Author: Rachel Fabian Mace

How Marie Kondo Changed My Life: Finding Joy in the Mess of Life

A few years ago I read Marie Kondo’s book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” It encouraged people to hold each item in their hands and ask if it sparked joy for them. If it did, they were instructed to keep the item, then ask it where it wants to go, and create a special place for it. It was amazing to think that such a small, unassuming book about organizing could change a person’s life. But, it did. It did something, indeed magical, in my life. So much so that I’m still processing all of what it did, how it worked, and why.

I’ve wanted to write about what this book meant to me as a way of processing my thoughts and feelings about the book: to not only pay homage to this incredible collection of thoughts and words, but also to place words to the overarching principles that I learned from the book that I can apply to other areas of my life. Since the book brought so much joy to me in the areas of my possessions, I knew that the principles could be applied and sprinkle happiness on other areas of my life too.

One of the things this book allowed me to do was to recognize the sensation and the beauty of joy. Growing up in a tough, blue collar working-class family, I was taught that hard work was not only paramount; next to family, it was everything. I was never given deep instruction on how to interact with joy, nor was I given a strong model for embracing joy by those around me. My family and those around me were very loving people. But, joy just wasn’t on their radar. Family made you happy. But, apart from that, speaking about joy was almost obsolete. I don’t remember hearing people ask or comment about emotional feelings amongst one another at all. I remember people showing signs of stress, but I don’t remember anyone ever talking about how stress was affecting them. I can’t say that I ever heard, “Do what inspires you” or “What speaks to you?” or “What sparks joy for you?” I heard plenty of, “Just keep going” with the idea of just get it done. Prior to reading Marie Kondo’s book, I don’t think I even knew how to really allow myself to embrace my joy. Without being able to acknowledge and value it, I couldn’t really navigate the space of that emotional state let alone to lean into it and cherish it.

I was raised to be tough, hard-working, respectful of others to the point of many times silencing my own thoughts and feelings, incredibly pragmatic to where I buried anything lighthearted and frivolous deep beneath my sense of duty, and responsible to an extreme. Desires were discussed as dreams or fantasies, not reality. Sometimes desires were even viewed as selfish.

This book allowed me to go easier on myself. It took the enormous and overwhelming task of tidying an entire house and broke it down into manageable component tasks. It allowed me to say that making the steps smaller and manageable was okay. It gave me a game plan so that I had a fighting chance in the form of somewhere to start, and a reliable, organized system that I felt good about. It allowed me to take each item in hand piece-by-piece and make a decision on it. And it allowed me to feel more comfortable following my own intuition. It allowed me to feel the confidence that I could make decisions and do something really daunting and typically-overwhelming if I had a system and just started.

It helped me to see that I could pick and choose my life based on my own thoughts and feelings. And rather than focus on worry, negative emotion, negative feelings, and fear, it opened me up to the magical perspective of basing the decisions in my life on joy. That was a profoundly powerful shift in my thinking. And I will be forever grateful. Marie Kondo helped me to go from a mindset of negativity, with a proclivity towards being depressed, worried, anxious, and fearful, to a positive, more meaningful and more productive mindset. She elevated my energetic frequency. She prompted me to live an inspired life: the life I wanted to live instead of the life I thought I should live or the life I had to live.

Before this book, I thought I procrastinated on big projects because I was afraid of doing all the work. But going through this process actually made me realize that I enjoyed doing all the tidying. I wasn’t afraid of hard work. I realized that I was actually just afraid of not being able to do the project (to finish it, or to do it well) or not knowing how to do it or where to start. It’s the unknown of it and the lack of confidence that actually paralyzed me and rendered me unproductive in the past. Going through this program actually helped to build my confidence, because I learned and mastered a skill. I did it! And it felt amazing to feel that sense of accomplishment. Learning and mastering a skill has actually been shown to be really important in the development of confidence in children. And I can see why.

