212 The 37-Year Odyssey of Courage, Love, and Forgiveness – Kelly Fern

What You Will Hear:

  • Adopted from Korea, Switched by Accident… The Beginning of Kelly’s Story;
  • A father's love lived in the memory of an adopted child;
  • Life CAN come in full circle – understand the meaning of her struggles;
  • Putting her own baby up for adoption..;
  • The power of love an forgiveness in this touching story.

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More about our featured guest

Taken from her family in her native Korea, she was adopted out and switched with another baby bound for America. Struggling through her own life challenges, she found herself pregnant as a teenager and made the courageous choice to put her own child up for adoption.

Our guest, Kelly Fern, recounts a remarkable story that took thirty-seven years to complete. In that span, she learned about the meaning behind the struggle, the grace of forgiveness, a father's undying love, and the strength that comes from true healing.


Read Kelly's incredible memoir – Songs of my Families

Full Transcript

[00:02] Joel: Welcome to ReLaunch, the best show you will ever hear for career changers, difference makers, and those with a dream. Okay, joining us on the show today, author Kelly Fern and her incredible book, “Songs of My Families,” tells a tale of a 37-year journey from Korea to America, and then back again. And Pei, I was in tears just reading the back of the book cover to this book. And in “Songs of My Families”, she talks about how two generations of women were forced to make painful choices as they were dealing with their own economic realities and their own personal crisis, and I'm just excited to hear her version firsthand of what happened in that whole journey. Kelly, welcome to ReLaunch.

[00:59] Kelly Fern: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

[01:01] Joel: Yeah. It's a pleasure to have you on, and we are excited to learn a little bit more about the story. And you've been through a lot of launches and a lot of relaunches in your life and you do a beautiful job laying those out in your book so where do we need to start the story? Do we need to start it when you were five years old and you were taken from your family or is there another place where we would… You'd rather us begin?

[01:31] KF: Well, you know what? That's a very significant thing when I was five years old before leaving my family because I had a lot of memories that I just held on that actually carried me through many of my experiences in life that might not been so happy. And it really did help me with perseverance and resilience, and hard work.

[01:59] Joel: So if I… So you were… Okay, you were originally born in Korea.

[02:03] KF: Yes.

[02:03] Joel: Okay. So at five years old, what happened?

[02:07] KF: Well, when I was born in Korea… First of all, we were very, very poor and it was after the Korean war and Korea was a very poor country at the time. And so my family, there were nine of us living in a single small room, nine by 12 room, and…

[02:24] Pei: Is this North or South Korea?

[02:27] KF: Oh, this was South Korea, South Korea. And so, we were just lucky enough to have one meal a day. And so, at that point my parents had to make a very difficult decision, they had to give up one of their children. And my father was in a coma so my mother had to make the choice herself and I was the youngest daughter so there was even…

[02:48] Joel: Your father was in a coma.

[02:49] KF: Yes, he even was in a coma.

[02:51] Joel: So was your father injured in the war? Was it some…

[02:57] KF: Yes.

[02:57] Joel: Okay, okay.

[02:57] KF: Yeah, he was shot seven times I guess and then he kept getting thrown back in the front line. So he would go in and out of kind of like a comatose state because it was too much for him, the PTSD.

[03:08] Joel: I got it. Sure, of course.

[03:10] Pei: Was he living at home? Do you remember that?

[03:12] KF: Yes, I do. I remember he was home a lot. My mother was the one that was out in the fields working most of the time. And so, I got very close to my father.

[03:21] Pei: Wow.

[03:22] Joel: Sure, wow.

[03:22] Pei: So when you say your mom was working the fields, you're talking about the farming?

[03:28] KF: Yes, yeah. We had a plot that we rented and then we grew vegetables. And so, she was working actually most of the time so I really don't have any memories of her because of this.

[03:41] Pei: And what was your memory of your dad?

[03:44] KF: My memories of my dad where really quite wonderful. He loved me very, very much and I can… I remember the feelings that I felt when I was with him which was I felt very loved and I felt special that he would take extra time out just to be… Do things with me, take me on a bike ride. One of those memories I have of him which is a very good memory, he cut a head off a chicken. And the chicken was running around and I was just fascinated but I was also very excited because we were going to have chicken that evening.


