Adoption

The Day I Reconnected with my Biological Family

Exactly one year ago, I embarked on an adventure to reconnect with my biological Korean family. We were separated when I was adopted at 9 months old. It had been nearly 3 decades since we last saw one another. I didn’t remember anything about them, and had no idea of who they were, or where they were. I didn’t know if they would accept me, or if they even knew I existed.

In spring of 2014, I watched a documentary about a handful of girls who were adopted from China called, “Somewhere Between.” One of the girls was able to reconnect with her biological family in the film. After seeing this documentary, I was inspired to seek out my biological family no matter what the outcome would be. This journey to search out my biological family has been a completely daring adventure of Lord of the Rings proportions. During each step of my journey to search for my bio family and to reunite with them, my heart felt like it was pounding outside of my chest. I had never been so nervous about anything in my entire life.

In searching for my biological family, I was met with obstacles along the way. I knew that my birth mother died when I was about 3 months old. This was reported to my adoptive mother when I was adopted. I never knew how she died. Growing up, a part of me always wondered if it was due to complications during childbirth when I was born since she died when I was only a few months old. This is something that weighed on me not only for the emotional implications of thinking I could’ve contributed to her death but also for fear that I may be at increased risk for complications during childbirth for my future children. Growing up, I was unsure if I would ever know the answer to the questions I had surrounding my birth and my birth mother’s passing.

To start my search, we solicited my birth mother’s death certificate, which reported her time and date of death. It also reported her cause of death, which was suicide. It was the first time I ever knew the tragic way in which she died. Her death certificate listed her father’s name and an address. I mustered up every bit of courage I possessed to visit the address and knock on the front door. After knocking, I waited. And no one answered! I was extremely disappointed. But, I wasn’t ready to give up! So, I knocked on the neighbor’s door and asked if anyone knew my family. That lead to an older neighbor passing on an old phone number that was given to her 10 years prior from my biological aunt when my family moved away.

She wasn’t sure if the phone number was still active. So, I cold called the number, and a woman answered. I held my breath as I asked her if she knew Ae Sun Lee (my bio mom). My heart stood still when she said, “Yes.” I spoke with a determined conviction to drown out the quivers in my voice, as I said–“This may be a surprise to you, but I’m her daughter.” I still remember sitting on the floor of my spare bedroom with all of my notes spread out on the floor with Korean phrases, notes on leads, and questions to ask. My husband was doing P90X in the living room. When he heard me talking to a live person– he came to the doorway to see if the phone number was legitimate. As my aunt was talking, I just looked up at my husband and nodded. We had found them.

My aunt said, “We were looking for you. You have cousins! A lot of cousins, and I’m sure they all want to meet you.” Very few moments in my life could compare to how relieved and happy I was in that moment– to hear not only that my bio family knew about me, but that they wanted to meet me.

“You have some older cousins who remember you.” This news was incredibly supririsng in the best, warmest way possible. Growing up I was told that my birth mother was cut off from her family before I was born. So, I imagined her and my bio dad out on their own with no family to speak of. I assumed that since they were ostracized from their family, it was possible that no one even knew about me! Like a lot of Korean adoptees, I found out that my entire back story was wrong. And in fact, there were aunts and uncles who remember me as a baby– and a few of my older cousins, too! This was incredible to discover, as I had no idea these people even existed. But, they knew about me!

Before my reunion, it was like the first 9 months of my life were veiled with a blackness– the kind of blackness you see with your eyes closed. In reconnecting with my bio family, instead of seeing dark nothingness, I see people– faces, and smiles and hugs, and people taking care of me during the first nine months of my life. It’s truly an incredible blessing to have more of a complete picture of what my life looked like as a little baby. I am incredibly grateful for the ability to know this information and to get to know these parts of my life that I thought were lost forever.

