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Letting Go of Perfectionism and Becoming a New Person after my Reunion

carride

When I was a little girl, I watched a movie called Pollyanna. In the movie, the children string up crystals in the sunlight and watch the crystals split the light into it’s component colors and form prisms on a nearby wall. My birth family reunion was like a crystal. It split my life into component parts and allowed me to see different parts of myself that I didn’t even realize were there. It allowed me to examine each part of my life in a new way. And the beauty of it was that I was the one who could decide what to do with each part. I did a lot of personal work. I thought about the person who I was. I decided what kind of person that I wanted to be going forward.

One thing that I came to terms with is the idea that there was no such thing as perfection. Perfection was an illusion. I used to think that things should be perfect, and I worked tirelessly at that ideal. But I realized that in that perfectionist mentality, I was missing out on the gratifyingly beautiful times where I was just settled in the present– content not only with myself at the present moment but with what others could give me at that time too. 

It’s taken me a long time to get to this place, and I still have a long way to go. But it’s been incredibly powerful just to let go and be happy with the person I am right now. To be content with myself and to accept the fact that I can’t do everything. To accept the fact that things aren’t perfect. And that life circumstances are never perfect. That my friends and family are not perfect. And I can’t make my daughter’s life perfect. If I spend my life trying to chase that ideal, I’ll miss out on the here and now. And she’s growing up so fast! I don’t want to miss these moments in her life. And I don’t want to miss these moments of my life, either.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a bit of an overachiever and a perfectionist. I’m sure this was some sort of defense mechanism I created out of the wounds of being adopted. For me, letting go and living more in the present is still like navigating wild and uncharted territory. But it’s so worth it. I realized in the few years following my reunion that even though I was high-achieving, I wasn’t usually happy. It wasn’t until I moved away, simplified my life, worked on processing my stuff, and worked on my relationships that I began to realize that I didn’t necessarily need all that extra “stuff” anyways. And when I actually let go of those “perfect” ideals, life was a lot more enjoyable and more manageable. And I was happier.

Moving away to a smaller coastal town helped, but I think moving away from my hometown mainly allowed me to shift my perspective from the way things “were always done” because it was merely a different time and place. It allowed me to take a step back and evaluate the person I was, the things that I felt, and the way I was living. It was a simpler, smaller scale. Everyone knew everything about everyone. So, things didn’t fall through the cracks at the same scale as in a larger city. I knew my goals. They were manageable and for once, actually achievable. I wasn’t always feeling like I was under the gun for some deadline of getting an impossible to do list done for an unknown (but large) quantity of people. This contentedness was refreshingly satisfying. And such a welcome respite.

Coincidentally, the timeframe of my living out of state coincided with my birth family reunion. About a year and a half following my move, I embarked on one of the biggest adventures of my entire life– searching for my birth family. And remarkably, my search was not only successful, it was incredibly fast!

After meeting my birth family in May 2014, my head was spinning. I questioned everything about my life and the person who I was. I was also 29 years old, and apparently that’s when a person’s brain finishes developing. Along with this neurological growth spurt, comes a newfound questioning outlook and a deeper ability to see things from another person’s perspective. So my entire outlook shifted. I wasn’t sure about anything. I wasn’t sure if I was the person I was meant to be. I wasn’t sure if I was in the career I was supposed to be in. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be married. I wasn’t sure if I would’ve made the same life choices or felt the same way about things if I wasn’t raised in my adoptive family or if I was raised in a different way.

I felt like my personality was split into segments like a pie chart. One part of me was fun-loving and adventurous, carefree, and fearless. Another part of me was studious, serious, and professional. Another part of me was dedicated, diligent, and responsible. Another part of me was spontaneous and free-spirited. I felt like my body and mind were being pulled in each of these different directions. It took me over a year to examine each segment of this pie chart frame by frame, sorting out the things that I wanted to keep in my life, and the things I wanted to discard. It took time to process through what each part of my personality meant to me and what that part of my life looked like in real life application. After all this processing, I eventually worked on reintegrating them into the whole person I wanted to be. My husband was a counselor who worked with individuals with Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder). Following trauma, in effort to protect itself from the trauma, the brain can sometimes split off different parts of a person to the point of having multiple personas that may not even know one another. Although the parts of my personality were not fragmented to the point of being clinically disassociated, following my reunion, I could relate.

Thankfully on the other side of the few years following my birth family reunion, I am happy to say that I survived. I survived. I wasn’t perfect. I wasn’t always sane. But I survived.

And I’m a different person for it. The ordeal was somewhat traumatic (or maybe just stripped the paint off of an old trauma from my infanthood). Either way, I felt wounded, cut open like my cesarean. And even though this experience figuratively birthed something quite magical in my life, my life needed to mend. I never realized how much a person could change in the course of her life. But I can say that I am such a different person after the experiences surrounding the few years following my reunion.

And that’s not such a bad thing.

