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That Felt Like a Mother’s Love

After traveling to meet their former foster mothers in Korea, adoptee siblings Emma and Isaiah Perron finally understand what their parents always told them — “You were greatly loved in Korea.” This post written by Lisa Perron — Emma and Isaiah’s mom — originally appeared on catholicfam.org

Emma meets her foster mom for the first time since she left Korea to join her family.

The first night our Korean-born son arrived home, he cried for his foster mother. Less than thirty-six hours before, he had woken up in the only home he had ever known, been brought to the Holt International Adoption Services offices, handed to a stranger, and traveled around the world to be placed in our arms. He had never seen us before and had no idea what was happening. After a very stressful first introduction to our dear son, we arrived home late from the airport. Soon the family was all sleeping peacefully in their beds — all except Isaiah and me. 

He was exhausted from not only the travel but also the trauma of the turn his short life had taken. I lay on the couch with him nestled against my chest. He drifted off to sleep, and my heart was bursting with love for this little human. I had almost dozed off, when he jerked awake, lifted up, looked at me, and cried, “Eomma,” which means mom in Korean. He sobbed against my chest until he cried himself to sleep. Just when I thought he had settled, he jerked awake again, and when he realized who was holding him, he resumed calling for his foster mother. This happened several times that first night, and every time he collapsed crying on my chest, I cried too.

Isaiah’s foster mom took this picture of him as a little boy, before he came home to his family in the U.S.

My heart broke from his sorrow. However, I also knew that he wouldn’t grieve so greatly unless he had built a strong bond with his foster family and been loved greatly. I could only imagine how difficult it was for his foster mother to hand him over, and I had a strong desire to reach out and thank her for loving my son so well.

When we traveled to pick up our daughter, Emma, I was awed at the relationship between our daughter and her own foster mother. Emma pressed herself tightly against her foster mother’s chest, while her foster mother spoke comforting words to her. She told her that we were her parents and that we would be taking her home with us to the United States. Even though Emma did not fully understand those words, I believe that they helped her in her transition to our family. She was not taken from her foster family; her foster family had willingly let her go, even though it broke their hearts.

While we were there, we had the opportunity to meet Isaiah’s foster mother, and even though we were able to thank her, the visit felt empty without Isaiah there to share it. In that meeting, both Bob and I promised ourselves that one day we would bring both Isaiah and Emma to visit their foster mothers, so they could see for themselves the women who loved them first. A few weeks ago, we fulfilled that promise.

Emma as a baby, in a photo taken by her foster mom.

We knew the trip to our youngest children’s birth country would be emotional. At ages 17 and 12, we understood that, like every child these ages, our children would be wrestling with their identities. It’s difficult enough to make sense of who you are when you are adopted, but add in being a different race and from a different country than the rest of your family, it’s a lot to process.

We were all a little nervous when we first arrived at the offices of Holt International Adoption Services in Seoul, Korea. My husband and I had dreamed of this day, when Isaiah and Emma could come face to face with the women who had sacrificed so much for them. I couldn’t wait for these ladies to see how our children had grown and to thank them for loving them so well.

As we took our shoes off and slipped our feet into the slippers provided for visitors, Isaiah said to Bob, “I’m not even sure that she’s going to show up.”

“She’ll be here,” my husband assured him, but I could tell that Isaiah was not convinced.

When we arrived at the meeting room, we were delighted to find that Isaiah’s foster mother had been waiting for us. As Isaiah stepped into the room, his foster mother said in broken English, “Oh my, you so good looking!”

Isaiah’s foster mom was overjoyed to see him again after all these years.

Isaiah sat down beside her, and they just stared at each other. Her awed expression and wide grin spoke volumes. She was overjoyed to see him again after all of these years. She said that he had cried for her when she gave him to the escort who traveled with him from Korea to the United States, and she was so heartbroken by it, she had wanted to keep him. Isaiah handed her a photo album for her to keep of him growing up in the United States, and they perused it together.

Emma’s foster mother arrived a few minutes later. She’d obviously missed Emma greatly. She held Emma’s hand and gently caressed it the whole time we visited. She said through a translator that she had warring emotions. She was very grateful to us for being such great parents to Emma, but at the same time, she didn’t want to have to say goodbye to our precious girl again. It wasn’t until I hugged her that I felt the depth of her emotion. She held me tight as I thanked her, and she whispered her thanks to me.

A few minutes into the visit, Isaiah’s foster mother presented him with a gift. She had hand written a card in Korean, and her daughter translated it into English. “You are the most precious person in the world,” it read. “Don’t forget this.” For the first time, after all of the years of us telling Isaiah that he was greatly loved in Korea, he finally understood.

Inside the present were a hat, scarf and gloves from the Winter Olympics that had been held in South Korea a few weeks before. She helped him try everything on. When he tried to put the gloves on himself, she said, “No, no,” and pointed to herself. She wanted to put them on for him. It was so sweet to see her dress the boy again after all of the years they were apart.

The Perron family with Emma and Isaiah’s former foster mothers.

Emma handed her foster mother the photo album we had created for her, and in turn, her foster mother pulled out a large photo album of her own filled with baby pictures of Emma that she had kept all of these years. She gave Emma a stamp with Gem Eun Ju, Emma’s Korean name, spelled out in Korean in red ink. When it was time for our meeting to end, Emma’s foster mother held her for a long time. She pulled back and held Emma’s face in her hands and said, “Grow up well.”

I hugged Isaiah’s foster mother goodbye, and thanked her again for loving our son. As we got into the elevator, Isaiah said, “That felt like a mother’s love.”

“That’s exactly what that was,” I said.

Isaiah’s words have since inspired me to contemplate the meaning of a mother’s love. Can it even be adequately described? It’s difficult to find words to describe the kind of love that I have for my children. It’s easier to describe what I have observed in my own mother. A mother’s love is sacrificial, unconditional and unselfish. I’m overwhelmed by the countless times when my mother put our needs before her own. I don’t think that I will ever be able to thank her as much as she deserves.

From the moment I became a mother I couldn’t imagine that anyone could possibly love a person more than I loved my children. I couldn’t fathom anyone loving me as much. But then I realized, like Isaiah did that day he met his foster mother, that I already had been.

A mother’s love is beyond words and actions. It is a physical presence that we all carry with us throughout our lives, even after a long separation, or after our own mothers are gone. I’m so very grateful for the women who mothered my children first.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Lisa Perron | Adoptive Mom

Mom kissing her adoptive son from China on a boat

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