But I think one of the most important things this book did was to demonstrate that I have agency over the way I live my life. What I keep in my life and what I discard of, I get to choose. That’s been a powerful revelation. And it’s something that contributes to happiness. Because we feel happy when we have control over our own lives. It drains our energy when we feel powerless, out of control, or hopeless. I can create a home that I love. And I deserve that. And it doesn’t take a lot of flashy or expensive things for me to be happy. I actually don’t need a lot of material things to be happy. I don’t even need to be wealthy to be happy. I get to choose. And to me, that is a core source of happiness: the freedom and the opportunity to choose the things I love and cherish.

Marie Kondo’s kindness and proclivity toward mindfulness, positivity, and gratitude also gave me permission to be in the moment, to connect with others, and to be seen. To be seen without fear of judgment. To be seen without fear of not being enough. It helped me to see that we are all in a process. But let’s be kind and acknowledge the good that things (and people) have done for us and thank them for it. Because it’s those things that have shaped us into who we are today.

The book gave me permission to be in the present moment long enough to feel gratitude, joy, contentedness and peace. I enjoyed it. I experienced a ton of joy while undergoing the process. At the completion of the program, it allowed me the moment to say, I’m finished. I often take too long getting things prepared for a project that I often don’t get started. Or, once I get started, I tend to take too long on all the details that I never get to the end. But going through the tidying process made me realize that having a distinct ending helps. Liking what you’ve done is rewarding and meaningful. This process helped me get to a place in my life processes where I could say, I’ve done everything I set out to do and to say, I am enough.

Thank you, MK.

-R

Let’s Ask Oprah Anything

I recently read a magazine article entitled, 100 Most Successful Women. It listed Oprah Winfrey as #1. I definitely agree: I admire her for the stories that she shares and the kind way she connects with the people she’s interviewing and with her audience. And she seems to take everything in stride. She never seems to get ruffled. Her personal brand has grown to a leading international success, and it’s all based on stories that inspire a greater sense of connection and wonder in the world. Her program Super Soul Sunday is definitely a favorite show of mine. I sometimes wish I had more access to spiritual gurus and life teachers so that I could learn from them. I definitely enjoy learning. I made a list of things that I wanted to ask Oprah if I get the chance to meet her. I figured this chance was a long shot. Then I realized that I could actually make the list and then answer each question how I believe she would answer– at least until I get to meet her ūüėĀ

Here’s my list:

  1. How do you balance work and home life?
  2. What are the secrets to your success?
  3. What makes you happy?
  4. How do you make decisions?
  5. Any advice for someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
  6. Have you made mistakes? How do you move forward following them?
  7. What are your favorite memories?
  8. Any daily routines or habits that would be helpful for most people to do?
  9. How do you navigate balancing between striving and being content?
  10. What motivates and inspires you?
  11. Tell me about your journey.

What do you think she’d say to each? ūüĎÜ

Xoxo

-Rachel

Questions Surrounding my Life as a Korean Adoptee

Sometimes it’s really difficult to know what you should fight for and what you should let go. I guess there’s no right or wrong answers when it comes to the life you choose to live. I think the most important thing is to follow your heart, to think through your options carefully without worrying too much, and to be brave.

It’s easy to worry about just about everything –especially our decisions. In reuniting with my birth family a few years ago, I definitely questioned so much about my life. I questioned the decisions I made, the life I was leading, the core relationships in my life, and the career path I chose. I had to take a step back and really look at things. I had to think through my options for where I want to go from here. What things did I want to retain and what things did I want to leave behind. What things did I value and what things did I want to disregard.

What would my life look like if I were raised by a different family? Would my beliefs be different? My interests? My career? My hobbies? My knowledge base? My personality? Would I be the person I am today?

Ultimately, the past is past. I can only do anything about my present and my future. What do I want my future to look like? What kind of person do I want to be?? Who do I want to share my life with? Where do I go from here??

