Grand scheme of adopting: Getting in front of the adoption line

Cheyenne Ellis/AP (Courtesy Chicago Tribune)

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Tribune
November 20, 2011

A couple years ago, actress Katherine Heigl and her husband, Josh Kelley, adopted an adorable little baby girl from South Korea. No one would deny that they didn’t deserve to be parents. But what some folks—myself included—found curious was that they had been married for less than two years when they were matched with their child.

What’s that you say? Who cares? Well, Korea cares, actually. One of the requirements for foreigners to adopt Korean children is that they have to be heterosexuals who have been married for at last three years.

I know this for a fact, because when my husband and I had started our adoption process—with the same agency that Heigl used—we were told that we would not be able to adopt from Korea because (1) we hadn’t been married long enough and (2) by the time we had been married long enough, we’d be too old to adopt from Korea.

OK, not we. Me. I’d be too old. That agency’s cutoff age was 43. (Damn. Now ya’ll know I’m older than 43.)

I pointed out to the agency that I was born in Korea, spoke the language and would be able to raise the child with a sense of his or her birth culture. So perhaps Korea might make an exception. She told me, “None of that matters. You won’t be able to adopt.”

Thank goodness we didn’t give up.  With a minimal amount of research, I found out that this woman wasn’t telling the complete truth. Whether it was because she didn’t know any better or just didn’t care enough is debatable. But we learned that Korea offered a little more leeway for adoptive parents of Korean heritage.

By the time we had fulfilled the 3-year marriage requirement, we got cracking. After all, we weren’t getting any younger. Especially me. Through a work contact’s cousin, who was married to a reporter who was working in Seoul at the time, who had just covered a press conference about adoption, I found Steve Morrison. Morrison is this awesome adoptee who founded Mission to Promote Adoption in Korea (MPAK). He put me in touch with another adoption agency. This agency ultimately worked with us so that we could adopt the cutest, smartest and most awesome baby boy in the world. And yes, that, too, is a fact. (It really is.)

This is a long-winded way of backing into a peeve of mine. I find it really irritating when you are accused of being unsupportive if you happen to disagree with someone else’s opinion. On a public adoption bulletin board, I–along with some other adoptive parents—wondered how Heigl and her husband had been able to circumvent the marriage requirement. Not that I fault them for jumping at the opportunity to bring home their child sooner rather than later. But why were they given special treatment?



Several of us mused that perhaps, maybe just perhaps, Heigl’s celebrity status had something to do with getting to jump to the front of the line. Yes, the child had a health issue (that has been rectified). But the same could be said for the child we would’ve adopted through that agency. Heigl also has a sister, who was adopted from Korea, so maybe that gave her an advantage. Who really knows?

But I found it surprising that there were quite a few posters who took our questioning the system to mean that we hated Heigl and were just downright bitter. One woman (though I suppose it could’ve been a man) posted: “Unless you know her it’s lame to say she has special treatment.”

Oh, I’m sorry. Because we all know that celebrities never receive special treatment. Ever.

Another said she was new to the forum and was disappointed at how mean some people were. To tell you the truth, that just made me want to kick her while wearing my pointiest shoes.

I could make some snarky assumptions as to why Heigl might receive special treatment. But the end result is that an orphan found loving parents in Heigl and her hubby. And for that I’m grateful.

I’m even more grateful that things worked out the way they did for us. Because if that first agency hadn’t given us erroneous information that delayed our process, we would have been matched with a different child.

I don’t believe that things happen for a reason. Or that things were meant to be. I don’t believe much in fate, either.

But I can’t imagine life without my beautiful son. I’m sure that’s a sentiment that Heigl and I share about our children.

For what it’s worth, I had wanted to get Heigl’s take for this piece, but her publicist declined the interview request. Fair enough. She’s a busy lady.

And because I tend to get angry emails when I write articles that aren’t 100% glowing about celebrities, let me just say: Yes, I’m fully aware that Heigl is prettier, younger, thinner and infinitely wealthier than me. But… My husband is smoking hot and I think that’s a pretty fair equalizer in the grand scheme of things.

