In desperation, Lim Soo Ja gave away her children six years ago. Now she desperately wants them back.
In 1982, the abandoned wife and mother says she turned to the elders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Seoul to find temporary care for her two children. South Korea has no public-welfare system to help poor single women with children.But her action began what to Soo Ja was a six-year nightmare that may never end. Instead of finding a temporary solution, the church steered Soo Ja to an adoption agency specializing in U.S. placements.
Her 10-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son became two of the more than 6,000 children a year permanently adopted in the United States. South Korea is the biggest source of foreign orphans for adoptive U.S. couples.
Soo Ja insists now that she agreed only to temporary care in the United States. The church says she abandoned her children for good.
Now married to an American college professor in Seoul, Soo Ja Burnham decided to buck the system and get her children back.
Her circumstances are unusual, but the pressures that produced her dilemma are similar for each South Korean mother who must decide to keep or give up her child.
Women's liberation is in its infancy in South Korea, a strongly Confucian society where men hold the positions of power and obedience to authority is a cultural demand.
Most South Korean women still move into their husband's family home after marriage and, until recently, husbands won custody battles because the children carried their family names.
Widowed or divorced women often give up their children for adoption, social workers say, because chances of remarriage are worse with children.
So it was natural, Soo Ja said, that she put her family's fate into the hands of the only man who would help them: her Mormon social worker, Park Jeh-am.
"At the time, I didn't know what adoption was," she said with a sad smile. "I thought it was impossible to give away your children."
But the church arranged through an adoption agency for an LDS couple from Sandy, Utah, to adopt her daughter, Lim Hyeon Joo, and son, Lim Hee Joon.
In 1987, after her marriage to Larry Burnham, Soo Ja decided she could care for her children again. She said she then saw for the first time the official paper that gave her "irrevocable consent" for the adoption.
At the bottom was her "tojang" - a personal seal, more official than a signature, used by South Koreans for stamping official documents. Soo Ja insists she never stamped the paper, claiming social worker Park used her seal to stamp it.
Richard Rife, legal counsel for LDS Church in Korea, said Park took Soo Ja to an adoption agency and explained she was "giving up her rights forever."
"I wish I knew what the truth was," he said.
Larry and Soo Ja Burnham contacted Roy and Jean Reynolds in Utah and explained the problem, saying they wanted the children back. According to letters, the Reynolds first rejected the idea.
"My wife was given to know that we would receive these particular children - and that they were to be part of our eternal family - nine months before they actually arrived in America," Roy Reynolds wrote.
Soo Ja is a committed LDS Church member who hesitated to oppose a member of her church. But the Burnhams continued to press their case.
Finally the Reynoldses asked the children.
The boy, now a 12-year-old named John, decided to go back to his mother. But 16-year-old Rose decided to stay in Utah.
For Soo Ja, the struggle is not over. The Reynoldses will not allow her to nullify the adoption, so her boy will only be a visitor in Korea, still officially the Reynoldses son. Soo Ja hopes her daughter will decide to return to her mother's home when she turns 18.