Birth Family Reunion

You are Enough: Sharing the Message We all Need Right Now

One of the healing messages that carried me through the tumultuous aftermath of my birth family reunion was the mantra, “I am enough.” It was a message I was learning to tell myself in place of prior messages that I often told myself that contradicted that. They were the steady stream of messages that used to barrage my psyche and dictate my self-worth and they were often based upon my fears. It was healing to find messengers like Brene Brown, Oprah, Elizabeth Gilbert, Maya Angelou, my therapist and my acupuncturist and even my lovely badass hairstylist to give me the wisdom to draw out the strength inside of me that steadied me in the fact that I am enough during those years.

Recently, as a new mom, I’ve been struggling with how to tell myself that I am enough. That I am doing enough. And in the space of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic where all hell has broken loose on our lives, how do we tell ourselves that we are enough?? We are under constant pressures to be more than one place (home and work; work and school, etc.) and to be doing more than what we can (working full time and full-time childcare and… and… and…). I’ve read self-help books, gone through hours of counseling, and done a lot of personal work to manage and even overcome my anxiety in the past pre-mommyhood. But in the first years after becoming a mom and even moreso during the current pandemic, I was really struggling with anxiety about not feeling like I had enough _________ (e.g., time, energy, money, resources, plans for the future) or was enough for the people and things in my life. I asked my husband, who is a mental health counselor, how I could reduce my anxiety. I talked it over with my counselor. I did readings. But I was still feeling so anxious as a mother. Was I doing enough? The countless hours I spent typing on my computer while she lay watching TV or playing on her tablet was haunting me. Am I enough? Am I doing enough? It was interacting with my own trauma as a child of feeling like I was without then. And this time, I didn’t know how to shake it. With so many nights staying up late working, my daughter was also going to bed later and waking later and later. I felt horrible about that. But I couldn’t and do anything about that at the moment. In the mornings, when she’s sleeping, I needed the time to work. Late at night when she was waiting for me to wind down for the night, I was still working. And all the while, feeling like I was failing– my jobs, my daughter, my family, and myself. It was all too much.

Then this week, at the close of a late afternoon of a crazy frenzied day, something shifted. A breakthrough happened for me. I was looking at my three-year-old daughter making a squinty-face at me. Usually, when I looked at her, the messages that rolled through my mind were how much I needed to be doing for her and how much we needed to do (e.g. bath time, brush teeth, dinner, get dressed, clean this, clean that, learn this, learn that, do this do that, you know all that stuff) and how much I was failing at it. But today something was different. And I don’t know exactly what was different. It was definitely a supernatural-God-universe-moment because it was bigger than me. It was a raw moment of surrender because I was just too exhausted to ‘try’ to do anything at that moment. Rather than striving, I just looked at her and felt that she was exactly enough just as she was. And something broke inside of me. The anxiety I was placing on myself. All the stress and the worry lifted as I gave my daughter the message I had been learning that I needed to hear all these years. That she was/is enough. ūüė≠

Years of anxiety melted off of my shoulders in that healing moment of clarity. I could see with fresh eyes. I could deliver that message to my daughter in a new way. Out of the challenges in my life and in my situation during this pandemic, something new was born. Instead of striving for what I believed I needed to do to make her life better or easier at that moment, I realized she was already everything she needed to be. And I, in turn, was everything that I needed to be. I didn’t have to do anything to be more deserving of a good, wonderful, smart, thriving child or of the title of being a “good mother.” She didn’t have to do anything to be more deserving of love, acceptance, respect, or praise. She was already whole. I was and am already whole.

If you’re struggling with anxiety or that tension of feeling like you don’t have enough ____________ (insert anything here) today, may I encourage you to surrender? To surrender your plans and efforts up to the message that you are enough. And if you struggle with telling yourself that, as I did over the past few years of being a new mom and especially so since this crisis, take a moment to look at someone you love and send out that wholehearted message of love to them: that they are enough. Just as they are, they are enough. They don’t need to do anything to deserve more love or acceptance. They just are wholly and fully enough. Let go of your expectations. And if during these times you need encouragement or support as we all do, please contact me or someone you know that can remind you of this message that we all need so desperately to hear: You are enough.

 

I’m rooting for you!

