Transracial Adoption

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

Meeting these Incredible HAPAs

I had the most amazing time meeting up with these amazing Korean adoptees at The KAD Diaries photo shoot a few weeks ago! These were a few of the first children adopted from Korea. They identify themselves as HAPAs. They are mixed race, Korean born. HAPAs were conceived during Korea’s US occupation. Many American GI’s had relationships with Korean “camptown women.” The babies conceived out of these relationships were mixed race babies, now known as “HAPAs.”

These babies were often shunned by society because they were mixed race and because they were often conceived out of wedlock. When a Korean woman became pregnant out of wedlock, she was often ostracized and left to fend herself. Without any guarantee of employment or any type of government or social assistance, these women often relinquished their babies to orphanages because they couldn’t support them.

The Holt family was one of the first groups to see the need to care for these babies and began coordinating international adoptions of these mixed race babies to families in the US. And this began international Korean adoption into the US.IMG_20150929_010319

Don Gordon Bell was one of the children on the first plane from Korea carrying these precious children in tow. He was adopted into a family with English-Scottish heritage and raised in Los Angeles, CA. Don, Nancy, Katherine, (pictured above) and I were able to share a meal together with a few other Korean adoptees during the weekend I visited LA for the KAD Diaries photo shoot. It was incredibly meaningful to be able to share stories with others who can relate to being a Korean American adoptee. Each of us have his or her own unique story.

The top featured image was shot by the talented, David Patrick Valera. It captured the moment I shared the video of my birth family reunion with Nancy and Katherine at our meet up. It was a really beautiful moment for all of us.

I’m so happy and grateful to connect with other Korean American adoptees. I’m really thankful for Zeke Anders putting his heart and soul into the art project, The KAD Diaries, and for bringing us all together.

Meeting up with these incredible people makes me feel proud to be a Korean American adoptee. I know I am in the company of some truly amazing people!

If you would like to follow The KAD Diaries photo project, check out the official website: http://thekaddiaries.com or follow the project facebook page!

To learn more about Don’s amazing life story, check out his blog at http://koreanwarbaby.blogspot.com/. I know you’ll be glad you did!

 

Xoxo

rm

The KAD Diaries Photo Art Project

Last weekend I had the amazing privilege of traveling to California and collaborating with Zeke Anders, an LA filmmaker and fellow Korean Adoptee. Last year, Zeke filmed an award-winning vlog series entitled, American Seoul. The YouTube link is available on my Videos tab. This vlog series beautifully opened up a window for viewers to see an inside glimpse of what it was like to be a Korean American adoptee. Venice Arts

This year, Zeke is creating a photo art project to share the stories of Korean American adoptees around the US through portraits shot in the Venice Arts studio in Venice, CA. Adoptees traveled to the studio from all over the nation to participate in this meaningful project.

Each adoptee had the opportunity to choose to stand in front of the American flag, the Korean flag, or in the middle of the two. After our portraits were taken, we participated in a video interview to share some of our thoughts on the topic of adoption. on set KAD Diaries

It was really meaningful to be able to participate in a project like this to share my experiences as a Korean adoptee and to hear other adoptees’ stories. Growing up, I was the only Korean girl in my circle of friends. I was one of two Korean girls in my school. I was the only Korean adoptee that I knew. Now, I know a ton of other Korean adoptees, aka KADs, who can relate to my experiences! It’s been really neat connecting with other KADs. Each of us has a really unique and powerful story. It’s definitely a special community for me.

One of my favorite parts of the trip was getting to meet Zeke Anders, award-winning filmmaker and all-around great guy! I love meeting artists who are passionate about their work and who love telling stories in a beautiful way. I love how this portrait series adds beauty to the idea of being adopted when adoption is often attached to a negative stigma. The details surrounding being adopted is something we, as adoptees, typically grow up not enjoying sharing. In contrast, this project gives each of us a selfie with zekecreative, artistic outlet where we can express our stories freely while simultaneously adding beauty to the painful and challenging moments we experienced as adoptees.