#reunionshappen

Best of luck to all those still searching…

xoxo

rm

Fighting Back and Defying Gravity as a Korean Adoptee

I’ve been thinking about the forces in the world. There are forces that can build us up and inspire us to be better. And there are forces out there that try to bring us down. These forces exist just as much as gravity exists. We can’t see or touch gravity, but we know when we step off of a cliff, it’s a daunting long way down. And we can see the effects of gravity on an older person’s vertebral discs which shrink over the years due to this constant push of gravity on their spines. These forces are real. Every day we enter a a duel against these forces of nature and against these spiritual forces that try to thwart our human potential.

As adoptees, we have had to face more than most people have even before we learned how to walk. We are already feeling the effects of life’s gravitational pull as young babies before we have even learned our first words. Everyone must battle with these forces. The weight of the world. The weight of these unseen forces, sometimes seeming to tear us apart.

Last year I went through a tale spin of emotions after reconnecting with my bio family. I was processing such intense emotions that I felt like I was being split apart. There were days where all I felt was anguish. There were tears– lots of tears. It took a toll on my marriage. It was a tough summer and a tough year.

After coming out of this year on the other side, I am happy to say that it can get better. And you can defy these forces. Here are a few of my victories:

  1. Last summer after reuniting with my birth family I reconnected with some friends from high school. We had so much fun hanging out and catching up. I felt like I had gained some of my teen years back. In these moments, I learned how to defy time.
  2. Last summer I started aerial dancing. It is the most incredible dance/sport/art I have ever practiced. I love it! It takes a lot of strength just to be able to climb to the top let alone to perform the actual skills. With each climb, an aerialist must wrap one leg in the silk, create a shelf with her foot for the other foot to stand on, wedge the silk between her two feet, and pull her body weight up for the next grab. Then, repeat the process. At first, I wasn’t able to perform even one full climb. Now, I am climbing to the top of the rafters. Every night I’m in the aerial studio, I am defying gravity.
  3. Last summer I started dancing–a lot. Before my reunion last year, there were huge parts of my life that were consumed with super serious, super workaholic, grown up mode. And there was no time or space for dancing. In reconnecting with my love for dancing, I am defying the notion that being an adult is all about work and keeping to the grind 24-7– an idea that pervades our American culture and threatens our happiness. Even in dancing, I’m defying the pressure of what society has tried to place on us as humans.
  4. In a new way, I realized that life is short and very precious. I’m determined to figure out what I want most–and to go for it. Not just passively, but to actually work at my own happiness. To work at the life I want to create. In living out the life I want, I am defying the negative forces coming against me in the most effective way possible.

Good luck on your endeavors and your own personal duels.

I’m rooting for you!

xoxo,

-rm

Following my Intuition after my Birth Family Reunion

I’ve been thinking about intuition. That inner voice that speaks words of wisdom, guidance, ideas, or even reservations. Just like we have the ability to physically feel when we need to stretch after we’ve been sitting crouched over a computer desk too long. Or, the physical feeling of hunger when we need to eat. I think there is also an internal ability to feel things in a spiritual sense… kind of like a spidey sense. You can feel it when you are around someone who is extremely anxious– you automatically start to feel anxious too. Or, there are those times when you have this nudge in your stomach that this particular thing is a bad decision. Or there are those moments of peaceful clarity where you can just feel that all is “right” in the world. Just like it is important to pay attention to our own physical health, I think it’s important to pay attention to our own mental and spiritual well-being. And listening to your own intuition is a big part of mental and spiritual health.

Your intuition is like your internal voice. There are moments in our lives, as adoptees, when our identities are stripped: the moment we were offered up for adoption, the moment we were adopted, the moment we were reunited with our bio families, and the list goes on. When we are given for adoption, our past lives and previous identities fade away like the faces of our biological families. When we reunite with our biological families, the identities we’ve spent so many years building crumble with every newfound piece of information shared. With the stripping of our identities, there is also the risk for our voices to be stripped as well– both our inner intuitive voice and our expressive external voice.