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 ‚ÄĒ 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‚Äôt 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‚Äôve come to realize that I love planning ahead! I love setting plans and building on them. Not to mention‚ÄĒ it‚Äôs 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

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

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.

kaddc4

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 session. We 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

Flying as an Aerialist during the Year after my Reunion

I’m so thrilled and excited to announce the completion of my first aerial performance this past weekend with Airotique’s Aerial Dance Company! A little over one year ago I embarked on this aerial journey after seeing an aerial performance by DNA theatre in Baltimore at ArtScape, an outdoor art festival. At the time, I was reconnecting with the creative, artistic, expressive, and adventurous parts of myself that I allowed to remain in hibernation for years while my energy focused on cultivating my skills as a medical speech pathologist. When I saw that performance, the idea of doing something so daring, so beautiful, and so high in the air was something I could really see myself enjoying.

Upon returning home to VA Beach, I searched for an aerial studio and was excited to find Airotique Aerial Arts. The following week, I attended my first class with Nikee. Connecting with this studio has been so incredibly meaningful for me. Even from my first class, I knew that Nikee and I were meant to meet one another. Her purple ponytail matched her silk hammock and her beautifully inked body glided along the silks as she instructed us on how to perform basic silk moves like inversions and basic poses. She was so fantastic, I was hooked to aerial silks! I felt like a kid just swinging around, spinning, and hanging upside down. I couldn’t help the huge smile on my face because it was so much fun!

As I attended classes, I built a lot of upper body and core strength and gained more flexibility. The aerial studio was my happy place. I felt so alive and so free doing something I really loved so much! On the first day I achieved my aerial splits, a classmate said, ‚ÄúCan you see yourself?‚ÄĚ

I said, ‚ÄúUm, what do you mean?‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúLook over there on the far wall‚ÄĒlook at yourself in the mirror.‚ÄĚ

I lifted my head to take a glance in the floor to ceiling mirrors on the opposite wall on the other side of the studio. Few moments have ever compared to how excited and how beautiful I felt about how I looked in that moment– seeing my body suspended midair in a gorgeous aerial silk split! It was definitely a proud moment. It was daring; it was beautiful; and I was so high up in the air!

Last year during Memorial Day weekend, I reunited with my birth family and experienced a tailspin of emotions. My head was spinning with all of the events that I was processing. It was the most incredibly moving event I’d ever experienced. The extreme joy and the deep grief that I felt surrounding this event was unparalleled to anything else I’ve ever felt in my entire life. Less than two months after I reconnected with my bio family, I found Airotique Aerial Arts studio. And in July 2014, I flew for the first time as an aerialist and have been addicted to flying ever since.

During times of hardship, or stressful and emotional times, it’s incredibly meaningful to do something beautiful and daring. A creative outlet. A physical and emotional outlet. A place to connect with friends and support one another. I will be forever grateful for finding Airotique and aerial silks during one of the most emotional years of my life. And I’m excited about continuing to grow as an aerialist with this fabulous group of circus friends. They are some of the coolest, most daring, most beautiful people I’ve ever met. And I’m so glad to have them in my life! Airotique and aerial silks have truly given me wings to soar, and I will be forever grateful for what this meant for me!

 

 

The Meaning of Relationships as a Korean Adoptee in Reunion

As a new speech pathologist in my twenties, I used to spend so much time pouring over my paperwork– creating reports that I felt were “perfect.” It took so much time and energy, and often led to work piling up. It occurred to me one day that the people reading the reports often valued succinct writing rather than superfluous writing. And, if my reports took me so long that they weren’t getting out to the person needing to read them on time, then no one would be needing them or reading them anyway. This got me thinking about the reasons why we do things and the meaning behind them. The reason I write my reports is to communicate with the people who need to know the information — be it the neurologists or surgeons or other doctors involved in the patient’s medical care. If I write a report and no one reads or understands the information, what is the point? Sure, I write shining reports because I take pride in my work. But, my writing¬†means so much less¬†if it just sits in a stack somewhere, unread. This idea translated to¬†more than just¬†the reports¬†I wrote. I started thinking about how incredibly meaningful it is to have someone witness the things that happen in my life.

