Birth Family Reunion

Getting Acquainted with My Birth Mom for the First Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rest in blessed peace, my Omma.

The Day I Reconnected with my Biological Family

Exactly one year ago, I embarked on an adventure to reconnect with my biological Korean family. We were separated when I was adopted at 9 months old. It had been nearly 3 decades since we last saw one another. I didn’t remember anything about them, and had no idea of who they were, or where they were. I didn’t know if they would accept me, or if they even knew I existed.

In spring of 2014, I watched a documentary about a handful of girls who were adopted from China called, “Somewhere Between.” One of the girls was able to reconnect with her biological family in the film. After seeing this documentary, I was inspired to seek out my biological family no matter what the outcome would be. This journey to search out my biological family has been a completely daring adventure of Lord of the Rings proportions. During each step of my journey to search for my bio family and to reunite with them, my heart felt like it was pounding outside of my chest. I had never been so nervous about anything in my entire life.

In searching for my biological family, I was met with obstacles along the way. I knew that my birth mother died when I was about 3 months old. This was reported to my adoptive mother when I was adopted. I never knew how she died. Growing up, a part of me always wondered if it was due to complications during childbirth when I was born since she died when I was only a few months old. This is something that weighed on me not only for the emotional implications of thinking I could’ve contributed to her death but also for fear that I may be at increased risk for complications during childbirth for my future children. Growing up, I was unsure if I would ever know the answer to the questions I had surrounding my birth and my birth mother’s passing.

To start my search, we solicited my birth mother’s death certificate, which reported her time and date of death. It also reported her cause of death, which was suicide. It was the first time I ever knew the tragic way in which she died. Her death certificate listed her father’s name and an address. I mustered up every bit of courage I possessed to visit the address and knock on the front door. After knocking, I waited. And no one answered! I was extremely disappointed. But, I wasn’t ready to give up! So, I knocked on the neighbor’s door and asked if anyone knew my family. That lead to an older neighbor passing on an old phone number that was given to her 10 years prior from my biological aunt when my family moved away.

She wasn’t sure if the phone number was still active. So, I cold called the number, and a woman answered. I held my breath as I asked her if she knew Ae Sun Lee (my bio mom). My heart stood still when she said, “Yes.” I spoke with a determined conviction to drown out the quivers in my voice, as I said–“This may be a surprise to you, but I’m her daughter.” I still remember sitting on the floor of my spare bedroom with all of my notes spread out on the floor with Korean phrases, notes on leads, and questions to ask. My husband was doing P90X in the living room. When he heard me talking to a live person– he came to the doorway to see if the phone number was legitimate. As my aunt was talking, I just looked up at my husband and nodded. We had found them.

My aunt said, “We were looking for you. You have cousins! A lot of cousins, and I’m sure they all want to meet you.” Very few moments in my life could compare to how relieved and happy I was in that moment– to hear not only that my bio family knew about me, but that they wanted to meet me.

“You have some older cousins who remember you.” This news was incredibly supririsng in the best, warmest way possible. Growing up I was told that my birth mother was cut off from her family before I was born. So, I imagined her and my bio dad out on their own with no family to speak of. I assumed that since they were ostracized from their family, it was possible that no one even knew about me! Like a lot of Korean adoptees, I found out that my entire back story was wrong. And in fact, there were aunts and uncles who remember me as a baby– and a few of my older cousins, too! This was incredible to discover, as I had no idea these people even existed. But, they knew about me!

Before my reunion, it was like the first 9 months of my life were veiled with a blackness– the kind of blackness you see with your eyes closed. In reconnecting with my bio family, instead of seeing dark nothingness, I see people– faces, and smiles and hugs, and people taking care of me during the first nine months of my life. It’s truly an incredible blessing to have more of a complete picture of what my life looked like as a little baby. I am incredibly grateful for the ability to know this information and to get to know these parts of my life that I thought were lost forever.

#reunionshappen

Best of luck to all those still searching…

xoxo

rm

Fighting Back and Defying Gravity as a Korean Adoptee

I’ve been thinking about the forces in the world. There are forces that can build us up and inspire us to be better. And there are forces out there that try to bring us down. These forces exist just as much as gravity exists. We can’t see or touch gravity, but we know when we step off of a cliff, it’s a daunting long way down. And we can see the effects of gravity on an older person’s vertebral discs which shrink over the years due to this constant push of gravity on their spines. These forces are real. Every day we enter a a duel against these forces of nature and against these spiritual forces that try to thwart our human potential.

As adoptees, we have had to face more than most people have even before we learned how to walk. We are already feeling the effects of life’s gravitational pull as young babies before we have even learned our first words. Everyone must battle with these forces. The weight of the world. The weight of these unseen forces, sometimes seeming to tear us apart.

Last year I went through a tale spin of emotions after reconnecting with my bio family. I was processing such intense emotions that I felt like I was being split apart. There were days where all I felt was anguish. There were tears– lots of tears. It took a toll on my marriage. It was a tough summer and a tough year.