Last year I reunited with my biological maternal family. It was a whirlwind of emotions. At 28 years old, I felt like I was a teenager relearning who I was all over again. I was forced to ask myself, “Who am I?” and “What do I think?” Coming face to face with all of these individuals who were biologically related to me was both joyous and complicated. Which traits did I see in them that I owned myself? Which beliefs? Which ideas and values? Slowly and through a lot of personal work, I’ve been finding the answers to those questions. I’m finding my voice again, now with all of these newfound connections and new relationships. I am very happy to report the good news: our own identities and our own voices CAN be rebuilt after these monumental moments in our adopted lives! A LOT of it involves finding your own inner voice: your own intuition about your beliefs, values, and desires, regardless of what others in your bio family or adoptive family believe. It’s exploring the stuff that your life is made of– your passions, your inspirations, your motives. Finding the things that make you feel alive– the things that make life meaningful and beautiful to you. The things that speak to you on a deep level.

I recently started acupuncture. It’s one of the most amazing treatments I have ever experienced. I actually feel more clearheaded afterwards. It also elevates my moods and stabilizes my emotions. It’s incredible. During my last session, I felt like I needed to have a needle placed in the small of my chest, midsternal region, known as “heart center” in yoga. So, my lovely acupuncturist placed one at that exact point. It was incredible! I felt a rush of happiness and felt really complete. Our session was closed out in a fabulous way with this self-requested needle point. My acupuncturist said, “I really love how in tune you are with what you feel you need.”

Following this session, I had an even greater respect for my own intuition. I DO know what I need. And I know exactly what I want! This elevated self respect spilled over to other areas in my life and has fortified my own decision-making power despite the fact that I used to be very indecisive. This journey to listen to my own intuition actually started in this new direction last year shortly after my birth family reunion. I started listening to my own intuition in a really profound way. And many times, my intuition was right. One example was last summer when I saw some aerialists performing in an art show. I knew in my heart that I had to try it! I found an aerial arts studio near me and have absolutely fallen in love with it! I’m eating better, sleeping better, and making healthier choices so that I can maximize my training. I love it because it’s so unique and unlike any other art/sport. It’s so feminine and so tough at the same time. It makes me feel strong and beautiful. It makes me feel like a kid again–just swinging around, hanging upside down like I used to on my swing set, or spinning around with my best buddies.

And even more than all this, aerial dancing makes me feel alive. Never before in having no physical footing stability have I ever been so grounded. We talk about grounding a lot in yoga. That awareness of the present moment. This is powerful stuff. So many times our thoughts are so aloof, flitting to the past or the future, or to our fears or expectations. When the most powerful moment we have is the present moment at hand. Aerial dancing brings me back to the present moment in an incredible way. It’s a reminder of how human I am because skills take time to learn and strength takes perserverance to acquire. In the moments I’ve reached the edge of my strength and feel like I can’t hold on any longer, I’m in the present. The moment I nail a trick that is so incredibly beautiful, I’m in the moment. Climbing the silks at all is a reminder of the moments that I have and the abilities that I have at this present moment, and a reminder of the fact that these moments are fleeting. So, I need to make the most of them and enjoy each one of them for all they’re worth!

Following my own intuition has led to huge breakthroughs both personally and professionally. Sometimes following your heart may mean going completely against what anyone else is dictating. Or, it may mean doing something as unexpected as climbing a piece of fabric twenty feet in the air and swinging around by your bare hands. Whatever your bliss is, go out and do it!

I’m rooting for you.

xoxo

-rm

 

 

The Moment I Lost my Bio Family

In reconnecting with my bio family last May, I had to process a lot of intense realities. One was the idea that at one point–one epic moment in time, when I was literally in physical transition from the hands of my bio family to the arms of my adoptive family, there was a transitional moment where I was utterly and completely alone. A single little baby– without a family, without a home, armed with only the clothes on my back. At this solitary moment, I was an orphan. Somewhat destitute and on my own. This cosmic moment in time is something that all adoptees share. It’s not something I ever dwelled on. And yes–one could actually say that at that transitional moment, I actually had two families, so double the love and all that. Which was also absolutely true. But on the other hand, quite literally at that transfer moment, I was at square one. Alone. Helpless and penniless with only the clothes on my back to call my own. It was like counting along the number line used in school to illustrate transitioning from the negative integers to the positive ones– there was always that point of transition at zero that indicated the neutrality between this major shift. At that moment, I was at zero, as my prior life was ending, and my new life was beginning.

