Son

Corina Knoll, who came to America at the age of 2 not knowing how to hug, had feared during her pregnancy that she would see her baby as an outsider. (Christina House / For The Times / July 10, 2012)

I do not know what clothes I was wearing. Whether I'd been left in a cradle or with any note of explanation. I do not know if I cried or lay still. Looked around or slept. Minutes may have gone by. Or hours.

All the official record says is that, at about 2 months old, I was abandoned at the Nambu police station in Busan, South Korea.

Labeled a "foundling," I was taken to a countryside orphanage and given a birth date and a name -- Dong Hee Ahn. It was 1978.

After a year and a half, I was transferred to a foster home in Seoul, where a social worker noted:

Her all action development progress was slower than same aged children due to being cared at orphanage for long.

I discovered that faded, typewritten assessment years after being adopted by an attorney and a real estate agent in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, when I was 2. As a teenager, I would take the papers from my mother's desk drawer without asking and pore over them when the house was quiet.

Stark and awkward in their translation, the words were oddly comforting.

She takes rice and many other side dishes every meal time and especially likes meat, fishes and dislikes radish.... She visits her neighbor friend, gets fear a little with new one. She does simple errands, enjoys playing with toys. She likes bathing, is mild and introvert.

For a while, my adoption case history was enough, proof of an existence not remembered.

But when my son was born in October, the world shifted. Time, money, love -- all now were funneled through the prism of one 8-pound boy. It was as others had warned: Sacrifice and tenderness were only abstract ideas before.

With this new joy, this light, however, came the troublesome image of abandonment: Motherhood had made my early life harder to understand.

I now knew firsthand that you can miss a child who is sleeping, breathing softly, right in the next room. Those descriptions of my early years suddenly seemed lonely and void of affection.

I had been housed, but did not have a home.

Adoptees universally are told their biological parents adored them so much that they offered them up to a better life. It is a nice theory, one that has no trace of ugliness.

But even under the best of circumstances, abandonment leaves wounds.

In the fall of 1980, my new parents drove 250 miles to meet my plane in Chicago. Having adopted a Korean boy two years earlier, they were delighted to receive a girl. After an anxious wait, they finally laid eyes on a girl with wispy, dull hair who wore a red sweat shirt and a frown. They threw their arms around her.

She stood still, vacant. She had not learned how to hug.

"You were just like a doll, your arms only dangled," my mother would tell me later.

Cautious and quiet, I refused at first to engage with my older brother. At age 2, he had been left in front of a children's home in Korea, holding a box of cookies and a piece of paper with his name on it. "Please find a good family for me," it read.