Adopted Life

All the Feels: Why Connecting with your Heart Really Matters

Ever since my spiritual awakening a couple years ago, I’ve been thinking about how important it is to connect with your heart. I wrote a little about this exploration in my posts about how I connected with my heart in a deeper way through tidying up working through the KonMarie method developed by Marie Kondo. I’ve been thinking about how many of my decisions in the past were based on duty, or what I “should” do. I started to ask myself if I was actually happy with the decisions I made or the outcomes that unfolded as a result. I realized I wasn’t happy with a lot about how I was living my life. But, I was confident that I could make some major changes. I systematically went through each item in my home to determine if it brought me joy through Marie Kondo’s tidying method. And I whittled down my possessions to things that only sparked joy for me. My home and my outlook were completely transformed. I’ve been exploring how to take these principles and apply them to my decision-making and my overall outlook of how I think about things.

One thing I realized was that our thoughts and feelings matter and they are things we really need to pay attention to if we are going to lead our best lives. Our thoughts and feelings are essences of not only who we are but what we are perceiving in the world. This can lead to incredible insights not only for ourselves but for our community and our world. I’m positive that if we each listened to our own hearts, we’d have a kinder more peaceful and productive world. We’d have more scientific breakthroughs and more innovation in our workplaces.

I realized that when we follow our hearts, we are not only happier, we are more effective and productive. I find that those times when I just grit my teeth and bear things to push through, I not only do less comprehensive quality work, but I also find myself feeling stressed and regretful afterward. But, when I lead with my heart, I never have regrets. Even if the outcome isn’t what I hope for as I don’t finish what I wanted or I didn’t get the desired outcome, I still feel content about it. I don’t feel regrets when I look back at that time. I enjoyed the process, so the process brought me joy and contentment and peace. And I find that the more peace and joy you cultivate in the way you live your life, the more that you naturally continue in that nature of cultivating peace and joy. So, peace begets peace. Just like a body in motion stays in motion. It becomes the natural progression of events. It cultivates and builds a life worth living.

It never fails: when I feel like I need to do something because I’m stressed or due to some other fear reaction, and I have another alternative which seems more peaceful like a breath of fresh air, the option toward the breath of fresh air is always more powerfully the better option on so many levels– not only in the moment but the ripple effects afterward. I recently had some work to take care of related to one of my jobs. But, it was eating into my time with my daughter that evening. I just pushed through with work because I felt really stressed about not having it done. And I was thinking that it would be better to have that done before the next day, so I would, ironically, have more time to spend with my daughter. I was stressed. I could hardly bring myself to just sit and be with my daughter because of these looming projects. So, I took care of the projects the best that I could. The next day I was so tired because I had worked through in stress-mode the night before (which exponentially drains energy). And I stayed up late for the second night in a row working rather than settling down for bed. The next day, I was too tired to focus as well on my work and to be fully engaged and present for my daughter. And it took even longer to recuperate that lost rest– so, for one evening of pushing through, I felt the fatigue and emotional effects days later. And ironically, when I had worked in that stress-mode, I felt more compelled to continue in that mode rather than to feel less stressed afterward. Even though I completed the tasks I was compelled to complete, I didn’t feel better. I still felt stressed. I had embraced my inner stress-mode. So, that became my default mode. It was hard to reset afterward. I thought that I would feel better if I just had the tasks done. But it turned out to be a less effective strategy than just waiting in that situation.

We aren’t always meant to wait to do things that need to be done. So, how do we know what we are supposed to do and when? Why do I think that it was better for me to wait to do my dutiful tasks at that moment? I think it has to do with what the highest priority was at that moment. I knew that my daughter’s nightly routine was my highest priority, so I was working against what my own heart was telling me. I was working like mad to get the other lower-priority items completed so that I could get to what I actually wanted to be doing at that moment. I was acting out of fear. Fear that I wouldn’t have enough time to do my work, fear that I would be judged, or that I wouldn’t meet the expectations of my co-workers if I didn’t take care of my work that night. I was also beating myself up emotionally the entire time, which in general tends to zap our energy and create a funk. The craziest (and most telling) part is that I did this thinking I wouldn’t have enough time the next day to take care of what I needed. I was compelled and thought I needed to absolutely get these items done– without a doubt. But, the next day, things transpired to where I definitely had ample time to take care of these work tasks more comfortably. So, my fears were unfounded. Instead of reacting in fear, I should’ve acted out of love. What would I love to do at that moment? And the answer was to let go of my work tasks and be with my daughter. Sometimes we don’t know what we’d love to do in certain instances. And that’s the perfect time to dig deeper, talk or mull it over, or think about things that just make sense to us. Those aren’t necessarily the times I’m talking about. I’m talking about those times when you are faced with two options: one option makes you feel alive and inspired and the other one makes you feel like your dead inside. As a society, let’s stop playing the martyr card and killing the very life inside of us by choosing the option that makes us feel dead inside. Let’s choose to lead our lives from a place of love and inspiration– let’s lead with our hearts. What do we love to do? Can we learn to recognize what our heart is saying? Some of us are so far away from any recognition of our own feelings that knowing what sparks joy or love for us seems almost impossible. 