[04:21] Joel: So that had to be a very difficult decision for your family, obviously it was. So they had to give up one of their kids. So you went to an orphanage in Korea and then you went to America with your adoptive family or…

[04:34] KF: Yes, I went to America with my adoptive family. And the thing about when I was on the airplane, there was a flight attendant that switched me with another little girl by accident. Took our sweaters off, put the wrong sweaters back on. And the only way they could identify us at that time was with a little ID tag. And the ID tag was now no longer my name, so I went to a different family, I went to a different city to live in, my name was changed to a different name. So she really did, she profoundly changed my destiny in who I would become.

[05:05] Pei: How did you even know that happened? I mean…


[05:11] KF: Because at the time, my best friend in the orphanage was waiting to be reunited with her sister and so, I knew when I went to the house that I was reunited with her sister, and we had been sitting on the airplane together. And I knew her sister who was a baby, and they sent the babies ahead of time. And so I knew that I was at the wrong house right away.

[05:33] Pei: And I guess, when you arrived in that family, when you found out right away that's not the family, but… Did you speak English? Did you tell them that happened?

[05:46] KF: I tried telling them but I spoke absolutely no English and they spoke no Korean. And so, it took awhile and finally my adopted mother looked at the pictures because she thought this kid is really big compared to what they said and she doesn't look the same, and she realized, “This is not the child that we were supposed to get.”

[06:03] Joel: Okay, so what happened there? That is… That is… Yeah, I can't even imagine that.

[06:09] KF: Well, it's really funny, because then, once she realized it and they contacted the agency, they tried to switch everything back around, but the other family was very upset because they had grown so attached to the other girl.

[06:20] Pei: Yeah.

[06:21] Joel: Well sure, of course, yeah.

[06:22] KF: So, it became kind of a… We were gonna go to court, and they were gonna fight and at the end, the other family said, “Listen, this has been so hard for us, there's no reason that we should take that other little girl away from you, because this is so hard for us to give away this little girl.” But she had a reason, to be sisters and reunited, so I ended up being sisters with my best friend.

[06:46] Joel: You ended up being sisters with your best… Okay, gotcha.

[06:50] KF: From the orphanage, yes.

[06:51] Joel: Yeah, yeah. Unbelievable, okay, okay. Kelly, wow, what a tremendous story. And there's no way we can fully get your story worked into this quick show, so if you'll just bear with us and fast forward a little bit. So, you grew up in America, in an adoptive family, in a family that wasn't really supposed to be your adoptive family, but turned out to be. And then later in life, and I'm kind of fast forwarding here, you actually ended up giving away your child for adoption, so can you fast forward to that part?

[07:31] KF: Yeah, sure. I did go through a lot of difficult times while I was growing up being adopted. And so, when I got pregnant at 18, I knew that I wasn't ready to be a mom…

[07:43] Joel: Was it a family… Was it a family out… Yeah, it was a family outside your race, 'cause they didn't speak Korean, okay, gotcha.

[07:48] KF: Yes, yes, yep.

[07:49] Joel: Okay.

[07:50] KF: And so, I knew that I wasn't going to be prepared to be a mother, and I also knew that I had nothing to offer with this child, or this baby into this world, and so I decided the best thing for me to do would be to put her up for adoption in order for her to have a stable family, parents, all those things that I couldn't offer her.

[08:11] Joel: Okay, okay.

[08:13] KF: And it was the most difficult decision that I ever made.

[08:16] Joel: Sure. Yeah, now talk about that process a little bit, how did you… And I'm not gonna pretend to be able to understand what it was like for you in that state, but what is that process like for a teenage mom, or for a soon to be mom?

[08:34] KF: Well, it was extremely agonizing, but I knew… I kept reminding myself that it wasn't about me, it was about the baby and what was gonna be best for the baby. So, it was one of those things where it's like, “Yes, I wanted to keep her, yes, I wish I could have, but no I didn't have the circumstances, I didn't have a job even and I wasn't educated at the time.” So, I just knew that there was no way that I was going to be able to do that on my own, alone, because basically I was completely alone, the father kind of abdicated and my family was basically saying, “You're on your own, you can do this alone with no help.” So I said, “Well, that's just not gonna work, it just can't work that way.” It's not fair to the baby, and it would have been more than I could have handled at the time, I wasn't emotionally mature enough to handle it.

[09:28] Joel: Well sure.

[09:28] Pei: So, in the process of making that decision, did it bring back memories of you, when you were five and left your own home?

[09:40] KF: That's a great question, because I actually I think was feeling kind of sorry for myself.


