated from them, they were little babies,” Mrs. Kim said. “Now they are big and tall. That’s why I feel very proud of them.”
Even after fostering over 40 children, she doesn’t see herself stopping anytime soon.
“I couldn’t stop this job because when the babies go to their country, I cannot endure,” she said. “That’s why I have a baby again, again, over and again. Separation is always difficult for me. As long as I’m healthy, I will keep this job for a long time — forever.”
As Mrs. Yang looked, and cried, through the photobooks, I asked her how she could possibly remember each and every one of the children she cared for.
“I pray for them,” she said. “Every day, every time.” She invests her prayers into these children, and holds them in her heart.
When asked about why she has done this for so long, why she has dedicated her life to caring for over 100 children, her answer was simple:
“Babies are so lovely, that’s why.”
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I would love to thank Quan Oni, my daughter Alice’s foster mom. Alice (Choi Mok Ryun) who has Down syndrome, still remembers her and talks about her almost daily.