Part of this lack of recognition of our own feelings is in part because of society’s socialization towards downplaying the validity and necessity of caring about our feelings and emotions. We hear it (or sense it) all the time as children after we trip and fall: the idea of just “Suck it up, you’ll live.” Or, “you’re fine.” Or as adults, when our bosses treat us in a way that demonstrates, “I don’t care how you feel, just get it done.” And as a society, where culture tells us, “just keep your nose to the grind, and plow through.” Our emotions and feelings are often discounted by people and professionals. From doctors listening to our complaints and implying we are crazy when we express our concerns and feelings. Or worse, when doctors report our problems are “just in our head” (as if having a psychological or psychiatric issue isn’t a valid concern). Or inferring that that’s not something that is scientifically-based or treatable medically. Or even worse, that having a psychological-emotional issue is a second-rate problem compared to some other medical condition. It’s just not true.

We are barraged with messages telling us not to pay attention to our own emotions or to our own psychological state. Messages telling us that these things aren’t important. However, I’ve come to realize that these things are not only equally as important as physical issues, but they may also even be more important to examine, understand, and address than the physical evidence alone. I can remember times in my life as a child when I “turned off” my feelings. Some times were related to ‘not caring’ about racist “teasing” I experienced about being Asian. Another time was when I was left at school for the first time. I can say for sure that turning off my emotions did not make me stronger. They were times of hurt or a defense mechanism out of fear. And it’s only been as an adult that I’ve been able to fully nurse these wounds and tell that little one it’s going to be okay.

So many times we can tell ourselves that what people think doesn’t matter. And we shouldn’t (or don’t) care what people think. However, we are such a communal breed. Humans are a social species. Our emotional states are elevated when we feel connected and accepted. And that’s not a bad thing! It’s how we are designed. We are emotional! Those who can’t empathize with others at all are called sociopaths. At work when I feel like I can achieve what is expected of me, I tend to thrive. When I feel that I’m being judged or singled out, I don’t perform as well. And when my relationships at home or at work are dodgy, my focus, my performance, and my productivity are affected. Our mental and emotional states impact how we are able to function and perform.

As part of my job as a speech-language pathologist, when I perform cognitive-linguistic testing for a patient who is afraid of my judging them, they often perform worse than a patient with an equivalent skill level who feels comfortable and at ease with me and with the task. Or if a person is really anxious, their performance suffers. If their test scores and performance fall below average, they could demonstrate signs of cognitive impairment. Another example is my voice patients who are severely anxious. Their psychological state has a direct impact on their muscle tension, their ability to let go and breathe fully. And they may end up with worse dysphonia. Dysphonia is a legitimate medical diagnosis. But, interesting that when we shift our mental state and alter our behavior, we can enhance or reduce the manifestation of that diagnosis physically– even to the point where we could meet the criteria to not have the condition.

So, why is it that we continue to tell ourselves that these elements don’t make a difference? That our emotions and feelings don’t mean anything? My whole life I grew up being told not to care what people think. And being “different” by being a transracial adoptee, I was faced with the choice to care what others thought (or what I believed others thought) or to not. I’m realizing that for a long time we were taught to “turn off” those emotions, to ignore them for personal or productivity-sake. It’s completely normal to care about what people think, but I’m learning that I don’t need to care about what everyone thinks of me. So, instead, I’m focusing on being selective about whose opinions I care about. I’m choosing my people: finding my tribe. Not everyone has the same strengths, weaknesses, experiences, communication styles, expressive language abilities, and education level. I’ve been curating my life with what I think, feel, and love. And it’s been life-changing. I’ve been figuring out what I love! That’s been so incredible and amazing. And it’s been something that’s been underrated in my own life.

