After arriving in Houston in January 2011, Greg and Chae drove to a stately brick home in the suburbs. Before pressing the doorbell, Chae looked back to the entourage in tow. Greg was there, holding the video camera as usual, as was a translator and the videographer team.

The door opened, and her mother was there almost immediately, arms outstretched. Her right arm went around Chae's neck and her left under her arm. She pulled Chae in the house while making cooing noises as if for a baby. She whispered words in Korean that Chae couldn't understand. They both sobbed. Her mother put both hands on the sides of Chae's face to take a first look at her daughter as an adult before embracing her again. Chae, never known to cry easily, joined her in tears, surprising herself with how much she felt from seeing this woman she had never met. "It was unbelievable," Chae recalls. "But at the same time, I was just at a loss for words. We sat there, and we were both just struggling with what to say."

During their four days together in Houston, Moon Ja stayed in a hotel suite with Chae and Greg. Through a translator, Moon Ja explained what happened when Chae was born. Moon Ja was poor back then, scraping by to feed her children. Chae's sisters had been older — 8, 10, 12, and 13. Things became so desperate that Moon Ja once asked two of her daughters if they'd like to be put up for adoption and sent to America for a better life; they declined. Moon Ja decided she couldn't afford a new baby. When she went into labor, Moon Ja sneaked out of the house. After giving birth, she asked the doctor about adoption, and she was given a pamphlet for Korean Social Services.

Korean Social Services director Choon Hee Kim, at right, took Chae through the orphanage where Chae was sent after being given up for adoption.
Courtesy of Chae Haile
Korean Social Services director Choon Hee Kim, at right, took Chae through the orphanage where Chae was sent after being given up for adoption.
Chae visits the Gyeongbokgung Palace during her first trip to Korea.
Courtesy of Chae Haile
Chae visits the Gyeongbokgung Palace during her first trip to Korea.

The doctor had been wrong about the pretty sisters coming in and wanting to keep the baby. Adoption is considered shameful by some in Korea, so Moon Ja had told her family that Chae had died during birth. Not even Chae's father knew. Moon Ja had stashed the adoption papers in an old book.

Moon Ja didn't think about it much until she started going to church in 1995. Then guilt overtook her. She worried about Chae daily since, wondering, as Korean moms do, if she had gotten an education and whether she married a good man. She figured Chae was somewhere in Korea, and she feared she married a man like Chae's father, who she said drank too much and was emotionally distant. They had separated after the girls were raised. Moon Ja looked for the book with the papers and realized it had been lost during a move. She figured it was impossible she would ever see her youngest daughter.

Before her trip to Houston, Moon Ja worried that she wouldn't be able to look Chae in the eyes. "How am I going to face her?" she kept thinking. But now she was learning that her daughter had done well for herself, getting a bachelor's degree in justice studies from Arizona State and a master's in public administration from New York University. She married well: Greg has a law degree from Columbia University and is now a vice president at Broward College. These are things — high degrees and impressive titles — that make Korean moms proud. Any issue about his race faded in the living room of that house in Houston. Greg is a gentleman, she decided, so his race doesn't matter. The only disappointment came in learning there were no surprise grandchildren. Chae and Greg had been trying for years, and just recently, their doctor had told them to stop taking the fertility drugs that hadn't worked.

At the end of Moon Ja's trip, Chae and Greg went with her to see her off at the airport. Security guards were impressed enough by their story that they let the entourage go with her to the gate. Chae and Moon Ja sat in the vinyl chairs of the terminal trying to figure out what to say.

Chae cried, tears that came in part out of happiness of finally finding her mother. She also kept thinking about what her mother must have gone through, the shame of having given up a child kept inside for three decades. "There were times in Houston," Chae remembers, "when I just felt very bad for the life they had to live."

Moon Ja didn't understand. "Don't cry," she kept saying in Korean. She went back home believing her daughter was disappointed. Moon Ja figured Chae felt abandoned and unloved, and she blamed herself for making that choice alone 33 years ago. She knew the only answer was to have Chae come back to Korea and meet the entire family. She didn't care anymore what kind of shame it brought her.


Rain had begun to fall lightly as Chae and Greg walked down the dark-red brick alley in Seoul. Along the edges, weeds crept unchecked. On each side of Chae and Greg, shoulder-high walls closed off the courtyards that led to modest apartments. It was late, and the only light came from porches, masking their approach.

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7 comments
Jmagg23
Jmagg23

Great job Eric! Reading it brought tears to my eyes! An amazing story involving some amazing people.

Momolovely2000
Momolovely2000

This is the most sad, happy, determined, funny, loving story I have ever heard. Thank god that I am a part of this family:)....

Sister of Greg

tiggyfooo
tiggyfooo

I never really even thought about it like that before dude. Makes sense.www.Total-Privacy dot US

David Gross
David Gross

this is an extremely wonderful story which bring tears to my eyes, I know that my own step sister Kara would love for this to be able to happen for her as she is adopted she is african american and I love her deeply and I know she loves me too it just goes to show that race means nothing when you love the other.

FQS9000
FQS9000

Life is hard and if you are very, very lucky, you find someone who loves you, in spite of all your flaws.

David Gross
David Gross

 There arew many adoptees whose records are sealed and therefore are unable to find out who they really are and who their bith parents were. My sister Kara's records are permanently sealed she has asked for them to be unsealed but the state of Indiana has refused because she does not have "a pressing medical need for them" It is a cruel thing when you are denied being able to find out where you came from and who your bith parents are.

Omniogignes
Omniogignes

It is innate in humans to search for their own personal special life story. It is always marvelous when others have the courage to share their story with others.

 
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