While in LA, I spent a lot of time in Koreatown! So neat to go to different restaurants where the signage and menus are printed in Hangul (Korean) as well as in English! I visited the Line Hotel, which was really fun and exciting. Friday night beats and an energetic crowd with the largest number of stunningly beautiful Koreans I had ever seen in one place. The crowd was 99% Asian.

wi spaI also visited Wi Spa, a traditional Korean spa.  Patrons relax there for hours– or even overnight! There were different saunas on a co-ed floor and a gender-specific floor. The co-ed floor housed saunas lined with various purification elements like salt, jade, and clay where you can relax and allow the heat and elements to detoxify you. The all-female floor had a steam sauna, hot whirlpool tub, cold whirlpool tub, and places for massage and other spa services. This was a really great experience– and just like the spas in the Korean dramas! santa monica studio

The KAD Diaries meet up and my time in Koreatown was really neat because I didn’t feel like I was in the minority at all. For the first time on such a large scale as this, I just felt like being Korean was the norm. And sometimes that’s a great feeling. During my trip, I was able to sneak away to do some aerial training at a great studio in Santa Monica where I flew on some hot pink silks. I also had the amazing opportunity of training with a stunt coordinator at Hollywood Aerial Arts doing 2-point wire work. While harnessed in, the trainer hooked me up to a stand where I could practice flipping forward and backward in the harness and flying on my stomach and back using my core muscles! Then, he took me up on a mechanical lift up to the rafters, 25 feet in the air! I was able to run and jump 10ft in the air with the push of a button. Such a fun experience. Definitely a neat change from my super strength-reliant aerial silk work.

Venice BeachEven though my trip was jam-packed with high energy meet ups, photo shoots, and fabulous LA nightlife, I was able to sneak in some chill downtime at the magical Venice Beach drum circle and to relax poolside. Definitely a fabulous, memorable trip! I love LA! It was so great to experience the best the city has to offer with newfound friends and fellow Korean adoptees!

 

 

Featured image (top) courtesy of Don Gordon Bell

Being Adopted was a Recipe for Success

Even though many people viewed growing up as an adoptee with a negative stigma, I always viewed it as a blessing. My life as a Korean adoptee was a gourmet cocktail, combining different cultural and family experiences, finely crafted with the deepest of care to create the life experiences I was meant to have. I always knew that in a deep sense. I couldn’t imagine being raised in a traditional family. Even in my own adoptive family or biological family, I knew that my experiences would have been so much different if I had a traditional upbringing in either family– without being adopted. As a Korean adoptee, I was exposed to two different families and two different cultures. I was exposed to Two Adventurerstwo different parenting styles, family traditions, and belief systems. I had the opportunity to pick and choose the good qualities I wanted from each of them. Having two families also meant that I had two sets of family drama. That was difficult at different moments, but it still made the patchwork quilt of my life. And it made me a stronger person.

My adoptive mother’s core personality and my core personality couldn’t have been any further polar opposite of one another. But I always really valued how my adoptive mom balanced me. She was super mellow, easy going, and indecisive. The complete opposite of my super energetic, fast-moving and extremely passionate personality. Balance is good. Especially because I tend to be a little bit of a workaholic. Growing up I always appreciated her laid back spirit. With my hyper overachiever extremely dedicated personality tendencies, I counted it as a blessing to have a mother who showed me unconditional love, support and acceptance rather than to be raised by someone who was driven to the point of being critical, judgmental, and hard on me. I think being raised by someone with that type of personality could’ve easily set me over the edge since I was already so hard on myself, even as a child. This easily could’ve been the case in a biologically-related family setting where I would have been raised by people with the same intense personality traits as my own.