Photo by: Jonathan Hanson Photography

Within my speech therapy practice over the years, I worked with a very sweet college-aged client who¬†experienced a traumatic brain injury. She saw me¬†for speech-language and cognitive linguistic retraining to regain those skills after her accident. Her memory began to improve a couple of months after her injury. She was really glad she started to remember things, because she said. “It [made her] parents happy, and that [made her] happy.” It was really sweet to hear her say what she said. I could tell she wasn’t worried about recovering just because she was interested in pleasing her parents. It was deeper than that. She was happy to see how relieved they were when they saw her remembering new information because they loved her, and she loved them. Being part of a family takes the things that one experiences as an individual to another level in meaningfulness. The good and the bad things that happen in your life don’t¬†just mean something to you, they mean something for someone else too. And that connection and shared meaning is where true beauty in life happens.

I think that’s why having a partner in life is so meaningful. Not to mention the friends and families in our lives, too. When life gets rough and things go awry, you can rest in the fact that someone cares about you and is there for you, no matter what. When your car breaks down, or your house is broken into, or your health takes a turn for the worst, you can ask someone for help. When something really great happens in your life, you can call him or her and share this awesome¬†news with someone¬†who knows how much it means to you.

Photo by: Jonathan Hanson Photography

There were¬†periods of time¬†in my life where I¬†felt¬†that I didn’t need anyone else in my life. I’ve grown from that and realized how relationships are actually at the core of what it means to be alive. Life is so much richer and more meaningful when you share it with others who you care about and who care about you.¬†As an adoptee, it’s incredibly difficult to not know anything about your past before your adoption. Sometimes it’s like you didn’t even exist before your adoption. Looking at what life looked like before your adoption, it’s like looking into a black hole where all you see is nothingness. Maybe it’s because you don’t know who the people were who were in your life at that time. Maybe also because you don’t know what your life looked like at all.

Last year I reconnected with my Korean American biological family and met family members of mine who remember me before I was relinquished for adoption. This was so incredibly meaningful for me. It’s really amazing to think that these were the people who were in my life during a time of my life I didn’t think I would ever know anything about. Amazing to discover that before my adoption, I wasn’t alone. I was surrounded by family and being taken care of. The first day I spoke to my biological aunt on the phone, I still remember her really meaningful words, “You have a lot of cousins, and they all really want to meet you.”

emohalmoniThese connections have been incredibly meaningful for me to make– to tie the baby I was before I was adopted to the people who were in my life at that time. I met a great aunt of mine who was in tears the moment she first laid eyes on me when we reunited when I was 28 years old. With tears streaming down her face, she quivered as she spoke, “I took care of you. I changed your diapers. Your mom was sick. I took care of her too. But she’s in heaven now. So, don’t worry.”

In that moment, I couldn’t help returning her tears¬†with tears of my own. Meeting people who were in my life during the time before my adoption filled gaps in my past that I thought I’d never fill. It’s definitely given me¬†a lot of closure and made me feel more complete. Since my reunion, I’ve kept in touch with my Korean biological family and have enjoyed a lot of firsts together– first Thanksgiving, first Christmas, first birthday celebrations, and many more. It’s been amazing. My adoptive mom, Doris, was totally “adopted” into my Korean biological family.¬†She was there during¬†our first meeting and during all of our holiday celebrations. She’s been with me every step of the way. The day we first met, my Halmoni (Korean grandmother) looked¬†my adoptive mom¬†in the eyes and told her, “Thank you so much for taking such good care of her. You’re my daughter now. So, don’t worry about anything.”

My (adoptive) mom Doris now has a lot more connections and people who care about her. And that means a lot to me. It speaks to the human spirit to be able to share life with other people and to be able to share love and kindness. Not to mention how meaningfulness in life definitely makes life richer. After I reconnected with my bio family, I felt like I regained some¬†long lost¬†missing pieces¬†and am really grateful for these new relationships in my life. They’ve truly meant the world to me.

 

 

Experiencing Racism & Cultural Biases as a Transracial Adoptee

IMG_20150718_170858

Growing up in a nontraditional family, I was exposed to two different cultures, which gave me a deeper understanding of people. Each culture has its own stereotypes and wives tales. There are stereotypes about every culture group. Being transplanted into a totally different culture group made me see from an inside perspective how some of these biases were based in half truths and others were so far removed from any hint of actual truth that they were outright ridiculous.

