Birth Family Reunion

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, Seegräben, and Sargans. We also witnessed the annual tradition in Dürnten 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

Human Connections

I’m realizing more and more how we as human beings affect one another.

On my flight home from St. Louis earlier this summer, I was watching the flight attendant give her safety presentation. She was much more stoic and unengaging than on my previous flight. So, I was wondering why that was. I realized it was her lack of eye contact. This small simple act reduced the amount of human connection and made the interaction a lot less engaging. Working on some photo projects this year, I noticed this happens in photography too. If a model isn’t engaging to another human being–through her eye contact and body language, the photograph is dull. Really makes me think about how important human connections are to just about everything.

These scenarios really sum up a lot of what I’ve been learning this past year– that we as human beings are part of the human network. We are all connected–for better or worse. Our actions, our words, our attitudes affect the people around us. Things become so much more meaningful when you are doing them for another person. Life becomes so much more rich when you’re experiencing it with people you love. And each day becomes more fulfilling when you are sharing special moments with special people in your life who care about you. And you can travel the world, but a city is only as good as the people you know in it.

As I continue to cultivate my own identity, I can’t help but stop and think about the people in my life. The people who have shaped me and my life. The family that I was born into. The family who raised me. The people who love me. The people I care about. Friends. Family. All of these relationships have touched me and my life somehow.

Growing up as a Korean adoptee into a Polish-German family, I’ve always felt like I had to forge my own path. Growing up in a non-traditional family definitely fosters individuality and independence. I used to think that it was important to never be “influenced” by people. But now, I can see that no matter what and no matter who we are– the people in our lives influence us. For better or worse. And I think it’s just a matter of deciding how you let the people in your life influence you. And even better– it’s deciding to surround yourself with people who influence you to be more of what you want to be.

Just thinking about life.

xoxo,

rm

Getting Acquainted with My Birth Mom for the First Time

In my previous post, I shared thoughts and fears that I had about my birth mother that I carried with me since I first found out (at 13 years old), that she committed suicide when I was an infant. Before I reunited with my maternal biological family last year, I knew the way my birth mother died, but I didn’t know anything about her life. I didn’t know her interests, her likes or dislikes, or what she even looked like. I didn’t know anything about her family, including what they looked like or where they were living. It was all a really big mystery.

Little did I know that my bio mom’s family was just on the other side of the city where I was raised! And they were looking for me for years!

Last year, I reconnected with my maternal birth family and discovered that my entire back story was wrong. My adoptive family and I were told that my mother was cut off from her family when she chose to marry my dad. Something must’ve gotten lost in translation, because even in the first conversation I ever had with my biological aunt, I discovered that none of that was true. When I recounted what my adoptive family and I were told about my birth mother, my bio aunt exclaimed, “That’s not true– we loved your mother. We would never do that!” It was so relieving and comforting to hear those words.

At 13 years old, after finding out how my birth mother passed, I just assumed her suicide was a result of depression–maybe even postpartum depression. I had my own struggles with depression as a young adolescent at 12 years old, so it just made sense. But when I reconnected with my bio family last year, I found out that my birth mother suffered tremendously with mental illness– even beyond just depression. She was hospitalized multiple times for trying to hurt herself. It was so sad to find out about her suffering. But, really important information to know.

As I found out these hard truths about my bio mother, I felt a connection with her in a way like I’ve never experienced before. I could see her in heaven. I could feel her heart. I could even talk to her. I really felt like her heart was saddened, looking down on me from heaven, seeing me find out about her struggle with mental illness. The week after finding out this information, I felt like she had a tremendous heaviness about her. Like, she had a deep sense of sadness and shame that I was finding out this tough information. As I laid in bed waking up one morning, I felt like I could talk to her. I could vividly see her sobbing. As she was crying, I told her to give her worries to me, and let me give them to God. I wanted her to know I could handle it. That I was strong enough to take care of the information I was finding out, and that it wouldn’t break me. In my heart, I told her to release it to me, and I’d still be okay. Crazy as it sounds– after I told her this, I felt a tremendous transfer of energy as I felt my birth mom did just what I expressed. I felt like she gave that burden to me– the worry, the guilt, and the shame, surrounding the details of her life and her death. And I gave them to God. I felt an immediate release in the heaviness I felt since finding out the information and a complete release in the heaviness that I sensed she felt. It was truly an amazing experience. Ever since I had this conversation and transfer of energy with her, and just gave the situation to God, I felt an enormous release and a strong sense of peace and calm.

My birth mom suffered with mental illness, and there was no one to blame for her untimely death. Mental illness is a disease, just like heart disease or diabetes. It kills. She was human, and unfortunately passed before I was able to meet her. The really amazing exciting thing is that I reunited with her entire family last year! And they completely embraced me! They were so glad to finally meet me, because after they discovered that my bio dad relinquished me for adoption, they tried looking for me nearly 30 years ago!

At our reunion last year, my birth family kept saying that I looked just like my bio mom. And amazingly, last year I saw a picture of her for the first time while sitting at my grandma’s kitchen table. And I really do look like her! It’s incredible to have a biological connection with someone for the first time as an adult when I never experienced it growing up. The photo above, photographed by Jonathan Hanson, captured a moment at my Halmoni’s kitchen table the night I reunited with my birth mom’s family. I’m clenching to the photo of my bio mom, while listening to my Halmoni (Korean grandma) tell me she was proud of me for the woman I’ve become.

My Halmoni told me that reuniting with me is like getting my mom back through me. So sweet. Below is a photo of my beautiful Korean mother just after her and her family moved to the US from Korea, when she was approximately 20 years old. It was the first photo I ever saw of my bio mother, given to me by my Korean grandma on the first day we met– when I was 28 years old.

Growing up I knew that my birth mother died when I was only 3 months old. But I don’t think I was really able to grieve her death until I reunited with my maternal biological family last year. It was then that I learned that she loved to read, and that she was quiet and liked to sew embroidery. I don’t think I was able to grieve the loss of my Omma (Korean mom) before that point because I never really knew anything about her. She was just a mystery. After reuniting with my birth family and learning about the person my Omma was, I cried for her and grieved her death for the first time. I’m truly grateful for the chance to know her through the stories that my birth family told me about her. Taking in the joy-filled and the sad memories all the same. She was who she was. And I love her for being my Omma, and for bringing me into this world and into this life that I love.

Rest in blessed peace, my Omma.

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 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.