There have been missteps along the way. I have made mistakes. I’ve learned from them. I’ve gotten better at knowing what I love and recognizing when and how I love to do it. I’m getting to know myself more and more and what makes me thrive. This is the journey for all of us, adopted or not. Celebrating who we are and connecting with others in a loving and meaningful way. And connecting with your emotions and feelings is a big part of it. So, lean into your feelings today!

 

xoxo

Rachel

 

Putting the Pieces of My Life Together: Discovering How to Choose Joy

In the years following my birth family reunion, I read a book called, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. It’s now one of my favorite books. This book completely changed my life and allowed me to connect with my feelings in a profound way — all through tidying up! This book encourages readers to hold each item they own in a systematic program, called the KonMari Method, and ask if the item sparks joy. If the item doesn’t spark joy, the readers are encouraged to let it go. Marie Kondo outlines which category of items to attend to first (clothes) and then provides a systematic order for which category to attend to next until you’ve organized all of your belongings.

Her method recommends grouping all items by category for each owner within the home. So, for instance, all my shoes belong together in one place and all my husband’s shoes belong together in one place. It makes it easier to find because you know where your designated shoe location is. It also makes it easier to see exactly how many shoes you really own because they aren’t dispersed in many different places. If you tend to keep your shoes in the foyer, that can be their spot. While your spouse may keep his or her shoes in the bedroom closet. The point is that all like items are grouped together by owner. I really loved this because I tend to love systems and efficiency. It makes me happy to feel like I know where all of my shoes are. And having a spot for everything makes me feel like I’m wasting less time looking for things when I need them. This method also helps me to feel distinctly differentiated from my husband. With all the meshing of stuff between spouses, it’s nice to have your own spot for your things and a separate spot for your spouse’s things. It provided a sense of ownership and order.

I started writing about what this book meant to me in a previous blog post. And I noticed that there were certain themes that arose that I wanted to explore. Each theme centered on a change in the way that I thought. So, I created a list of the ways that my thinking changed. In other words, myths that were busted. Here’s the list that evolved:

MYTH BUSTED: I don’t need confidence

Having a system like this gave me confidence in myself and confidence that I could take control of my possessions and my life. It broke the huge task of organizing my house into smaller component parts. It gave me a layout of what to do first, second, third and so on. I’m realizing that confidence is a powerful tool to have in your arsenal. I used to believe that I didn’t need confidence. I believed that I just needed to “push through” and not think about things or even to feel things to get them done. But now being more attached to my feelings, I definitely see what a powerful tool that confidence is. Breaking up the huge task of organizing my belongings into manageable parts helped me to feel confident that I could perform each part. This helped to jump-start my endeavors. Then, after completing each portion of the project, my confidence grew. This newfound confidence was not only invigorating, it actually fueled my efforts to do even more and to be even more productive.

MYTH BUSTED: Possessions need to be expensive to be valuable

The idea of joy in this process wasn’t associated with how expensive my possessions were, or even what others thought of them. It was about how I connected with the items and what they meant to me.

MYTH BUSTED: Aesthetics Don’t Matter

Again, it wasn’t about how expensive the item was. It wasn’t just about the superficial appearance of an item. It was about what the items meant to me personally. It was about what they meant in my life. We deserve to do more than kill ourselves working. We deserve to care about beauty. And even more importantly, we are allowed to enjoy beautiful things. Aesthetics speak to our joy and add a sense of peace and wonder to our lives. It takes us to the next level from just surviving to thriving. Each of us deserves to find happiness, joy, and beauty in our lives. We are allowed to care about that. And we are allowed to shine. We are allowed to love things, people, experiences, and moments. And, for a brighter, happier, kinder world; it’s imperative that we do.

MYTH BUSTED: A home-base doesn’t matter

I was exploring the idea of living everywhere but nowhere. But the idea of home matters. The idea of stability matters. The idea of reliability matters. The ideas of routines and habits matter. They allow us to forget about the mundane steps involved in everyday tasks like making your morning coffee and gathering your belongings to head out the door so that you can focus your attention and energy on a fresh day ahead of you. Having free brain-space means that you have the available cognitive power to notice moments of beauty and peace throughout your day, which makes life enjoyable and meaningful. And having free brainpower allows more energy for creative problem-solving during the inevitable challenges of your day as well as more energy for innovation in your work and home. Not to mention that it gives you a sense of settledness.   

