Family

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

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!

 

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

Korean Adoptee NYC Meet up: The Lovely Stefanie B.

I had a wonderful time this weekend meeting the amazingly beautiful and very talented Stefanie B, and her dog, Billy Lee, at their lovely apartment in NYC. It was a rainy dreary March day in New York. But as soon as I met Stefanie, I felt an instant ray of sunshine and a real warmth that lasted well into the night. She is literally one of the most beautiful people I have ever laid eyes on. So much so that it is hard to believe that she was ever terrorized for the way that she looked growing up as a biracial Korean child in Korea and then as a biracial Korean adoptee growing up in the states. She has the most amazing dark hair highlighted with shades of grey, which Stefanie proudly owns as her own “fifty shades of grey.” She believes in embracing the beauty that you are at whatever age you are. And that aging can be done gracefully. She has a warm glow with golden skin that looks like we are in the dead of summer. And her smile could stop any man in his tracks. But even more than that, this lady has class, artistic flair, and a beautiful warm soul.

Her apartment was decorated with her own personal artwork and a collection from other artists. She has completed art work for other Korean adoptees, including portraits of them as children with their biological mothers or in their native Korean homeland. These incredible pieces are deeply moving, capturing the emotions behind what it means for an adopted child to be seen with their biological mothers. These portraits are sometimes based on real photographs of biological families taken decades prior. Others are based on memories from greater than 20 years old of what the adoptees remember their biological mothers to look like. Others are based off of only an intuition or a feeling of who these unknown mothers are. Regardless of the inspiration, her artwork never ceases to move me to tears. Stefanie’s artwork is so powerful because it’s often the only portrait that exists of the adoptee and his or her biological mother. All of Stefanie’s artwork is created, under her Korean name, Jacky Lee.

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This portrait is a drawing of a young Korean adoptee based on a 1973 photo of her as a baby. A photograph that she only received in 2010. The drawing of her mother, or “omma,” was a depiction that Stefanie portrayed from the heart and essence of this young adoptee, as there were no photographs of the young mother available. Such a beautiful piece.

Stefanie also does 3D Nano eyebrow artistry– transforming brows using a technique akin to traditional Japanese tebori. Stephanie hooked my brows up! We ended the night with a yummy dinner at a local noodle shop. I love New York. And it’s even better experiencing the city with a newfound KAD sister.

Stefanie was five years old when she was adopted from an orphanage in Incheon. She still remembers the last day she was ever with her biological mother. Her mother cried a lot that day, and told the man at the school that she “wouldn’t be going to school today.” Having these memories of her biological mother, she’s never questioned that her bio mom loved her very deeply. Stefanie was adopted by an American family stationed in Japan. They later moved to California and eventually settled in St. Louis. As an adult, Stefanie moved to New York where she currently resides. Stefanie has never reconnected with her biological mother. But she’s carried the memories of the first five years with her biological mother with her even to this day as a special part of her past.

Stefanie said that many biracial children were birthed out of American GI’s coming to Korea and impregnating Korean “camptown women.” These were sex workers who provided their services to American GI’s in “camptowns” located near the American military bases in Korea beginning in the 1950’s. Stefanie said that racism toward biracial children in Korea was so horrific during the time when she was a child, that biracial children had to attend secret schools to keep from being terrorized, bullied, and even attacked.

While working her tebori magic on my brows, Stefanie shared a few YouTube videos documenting some of her experiences as a Korean adoptee. Stefanie recently returned to Korea this past year through a Mosaic HAPA trip, which was videodocumented on YouTube. We watched the video and the tears were flowing. This video was so touching. During the trip, Stefanie was able to meet a biracial Korean popstar named Insooni. Insooni shared her own story about being bullied for being biracial so much so that she had to drop out of school at age 15. Despite such adversity and racism, Insooni has went on to have a successful singing career and also founded a special school in Korea for biracial children. Growing up as a biracial Korean adoptee, it was often difficult for Stefanie to find real acceptance in Korean circles and black circles both in Korea and in the US. Meeting Insooni and seeing her success despite her differences was incredibly powerful for Stefanie and the other adoptees on the HAPA tour. Stefanie referred to her as her “Hero.”

After meeting and getting to know this incredible woman, I can honestly say that Stefanie is one of my real life heroes. I admire her strength, beauty, and poise. I’ve loved spending time chatting with her about shared experiences as Korean adoptees, and hope it’s the first of many more meet ups with her!

 

Mosaic HAPA Korea Trip, “Hero” Video

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.”