Copyright © 2011 Jae-Ha Kim | All Rights Reserved


* Per requests, I have added some of the reader comments from the Trib’s site, exactly as they appeared at

Comments (29)

  1. Michbar2468 says:

    It is always good for children who need it to find a loving home. Let’s expand the question beyond Korea. You don’t have to look overeas unless you want to. Personally I feel if one country treats you unfairly go somewhere else. My wife and I were told we were ineligible to adopt “normal” children domestically. Only “special-needs” children were supposedly available to us. Why “special-needs” children shouldn’t have the same protections, I don’t know. We were about to look into the very expensive international adoption option, when we found out that there were more than enough children in the U.S. who needed good homes. Within a month we found a wonderful baby girl nearby. I think our timing was fortunate. Since the court had designated her “abandoned,” all fees were waived. After a few months of supervised visits (home visits by the social worker) and having her live at our home, we were able to have full custody of her. When the social worker was convinced we were treating our new daughter well, she stopped looking in on us. After a year the adoption was complete. The standards were rigorous but efficiently executed. After nearly 18 years our adopted daughter has blessed both us and her sister. While we have always known she is adopted, we haven’t thought of her as anything other than our daughter since the beginning.

  2. Lilith says:

    Sorry, you’ve lost me. What does that mean?

  3. Susan Morgan says:

    You wrote a terrific article. I agree with everything you said……and yes, celebrities do get special treatment. Sad, but true.
    Congratulations on your little boy……..(I DO believe things happen for a reason!)
    Susan Morgan
    Winnetka, Il.

  4. John Harrold says:

    It never ceases to amaze me how twisted some of the people are who post comments on the Internet. I have even been blasted by people after agreeing with them about an issue!
    On the other hand, I think that their posting on the Internet is a good thing, if it is keeping them sequestered indoors.
    “I don’t believe that things happen for a reason. Or that things were meant to be. I don’t believe much in fate, either.”
    Really? Another good reason to be a fan of yours.

  5. I really enjoyed your article.
    I’m sure that most of us are aware of the special treatment given to celebrities, but *gasp* you actually addressed the issue in a valid and appropriate manner! 
    I am happy that you have a wonderful son who will have the advantage of knowing his own ancestral culture and clearly has the love of a wonderful and brilliant mom.

  6. Carolyn Howard  says:

    Jae-Ha. I read with interest your article re: adoption. I can understand your question in article in today’s Tribune. Let me add, however, that back in the early 70’s, we tried to adopt a child but were turned away by all agencies in the Chicago area because we already had a natural child. However, no 2nd child occurred. So, we were forced into a private adoption scenario. That worked and we have a wonderful (now 40) son. Foreign adoptions were almost unheard of.
    I simply want you to be aware that issues concerning adopting a child happened way back when. It was very disappointing to be turned away just because we had one natural child and wanted another.

  7. prairiepucker says:

    “I could make some snarky assumptions as to why Heigl might receive special treatment. ”
    Making a few snarky assumptions would have been an improvement over the thinly veiled snarky tone of the entire article. Gee, whine much? Who wants to read a half page of sarcasm and bitterness? Yeah, snarky and bitter, despite the author’s protestations to the contrary. The only thing the author succeeded in is diminishing herself. Is the Trib this desperate to fill column-inches?

    • Bob Johnson says:

      You obviously haven’t dealt with the beauracracy of adoption. This piece doesn’t delve into the endless details that non-celebrities have to deal with. Check out the various adoption forums and you’ll see that most adopting families aren’t snarky or sarcastic, they are pissed off and fed up at a system that claims to have standards and procedures but then waves them aside as they become star-struck.

    • selfenchanted says:

      Prairie, you sound pretty darn starstruck, too. Admit it.

  8. Chris Pardu  says:

    Nice article. Of course Heigl and Josh Kelly received favorable treatment, just like other celebrities who adopt. They had been married for LESS than two years when their daughter was escorted to them in the U.S. They didn’t even bother to travel to Korea to bring their baby home. But hopefully celebrities adopting will bring awareness to adoption and that is a good thing.

  9. FokkerDVII  says:

    I think you’re right to question what happened and I applaud your whole take on this. I thiink the criticism of you is wholly warranted but typical of the sort of small mindedness out there. Congratulations on your happy ending!

  10. goodmanbt  says:

    We are adopting our second child from South Korea and I must say the the process in general has been much more frustrating and difficult the second time around. The government in Seoul has a goal to limit internaltional adoption by more than 10% each year and as a result are putting a greater burden on: the wonderful Foster Families who care for the children; the system as a whole with longer delays; and increased wait for families like ours. We are simply told it is about cultural pride and we can only accept monthly updates of our placement of a boy who was born in July, 2010. Forget the celebrities, the government seems to be the biggest hurdle and they do not seem to be thinking about the children or their citizens who Foster children. If you learn anymore about the process and issues, please share! And congrats on your wonderful child!