For me, this moment happened when I was dropped off at the foster care lady’s house. And figuratively, in the lawyer’s office when my bio dad signed the paperwork to hand over guardianship to my adoptive family. I’ve never really thought about this monumental moment until this past year. It’s definitely a defining moment in each adoptee’s life. There were the psychological and emotional ramifications of being utterly alone. But even more than that, I have been really thinking about the open realm of possibilities that my life could’ve taken in that singular moment in time. What if I was raised by a different family than my adoptive family? Would I be the same person? Choose the same career? Marry the same guy? My head has been spinning over the past year with all of these questions. Reuniting with my birth family prompted me to ask myself these really challenging questions. I did a lot of soul searching. I came to a lot of conclusions so far.

I do believe that most things happen for reasons. Maybe not all, but most things. In these monumental moments, our lives shift and take unexpected turns. But, ultimately no matter who we are in life– adopted or not, we all must learn the responsibility that lies in being who we were meant to be as individuals regardless of who our families are. We must choose the life we want to live for ourselves regardless of whether or not we are alone or surrounded by the biggest family on the planet. The events and people in our lives certainly shape us, but they most definitely do not define who we are. We are so much more than the stuff that’s happened to us. And we are definitely so much more than what the people around us make us out to be. Whether we are adopted or not, we all must go through the same process of learning who we are for ourselves and by ourselves. We are each individual people who must live out who we were meant to be in the world regardless of others, and at times, even in spite of others. So, in essence adoptees get a jump start on that road to self discovery as an individual, starting as little babies.

Growing up as adoptees, we are never given the luxury of the notion that “this is how you should be, because you take after so and so” or “that just runs in our family.” So, growing up we are constantly learning who we are, on our own! This can be a daunting process, but it’s not impossible. Ultimately, no matter who your family is, or who you are surrounded by– every individual has his or her own free will.

I can remember moments in my life where I had to take a stand and be the person who I was meant to be, even if that meant not doing exactly what I was told. One moment that stands out in my life was when I was a senior in high school. In my adoptive family, my mother desperately wanted me to go into the medical field. Most of my adoptive family thought I should become a nurse, because after all, that is what all of my female cousins did. Many adult family friends told me I should become a doctor. I entertained these ideas, and entered college as a pre-med student. Since I wasn’t complete sold on the idea of becoming a doctor, I simultaneously completed a volunteer experience during my first semester of college at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center where I was able to obtain real life exposure to patient care. The program was called “Patient Partners.” Basically, I went into patient rooms, armed with a survey asking patients how their stay was at the hospital. Easy enough. I went into the volunteer program with hopes that I could gain an idea of what it would be like to be a nurse or a doctor. I lasted one day. The experience served its purpose, and I was a fast learner! In that brief experience, I learned a really quick, valuable lesson: I was not meant to be a nurse or a doctor, regardless of what my family wanted. And this volunteer program was an experience that I sought out myself. I had done well. Lesson learned– able to move on.

One thing I realized through that volunteer experience was that in a career as a doctor, I felt that I would more quickly stick a needle in someone than actually talk with them. For me, this objectified and dehumanized the whole experience of wanting to go into a career where I could make a difference people’s lives. Later on, through probing out different careers I landed on the idea of a speech language pathologist. I could still use the medical and scientific knowledge to work with clients to regain parts of themselves lost after injury or illness. But, I could actually spend time working on regaining some of the skills that are unique to the human experience– eating and speaking. An ER doctor could spend 30 minutes pumping on a patient’s chest and ultimately bring her back from the brink of death. This is an extraordinarily commendable feat. But, sometimes, these patients are shells of the people they once were. And that wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to work with patients on the things that make life worth living– connecting with others and enjoying some of life’s simple pleasures– like eating a piece of decadent chocolate cake or sharing stories. I’ve been practicing medical speech therapy for seven years now and absolutely love the work that I do with patients. This was definitely the right career choice for me. I am really passionate about my work, and I take a lot of pride in what I do. I really love seeing my clients make gains to be able to eat and speak again.

