I was lied to death

3 April 2023

Last October, 35-year-old Mia Lee found out that everything she had been told so far about her adoption was a lie. She was lied dead to her biological parents in South Korea and adopted away. In December, she traveled to South Korea and met her parents for the first time. Now she hopes that someone will be held accountable for the lie.

Mia Lee hasn't cried yet. She even had to fight back a tear when she met her biological parents for the first time because she thought it seemed cold if she didn't show a reaction. But she thinks it's due to the shock, which she hasn't had time to process yet. It has all gone so fast.

- I really have a hard time taking it in and understanding it. I think I'm still in this shock phase. I cut myself off a little from feeling it, because it is simply so extreme, says Mia Lee.

In October last year, she found out that everything she had been told so far about her adoption was a lie. She had not been given away voluntarily by her South Korean family, but had been lied to dead and adopted.

- I have always thought that I knew a lot compared to others who are adopted. In my adoption papers there are a lot of things. My Korean name, where I was born, my date of birth and the reason for adoption. Now I know that not much of it is true, she says, leafing through the adoption papers on the table.

Mia Lee is 35 years old and lives in Ringsted with her husband, Philip, and their two boys, Elliot, two, and Matti, seven.

When she was about six months old, she was adopted by a Danish couple. She remembers that it has always been openly talked about that she was adopted, and she also has a younger brother who was adopted from South Korea.

- If we saw a plane in the sky, my mother told me that this was how I had come to Denmark, and she told me about the day they had picked me up at the airport. It was a completely natural story. I also grew up not being the only adoptee. My parents had a couple of friends who had adopted two girls from South Korea, and on our road lived an adopted boy. So I haven't felt physically alone in that way, says Mia Lee.

Her adoptive parents also made it a point to explain to her why she had landed with them. The explanation they had been given, and which can be read in the adoption documents, was that she was born a good three months early. Since her biological parents did not have much money, and Mia Lee was their third girl in the group of siblings, they found it difficult to pay for the treatment she needed as she was born prematurely. Her best option for survival was therefore adoption.

- It says in the papers that my father turned me in. He was gentle and good and did it without a doubt.

Today, Mia Lee knows that is not true. Today she knows that her biological mother went into labor when she was six months into her pregnancy and had to be rushed to the hospital. She was in such excruciating pain that she passed out on the way there, and when she woke up in the hospital bed, she had given birth to Mia Lee. But Mia Lee was stillborn, the staff told the new mother, and they would have to take care of the rest. The same day she was sent home. Mia Lee's grandmother went to the hospital the next day to hand over the dead child, but was met with resistance and scolding for turning up. She too had to go home empty handed.

It was about survival

But Mia Lee was alive, and she has presumably been placed in an incubator without permanent adult contact and had a tube placed where milk was dumped down her throat according to a schedule. Scars on the wrists, ankles and groin also testify that she has been connected to a lot of snakes, and she is blind in one eye.

- I think that the physical part has been taken care of, but that at the time people were not at all aware of how important, among other things, the screening of premature babies is. It has only been about survival, says Mia Lee.

In the past two years, she has been on sick leave from her work as a cook and has been diagnosed with complicated PTSD, which is linked to her adoption, among other things.

- I have a lot of trauma in my baggage. Purely psychologically, there is a lot that I was not at all familiar with. Before I became a mother, she says.

Because it was overwhelming, difficult and with lots of conflicting emotions when Mia Lee became a mother for the first time. Traumas she had no idea lived in her, surfaced, and when she became a mother for the second time it was all greatly amplified.

- Although you always try to prepare for the fact that life will be different when you become a mother, and that it is hard to have a baby, I was still completely knocked over and couldn't contain him at all. The sound of crying made me anxious and stressed, and it's been one of the hardest things I've experienced. Unfortunately, there were no professionals around me who could see what was causing it, so it was just attributed to postpartum depression.

It had some roots elsewhere, Mia Lee knows today.