 

Best of luck in your own personal journeys…

xoxo

rm

Decision-Making & Choosing Our Identity

After my birth family reunion a few years ago, I went through a major identity crisis. Since then, I’ve been working out my own identity: What makes me who I am? I’ve been exploring the concept of decision-making. I wonder how much of who I am and the decisions that I’ve made have been formed by my biological genetic inheritance versus the environment in which I was raised. As adoptees, the question of how much our genes (biology) and our family environment contributed to our identity is brought to the forefront in a more direct way than for other non-adopted people.¬†There’s often a feeling of being split between these two things and straddling the line somehow.

My adoptive mom would be the first to admit that one of her main weaknesses is in the area of communication. She struggles to open up and be vulnerable. She’s introverted as an adult and said she never got involved in any social extracurricular activities growing up. I have wondered if I would be a different type of person if I was raised in a different type of environment. What if I grew up watching really great communicators? What if I had exposure to learning life lessons from stellar-communicators? Would I be less backwards and awkward in social settings? Would I have more confidence to put myself out there and be vulnerable? Would I be better at communicating and therefore receive more of what I wanted? Would I be further in my career? Would I have a different career? Would I make more money? It’s a question that I’ve pondered as I grew up and in my adulthood.

After reuniting with my birth family in 2014, my mind has been blown by the ways in which I am like my birth family. Our dark hair and Asian eyes are a given. But more than just our appearances, we also have a really have similar work-ethic. We are both very driven and extremely hard-working.¬† We have similar life-outlooks when it comes to careers, how we spend our time, and on religion. It’s uncanny and unbelievable at times how alike we are in the decisions we’ve made. Certain mannerisms are even the same. Even for small habits that one would never think could be genetically-based, like the way my cousin and I straighten out the little section between our nose and our mouth when we speak. I did this little movement so often growing up, that my adoptive family noticed it as a little mannerism of mine. And it’s not a common habit. Growing up, I thought I was the only one who did that, because I never knew anyone else who did that as often as I did. I was shocked when I met my biological cousin to discover that he did that too even though we were raised in completely different environments apart from one another!

It’s interesting to have a daughter of my own to have a different vantage point to reflect on these questions. My little girl, who is 2-and-a-half years old is one of the most driven individuals I’ve ever met. She works so hard at meticulously setting up her things exactly the way she wants them. And when she or my husband accidentally messes with her set-up, she lets us know! So, in that sense she speaks her mind. When she’s unhappy, the entire house knows it. She doesn’t hold back when it comes to letting her dad and I know what she wants. The other day, we were visiting a neighbor’s house who also has small children. They have a small push cart that goes on a track that you can ride down like a mini-roller coaster train. And the children take turns riding the cart down the tracks. In this particular environment while playing with the neighborhood children, my daughter did something surprising. When it was my daughters turn to ride the push-cart, she liked to push the cart up the track herself, and then ride it down the little track. But each time she went to push the cart up the track for her turn to ride it down, her friend would come and take the cart from her and push it up for her. The little girl was so enthusiastic about it and even said, “I help!” to let me daughter know that she was helping her take her turn. Instead of letting the little girl know that she wanted to push the cart up to the top herself, my daughter visibly caved her shoulders and posture inward and backed up– eventually sitting down on the side as the little girl pushed the cart for her. My daughter wasn’t despondent. She was just silent and unsure of what to do. So she stood back and took a backseat role to this more aggressive youngster. After a moment, she smiled brightly after the little girl pushed the cart to the top, stood up and took her turn to ride down the little roller coaster. I could see that my daughter wanted to push the cart. She loves to push things and feel heavy pressure against her joints as she does something daring and gratifying while playing. I was so surprised to watch her take a backseat in these moments and not use her voice to speak out to say that she could do it herself. I was amazed and saddened at how much this behavior reminded me of me. So many times, I too take a backseat when I should speak out. And for so long, I’ve blamed that backwardness on my adoptive mom. My adoptive mom’s incredibly introverted, and that’s where I believe I learned those behaviors. But in that moment, I realized– it was genetic. And I gave it to my daughter! Yikes!

