Personal work

Becoming a Mom and Processing my Own Adoption

tea cup photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Xoxo.

-rm

The KAD Diaries Photo Shoot, Part 2

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Matthew Booth

Photo Credit: Matthew Booth

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Jeanne Modderman

Photo Credit: Jeanne Modderman

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

Photo Credit: Jeanne Modderman

Photo Credit: Jeanne Modderman

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

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

 

 

 

Pep Talk from My Birth Mom before my Aerial Show

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

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

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

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

Hope this post finds you well this holiday season!

Merry Christmas!

xoxo

rm

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, “Can you see yourself?”

I said, “Um, what do you mean?”

“Look over there on the far wall—look at yourself in the mirror.”

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.

 

 

How Acupuncture Cleared My Stigma about Being Korean

I had an amazing acupuncture experience a few months ago! Every time I think I can’t be blown away more by acupuncture, my acupuncturist never fails to do something that blows my mind even more!!

It’s still amazing to me how much acupuncture points not only work on the physical ailments, but also emotional, psychological, and spiritual/energetic ailments as well! As a counselor, my husband said that when clients are having a hard time moving past a certain issue, he will even recommend they try acupuncture. And many clients see great results! This past acupuncture session, we were working on clearing things out and letting go of things that have already passed. This really resonated with me because I tend to have a hard time letting things go. This is a strength of mine for perseverance and determination for goals that I set for myself. Not so good when the thing I am holding onto is a negative or harmful emotion that I should actually let go.

After my acupuncturist placed the needle points, one memory that came up was of growing up in a working class white neighborhood in Baltimore, where I was terrorized for how I looked by other kids. Experiencing this during such a formative time really created a stigma that being Asian, or Korean, was a negative trait.

In seeing this clearly during my acupuncture session, I realized how false these beliefs were. And that being Korean is awesome! This is something that I never really embraced before– even to the point of not imagining a trip to Korea as an enjoyable trip. Sure, I thought it would be informative and important– but enjoyable? I would much rather go to Europe. And affiliating with Korean American interests? Umm, I didn’t even know where to start with that.

But after my acupuncture session, I could see how I was blocking out positive thoughts associated with being Korean because of the past memories I was internally holding onto. So, with the help of the acupuncture points, and a lot of personal bravery– I let those false beliefs and old memories go. And for the first time, I realized I really wanted to go to Korea. I think that it would be amazing to see the country where my family is from! The mountains would be beautiful, and the people are so rich with culture. It would be neat to be surrounded by people who look like me and who share similar genes! And it would be really cool to see pop stars and celebrities with my own facial features and body structures. I also think it would be incredibly rewarding to volunteer at a Korean orphanage someday.

Acupuncture has been instrumental in my own emotional and psychological well-being. After each session, I feel like my frequency is elevated and my moods are much more stable. It’s definitely been a huge gamechanger in reducing my anxiety and stress levels, and has even helped me to get out of my own head and see others’ perspectives more clearly. I’m at a point now where I can feel when I need an acupuncture session, and can feel the spots where I need treated most. It’s so incredible. I can honestly say that I am happier and less depressed than I’ve ever been since starting acupuncture. Truly amazing how much it’s changed my life.