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

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.

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!

 

Looking at Myself in the Mirror

I had a really amazing time in my cycling class this week. We were pedaling hard, and the instructor said that we were coming into our last hill. The instructor said, “Give yourself a pep talk.” So, I began to tell myself that I can do it… and it was pretty amazing– for the first time, I imagined looking at myself in the mirror, and I actually saw myself in the mirror in my mind. This was huge for me! Before, whenever I pictured myself in the mirror I often saw a blank slate… like an amorphous figure of myself. Or, I saw other people. Or, I saw other people’s versions of me. Or, I saw a white persona in an Asian person’s body. But for the first time I was able to look in the mirror and look into my own eyes and see me… and feel happy with what I saw.

I think there are multiple reasons why I am at this beautiful place in my life where I can finally do this. I think I received a lot of closure when I met my birth family last year. I used to be afraid of needing that reunion because there were so many who never get that opportunity (myself included until last year). So, I thought as a life rule, I should just learn to live like it didn’t matter to me. But after meeting them and finding out they were eager to meet me, I can see how powerful the love and acceptance of a family can be to a person’s sense of self worth and self esteem.

I think that all the personal work that I did over the past year after reuniting with my birth family also really paid off dividends. I’ve been getting to know myself. I’ve been exploring different aspects of myself and deeply pursuing things that I love. And I finally feel like in picturing myself in the mirror, I know who I am and what I look like because I’m living it right now. I am finally confident and happy enough in the person who I am at the present moment to be able to look myself in the eyes and be proud of what I see in the mirror. And that’s pretty amazing.

I’ve been connecting with others more and more. This journey began a year and a half ago when I started acupuncture. My acupuncturist said that the needle points open up any trapped energy so that things can flow freely. And that’s exactly how I’ve felt when it comes to my thought patterns. After starting acupuncture, I’ve been able to get out of my own thoughts more and take on others’ perspectives. And, I’ve been able to connect with people so much more. Acupuncture combined with just being brave enough to open up to people. As I’ve been opening up and connecting with others more, I am gaining more awareness of who I am as a person.

I’ve also been doing a lot of personal work to differentiate myself within the contexts of my relationships– with my spouse, with my adoptive family, with my birth family, with my friends. I’ve been figuring out who I am as an individual and within these relationships. It’s all good stuff.

Just thinking out loud :)

Cheers to seeing who you truly are! I’m rooting for you!