Life Site News: ‘Girl with a Korean mom thought she was adopted. The truth was more unsettling.’
By Kirsten Anderson
June 25, 2014
CULPEPER, VA — Jessica Kern was sixteen the day she found the missing puzzle piece that finally made her life make sense.
Growing up, Kern, now 30, had always suspected something wasn’t right about her household. It was more than just the emotional and physical abuse she suffered at the hands of her parents. It was a deep and unsettling feeling that somehow, she didn’t really belong.
Kern grew up in an interracial home – her father was white; her mother, South Korean. Kern was raised as a half-Korean girl, attending Korean school on the weekends and her mother’s Korean church. But the mirror told a different story. Her appearance lacked even a trace of Asian ancestry. At times, she wondered if she’d been adopted.
The truth turned out to be much more complicated than that. At sixteen, a therapist she was seeing to help her deal with her parents’ abuse shared something hidden deep within her medical records: Kern was the product of a surrogacy arrangement. The woman who had raised her from birth was not, in fact, her biological mother.
In a single moment, a simple four-sentence statement buried in a doctor’s notes gave Kern an answer to the question that had been in the back of her mind all her life – but simultaneously presented a lifetime’s worth of additional questions that may never fully be answered.
“I think it’s wrong. It really is the buying and selling of babies, and the commodification of women’s bodies.”
When LifeSiteNews interviewed Kern last Friday, she had just returned from a whirlwind press tour to New York City and Washington, D.C., where she was promoting Breeders, a documentary about surrogacy produced by Jennifer Lahl of the Center for Bioethics and Culture, whose previous film credits include Eggsploitation and Anonymous Father’s Day.
Kern said she agreed to be part of the documentary because she felt like there was a very important voice missing from the ongoing cultural debate over surrogacy: the voices of the children themselves.
“I think it’s wrong,” Kern told LifeSiteNews. “It really is the buying and selling of babies, and the commodification of women’s bodies.”
“There’s a huge difference between the adoption world and the donor-conceived world,” Kern added. “[The] institution [of adoption] was not … created for the parents, to give them a kid. It was created for the opposite, to put children in a home, because they’re here already and we’re responding to a catastrophe.”
On the contrary, Kern says, “Donor-conceived [children], we’re creating them with the intent of separating them from their biology, and you know … it’s vastly different.”
Kern’s own story, in her view, is a perfect example of what can go wrong when science and the culture of entitlement meet – pitting the selfish desires of adults against the ultimate well-being of children.
In 1983, Kern’s mother wanted a child, but found herself infertile. She had just undergone a new, radical treatment for cancer that had put her into remission, but doctors still gave her only a five percent chance of surviving the next five years. That made adoption an impossibility – no responsible agency would place a child in such a high-risk situation.
“I don’t believe they would have [passed a home study for adoption],” Kern told LifeSiteNews. Aside from her adoptive mother’s cancer, “I don’t think she would have passed the psychological testing,” she added. “Also, my dad was 46 and had a family history of all the men dying in their early 50s. Adoption wouldn’t have touched that.”
Surrogacy, being comparatively unregulated, offered Kern’s parents a loophole. The practice was still unusual in the 1980s and not widely available, so the Virginia-based couple traveled to Michigan to make arrangements with a surrogacy agency. They never told anyone else what they were doing. Throughout the surrogate’s pregnancy, Kern’s adoptive mother wore pregnancy prostheses of increasing size in order to fool friends and family into thinking she was the one having the baby. When Kern’s biological mother went into labor three weeks early, “they were at a cocktail party,” Kern said. “The next day, she had to explain how she suddenly had a baby.”
The early delivery turned out to be a stroke of luck for Kern’s parents, if perhaps not for Kern herself. Several weeks before, Kern’s biological mother had mentioned the surrogacy arrangement to her doctor at a routine appointment. Out of concern for the well-being of her unborn child, the doctor called social services. A social worker was supposed to be present at the birth in order to interview Kern’s father and his wife, but on the advice of an attorney, the couple fled the state with the baby before social services could intervene.
Today, Kern is outspoken in her opposition to all donor conception, including surrogacy, egg donation, and sperm donation. In fact, she strongly objects to the use of the term “donation” at all. “It’s not donation if you get a huge check at the end,” she told LifeSiteNews. “It’s selling babies. … If you’re a sperm donor or an egg donor, you’re not selling your sperm, you’re not selling an egg, you’re selling your child.”
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