[09:48] KF: So, I wasn't thinking of that at that time, but I did think about how much my father had loved me, so in that way yes, I thought about that. And that how important that was for me, and the time that he had for me, and I knew that I couldn't offer that. And so, I knew the best thing for her, and for me both, would be that she would be put up for adoption, because that would allow her to have a stable family and it would allow me to grow and to become a stable adult.

[10:16] Joel: Sure. Well, what were some of the things that you learned about yourself during that period right there?

[10:24] KF: Wow, I learned a lot about myself, I learned that I was much stronger than I thought I was.

[10:30] Joel: What do you mean by that?

[10:31] KF: Well, I wanted… I realized that it took a lot of strength for me to do that, because I had so many people, friends, that were saying, “You shouldn't do this, how can you do that?” And I decided that it was none of their business. And that they weren't gonna be helping me, and I needed to help myself and the baby.

[10:53] Joel: Okay, now where did that strength and revelation come from? Because that is huge for any adult, let alone an 18-year-old teenager that was getting ready to have a baby, that level of maturity is huge. Where did that come from?

[11:10] KF: I really think that maturity part of me came from my biological father, because it was his love that I was thinking about and how much that meant in my life and how important it was during times like that, where it was so difficult. I just remember, he loved me so much and I remember how that felt, and so I never felt really alone, if that makes any sense? So, I felt that I couldn't offer that to the baby, because I didn't have it together enough to offer that to the baby. And I felt that was an extremely important thing, was that she was gonna be loved and have a stable environment. And I felt like I really did get that part in my first five years in Korea, because my Korean family was all together, and we were siblings, and we supported each other regardless of the fact that, we were so impoverished.

[12:03] Joel: Okay.

[12:04] Pei: Kelly, this may not be a fair question but I just felt like I have to ask. How did you fell… That memory of your father's love stays strong with you even 'til today, how did you feel when you were sent to the orphanage and you were sent to be away from your family but you still know your parents love you?

[12:38] KF: Yeah. That's a really good question 'cause I mean honestly, I have to say I don't know, except that I could kinda remember a confusion, not really understanding what was going on and later on, when I flew back to Korea to talk to my family, they had thought that they were putting me up for an educational program where I would go to the United States, get educated, they would have contact with me, I would keep my Korean part of me, and then I would fly back after I was educated, so I could help the family.

[13:10] Joel: I see.

[13:10] KF: And so that was probably what was going through my mind is I have to do this because my mother told me that this is what's gonna happen.

[13:18] Joel: Okay, so fast forwarding a little bit. What happened first? The getting together again with your Korean family, did that happen first? Or the reuniting with the child that you gave up for adoption, did that happen first? How did that all come together? Because that is an unbelievable story of family and unity.

[13:48] KF: Well, first of all, can I just mention the things that happened in my life that kinda were bi, g huge changes?

[13:54] Joel: Absolutely.

[13:56] KF: Okay, one was writing a book, the “My Memoir”. Writing that and becoming public with all those things that I'd gone through. It was very powerful for me to do that and to break the silence especially about the sexual abuse that I endured. And so, that was an extremely powerful and healing thing for me to go through. So that was the first thing that really made this huge, wonderful, positive impact in my life and I've had many other things before, but this started the huge ball rolling again and then going into finding my Korean family, flying back, meeting them, finding out that some of the memories that I had were true, that they did love me, that they had not wanted to give me up because the adoption papers, the officials had wrote things on there that weren't true.

[14:54] Pei: Wow.

[14:55] KF: And then, they wrote that my father was dead, or my father had left the family and never came back and that basically, I was told that I had a step mom. So I was really confused 'cause it didn't go with what I remembered. So to get that all back in order again was really wonderful, finding out that I've been loved, coming back, just reaffirming the love and coming back and then having the strength to find my daughter after that, and to know that I could take the rejection if that's what was going to happen, but that's not what happened and it ended up being like one, two, three fantastic things that kind of all happened.

[15:39] KF: Wow!

[15:40] Joel: So what's the biggest take away from your book that you got?

[15:47] KF: Oh, my gosh. You know, that's tough because there are so many great takeaways, but I really feel like the healing process that I went through and thought I had gone through and then went through again and was able to really heal completely by writing the memoir, was the fact that I could actually forgive the person that sexually abused me, and completely forgive them and say, “You know what, it happened and I can forgive you.” Before I thought I had forgiven them, but I realized at that point I really did forgive that person, and that I was actually a very lucky person that there were many wonderful things that have happened like in the book, I mentioned that the first word and the last word is lucky. And my husband and I, we wrote the book together and so we did that on purpose 'cause I really believe that it's essential that you believe that there's some type of positive energy out there, that the universe is able to shine down upon you and that you as a person can take that the way that you want.