I recently attended a women’s event at Wharton, University of Pennsylvania’s Business school. I mentioned that it’s often hard for me to answer general interview questions. Those that ask about your strengths and weaknesses or those that ask about a time when you had to work on a problem or work as a team. I just freeze in a panic and really struggle with thinking clearly to articulate my thoughts. One of the speakers recommended that I create a spreadsheet with my responses. Write down the questions that were asked of me, my answers, and their responses to what I shared. This is an excellent idea! How profound to take this process and track the outcomes systematically. Similarly, I’m currently reading a great self-help book called, No Hard Feelings, a wonderful book on how to manage and capitalize on emotions at work. The authors recommended readers to create a spreadsheet to record your decisions and your emotions and feelings in each case to then track the outcomes. This can help identify patterns of what your feelings and emotions are telling you, help you to decipher them, and help you to determine how reliable they can be. In a sense, learning how to decode your feelings.

After seeing this spreadsheet idea in two different venues, and loving both of the ideas, I realized that this would be a great idea to do to help my daughter! Rather than to feel paralyzed by this idea that this shyness and fear to speak up was “genetic,” and that this was destined to be her personality, I decided to start a running spreadsheet of areas that need attention that I notice in my daughter. Then, I will compile a list of ways to help her cultivate stronger skills in each area. Rather than let these parts of her personality be the finale, I’m going to apply some agency into helping her build strengths in these areas of need.

I was able to put these ideas into practice recently with our family gatherings. During my daughter’s last interaction with her older male cousin, she became frightened when he approached her with a loud roar and his hands poised for pouncing like he was a lion. She became so frightened that she started cry. We had another family event coming up at a trampoline park. When we entered the space, I could see fear splashed across my daughter’s face. It was dark, and neon lights were flashing across the ceiling, and there were kids making noises on a background of loud music and intercom announcements. She started to make herself small and cowered down in trepidation as we proceeded through the entry way. In that moment, I knew that this would be an opportunity for her to practice using her big voice and making herself known in an intimidating environment. So, I told her that if things get too loud, she can cover her ears. Because some things are too loud. And when we want to be loud, we can use a loud voice. We can practice doing a loud “ROAARRR!” So we did. And then, I said that if she wants to use her loud voice, she can! When she wants, she can use her voice and say words like, “I’M ALIYAH!!!” So we said that together! And she jumped and shouted and lifted her little hands in excitement. And it was one of the proudest moments I’ve ever had as a mom.

We proceeded into the trampoline park, and instead of cowering, my daughter was so big and loud, and I loved every moment of it. She was jumping and having a blast with her cousins, keeping pace with them every step of the way. She wasn’t scared of their big, loud older voices. In fact, she was talking and having fun with them and really standing her ground. At the end of the party, she even gave her cousin a big hug without any prompting from me. It was such a touching moment.

Our own choices are the seat of so much power. This agency is our x-factor. Regardless of what we are comprised of biologically-speaking, and regardless of what our parents were able to teach us, we all have this x-factor: that we get to choose how and what we do with what we’ve been given. It’s a lot of power. And sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the pressure of making the right choices. One reassurance highlighted by the book, No Hard Feelings: when there’s anxiety about making a decision between two choices, usually it’s because both options are good ones.¬†(What a relief!)

I’ve realized a few things: Much more of my behaviors are biologically-based than I initially thought. Areas of my personality that I thought were more generalized into one camp (biologically-based) or the other (behaviorally-based) are actually more nuanced. But, most importantly, no matter where the behavior started–out of a biological response or a learned response, I have the power to decide what to do about it. I can choose to work on enhancing traits that I want to increase within myself and work on diminishing other traits within myself. I can build on my strengths. And I can strengthen my weak areas. And I can help my daughter discover who she is and teach her strategies to choose who she wants to be too. And ultimately, that’s the best all of us can do. To take what we’ve been given and apply our x-factor. I’ve been working with a life coach who really empowered me when he said that the goal is to be the best you you can be. Only you can do it. There’s no other competition as worthy of our time and attention than competing against who you were yesterday to be even better today. No one else can give the unique gifts to the world that you can offer. You are enough. Cherish the moments in your life like gold so that you can give them the respect, thought, and choices they deserve. They are comprising who you are.