I used to hold such a stigma about a person changing. I grew up being taught that change was a bad thing by a group of people who were really stuck in their ways. They didn’t value self-growth or change. Anything new was considered blasphemous and they pined for “the good old days” of the American 50’s. When sadly there was a lot that was lacking in those days! And in the environment where I grew up, there were popular stigmas associated with both growing old and becoming a mom (physically and socially speaking). I heard it all.

Some time after giving birth, I asked my midwife if I could get back into exercising because before I became pregnant, I deeply loved “hardcore” yoga and aerial silks. She said “Yes, just ease into it and listen to your body. Because you are a different person now.”

As she said the last part, I felt shame creep over me as my gaze went to the floor. I regretfully said, “Yeah” as I thought of all the things I wasn’t sure that I could physically do anymore. I’ll never forget what she said to me in her next breath before I could even say anything further. She looked me in the eyes and said definitively, “You’re not the same person–you’re better.”

 

Xoxo

–R

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

Ready to Say What I Want

 

aerial10-2014

I turned 29 this week!!! I celebrated my birthday by taking time for myself and doing a couple of my favorite things: yoga, massage, a therapy session, lunch with my hubby, and wings and beer with friends. My therapist said that many people would be reluctant to come to therapy on their birthday. But, I always felt like therapy was a treat– a massage for my insides. After I leave our sessions, I always feel like shouting, “Therapy is my favorite thing, ever!!!!” But I restrain myself, and just leave with a smile and the newfound weightlessness that I usually have after a good session.

I started going to counseling after reconnecting with my bio family to help me process all of the intense emotions involved in that experience. At the outset, I didn’t feel like I needed to address the issues I had from growing up with an adoptive father who had a lot of anger issues– but this past session a few things came to the surface. I started the session talking about how I get really anxious talking in social situations–even about benign stuff like saying what kind of music I like, or my opinion on just about anything. I was scared to reveal too much to show my true self and to show how I was really feeling.

So, I used the EFT* tapping technique during the session to work through the stress I felt when talking to people. As I was working through this technique, I realized that I was afraid to talk to people because I was afraid that people would judge me or think I was a terrible person. During the tapping sequence, an old memory came to the surface of when I was little. My adoptive dad yelled a lot when I was little. Upon recalling this memory and making the association between my past experiences and my current state, I actually started crying. And amazingly, my tears brought an incredible release. I immediately felt a breakthrough. It was cathartic to realize why I became so anxious in social conversational situations. And I felt an amazing sense of peace and clarity in realizing where my anxiety stemmed from. After this amazing realization, I felt like I could really embrace the fact that I could say what I want to say–when I want to say it. And no one can stop me!

My new mantra is this: I am free to say what I want to say. I have a voice. And I need to use my voice. I need to be free to show my true self to the world. If I am not myself, who will be able to be me to the world? I want to leave my thumbprint on the world. If I don’t, no one else will be able to. No one else can make the difference that I am supposed to make in the world. Because no one else can be who I am meant to be. At 29 years old, I am ready to live, breathe, and speak my true self like I never have before. I am no longer content just being muted and subdued because that’s not really who I am. I’m ready to say what I want to say.

 

*If you would like more information on the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) you can check out www.thetappingsolution.com. It’s been an invaluable resource for me in processing all of these new emotions and reducing overall stress.

“Somewhere Between”

Recently I saw a documentary entitled, “Somewhere Between” which told the stories of four Chinese girls who were adopted by white American families. I was so touched by their stories. I could relate to being somewhere between two cultures. Growing up I felt more German-Polish American than I felt Korean-American. I didn’t know the first thing about Korean culture, Korean food, or Korean people. The ironic thing was that I looked 100% Korean. And it seemed like every Korean person we met on the street knew it because they all assumed I spoke Korean. It was always a little awkward for me to explain why I didn’t speak Korean because I was always met with a look of disappointment or pain in their eyes. Looking back, I think these people were probably just sad to hear my story. However, in that moment I always felt ashamed that I didn’t know Korean. Like I had let these Korean people down somehow. There was definitely no reason for me to feel ashamed, and most of the time I knew that. The other hard scenario as a kid was responding to that disgruntled older Korean American adult about how “[I] should’ve really learned Korean growing up from my parents,” and “that it was a shame that kids don’t these days.” They usually stopped in their tracks as soon as I told them I was adopted by a white family.

Growing up, I’ve had a few Korean classmates in school, but I never really felt like I truly fit in with them. I didn’t know Korean. I didn’t know anything about being Korean. And I never got the memo about how being a Korean girl meant you were quiet, and soft-spoken, and when you laughed, you were supposed to cover your mouth with your hand as if that was more lady-like. Crazy enough at the same time, by the looks of me, no one could deny I was Korean. But I wasn’t really Korean. But I wasn’t really white. I was just somewhere in-between.

Check out the documentary that totally rocked my world at http://www.somewherebetweenmovie.com/