Feeling like you belong somewhere matters. Feeling like this is your space makes a huge difference. I recently began a new job, and I wasn’t sure if they were going to have space for me because office space is complicated there. Being a busy environment, I also wasn’t sure if they’d be ready for my arrival. To my surprise, they had a desk and an office space ready for me with my name printed on the door. It meant the world to me. I felt like I had arrived. It speaks to our soul to belong. There’s something innately important about a sense of belonging to our human spirit. Not to mention the power and confidence that comes in knowing that you are meant to be exactly where you are.

MYTH BUSTED: My possessions don’t matter

My possessions matter because they matter to me. Your possessions mean something because they mean something to you. I matter. You matter. Period. Having a sense of pride in your life, including the life that you’ve built in your home, your belongings, your clothes, your routine, and your work, makes a difference. When I don’t feel a sense of pride in something, I can definitely feel my confidence, my motivation, and my inspiration waning. With those down, I am not as productive or efficient. Not to mention that a lack of pride (e.g. shame) can wear on your mental energy, draining from the reservoir of cognitive and emotional capacity to make decisions wisely and to think creatively and constructively.

MYTH BUSTED: Having a system doesn’t matter. 

Having a system helps keep your mind and your belongings organized. Our brains are wired for organization. The tasks that we do are organized not only spatially but sequentially. So, timing and order matter. The more things are organized in a meaningful way, the more efficient you can be. The more that systems make sense, the more powerful and accurate your decisions become. The better your outcomes are, the more confidence and success build upon one another. The more reasons you have for doing things, the more meaningful your life becomes. Meaning, connection, successful outcomes, and true confidence build not only successful and happy careers, but happier, more motivated and more productive people.

MYTH BUSTED: Having a plan doesn’t matter or help.

I used to believe that I did my best work when I was acting on a whim, when I had no set plans or when I was acting in a mad fury to get things done under the final pressure of an impending deadline. But I’ve come to realize that I love planning ahead! I love setting plans and building on them. Not to mention— it’s nice to know what to expect.

MYTH BUSTED: What you do doesn’t matter.

In the past, I felt like my house didn’t need to be organized because I was living ‘just fine’ despite the fact that I couldn’t organize everything I wanted to. But, I took this mentality to an extreme, where I began believing that since I couldn’t do everything I wanted, that none of the tasks I did mattered. But, what you do matters. In fact, it seems that this is one of the biggest predictors of happiness. Studies found that doing something and learning a skill contributed to increased happiness and confidence in children. You are bound to get better at what you work on. What you do leads to learning new skills and getting things done, which both add to your sense of accomplishment and sense of confidence in yourself. And these boost your happiness.

MYTH BUSTED: Enjoying things and connecting with your heart is for sissies, or is silly, trivial, and insignificant.

It seems like a silly task and it seems even silly for me to say. But, going through this method changed me. Growing up in a typical working-class east-Baltimore family, I was taught to be tough. You keep your head down, nose to the grind, and just keep going, like a workhorse. The focus was never on my feelings or my thoughts. It was on just getting things done, and working hard. It didn’t matter if you didn’t like something, or didn’t want to do something; you just did it. And when you didn’t like to do something or didn’t want to do something, it was even more imperative that you push through to get it done. I wasn’t shown how to connect with my heart. Yes, my feelings mattered to an extent, but what I cared about didn’t really matter when it came head-to-head with tradition, work, or duty. Those “should be” ways of living always overrode my feelings. As if my desires and my feelings were second-rate citizens. Or as if they were trivial and insignificant. I think this is how I became such a dutiful workaholic who grew up feeling guilty whenever I couldn’t get something done. This translated to my early adult life when I had difficulty asking for help or saying that I couldn’t finish something.

What you care about matters tremendously. It affects you, your life, your motivation, your outlook, and therefore your performance and productivity. This, in turn, affects the people around you.

It was a wonderful exercise of self-growth for me to take each of my possessions in hand and to search my heart for if it brought me joy. I was able to connect with my heart in a deeper way and to know myself in a deeper way than I ever thought I could. 