Knowing that my birth mother committed suicide, I wondered if that was something that she struggled with too– feeling as driven as I did, but without an emotional outlet or an unconditionally loving family. Which eventually could’ve easily led to too much pressure for one person to handle. Ever since I found out the tragic way in which my birth mother died, I always counted that as confirmation that being adopted into this family was a gift– from God, maybe even somehow orchestrated by my biological mother beyond the grave, to give me a fighting chance at leading a successful and happy life free from the pressures that she endured and which may have inadvertently led to her untimely demise.

I always knew that my adoptive mom showing me unconditional love was the single most important thing to shape me into the girl I am today. And this was something I always guessed my biological family was incapable of based on the story I was told about how my birth mother was cut off from her family, and the way that I was estranged. The unconditional love and acceptance that I received from my adoptive family was a powerfully driving force in my life and is something I will always be grateful for.

xoxo

happy tuesday!

 

Korean Adoptee Meet up in St. Louis

Within the past year, I joined a couple of Korean adoptee Facebook groups and met the most amazing adoptees from all over the US. It was in one of these groups, that I met April—a really lovely soul. This beautiful girl was abandoned in a marketplace in Korea when she was 5 years old. She still remembers her grandmother releasing her hand for the final time. She can still taste the salt of her tears and feel the grit of the dirt and her hair as the wind blew these across her mouth. April still flashes back to this moment when she hears her own beautiful little daughter cry for her. Such a profound moment in her life. Definitely something that has been a part of her past. But, April has not let the hardships she’s faced define her. She is stronger for her experiences. But she doesn’t dwell on them. She is one of the most incredibly loving, open, funny people I’ve ever met. She is married and has two beautiful children. Her family lives in St. Louis.

Last year, April began opening her home for Korean adoptees to meet up from all over the US. I had the most incredible time meeting up with the best girls and guys last weekend at April’s house. All of whom were Korean adoptees, like me! There were a bunch of Korean adoptees from St. Louis and the midwest, including Michigan and Ohio. A few from Texas, and my friend Gina from LA. It was so much fun to share similar stories of growing up in white families in white neighborhoods and to hear all of their European last names. I told everyone how I recently jokingly told someone she could call me, “Hey you!” and the woman thought I was telling her my Korean name: “Hei Yu.” Others had similar funny stories.

Some girls reunited with their birth families already. Many discovered their entire back stories were wrong. This can definitely shake a person to the core and is something that many adoptees can relate to. One girl reunited with her birth family and decided to spend a couple of years in Korea to get to know more about her Korean heritage. Another girl just started the process of searching for her birth family, so she’s really nervous about how everything will pan out. A few people shared that they never had a strong desire to reunite with their birth families, and they are okay with that.

We went out to a Korean karaoke bar and laughed when only two out of twenty of us knew enough Korean to work the controls. Thankfully, we were all okay singing out to English songs. There was kimchi. There was soju. There were beautiful Asian features. We were as Korean as it gets for Korean adoptees.

april, gina, me

I brought two pairs of shoes with me that I’ve been trying to give away for the past 6 months. They were two sets of gorgeous pumps –one metallic chrome and one bright turquoise. I haven’t had any takers because no one can fit into these gorgeous heels—my feet are very small. I even posted them on an online Facebook yard sale in my area with no luck. I brought them to this gorgeous group, knowing most of my Korean girlfriends would have similar frames. When I brought my shoes out, I immediately found new owners for these bombing shoes. So funny how such little things can make such a difference in normalizing my own petite features.

This meet up was so incredibly meaningful to me in my own personal journey. It’s amazing to think that I’m in such great company in my own personal experiences. So nice to feel the camaraderie and warmth of other Korean adoptees.

It’s amazing to me that in our shared experiences we all had an instant bond. I love getting to know new people and sharing stories. It definitely creates a special community where one can really feel that she belongs. One of my newfound friends described our meet up well by saying, “I have a tribe, a place to belong. It’s something you can’t really explain in words… it’s an experience. One I truly treasure.”

 

#mytribe #adoptees #koreanadoptees #stlouis

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