These are the types of invaluable lessons that every single individual on the planet must learn! Being an adoptee sometimes muddies the water a little bit, and can make learning these lessons of self discovery a little complicated. But I want to encourage every adoptee that it’s not impossible. You can do it! It takes hard work, determination, and a lot of exploring. But through and through, by and by, you will learn more about yourself, the world, and where you fit in. It’s a lifelong process– not only for adoptees, but for all humans. And no one ever feels like he or she has fully arrived at total self-discovery. But the beauty is that you get to decide who you are and how you want to design your life. And if you don’t like something about the way your life is headed, you can redesign. It’s magical, really.

Good luck! I’m rooting for you!

xoxo

rm

 

 

Korean Adoptee NYC Meet up: The Lovely Stefanie B.

I had a wonderful time this weekend meeting the amazingly beautiful and very talented Stefanie B, and her dog, Billy Lee, at their lovely apartment in NYC. It was a rainy dreary March day in New York. But as soon as I met Stefanie, I felt an instant ray of sunshine and a real warmth that lasted well into the night. She is literally one of the most beautiful people I have ever laid eyes on. So much so that it is hard to believe that she was ever terrorized for the way that she looked growing up as a biracial Korean child in Korea and then as a biracial Korean adoptee growing up in the states. She has the most amazing dark hair highlighted with shades of grey, which Stefanie proudly owns as her own “fifty shades of grey.” She believes in embracing the beauty that you are at whatever age you are. And that aging can be done gracefully. She has a warm glow with golden skin that looks like we are in the dead of summer. And her smile could stop any man in his tracks. But even more than that, this lady has class, artistic flair, and a beautiful warm soul.

Her apartment was decorated with her own personal artwork and a collection from other artists. She has completed art work for other Korean adoptees, including portraits of them as children with their biological mothers or in their native Korean homeland. These incredible pieces are deeply moving, capturing the emotions behind what it means for an adopted child to be seen with their biological mothers. These portraits are sometimes based on real photographs of biological families taken decades prior. Others are based on memories from greater than 20 years old of what the adoptees remember their biological mothers to look like. Others are based off of only an intuition or a feeling of who these unknown mothers are. Regardless of the inspiration, her artwork never ceases to move me to tears. Stefanie’s artwork is so powerful because it’s often the only portrait that exists of the adoptee and his or her biological mother. All of Stefanie’s artwork is created, under her Korean name, Jacky Lee.

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This portrait is a drawing of a young Korean adoptee based on a 1973 photo of her as a baby. A photograph that she only received in 2010. The drawing of her mother, or “omma,” was a depiction that Stefanie portrayed from the heart and essence of this young adoptee, as there were no photographs of the young mother available. Such a beautiful piece.

Stefanie also does 3D Nano eyebrow artistry– transforming brows using a technique akin to traditional Japanese tebori. Stephanie hooked my brows up! We ended the night with a yummy dinner at a local noodle shop. I love New York. And it’s even better experiencing the city with a newfound KAD sister.

Stefanie was five years old when she was adopted from an orphanage in Incheon. She still remembers the last day she was ever with her biological mother. Her mother cried a lot that day, and told the man at the school that she “wouldn’t be going to school today.” Having these memories of her biological mother, she’s never questioned that her bio mom loved her very deeply. Stefanie was adopted by an American family stationed in Japan. They later moved to California and eventually settled in St. Louis. As an adult, Stefanie moved to New York where she currently resides. Stefanie has never reconnected with her biological mother. But she’s carried the memories of the first five years with her biological mother with her even to this day as a special part of her past.

