Against the odds, a daughter reunites with her mother, a hemisphere away
Mar 16, 2020 02:05PM
By Shaun Delliskave
Carrie Pace (left) found her Korean birth mother (right) after 40 years. (Photo courtesy Carrie Pace)
By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]
They wondered what had become of one another after an unwed mother in South Korea gave her daughter up for adoption over four decades ago. The baby was adopted by the Cook family of Murray and grew up to work for a criminal defense law firm and have three kids of her own.
That daughter, Carrie Pace, made it her mission to reunite with her birth mother after visiting South Korea in October 2016. Now, after an unbelievable quest and a few miracles, Pace has reunited with her mother.
“I visited Korea for the first time since my birth. Being in my birthplace, in Seoul, for the first time, I was overwhelmed with love for the culture, the people, the food, the language—all that I had lost most of my life,” Pace said. “I was most overwhelmed longing for answers. After that trip, I immediately got on my laptop and started the search of a lifetime—I started searching for my birth mother.”
Korean culture in the 1970s frowned on unwed mothers. Women could face being eschewed or ostracized in society with little hope of a good life for the mother or the daughter.
“My birth mother was 22 years old when she was pregnant with me. She was young, and she was not married. In South Korea, that goes against their culture. It is basically cultural dishonor,” Pace said. “The midwife at the hospital I was born at arranged my adoption. My birth mother said she heard me crying all night and it was the most painful sound she had ever heard. She said there are not enough tears for the guilt she has felt.”
Pace found navigating the South Korean bureaucracy intimidating, with strict privacy laws. On top of that, Pace does not speak Korean. Her law experience helped in researching the rules and regulations regarding Korean privacy rights.
“The language barrier was tough; they didn’t even want to speak to me if I could not speak Korean. I had to learn the alphabet to be able to read my birth mother’s name to scan documents, but her name was always crossed out due to their privacy laws,” Pace said.
Pace made two more trips to Korea and enlisted the help of two organizations. She had been in contact with the Korean police for almost two years, but their search was unsuccessful. After nearly giving up, she decided to keep digging and eventually was able to retrieve her birth mother’s age, hometown, and, ultimately, her name.
“In December 2019, my Korean mentor was in Korea and traveled to my birth mother’s hometown and talked to residents and passed out a paper with her information. By a miracle, he ran right into my grandfather,” Pace said.
Then January of this year, Pace received a phone call from Korea; it was her mother.
“I thought I was going to faint or throw up. Instead, I burst into tears. We conferenced my friend to translate the call. My mother and I spoke through a translator for about a half hour. My hands were shaking so bad I could not even hold a pen to write anything down,” Pace said. “I barely remember that conversation today because I was in shock. My mother was very calm and collected over the phone. I remember her voice sounded like mine.”
On Feb. 20, Pace boarded a plane for San Francisco. Her mother, who had never been on an airplane before, also boarded a plane in Korea, bound for San Francisco, for a reunion many years in the making.
“Sometimes I feel like she dropped from the sky and landed into my life; sometimes I feel like she has always been with me. My mother calls me Princess and already says she loves me. My search is over, and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to say that. This has been the greatest achievement of my life,” Pace said.