I’m looking forward to seeing how you and I apply these ideas in our journey ahead. If you have any stories or thoughts about this topic you’d like to share, please feel free to contact me or leave them in the comments. I’d love to hear from you. I’ve listed a few of my favorite books in Personal Growth Resources. Dive in if you’re looking for some great-reads on how to live your best life. Know that you’re not alone in your search for your identity and your journey of how to live your best life. We are all on that journey together. And I’m rooting for you.

Xoxo ūüėė

-Rachel

Life Goals – Work in Progress

img_5613

I like to create life goals for each new year. And this year, I’ve been thinking a lot about the person who I want to be not only for next year – but for the rest of my life. I’ve been thinking about the way I want to lead my life, the person I want to be, and how I want to be remembered by those who knew me.

I want to have a handle on my emotions. I want to be able to say that I can maintain emotional equilibrium in the face of difficult, awkward, uncomfortable, and sensitive situations. I want to maintain my cool when pressed for time, or stressed, or under pressure. I want to be known for this.

I want to connect with others. I realized recently that I have difficulty connecting with my daughter in the day-to-day moments. I’m much better at staying busy than actually being settled and sitting down and being present with her and others. But, I want to let my guard down more and more. I want to allow myself to be truly open and present with her.¬† I want to allow myself to be present in the day-to-day moments and experiences and to enjoy them– to savor them even.

I want to be a person who brings out the best in others– starting with my husband, my daughter and my family. But I want to do this with my friends, acquaintances and others, too. I have that capacity. And I want to tap into that superpower. If we all did that, the world would be such a better place.

I want to know how to navigate human connection, emotion, and conversation well. I want to study this and get better at it myself. And then I want to show others how to do this. I never want to relish in unhealthy and lower-frequency behaviors. I want to demonstrate and facilitate kindness, generosity, gratitude and love.

I want to operate on an energy level of love and gratitude whenever and wherever possible. I want to maintain my focus despite others around me who are simultaneously and very apparently not displaying the same behaviors.

I want to always hope and remain strong in my faith in myself and in others.

I want to make the world a better place. One where people love more deeply and where people connect with hope on a regular basis.

It’s a work in progress.

Letting Go of Perfectionism¬†and Becoming a New Person after my Reunion

carride

When I was a little girl, I watched a movie called Pollyanna. In the movie, the children string up crystals in the sunlight and watch the crystals split the light into it’s component colors and form prisms on a nearby wall. My birth family reunion was like a crystal. It split my life into component parts and allowed me to see different parts of myself that I didn’t even realize were there. It allowed me to examine each part of my life in a new way. And the beauty of it was that I was the one who could decide what to do with each part. I did a lot of personal work. I thought about the person who I was. I decided what kind of person that I wanted to be going forward.

One thing that I came to terms with is the idea that there was no such thing as perfection. Perfection was an illusion. I used to think that things should be perfect, and I worked tirelessly at that ideal. But I realized that in that perfectionist mentality, I was missing out on the gratifyingly beautiful times where I was just settled in the presentРcontent not only with myself at the present moment but with what others could give me at that time too. 

