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Looking back on life at 51, Dede Kal-Harp from Gilroy, CA—the mother of two Korean half-brothers she adopted while in her 40’s—says she had been “naïve” about her biological clock.
The mental health nurse, with an MA in Social Work, who grew up in Denver, CO, and began her nursing career in her twenties, was on a journey of unexpected “great highs and lows.”
Dealing with them would take most of her inner resilience.
At 22, Kal-Harp had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Hodgkin%27s_lymphoma)—a cancer that attacks the lymphatic system—and endured radiation treatments which, in those days, did not always have today’s success rates.
Fortunately, she was cured, and returned to school in Denver to acquire her BSN and work in mental health nursing. But the ride wasn’t over yet.
By the time she was 27, Dede Kal-Harp had lost her father to congestive heart failure, along with her mother and brother, who had departed to stake out a new life elsewhere.
But the silver lining to those clouds came in 1991 when she was 30, and married her husband Ed.
Unlike many, however, the couple did not consider having children right away—choosing instead to focus on their careers and move to California, where Kal-Harp studied for her MA.
The closest she ever got to having “babies” was the care of her three “rather large Russian wolfhounds” while in her early 30’s.
Children, it seemed, could wait.
Finally, in her early 40s, Kal-Harp tried one course of fertility treatment with Clomid, only to be told that she was pre-menopausal.
“I think it was harder on my husband,” she recalls.
That was when an acquaintance gave the couple the name of an international adoption agency whose program with Korea dated back to the 1950’s.
“I had always thought about adoption somewhere in the back of my mind, and never thought about it as second best.”
The adoption process for their oldest son, Ben, took one year—time the couple used to work through “a myriad of paperwork,” home study and parenting classes.
Dede Kal-Harp made a baby quilt to help pass the time.
On May 6th 2002, the 6-month-old arrived from Korea with an escort. The Kal-Harps were 43 years old.
Two years later, the couple received a call from the adoption agency, asking if they wished to adopt Ben’s half-brother, Gabriel.
But Dede Kal-Harp had her doubts.
“I think my age, energy level and whether could I love a second as much as the first, were all issues for me,” she says.
But, in the end, she flew to Korea herself to pick up Gabriel on October 21st, 2004, missing Ben’s third birthday.
“The boys have very different personalities and their adjustments were different,” admits Kal-Harp, who adds that both were in foster care in Korea.
Ben had suffered night terrors when he first arrived—which put the new mother in a state of “shock” for the first week—and Gabriel was “pretty unhappy” during the first year.
The healing came when the two biological half-brothers bonded with each other, and with their adoptive parents.
Regarding becoming an adoptive mother in her forties, Dede Kal-Harp has ‘taken her lumps’ like the rest of us.
“I think in the beginning, I was less secure as a mom,” she says.
“I do think I am treated differently—I got stupid questions and rude comments, and I have often been asked if I am their grandmother.”
However, now in her 50’s, Kal-Harp’s plans for her boys remain steadfast, despite what others may think or say.
“My plans for the future are to raise the best human beings I can—who are proud to be Korean and American—and for our whole family to have a relationship with their birth family someday.”
Notes for this blog:
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