International adoptions take time. Yet, the process rewards both parents and children willing to exhibit patience and who very much wish to be united together.
This is certainly the case for the Martin family that now includes two-year-old Han.
In the summer of 2019, on the phone with their adoption coordinator, Brandon and Kelsea Martin learned they were matched with an infant boy from Seoul, Korea. About a year later, they received approval for Han to join their family.
This was exciting news for Kelsea and Brandon who live in the small town of Thayer, Missouri. Brandon works in sales and logistics here at Real Wood Floors while Kelsea, a high school English teacher, is taking some time off to stay at home and raise their son.
Quarantine in Korea.
In the midst of the pandemic in August of 2020, the Martins flew to South Korea, a country under strict quarantine. Brandon remarked, “We were met with people in Hazmat suits, and they made us download apps on our devices where we had to check in once a day with our temperature and how we were feeling.”
At the airport the Martins were shuttled away in a van and then promptly quarantined for two weeks within the confines of a 200-square-foot room where they watched a lot of TV and read plenty of books. In the bustling city, just outside their window, construction sounds bellowed and seemed to go on nonstop.
Yet despite all of this, Brandon and Kelsea kept an upbeat spirit because they knew they had arrived in Seoul, Korea, not only the same country but also the same city as Han. Just days before, they had been 6,732 miles away from their soon-to-be son.
After their two-week quarantine, the Martins were released and spent the weekend exploring the city, visiting restaurants, seeing local palaces and learning more about Han’s cultural roots while eager to meet Han for the first time.
Three days out of quarantine, Brandon and Kelsea arrived at a designated location where they were to wait for Han. While sitting on a couch, they tried to occupy themselves - until eventually they saw Han’s foster mother scooting him inside the doorway where they were seated. Han’s little head peaked around, and he wore a big smile, but then just as quickly as he surfaced, he whipped back around and out of site.
The Martins were very appreciative of the foster mom who helped ease the transition that day, and the initially standoffish Han started to warm up. “And there were snacks,” Kelsea and Brandon said, “that helped.” The room had toys and a slide, and they all played peek-a-boo, which led to Han letting out one of his soon-to-be-known and soon-to-be-cherished belly laughs.
The following day, the Martins had their second visit with Han, and they said they couldn’t get over those expressive eyebrows of his! This time, it only took about five minutes before he was engaged and ready to play–which meant, ready to climb and ready to seek out snacks!
Typically, in an international adoption process, the parents spend a total of two weeks in-country; however, the Martins spent seven weeks in Seoul because of the pandemic.
Yet, as we heard throughout our interview, the Martins met the challenge with resilience. Kelsea said, “In the two weeks of quarantine, we got to completely adjust to the time zone. Getting the opportunity to be in-country and experience Han’s birth culture was not something we would have gotten otherwise. So, it was lucky, and I’m glad we were able to adopt him at this time.”
Following their court date, the Martins knew it would be about a month before the adoption would be official, so they spent more time exploring the city, including Olympic Park (constructed for the 1988 Olympic games) which became one of their favorite spots.
After the long wait, the Martins were overjoyed when they finally got custody of Han, and then they spent five more days in country. Kelsea said, “We loved being in Seoul, but by that time we were really ready to come home and be in an environment that we were more familiar with.” They also knew that Han would have an adjustment, and they were ready for him to begin his transition.
During those last few days in Seoul, the Martins were mindful they couldn’t get sick because that would prolong their stay, so they remained at their hotel as much as possible though they did take some outings with Han. Brandon commented that during that time, it was great to get to know Han better. At one point in their hotel room, Kelsea and Brandon cranked up the theme song to the animated TV cartoon series, Pororo the Little Penguin. Brandon recalled, “Han got down in the floor and started giving it all he had. He was dancing and smiling and laughing.” To learn intimate things like that about their new son on his home turf was very special.
Challenges at home.
For international adoptive parents, jet lag is a genuine foe when returning home. The Martins confessed they weren’t prepared for the level of exhaustion when they got back to the Ozarks. Han, not yet two years old, needed their attention, but he was having trouble sleeping as well. In those first two weeks, no one in the new family was operating on more than three hours of sleep a night.
Also, communication of course was a challenge. Thankfully, Han had a picture book he could use to indicate things he wanted. He could point to certain foods, like bananas or apples, when he was hungry. In addition to these challenges, the Martins made some priority shifts. Previously they enjoyed staying up late, but they wanted to get on Han’s schedule, so they changed their nightly routine. Brandon joked, “We both used to be night owls, and now we go to bed at 7:30.”
In addition to respecting Han’s sleep schedule, they also showed respect for his birth culture. When Han first arrived home with the Martins, he wasn’t totally receptive to things Korean—he didn’t want to eat rice or talk in his native language. Instead, he wanted to eat chicken, pizza and French fries. With time, Han has become more amenable, and the Martins established a family tradition of celebrating the Korean Lunar Year. Though Han was reticent to wear his hanbok, traditional Korean clothing, they still celebrated the holiday and had a good time. While in Seoul, the Martins brought back and hung some Korean artwork as a reminder that his culture is important to their family.
You can always learn more.
We always like to ask our guests about resources for adoptive parents. On the other side of adoption, the Martins recommend the book, The Connected Parent, by Lisa Qualls and Dr. Karyn Purvis. It takes the information from their previous book, The Connected Child, and puts the concepts into practical terms.
Two other important resources can be easily found. Kelsea remarked that potential adoptive parents should speak to adult adoptees if possible and really listen to them. They can relate their experiences as young people which can improve your parenting. Chatting with other adoptive parents is wise because they can give you particulars, and most often they are eager to help. Like you, they are interested in the best for adoptive children. From them, you can discover what is actually normal, and not hypothetical. And always be open. Kelsea said, “No matter how many books you read or how many people you talk to, you are never going to know everything. Even when you bring your child home, you can always learn more.”
It’s been a lot of fun to walk with the Martin family through their adoption journey.
In case you missed it, we featured Brandon and Kelsea in 2 previous blogs as they discussed the process they were going through prior to traveling to pick up their son Han. You can find those entries here and here.