It’s taken me a long time to get to this place, and I still have a long way to go. But it’s been incredibly powerful just to let go and be happy with the person I am right now. To be content with myself and to accept the fact that I can’t do everything. To accept the fact that things aren’t perfect. And that life circumstances are never perfect. That my friends and family are not perfect. And I can’t make my daughter’s life perfect. If I spend my life trying to chase that ideal, I’ll miss out on the here and now. And she’s growing up so fast! I don’t want to miss these moments in her life. And I don’t want to miss these moments of my life, either.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a bit of an overachiever and a perfectionist. I’m sure this was some sort of defense mechanism I created out of the wounds of being adopted. For me, letting go and living more in the present is still like¬†navigating wild and uncharted territory. But it’s so worth it. I realized in the few years following my reunion that even though I was high-achieving, I wasn’t usually happy. It wasn’t until I moved away, simplified my life, worked on processing my stuff, and worked on my relationships that I began to realize that I didn’t necessarily need all that extra “stuff” anyways. And when I actually let go of those “perfect” ideals, life was a lot more enjoyable and more manageable.¬†And I was happier.

Moving away to a smaller coastal town helped, but I think¬†moving away from my hometown¬†mainly allowed me to shift my perspective from the way things “were always done” because it was merely a different time and place.¬†It allowed me to take a step back and evaluate the person I was, the things that I felt, and the way I was living. It was a simpler, smaller scale. Everyone knew everything about everyone. So, things didn’t fall through the cracks at the same scale as in a larger city. I knew my goals. They were manageable and for once, actually achievable. I wasn’t always feeling like I was under the gun for some deadline of getting an impossible to do list done for an unknown (but large) quantity of people. This contentedness was refreshingly satisfying. And such a welcome respite.

Coincidentally, the timeframe of my living out of state coincided with my birth family reunion. About a year and a half following my move, I embarked on one of the biggest adventures of my entire lifeРsearching for my birth family. And remarkably, my search was not only successful, it was incredibly fast!

After meeting my birth family in May 2014, my head was¬†spinning. I questioned everything about my life and the person who I was. I was also 29 years old, and apparently that’s when a person’s brain finishes developing. Along with this neurological growth spurt, comes a newfound questioning outlook and a deeper ability to see things from¬†another person’s¬†perspective. So my entire outlook shifted. I wasn’t sure about anything. I wasn’t sure if I was the person I was meant to be. I wasn’t sure if I was in the career I was supposed to be in. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be married. I wasn’t sure if I would’ve made the same life choices or felt the same way about things if I wasn’t raised in my adoptive family or if I was raised in a different way.

I felt like my personality was split into segments like a pie chart. One part of me was fun-loving and adventurous, carefree, and fearless. Another part of me was studious, serious, and professional. Another part of me was dedicated, diligent, and responsible. Another part of me was spontaneous and free-spirited. I felt like my body and mind were being pulled in each of these different directions. It took me over a year to examine each segment of this pie chart frame by frame, sorting out the things that I wanted to keep in my life, and the things I wanted to discard. It took time to process through what each part of my personality meant to me and what that part of my life looked like in real life application. After all this processing, I eventually worked on reintegrating them into the whole person I wanted to be. My husband was a counselor who worked with individuals with Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder). Following trauma, in effort to protect itself from the trauma, the brain can sometimes split off different parts of a person to the point of having multiple personas that may not even know one another. Although the parts of my personality were not fragmented to the point of being clinically disassociated, following my reunion, I could relate.

Thankfully on the other side of¬†the¬†few years following my birth family reunion, I am happy to say that I survived. I survived.¬†I wasn’t perfect. I wasn’t always sane. But I survived.

And I’m a different person for it. The ordeal was somewhat traumatic (or maybe just stripped the paint off of an old trauma from my infanthood). Either way, I felt wounded, cut open like my cesarean. And even though this experience figuratively birthed something quite magical in my life, my life needed to mend. I never realized how much a person could change in the course of her life. But I can say that I am such a different person after the experiences surrounding the few years following my reunion.

And that’s not such a bad thing.

I used to hold such a stigma about a person changing. I grew up being taught that change was a bad thing by a group of people who were really stuck in their ways. They didn’t value self-growth or change. Anything new was considered blasphemous and they pined for “the good old days” of the American 50’s. When sadly there was a lot that was lacking in those days! And in the environment where I grew up, there were popular stigmas associated with both growing old and becoming a mom (physically and socially speaking). I heard it all.