During the time following my birth family reunion, my identity felt nebulous, hazy and ill-defined. I felt like I was grasping at my identity like someone trying to grab the wind. I felt like a blank slate. I didn’t know who I was. I was grappling with the idea that I could’ve become someone else if the events in my life were different. I was wondering what elements of my personality were inherent and which were fluid and learned. Of those that were learned, what was shaped by the family who raised me. Of those that were inherited, what did that mean? Did that mean that I was destined to have those traits? Could I choose who I wanted to be? Did I have a say in the life I wanted to lead going forward? Could I still just be me? And if so, who was that?

I came to realize that no matter what inherent traits we were born with and no matter what we were taught by our families or by our environment, we all have the ability to choose the people we are. And that’s a lot of power. In fact, it could be the difference between a life filled with peace, contentedness and joy and a life filled with emptiness, unsettledness, and depression. We have some agency over our lives. We can’t control what we were born with or what happens to us. But, we can definitely change elements of who we are. We can shift our own viewpoints and modify our own perspective. We can be creative thinkers. We can be dynamic problem-solvers and innovators. We can build the life we want, beginning with our own thoughts and ideas.

During this time when I felt devoid of personality that was my own and devoid of an identity that was mine, I found the KonMarie method to be a wonderfully transformative process. As I connected with my own thoughts and feelings about each of my possessions, my experience and outlook of the items within my house transformed. And therefore, my life experience changed. I disregarded the opinions of others during the process and connected with thoughts and feelings that were uniquely mine.

And I found that I could not only know what I was feeling, but I also connected with my heart: who I was at my core. And this is something that people need to do more. Doctors and healthcare professionals, business people, law enforcement, artists, anyone and everyone can lead happier lives by paying attention to what sparks joy for them. And when we are doing what we love, it shows. When we are motivated and inspired, breakthroughs happen. And we do more. We have more endurance to do more over the long-term. We have more resilience to bounce back after challenges, setbacks, and distractions. And this, in turn, can help us to be a more creative, innovative, and productive society.

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 😘

-Rachel

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? 🤷🏻‍♀️

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

Xoxo.

-rm

The KAD Diaries Photo Shoot, Part 2

A few weeks ago, I had the amazing privilege of participating in The KAD Diaries photo shoot at the beautiful Long View Gallery on 9th Street in DC. This was the second photo shoot for this photo art project filmed and photographed by LA-based kaddc6 filmmaker, Zeke Anders. A couple of months ago, the first photo shoot for the KAD Diaries took place in the Venice Arts Gallery in LA and was a huge success. Zeke wanted to expand the project to include more stories from Korean adoptees on the east coast. So, in collaboration with Adoption Links DC, The KAD Diaries DC photo shoot was born.

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The DC event was a huge success, capturing about as many adoptee accounts as the LA shoots, which were held over two dates. Friday before the shoot, I met up with some really cool Korean adoptees in the city. It was so nice to share stories with other Korean adoptees who shared a lot of my experiences. A few already reunited with members of their biological families, just like me. A few just started their searches.

One fellow adoptee discovered that he had biological relatives that immigrated to the US from Korea, just like me. We both reunited with our biological families a little over a year ago. We both shared how meaningful, challenging, and emotional the reunion experience was and how it shook us to our cores. I shared how I felt like I was a teenager trying to figure out who I was all over again. Before my reunion, it was like my whole identity was based on the fact that I knew nothing about where I came from or who my biological family was. And after my reunion, I had to rebuild my identity merging the two worlds. He could definitely relate.

Photo Credit: Matthew Booth

Photo Credit: Matthew Booth

Each attendee had the opportunity to share his or her experiences during a filmed group interview sessionWe talked about our experiences growing up in a transracial adoptee situation, experiences with racism, birth family reunions, and experience with religion in the context of being adopted. It was so amazing to connect with other people who could relate to so much of what I experienced growing up as a Korean adoptee. Amazing to hear how similar our experiences were as well as how unique each of our stories were. kaddc3

Most adoptees were infants or small children when they were adopted. We all described various experiences growing up where we had to explain our situations. One girl who was adopted as an infant shared how someone actually asked her adoptive parents how they could understand her growing up since they didn’t speak Korean. Almost as if she was born speaking Korean to them even before learning her first words. Many of us encountered people who actually became upset when they discovered that we didn’t speak Korean, not understanding that many of us were never exposed to the Korean language.