Stefanie said that many biracial children were birthed out of American GI’s coming to Korea and impregnating Korean “camptown women.” These were sex workers who provided their services to American GI’s in “camptowns” located near the American military bases in Korea beginning in the 1950’s. Stefanie said that racism toward biracial children in Korea was so horrific during the time when she was a child, that biracial children had to attend secret schools to keep from being terrorized, bullied, and even attacked.

While working her tebori magic on my brows, Stefanie shared a few YouTube videos documenting some of her experiences as a Korean adoptee. Stefanie recently returned to Korea this past year through a Mosaic HAPA trip, which was videodocumented on YouTube. We watched the video and the tears were flowing. This video was so touching. During the trip, Stefanie was able to meet a biracial Korean popstar named Insooni. Insooni shared her own story about being bullied for being biracial so much so that she had to drop out of school at age 15. Despite such adversity and racism, Insooni has went on to have a successful singing career and also founded a special school in Korea for biracial children. Growing up as a biracial Korean adoptee, it was often difficult for Stefanie to find real acceptance in Korean circles and black circles both in Korea and in the US. Meeting Insooni and seeing her success despite her differences was incredibly powerful for Stefanie and the other adoptees on the HAPA tour. Stefanie referred to her as her “Hero.”

After meeting and getting to know this incredible woman, I can honestly say that Stefanie is one of my real life heroes. I admire her strength, beauty, and poise. I’ve loved spending time chatting with her about shared experiences as Korean adoptees, and hope it’s the first of many more meet ups with her!

 

Mosaic HAPA Korea Trip, “Hero” Video

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Korean Adoptee Facebook Community

I’ve met some of the most amazing Korean adoptees from all over the US through facebook groups I’ve joined over the past year. It’s amazing to connect with others who can relate to my adoption experiences. It’s an amazing community with a lot of 1424748294536bright, talented, wonderful human beings. I’m so fortunate to have them in my corner. It’s been an invaluable support system. Each and every one of them have incredible stories to tell. Stories that will make you cry. Stories that will make you laugh. It’s so powerful to share stories. I’ve been inspired by each and every one of them. A couple of the girls I’ve met reconnected with their biological families. They said it took them years to process their reunions. Extremely validating to hear– especially in the early weeks after reconnecting with my family when my head was still spinning. One of the girls I met discovered she had a biological twin brother who she was able to reconnect with. Another girl I met is considering searching for her biological family, but isn’t sure yet. Totally understandable.

One group I joined was a Korean Adoptee War Paint (make-up) group. This has been such an amazing Annie - KAD War Paintgroup to be a part of because we share all of our beauty secrets with each other for our gorgeous Asian features. This has been extremely meaningful for me to see these gorgeous faces who look just like me! It’s so neat to see beauty in their Asian features. Growing up with my very white adoptive family in a predominantly white neighborhood, the only Asian girl I ever saw was when I was looking in a mirror! My family told me that I was beautiful, and I think somewhere deep inside I felt that way– but I mainly just felt different a lot of the time. I was the only Korean adoptee I knew in any of my social circles. So, in essence, I was different. Being different is both beautiful and challenging. It’s nice to be different. But there is definitely something to be said about Hannah KAD War Paint FB Groupcommunity. These girls are rocking out their Asian beauty! And I love it! I love seeing their faces and trying their make up tricks for Asian eyes. Community. Solidarity.

Another group, a Korean adoptee Writing/Quotes/Poetry/Lyrics group, is an amazing group where we can share experiences or just express whatever we are feeling. It’s incredible to hear from others. It’s been an amazing outlet. I love connecting with other people. The more I do, the more I see how much we all have in common. The groups are great for asking questions and for being resources for others within the community. Topics include logistics of birth family searches, traveling to Korea, adoptee meet-ups, culture, language, and how to navigate being an adoptee or adoptive parent. I would encourage any transracial adoptee to join an adoptee fb group. It’s been an invaluable community for me.

 

Photo collage created by Layne Fostervold.