[17:05] KF: But if you take it in a positive sort of way and say, “I could do this, I can persevere,” it builds resilience and if you're willing to work hard at meeting those things that you're most afraid of, which is to look straight on and say, “Wow! This happened to me. That made me feel horrible,” and to say, “But now I can get over it and now I can forgive those persons that did it to me” or, it doesn't have to be that exactly but to believe that there is something better out there. Some people will call it “god” and some people might call it “karma” and others might see it as like the wonders of the universe and science, but I think it's just important to believe that there's something out there that's good in your future that there's a reason for things that happened, and that it doesn't matter if it's literally true, but you just have to believe in it and then you can do… Organize your life in a way that you can really reach out there and accomplish what you want to accomplish and find the strength in doing that through this belief system.

[18:16] Joel: Where did you get the strength that brought you full circle? You met your daughter, you met the family that… Your Korean family. Where did that strength come from?

[18:32] KF: You know what? I think part of the strength was that I think the things that I've been through and many of the difficult times that I had to get over, I was building strength and resilience through the work that I was already putting into trying to make my life better. And I think that part of the real strength was my husband. He wasn't my husband at the time when I met him and he really believed in me in that I could do these things that I wanted to do. And so, that really helped me that he believed in me because then I could believe in myself even more.


[19:17] Joel: Love it, that's great.

[19:18] Pei: Thank you. And before we close this wonderful interview, and thank you Kelly for sharing with our ReLaunch audience, we're releasing a series of books on how to help people get to the next level. And I possibly have to include Kelly's story in the series called “Write To the Next Level of Your Life”.

[19:46] Joel: Sure.

[19:47] Pei: Because I have heard that from, one expert after another on our show, how writing a book has, in a surprisingly wonderful way, helped them, in your case, healing, forgiveness, and then get to the next level, so was that the case for you, it kind of surprised you initially? Maybe you just wanted to share your story but you didn't realize it actually propelled you to the next level of your life.

[20:21] KF: Oh yeah, I completely agree with it. It was very powerful for me to share my story and to be public with it and to talk about it in speeches. Because it did, it took me to a level that I didn't really realize that I hadn't gone to.

[20:34] Joel: Absolutely, that always happens. Isn't that the truth?

[20:40] KF: Yes, and I just know that there's more out there.


[20:44] Joel: Absolutely, wow. Kelly Fern is our guest today, “Songs of My Families”. That is the book to get. It's a tearjerker. I'm getting choked up here just thinking about it, wow. Kelly, coming in for a landing here. What are you the most proud of?

[21:01] KF: I'm most proud of my family that I have. I have a daughter and a son with my husband, and then my daughter that I've been reunited with. And so, I feel like I have this really beautiful, wonderful, loving family that I have helped to nurture and grow. And so, I really am proud that I was able to do that after a lot of the things that I've been through. And also, just proud of the fact that here I am, juggling things that I had never imagined that I could do in the past, and I'm really just excited and happy it's coming to a point now where it's gonna be even better because I'll be done with school here soon and I'll be able to move forward even more.

[21:51] Joel: We're excited for you as well. You're welcome back here on the ReLaunch show any time. Thank you for sharing your story, unbelievable journey with us today.

[22:01] KF: Thank you so much.

[22:02] Joel: Have a wonderful day. Bye bye.

[22:04] KF: You too. Bye bye.

Follow Kelly on Twitter and visit her Facebook page.

Joel Boggess

Keynote Speaker | Corporate Trainer | Award-winning podcaster I help teams ignite their courage, take bolder steps, and get greater results. Together, we create possibilities that bring empowerment, meaning, and financial impact.


  1. […] To hear to more of Kelly’s story, listen to this great podcast on the Re-Launch Show, a wonderful podcast about re-launching your life after a big change: https://joelboggess.com/courage-love-forgiveness-kelly-fern/ […]

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  2. Patricia Sommer on April 6, 2015 at 11:42 pm

    This was wonderful!!! 🙂

    • Kelly on April 24, 2015 at 4:11 pm

      Thanks Patricia!

      Kelly Fern 🙂

  3. Another Media Event | songsofmyfamilies on January 12, 2015 at 10:08 pm

    […] HERE to listen to the […]

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