After coming out of this year on the other side, I am happy to say that it can get better. And you can defy these forces. Here are a few of my victories:

  1. Last summer after reuniting with my birth family I reconnected with some friends from high school. We had so much fun hanging out and catching up. I felt like I had gained some of my teen years back. In these moments, I learned how to defy time.
  2. Last summer I started aerial dancing. It is the most incredible dance/sport/art I have ever practiced. I love it! It takes a lot of strength just to be able to climb to the top let alone to perform the actual skills. With each climb, an aerialist must wrap one leg in the silk, create a shelf with her foot for the other foot to stand on, wedge the silk between her two feet, and pull her body weight up for the next grab. Then, repeat the process. At first, I wasn’t able to perform even one full climb. Now, I am climbing to the top of the rafters. Every night I’m in the aerial studio, I am defying gravity.
  3. Last summer I started dancing–a lot. Before my reunion last year, there were huge parts of my life that were consumed with super serious, super workaholic, grown up mode. And there was no time or space for dancing. In reconnecting with my love for dancing, I am defying the notion that being an adult is all about work and keeping to the grind 24-7– an idea that pervades our American culture and threatens our happiness. Even in dancing, I’m defying the pressure of what society has tried to place on us as humans.
  4. In a new way, I realized that life is short and very precious. I’m determined to figure out what I want most–and to go for it. Not just passively, but to actually work at my own happiness. To work at the life I want to create. In living out the life I want, I am defying the negative forces coming against me in the most effective way possible.

Good luck on your endeavors and your own personal duels.

I’m rooting for you!

xoxo,

-rm

Following my Intuition after my Birth Family Reunion

I’ve been thinking about intuition. That inner voice that speaks words of wisdom, guidance, ideas, or even reservations. Just like we have the ability to physically feel when we need to stretch after we’ve been sitting crouched over a computer desk too long. Or, the physical feeling of hunger when we need to eat. I think there is also an internal ability to feel things in a spiritual sense… kind of like a spidey sense. You can feel it when you are around someone who is extremely anxious– you automatically start to feel anxious too. Or, there are those times when you have this nudge in your stomach that this particular thing is a bad decision. Or there are those moments of peaceful clarity where you can just feel that all is “right” in the world. Just like it is important to pay attention to our own physical health, I think it’s important to pay attention to our own mental and spiritual well-being. And listening to your own intuition is a big part of mental and spiritual health.

Your intuition is like your internal voice. There are moments in our lives, as adoptees, when our identities are stripped: the moment we were offered up for adoption, the moment we were adopted, the moment we were reunited with our bio families, and the list goes on. When we are given for adoption, our past lives and previous identities fade away like the faces of our biological families. When we reunite with our biological families, the identities we’ve spent so many years building crumble with every newfound piece of information shared. With the stripping of our identities, there is also the risk for our voices to be stripped as well– both our inner intuitive voice and our expressive external voice.

Last year I reunited with my biological maternal family. It was a whirlwind of emotions. At 28 years old, I felt like I was a teenager relearning who I was all over again. I was forced to ask myself, “Who am I?” and “What do I think?” Coming face to face with all of these individuals who were biologically related to me was both joyous and complicated. Which traits did I see in them that I owned myself? Which beliefs? Which ideas and values? Slowly and through a lot of personal work, I’ve been finding the answers to those questions. I’m finding my voice again, now with all of these newfound connections and new relationships. I am very happy to report the good news: our own identities and our own voices CAN be rebuilt after these monumental moments in our adopted lives! A LOT of it involves finding your own inner voice: your own intuition about your beliefs, values, and desires, regardless of what others in your bio family or adoptive family believe. It’s exploring the stuff that your life is made of– your passions, your inspirations, your motives. Finding the things that make you feel alive– the things that make life meaningful and beautiful to you. The things that speak to you on a deep level.

I recently started acupuncture. It’s one of the most amazing treatments I have ever experienced. I actually feel more clearheaded afterwards. It also elevates my moods and stabilizes my emotions. It’s incredible. During my last session, I felt like I needed to have a needle placed in the small of my chest, midsternal region, known as “heart center” in yoga. So, my lovely acupuncturist placed one at that exact point. It was incredible! I felt a rush of happiness and felt really complete. Our session was closed out in a fabulous way with this self-requested needle point. My acupuncturist said, “I really love how in tune you are with what you feel you need.”

Following this session, I had an even greater respect for my own intuition. I DO know what I need. And I know exactly what I want! This elevated self respect spilled over to other areas in my life and has fortified my own decision-making power despite the fact that I used to be very indecisive. This journey to listen to my own intuition actually started in this new direction last year shortly after my birth family reunion. I started listening to my own intuition in a really profound way. And many times, my intuition was right. One example was last summer when I saw some aerialists performing in an art show. I knew in my heart that I had to try it! I found an aerial arts studio near me and have absolutely fallen in love with it! I’m eating better, sleeping better, and making healthier choices so that I can maximize my training. I love it because it’s so unique and unlike any other art/sport. It’s so feminine and so tough at the same time. It makes me feel strong and beautiful. It makes me feel like a kid again–just swinging around, hanging upside down like I used to on my swing set, or spinning around with my best buddies.