When she was 18, she became interested in her parentage and joined a network for adoptees from South Korea. It was exciting to hear about others who had found family, and it inspired her to want to find hers. She therefore contacted the adoption center in South Korea, Korea Social Service (KSS), to find out if they had more information, but only after a year did they return with the disappointing message that they had not been able to trace anything from the local authorities. Her biological parents must have provided false information.

However, that did not make her give up, and in 2011 she traveled to South Korea for the first time with her adoptive parents. It was the most amazing experience for Mia Lee, who describes it as a really nice feeling.

- I felt it as a revelation. I could have been here. Physically, I also looked like them and naturally blended in. The clothes fit me and the seats on the bus were the right height so I could reach the floor...all sorts of little details that just made me feel like I fit in.

In advance, she had informed the adoption agency that she would come by when she was in the country, and she hoped that this would help them to do a little extra to find some information. But they simply repeated what they had answered in the email.

Match with cousin

- I was really disappointed and had a hard time accepting it. It couldn't fit that I had so much information on my biological parents and that nothing could be found on them. There was something that felt wrong already there.

In the following years, she tried to find more information herself. She joined adoption networks and other online forums for adoptees, but that slipped into the background when she became a mother to her first child. When she became a mother for the second time, her mind wandered again about the adoption, and she signed up for a DNA register.

- I didn't expect to find my parents, but maybe I had some relatives, and I also got a lot of matches at the beginning, but it was so far out that I was almost more related to my neighbour, smiles Mia Lee.

But then in early 2022, she got a nearly three percent match with a cousin in Texas. Her great-grandfather and Mia Lee's great-grandfather were brothers, and although it was still a long way off, Mia Lee was delighted and the cousin offered to help look for her biological family.

Half a year passed.

Then the cousin wrote that she had found someone who matched the parents' names and who also had two daughters. The cousin's mother contacted Mia's aunt, who relayed a contact to them, but for a long time there was no reaction at all.

Only one very late evening during the autumn holidays, when Mia Lee had just landed in a hotel room in the Harz after a long drive with her family, the cousin sent a text message and wrote that there was a reply from the Korean family. Mia Lee's father wanted to talk to her via video call immediately, in which an aunt and cousin would also participate.

- I almost panicked and couldn't see it through, but at the same time I was also completely happy. My aunt talked quite a lot, my dad didn't say anything but just stared into the camera and I mostly said hello and that it was nice to meet them. It was like seeing myself when I saw my father. Just in an older version, says Mia Lee, who couldn't sleep at all after the short conversation.

Her two sisters, younger brother and mother subsequently texted her that night, and so the contact continued in the weeks that followed, when the truth about her adoption was pieced together.

- My biological parents thought it was a miracle that we found each other and wanted to know everything about me. Was I married, did I have children? What did my husband do? They really wanted me, but at the same time it was also a big shock to them that I had turned up. They have been lied to, and it has awakened a huge sense of injustice in both them and me.

Mia Lee feels that someone needs to take responsibility for what happened to her and an urge for the outside world to know the truth, so in November she contacted a Korean TV station and within a few weeks she was invited to South Korea to appear in a documentary.

Met his parents

The visit took place in December, when the TV crew followed Mia Lee's first meeting with her biological parents, and it was here that she had to fight back a tear when she came face to face with her mother, who began to cry at the sight of his daughter.

- It was all just very overwhelming. Finally I met my roots and they wanted me. They hadn't given me away. It felt foreign and at the same time safe to be with my mother and father. My father patted me on the back and then we measured our hands. They were completely alike, says Mia Lee.

After an intense journey, Mia Lee landed back home with her family in Ringsted. She has planned a new trip to South Korea in April, where she won't have a camera crew behind her, but where she might get to know her origins better. There are still many questions she needs answers to. Who is responsible for it? And who did this to her and her family?

- This should not have happened. And if it has happened to me, there are others out there that it has happened to. Hopefully this is the case in a fraction of adoption cases, so it is not because I believe that all adoptions are done on a false basis. But one should be more curious about whether it is also the truth when a family adopts a child away. You owe it to the child.