  11. Lois2072 says:

    Thanks for sharing your perspective. It’s important to remember that different adoption agencies have different requirements and some will fit you better than others. The whole adoption process can be incredibly infuriating and heartbreaking. But when you bring that child home, you forget all about that (almost!). It’s kind of like going through labor. You swear up and down that you’re never going to do it again, but you do. To the previous poster who criticized the writer for being snarky and bitter, what are you talking about? I didn’t get that at all. Sarcastic at times, yes, which I appreciate. But bitter? There’s no bitterness in pointing out the facts. Anyways congratulations on your adoption and take care of that little boy of yours. I hope you save this article for him.

  12. Adam Pertman says:

    Just wanted to say two things: 1). very nicely done and 2). i think it’s not celebrities but people of prominence/power/money generally who get to the head of the line more quickly (though I obviously don’t know Heigl’s story in this regard). We just happen to learn what celebrities do because cameras follow them around. Oh, and one more thing 3). You are a very good writer.
    Adam Pertman, Executive Director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute and author of “Adoption Nation.”

  13. selfenchanted says:

    Isn’t it true that KH prefers to adopt rather than go through a pregnancy? Talk about “too posh to push”.
    It’s true that she wanted to adopt a Korean child because she personally knew a person or two from that country who ended up being inspiring to her.

  14. Pat R says:

    where can i find a pic of your husband?

  15. Dixon says:

    I wrote a long piece about how I didn’t care for your article, but decided it was too mean to submit, so I back-spaced it. The name is an alias, the e-mail address is a fake, but my feelings stand.

    • Sammy says:

      What’s the point of your comment? You say you didn’t like the article. Why? The facts? The tone? The subject? Heigl? Kim? The singer husband? Why? All you’ve done is admit that you’re a spineless and have too much time on your hands.

  16. Mary says:

    I wanted to let you know I loved your story in last Sunday’s Perspective section of the paper.
    My husband and I are in the process of determining if we might pursue adoption as a way to expand our family. My nephew was adopted from Vietnam 10+ years ago and I had always thought if I adopted I would like to adopt a Vietnamese or Asian child because we’ve incorporated some of these traditions into our annual family celebrations. I knew that Vietnam was now closed to international adoption, but then realized how much harder it’s gotten to adopt internationally in general. I am now 41 (older than my husband) and we’re just shy of being married three years. In any event, I related so much to your article that I wanted to let you know.
    Thanks for sharing!

  17. Cherry says:

    I love your writing, your sense of humor, and just your overall attitude. I honestly don’t see how anyone could say you were attacking Heigl. Please.

    PS You do not look over 40!

  18. Anonymous says:

    I believe I read somewhere that the baby Katherine Heigl and her husband adopted was “special needs” (which in the context of international adoption could mean lots of different things, including something as simple as premature birth). I know China and some other countries have fewer requirements for parents adopting special needs babies – is it possible that this is true for Korea also and might explain why they qualified faster?

  19. I am SO GLAD you were able to adopt from Korea. What a crime that would have been. That said, my husband who is Filipino and I encountered the same age limit in the Philipines so we wound up adopting a Jamaican-Canadian child locally! The world works in mysterious ways. And, of course, we could not be happier. *sigh*

  20. I am SO GLAD you were able to adopt from Korea. What a crime that would have been. That said, my husband who is Filipino and I encountered the same age limit in the Philipines so we wound up adopting a Jamaican-Canadian child locally! The world works in mysterious ways. And, of course, we could not be happier. *sigh*

  21. Jennifer says:

    I just read one of your article entitled “grand scheme of adopting” in the Chicago Tribune and I honestly felt as though you wrote that article for me!
    I too am Korean, older than 43 and wanting desperately to adopt a baby from Korea (I’ll be 45 this August). My husband and I have been looking into adoption agencies in Chicago and all of them state that I am too old to adopt from Korea.
    For the last two years, my husband and I have been saving money to finally fulfill our dream of adoption– to adopt a baby from Korea and give her/he a loving home. And the news that I can’t adopt because of my age has been pretty devastating. But thanks to you, I found some HOPE again… a new sense of energy again to not give in and not give up.
    Jae Ha, I realize you are busy being a journalist, a mom, and a wife but I could really use your help. Your help to navagate through this confusing and progressively slow adoption process.
    1) Can you possibly tell me what agency you worked with to ultimately adopt Kyle? 2) Any other adotpion agencies that you would recommend? 3) Do you have a contact information for Steve Morrison other than through
    Again, any advice you can provide would be so greatly appreciated.
    Thank you so much and look forward to hearing from you soon.

  22. Kolar Millis says:

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