My adoptive grandfather was a typical white working class American with his own belief system. He wasn’t a well-traveled man. When he found out that my adoptive mom was adopting a Korean baby, he was initially hesitant because of his experiences with the Korean War. And honestly, he had some biases about non-whites.¬†But when my adoptive mom brought me to meet him for the first time, she said from then on he had no reservations. And it was love and forever family ever since. She couldn’t visit their house without bringing me because he scolded her for daring to come over without me! He loved me so much, as all my adoptive family did. I am so blessed and so forever grateful for their love and acceptance that truly transcended race and appearances on a deep level. I was different, but I never felt like I didn’t belong. This was my family, and that was all there was to it. I hated people asking, “Well do you ever want to meet¬†your real family?” It was usually an innocent question without malicious intent. But those words stung like salt in an open wound because my adoptive family was my family. There was no distinction between real/unreal or whatever. This family was my family, and I was a better person for it.

Last year I¬† reconnected with my bio family. Interestingly enough, they lived on the west side of my hometown, and I grew up on the east side. So funny how we were all in the same city, but never met one another. I was raised in a very white Polish-Catholic part of Baltimore. And my Korean bio family was living in a portion of west Baltimore with a collection of the majority of the city’s Koreans. Growing up I always heard from my adoptive family that the west side was the “rough” and “dangerous” side of Baltimore. Upon reuniting with my birth family, I discovered that my¬†bio family felt the same way about east Baltimore, where I was actually raised. Makes me¬†laugh in disbelief when I¬†think about how different and how similar these two families are to hold such¬†different opinions¬†with such¬†parallel view points. Their opinions were only shaped by the culture they lived in and the parts of town they were from. So funny that if I was solely raised in my bio family, I would’ve grown up hearing only that west Baltimore was better than east Baltimore. It’s¬†kind of¬†crazy though, because I was actually raised in east Baltimore and loved it! It definitely speaks to me deeply about the human experience. Anyone¬†in any part of the world can relate to hearing these different view points from their families, friends, and neighborhoods. I’m seeing that it’s up to each individual to find¬†her¬†own way. To develop¬†her¬†own belief system no matter what the culture around¬†her is dictating.

Growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood in east Baltimore, I experienced some degree of racism growing up.¬† It was never easy to be different or to feel different growing up. I definitely think these differences made me who I am today. Surviving these differences made me stronger and more resilient. I still remember white kids in my neighborhood terrorizing me by speaking jibberish to me, pulling their eyes back and calling me, “Chinese.” Even though their words hurt,¬†I thought they must be the dumbest people on the face of the planet because for starters… I wasn’t Chinese. In making this distinction, I saw the errors in the other things they were saying. I wasn’t Chinese, nor was I any less of a person for being Asian. They were wrong about so much. I want to send this message out into the universe today.¬†That the cruel things that people say to put down other people just for what race they are aren’t really indicative of who the people they are speaking about really are. Those racist people in the world are ignorant on so many levels, and their words and actions don’t have to dictate the value we place on ourselves– no matter what.¬† Because, they are in fact, dead wrong. Every cultural group has unique characteristics that add to the beauty of the human experience and to the world at large. If differences didn’t exist, the world would be a really dull place.

Reconnecting with my Younger Self after my Bio Family Reunion

Reuniting with my birth family a year and a half ago threw me into a tail-spin of emotions and forced me to do a lot of soul-searching. My reunion created a bit of an identity crisis because it made me question everything about myself. I felt like I was a teenager figuring out who I was all over again.  Upon reflecting on my life, I saw that in my late teens and early twenties, I became super serious and extremely dedicated to my professional life, work life, and the activities of adult-living, including working all the time, getting married, paying bills, and caring for a husband.

I really neglected to care for the spontaneous, adventurous, active, daring 16-year old self I left behind when I entered college and a serious dating relationship when I was 17 years old. I was so deeply devoted to leading this older life that I even graduated from college and married when I was just 20 years old. I dressed and behaved in the oldest most professional version of myself. I worked 60+ hours per week on a regular basis. I felt like I needed to prove myself at a professional job that I began when I was 22 years old in the company of many older more experienced colleagues. I wanted to be the best at my job and to be taken seriously. I wanted to be at the top of my field. I spent a lot of time cooking and cleaning and caring for others. I was navigating the waters of what it meant to be an adult.

During the year following my birth family reunion, I took a step back from all of those “adult” activities and really evaluated the way that I was living my life. It was like a part of me woke up and realized that I wasn’t leading the life that I loved. There were huge parts of my life that were dictated by the ideas of rules of the way I should or shouldn’t behave rather than listening to my own intuition about what I really wanted.