And even more than all this, aerial dancing makes me feel alive. Never before in having no physical footing stability have I ever been so grounded. We talk about grounding a lot in yoga. That awareness of the present moment. This is powerful stuff. So many times our thoughts are so aloof, flitting to the past or the future, or to our fears or expectations. When the most powerful moment we have is the present moment at hand. Aerial dancing brings me back to the present moment in an incredible way. It’s a reminder of how human I am because skills take time to learn and strength takes perserverance to acquire. In the moments I’ve reached the edge of my strength and feel like I can’t hold on any longer, I’m in the present. The moment I nail a trick that is so incredibly beautiful, I’m in the moment. Climbing the silks at all is a reminder of the moments that I have and the abilities that I have at this present moment, and a reminder of the fact that these moments are fleeting. So, I need to make the most of them and enjoy each one of them for all they’re worth!

Following my own intuition has led to huge breakthroughs both personally and professionally. Sometimes following your heart may mean going completely against what anyone else is dictating. Or, it may mean doing something as unexpected as climbing a piece of fabric twenty feet in the air and swinging around by your bare hands. Whatever your bliss is, go out and do it!

I’m rooting for you.

xoxo

-rm

 

 

Losing the Mystery of my Birth Family

Twenty-fourteen has been the most amazingly incredible year of my entire life. Reuniting with my bio family was extremely joyous as well as incredibly heavy. I had no idea of the identity crisis that would ensue in reconnecting with them. Growing up I was surrounded by a Polish-German loving family that made me feel like I was the center of their entire universe. And this was my family. Even though we weren’t biologically related, and we didn’t look anything alike–this was who I took after. I had my adoptive mom’s somewhat shy personality and my adoptive dad’s love for adventure. My adoptive mom and I loved watching the same chick flicks and listening to the same sappy love songs. Her arms were the ones that held me when I was a child. Her sister-in-law, my aunt, taught me how to tie my shoes. Her brother, my uncle, taught me how to ride a bike. My adoptive dad told me that “I could be anything I wanted to be.” And that the “most important thing is to get an education.” These were the family members who taught me how to view the world; how to understand other people; how to prioritize my time; how to manage finances and other responsibilities; how to believe in spirituality; how to be a friend; how to fall in love; how to be married; and how to be myself.

My adoptive mom and I were bonded from the start. And before I met my biological family, I felt like a whole person. I didn’t feel that anything was necessarily missing from myself. There was a mystery about the first 9 months of my life and there was a mystery about who my biological family was, but I never felt incomplete. In fact, I think I actually felt stronger in myself as a person in the not-knowing. I was who I was– and being adopted and not knowing anything about my past before I was adopted was just part of my story. That was me, and I was okay with that.

After I met my biological family, I was no longer a person with a blank slate for a history. I had stories to correspond with my birth parents– real stories about real people. Weird discovering how new this was to me. As if I was realizing a stork didn’t just drop me off in my adoptive family’s home one day. I was actually born into a biologically-related family. And through the course of a couple of traumatic events, including my birth mom’s passing, I was severed from this family.

Reuniting with my bio family was like a seismic collision of earthquake proportion. The mystery of what my life was like before I was adopted was such a huge part of my identity. So much so that I think I actually grieved losing the person that I was before I reconnected with my bio family after we reunited. Because after this connection happened, there was no going back to that previous person, ever again. There were no take-backs. I can never un-know what I know now. I can never un-meet my biological family. I can never un-face the stories I heard surrounding my birth and my babyhood. I can never be a person without a history, ever again. And any person’s history involving an adoption is often a story of loss and a series of traumatic events.

I don’t mean that I want to un-meet my biological family. What I do mean is that before I met them, my history was like a dark windowless unlit room. Completely black. Nothingness. And this nothingness was the stronghold in which I built my entire identity on. I was a strong person because I had made it despite the fact that I started from nothingness. And now that I have a history, I am learning how to be a strong, powerful, human being with a past– an actual past. Not to mention learning how to incorporate all of these new human beings as part of my new identity. I lost my bearings for a bit. I’m seeing now that I need to gain my strength again with this new foundation– instead of a foundation of nothingness, it’s a foundation of loss and pain and, at times, joy. It’s a foundation of real memories being shared by my bio family members with me. It’s a foundation of details about my life before my adoption being sewn onto my post-adoption babyhood life. This is pretty incredible to think about, because before my reunion last year– I didn’t think I would ever be able to know any of these family members or hear any of these stories!

I’m learning where to go with this information. These new connections. These emotions. It’s like a door has been opened. It can’t be shut. I can only choose to walk through it– facing some of my greatest fears and also my life’s greatest adventures: getting to know my birth family and myself in ways that surpassed the realm of what I thought were possible. I’m really thankful that in this time of my life as I embark on these adventures, I have friends and family who deeply care about me. I’m holding onto them hand in hand as I enter this open door and say, “Let’s go for it.”