Some time after giving birth, I asked my midwife if I could get back into exercising because before I became pregnant, I deeply loved “hardcore” yoga and aerial silks. She said “Yes, just ease into it and listen to your body. Because you are a different person now.”

As she said the last part, I felt shame creep over me as my gaze went¬†to the floor. I regretfully said, “Yeah” as I thought of all the things I wasn’t sure that I could physically do anymore. I’ll never forget what she said to me in her next breath before I could even say anything further. She looked me in the eyes and said definitively, “You’re not the same person–you’re better.”

 

Xoxo

–R

Becoming a Mom and Processing my Own Adoption

tea cup photo

Ever since I found out that I was pregnant in late February 2016, I wasn’t able to write as much for my book or my blog like I loved to do. Between the pregnancy nausea and the business of planning for a new baby and then raising a new baby, I was¬†at a loss for the time, energy, and physical ability to write a single blog post. And now, I look back and¬†over a year¬†has passed! Where did the time go? The past year and a half flew by! Now I’m on the other side of motherhood, living in a different state, and I am a completely different person. My perspective has completely changed. I have such a deeper respect for parenthood now that I know firsthand how difficult it really is. Sometimes I pass young parents with their children in the grocery store and I wanna just say, “YOU ARE A ROCKSTAR!” as I fist-bump them in solidarity. I usually restrain myself, flash them a smile, and¬†say, “Hi.” But seriously, being a new parent is one of the most challenging things I’ve¬†ever done!

I’m much more compassionate with my patients since becoming a mom. Recently, I lifted a patient from her bed. Holding her helpless body in my arms, for a split second, I flashed back to how it felt to hold my baby in my arms. Both¬†were so defenseless and dependent, looking up to me for loving care. Since returning to work, I’ve also examined countless patients’ mouth strength and movement for speech and language skills. When my elderly patients flash me their¬†best edentulous grins, I can’t help but think of my adorable toothless little one at home. Everything reminds me of her!

My work days and home projects are now carefully scheduled around a grueling nursing and pumping schedule. My mental energy is spent largely researching baby related topics and worrying. Oh the worrying is real. As a first time parent I worry about everything. (And I think that’s totally normal!) I mean, this little life is totally dependent on you! And your daughter is being formed by the choices you make. My biggest fear was of “messing her up” or ruining her somehow. I know firsthand what trauma can do to a child. And even though I turned out semi-normal, the last thing I’d ever wish for my child would be to bear unnecessary hardship that would somehow turn her into some hardened soul or a traumatized individual.

For a while I was struggling to find my voice again. I remember wanting to blog, but feeling mentally and verbally tongue-tied. During that time, I was processing through my thoughts and coming to terms with what being a mother meant to me. I was learning how to navigate my new role as a mom and coming to terms with things that I had to process as an adoptee in this new role.

One thing that really astounded me was how much my daughter craved to be with me. Which really caught me by surprise. Both the fact that she needed me so much and the fact that I didn’t realize how much babies needed their moms. Of course I knew that babies needed their moms and someone to raise them. But let me illustrate what I mean. After a long day of work, I came home to my daughter. She glanced up at me coming through the front door and flashed me a huge smile! She squealed with delight. It was one of the most heartwarming things I’ve ever seen. I was¬†her mom. And she was waiting all day to see me.¬†She was much more settled since I was home. I greeted her and held her close. I played with her on the floor and read her a story. I nursed her and change her diaper. After a while I sat her down so that I could have a bite to eat for dinner. And she often cried because she wanted me to hold her even longer. She’s missed me so much all day. And she wanted to spend more time with me. She also had a difficult time being held by new people, even to the point where it was difficult for me to find a babysitter to allow for me to leave the house without her. She had major separation anxiety. And she just loved being with me so much! She cried in her bassinet seemingly inconsolably. She was instantly soothed when I picked her up and held her close. She fell asleep again. She sat up in her crib and cried. I placed my hand on her back and she immediately fell back asleep at the gentlest touch to let her know I was there.

