Sacramento-area woman’s quest for Korean birth mother stalls

01/27/2014 5:35 PM

01/28/2014 7:50 AM

Fawn Press-Dawson’s quest to find her birth mother has stalled after two weeks in South Korea.

The 21-year-old from Gold River – whose well-chronicled search has drawn international attention – flew to Seoul with her adoptive mom, Andee Press-Dawson, on Jan. 10, armed with her adoption papers, her birth mother’s name and the knowledge that only a tiny number of Korean adoptees actually find their biological parents.

Last Thursday, Andee came home while Fawn moved into a guest house for Korean adoptees searching for their roots operated by South Korea’s Eastern Social Welfare Society.

Fawn reviewed her adoption file, touched her birth mom’s fingerprint, then learned the adoption agency had tracked down a woman by the same name on Jeju Island, southwest of the Korean peninsula. Fawn knew from the file that her birth mother was 23 when Fawn was born. She named her daughter Kwon Hee Joo – “Joyful and Pretty Kwon” – and prayed she would be adopted by a loving family.

But when one of the social workers vacationing on Jeju Island talked to the woman whose name appears in Fawn’s adoption file, she denied knowing anything about Fawn. “She’s basically in denial,” Fawn said. “She’s been saying, ‘You’ve got the wrong person; I never had a child.’ ”

Fawn, who was adopted by Andee and Terry Press-Dawson when she was about 6 months old, is among an estimated 200,000 Korean adoptees worldwide, most of them now living in North America or Europe. She was raised Jewish, learned Hebrew and had a bat mitzvah, the Jewish rite of passage from girl to young woman. But she told The Bee that in high school, “I felt very confused. I felt a sense of aloneness and really isolated myself. I was pretty depressed.” After long conversations with her dad, she knew she had to embark on a roots quest.

Once they arrived in Seoul, the adoption agency social worker told Fawn and her mom that the woman on Jeju Island said somebody must have stolen her identity and used it on the adoption forms, Andee said. “We were told that 21 years ago, it was very common when somebody had a baby out of wedlock, they would use a false identity. We asked about the fingerprint, but the social worker said the woman isn’t a criminal so they don’t have it in a database.” The agency had no information about Fawn’s biological father other than that he was a former soldier named Mr. Kwon who had a brief romance with Fawn’s birth mother.

Fawn was ready to fly to Jeju Island to see the woman face to face, but Andee talked her out of it. “I said, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa ...’ The social worker said ‘No, no, no.’ It’s a very small island, and everybody would know something was up, and it could ruin the woman’s life.”

Fawn said she now realizes that there’s still a culture of shame around having a baby out of wedlock and giving it up for adoption. “I wouldn’t want to cause any problems for her and her family. If she has a husband and kids, she may not want them to know.”

The adoption agency has started sending telegrams to Jeju to let the woman know that Fawn will be in South Korea for several months, Andee said. “After the third telegram, if they don’t hear back, they’ll feel pretty convinced that the birth mother is not willing to make contact,” she said. “It doesn’t mean the birth mothers don’t think about their children every single day and love them will all their heart.”

In five or 10 years, “I can try again,” Fawn said. “At this moment she may be in a family situation where she can’t start a relationship or even meet me ... now it’s a waiting game.”

Terry Press-Dawson, Fawn’s dad, praised her courage, sensitivity and maturity. “The support and encouragement she has received from friends and strangers has reminded me of the goodness and selflessness of people. Fawn, it appears you now have two homes and have truly become a woman of the world.”

Fawn and Andee got a chance to spend the afternoon at the adoption agency’s nursery, where 40 infants and toddlers are waiting to be adopted. “I’d never held an infant before and I was extremely nervous, but I held her the whole time,” Fawn said. “Your heart just melts. They just stare into your face. You just want to take them all home. She slept on my shoulder for a long time and cried when I tried to put her down.”

Andee said volunteering in the nursery was one of the most moving experiences of her life. “To think that Fawn was one of those babies ... they needed human contact, they needed eye contact, they needed to be loved and held.”

Fawn, who plans to volunteer in the nursery every day, has gone to live in the guest house for returning adoptees while she awaits news about the woman in Jeju.

“Crystal, the house mother, said she’s going to take care of Fawn just like she was her own daughter and teach her and the other guests how to cook Korean food,” Andee said. “Fawn is totally holding on to the belief that her journey is the destination. Maybe in the future when her kids are grown, the birth mother will be in a very different place and can see Fawn. It’s not over by any stretch.”

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