Somewhere along the way I lost the happy-go-lucky girl I was when I was sixteen years old. And I can deeply say that I loved the person that I was when I was sixteen years old. I have never felt more alive than I felt during the year I was sixteen. I felt like I was in my groove.

 

I think this loss of my inner child¬†happened when my adoptive dad tragically passed away in a freak accident at his house in Baltimore just before my seventeenth birthday. He was in a gas explosion suffering burns to¬†seventy-five percent¬†of his body, including burns on his lungs from smoke inhalation. He died in the Johns Hopkins Bayview Hospital Burn Unit–one of the top burn centers in the world.

I think it was only natural for me to turn into a super responsible person after my adoptive father died, given the tragic way in which he passed. Subconsciously, I felt like I could stay one step ahead of bad, unpredictable things by being super responsible, a planner, and a work-aholic. I probably forfeited this adventurous spontaneous part of myself also because my dad was the more spontaneous adventurous of my adoptive parents. And it was like that part of me died with him.

Within the¬†past year and a half following my reunion, I realized that I wanted to make a big change in the way I was living my life. I reconnected with parts of my younger free-spirited self that I neglected in my twenties. I reconnected with my love for traveling, adventure,¬†and spontaneity. I¬†also reconnected with good friends from younger years. It’s been so much fun! Truly awesome!

Last week, I had an amazing trip exploring Switzerland and Germany with a good friend of mine who I hadn’t see in over ten years. In high school,¬†she, another friend,¬†and I¬†called ourselves the “Rae Team” because the three of us had¬†the same¬†awesome name,¬†“Rachel.”¬†Everyone wanted to be part of the Rae Team, but they couldn’t because they didn’t have the right name! It was a very exclusive club¬†where we basically just sat around being awesome!

We had a lot of fun in high school, and meeting up this year made it¬†feel like no time had passed at all. We explored a bunch of quaint medieval Swiss towns, including Schauffhausen, Seegr√§ben,¬†and Sargans. We also witnessed the annual tradition in D√ľrnten¬†where farmers dressed their cows in flowers and walked them down the mountain to be judged for which were the top cows in the region. We visited Schloss Laufen and the stunning Rhine Falls. We rode a gondola up to the top of a breathtaking mountain in Flumserberg and ate lunch at the restaurant¬†where we were perched above the clouds. Here are¬†a few photos that¬†captured some of my favorite moments:

 

switzerland12      switzerland7  switzerland16 

 

Iswitzerland17t was an amazing trip and a really fun time with my friend. It’s been so much fun reconnecting with these parts of my younger self over the past year. After coming through this year, I feel like I’m much more in tune with my own intuition. I know more of what my heart wants. I know how to have more fun! It’s definitely been a wild ride and a major shift from the super serious work-a-holic twenty-something year old I was over the past decade. I’m turning thirty tomorrow, and I’m really looking forward to exploring more of myself and embracing all parts of myself, including¬†my spontaneous free-spirited¬†nature, in my thirties. I’m also¬†looking forward to turning thirty because I finally feel like the age that I am and the age that I feel are finally matching. In my twenties, I¬†was¬†acting like I was in my¬†fifties. Now that I’ve mellowed out and¬†my age¬†has increased, I finally feel like¬†my age fits me just right.¬†And, I’m at a place where I am¬†leading a life¬†I am truly¬†excited about living. The life¬†that I¬†love. It’s taken time, energy, a lot of personal work, writing, and, at times, even tears. But, it’s been worth it.

I’m reading the self help book, You are a Badass, How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life. I love the following quotes from my scrumptious reading sesh yesterday. Each really spoke to me as I formulate the type of life I want to live. I hope they speak to you wherever you are in your own personal journeys!

“If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything¬†would appear to man as it is, infinite.” –William Blake

“You get to choose how long you want to stay in school and work on the same issues over and over and over. Your graduation cap and gown are cleaned and pressed and waiting for you whenever you want to put them on, all you have to do is let go of your present story and rewrite a new one that fits who you truly are.” –Jen Sincero

“Time spent enjoying yourself is never time wasted.” –Jen Sincero

“Love Yourself. And life becomes a party.” –Jen Sincero

It’s never too late to make a change! And, it’s AWESOME! If there’s an area you’re wanting to change in your life, put on that graduation cap and gown and Go for it! You want to go to Europe? Find a way to make it happen! You want to play the ukulele… go get one NOW!

I’m rooting for you!!

xoxo

rm