This was par for the course for how her almost entire first year of life has been. It actually surprised me. How deeply my baby¬†craved to be near me¬† and how much my presence soothed her. I’m not sure if it was being separated from my biological mother when she passed away when I was four months old, or my own insecurities. But one thing that I’ve struggled with since becoming a mom is realizing how completely normal this connection of a baby to her mom is. A part of me feels like these are new concepts; that 1) My¬†baby can’t live without her mom, 2) she craves spending time with her mom and 3) this mother-daughter connection¬†is indeed very special.

I’ve had a special bond with my adoptive mom. And I’m really grateful for that! But how do I live with the fact that my biological daughter needs me, when I never got the chance to grow up and develop a connection to my own biological mom. It’s seems almost paradoxical. Like how, after losing my own biological mother at 4 months old, am I “okay”? Especially after seeing how much my own baby cries for me when I’m gone for even a day? Am I really okay after all?

During this time of soul-searching, I wasn’t sure if I¬†was okay. I was hurt. I was mad. I questioned the reason for losing my birth mom. I asked God why he allowed me to undergo such hardships¬†which then¬†catapulted me into such a different and somewhat difficult life as a child.

I am thankful for my adoptive mom. She is the prime reason I am who I am today. I love that she is my mom. I love that she accepted me as her own daughter and never treated me differently because I was adopted. Through her I learned what motherhood was.
But now, where do I go from here? What does all this mean for me? For my daughter?

In the past ten months of being a mom, I processed a lot. I’ve realized a few things:

I can enjoy my relationship with my daughter for what it is and what we have. Her experiences will be different from mine. My experiences were different from hers. But we are both okay. We are both deeply loved and cherished. We both have moms who love us. We are blessed because we had someone to hold us, to care for us, to feed us, and to nurture us! We are okay because we were not alone. And we aren’t alone now.

My daughter and I have a biological connection. And that is something I am grateful for. But biology is not the only thing that makes a family. I was part of a loving family even though we had no genetic ties. And that’s OK.

My daughter and I have a biological relationship. I carried her in my womb and delivered her into this world. I was there on her birth day. I witnessed her first cry. And I’ve been with her every day¬†since. I brought her home from the hospital. I’ve been able to watch her grow and develop. I taught her how to drink milk and stand up on her two little feet. I rocked her to sleep every night since she’s been born. And that’s a wonderful blessing. Not everyone can say that they’ve had that growing up– including me. However, even though I didn’t get to enjoy the¬†unbroken mother-daughter relationship from birth through life that most children have, I am allowed to cherish the fact that I can have that with my own daughter. It’s not too good to be true, because this is my reality. I don’t have to be afraid that this¬†beautiful relationship is¬†going to be taken away from me at any moment. Oddly enough acceptance of this fact is still a work in progress.

I’m not sure if other adoptees go through this too. It’s almost like I’m relearning what “normal” is. And what happened to me as a baby wasn’t normal. It was actually traumatic. And in realizing this fact, I’ve had to come to terms with what actually happened to me as a baby. My biological mother died. But, in spite of this tumultuous beginning, I’m okay. I’m safe. I’m loved. I’m not alone.

Counselors say that what happens after trauma is what matters most. If a person is soothed and safe after the trauma, they can recover and move forward. They can process the trauma and find restoration and healing. I’m so grateful that my adoptive family, namely my mom and her family, did that for me! But through becoming a mom myself, I’m facing the deep questions of what makes a mom. Like,¬†what kind of mom do I want to be? Why is a mother-child relationship so strong? What do I do to foster this little child and grow our relationship? I’m wondering how in the world do I do it. And most of all, I’m questioning if, after all I’ve been through, and for all that I am–after what I’ve been through, do I have what it takes? ūü§∑ūüŹĽ‚Äć‚ôÄÔłŹ

To all¬†my friends out there processing their own stuff: I’m sending hardcore mommy-love your way tonight.

Xoxo.

-rm