A few of the questions were easier than others. A few questions were really emotional. One really emotional question was when Zeke asked us, “What would you say if your birth parents were here right now?”

I said, that growing up I had a beautiful life– one that I am very thankful for. So, I always wanted the opportunity to tell my birth family that I was okay, that they made a good decision, and that I’ve been really happy in my new life. If I ever had the opportunity to meet my biological parents, I would tell them that I was thankful for bringing me into the world and for making the tough decision to let me go for the chance of a better life.

There was definitely a camaraderie among us through our shared experiences. There were moments when we were at a loss for words and even struggled to hold back tears. I related to so many of the difficult things each of my fellow interviewees experienced. After a tear-filled moment toward the end of our interview, we all shared a group hug!

One of the most emotional moments for me was when a fellow adoptee was asked a tough question. She thought about her response and then asked to pass on answering as she fought back tears. Her silence actually spoke volumes to the stories that we each had. That the lives we’ve lived and the challenges that we’ve faced were entire volumes of unspoken joys and challenges that often couldn’t be expressed in words. And sometimes, instead of words– tears speak.

Photo Credit: Jeanne Modderman

Photo Credit: Jeanne Modderman

Just like at the LA photo shoot, participants chose to stand in front of the Korean flag, the American flag, or in the center of the two while Zeke Anders shot their portrait. This was a nice depiction of the internal struggle that every Korean adoptee faced– the feeling that they were often being split between two different cultures, two different families, and two different lives.

Photo Credit: Jeanne Modderman

Photo Credit: Jeanne Modderman

I’m really grateful for the opportunity to participate in this meaningful project and to connect with these lovely Korean adoptees, or “KADs.” I felt like they were more than new acquaintances. It felt like we knew each other for years– a KAD family who already proved to be a huge circle of support. Their words and personal stories shared during this art project meant more than words could express. And I’m excited to be part of this newfound community.

If you would like to follow this meaningful art project, feel free to subscribe to the tumblr site at http://www.thekaddiaries.com

 

 

 

Pep Talk from My Birth Mom before my Aerial Show

In the past year following my birth family reunion, I’ve learned some incredible life lessons. Truly amazing! This blog was an incredible space to share these experiences. One thing I’ve learned is that you can really and truly talk to people who are already in heaven. I am convinced of this. 

A few weeks ago, I performed in my first live aerial performance at the Founder’s Inn Grand Illumination event with Airotique Aerial Dance Company! Just before it was time for me to stand up and perform my routine, there was a space of time where I was seated on the dance floor awaiting my turn to rise and stand up to climb the silks. I don’t know why my mind wandered to where it did, except that it was really my birth mom poking me from heaven! I sat with my knees leaning toward one side, looking out at the audience, taking everything in. All of a sudden, I had this enormous sense that my birth mom was looking down on me from heaven. She was there to watch me perform in my first show. In my heart, I heard her say to me, she was there. She also clearly told me that she was so glad my adoptive mom, Doris, was there, and that she couldn’t have chosen a better person to raise me. She said she was exactly the person she wanted to raise me, and she was so happy that my adoptive mom, Doris, was my mom.

I immediately welled up with emotion, and my eyes filled with tears! Soon after, I quickly snapped out of that transcendent experience and landed my consciousness back to the dance floor where I was seated, and to the silks in front of me that I soon needed to climb. My thoughts returned to the ballroom just in time before the tears were able to stream down my face, thankfully. It was such an emotional and powerful experience! I’m not sure why it happened when it did– right before my show. I took it as a signal that I was meant to find aerial arts, and connecting with my birth mom at that moment was another sign that aerial dancing was meant to be with me for a while longer. It could’ve also been because my birth mom knew that this was important for me, so she wanted to cheer me on and let me know she was with me. I don’t think I know the full reason yet, but I get the impression I will.

When choosing the photos for this post, I debated between the one at left of me climbing the silks at the performance and another shot of me seated on the ground. I was feeling attached to the one of me seated on the ground because I had a clear look of badass determination on my face, and my make up lines looked exactly like Natalie Portman in Black Swan. However, that photo was a little out of focus. So, I asked my husband which one he thought I should choose based on what I was writing about. He said he liked this one because it looked like I was climbing to heaven. Such a sweet sentiment! He’s definitely a keeper.

Hope this post finds you well this holiday season!

Merry Christmas!

xoxo

rm