identity

The Moment I Lost my Bio Family

In reconnecting with my bio family last May, I had to process a lot of intense realities. One was the idea that at one point–one epic moment in time, when I was literally in physical transition from the hands of my bio family to the arms of my adoptive family, there was a transitional moment where I was utterly and completely alone. A single little baby– without a family, without a home, armed with only the clothes on my back. At this solitary moment, I was an orphan. Somewhat destitute and on my own. This cosmic moment in time is something that all adoptees share. It’s not something I ever dwelled on. And yes–one could actually say that at that transitional moment, I actually had two families, so double the love and all that. Which was also absolutely true. But on the other hand, quite literally at that transfer moment, I was at square one. Alone. Helpless and penniless with only the clothes on my back to call my own. It was like counting along the number line used in school to illustrate transitioning from the negative integers to the positive ones– there was always that point of transition at zero that indicated the neutrality between this major shift. At that moment, I was at zero, as my prior life was ending, and my new life was beginning.

For me, this moment happened when I was dropped off at the foster care lady’s house. And figuratively, in the lawyer’s office when my bio dad signed the paperwork to hand over guardianship to my adoptive family. I’ve never really thought about this monumental moment until this past year. It’s definitely a defining moment in each adoptee’s life. There were the psychological and emotional ramifications of being utterly alone. But even more than that, I have been really thinking about the open realm of possibilities that my life could’ve taken in that singular moment in time. What if I was raised by a different family than my adoptive family? Would I be the same person? Choose the same career? Marry the same guy? My head has been spinning over the past year with all of these questions. Reuniting with my birth family prompted me to ask myself these really challenging questions. I did a lot of soul searching. I came to a lot of conclusions so far.

I do believe that most things happen for reasons. Maybe not all, but most things. In these monumental moments, our lives shift and take unexpected turns. But, ultimately no matter who we are in life– adopted or not, we all must learn the responsibility that lies in being who we were meant to be as individuals regardless of who our families are. We must choose the life we want to live for ourselves regardless of whether or not we are alone or surrounded by the biggest family on the planet. The events and people in our lives certainly shape us, but they most definitely do not define who we are. We are so much more than the stuff that’s happened to us. And we are definitely so much more than what the people around us make us out to be. Whether we are adopted or not, we all must go through the same process of learning who we are for ourselves and by ourselves. We are each individual people who must live out who we were meant to be in the world regardless of others, and at times, even in spite of others. So, in essence adoptees get a jump start on that road to self discovery as an individual, starting as little babies.

Growing up as adoptees, we are never given the luxury of the notion that “this is how you should be, because you take after so and so” or “that just runs in our family.” So, growing up we are constantly learning who we are, on our own! This can be a daunting process, but it’s not impossible. Ultimately, no matter who your family is, or who you are surrounded by– every individual has his or her own free will.

I can remember moments in my life where I had to take a stand and be the person who I was meant to be, even if that meant not doing exactly what I was told. One moment that stands out in my life was when I was a senior in high school. In my adoptive family, my mother desperately wanted me to go into the medical field. Most of my adoptive family thought I should become a nurse, because after all, that is what all of my female cousins did. Many adult family friends told me I should become a doctor. I entertained these ideas, and entered college as a pre-med student. Since I wasn’t complete sold on the idea of becoming a doctor, I simultaneously completed a volunteer experience during my first semester of college at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center where I was able to obtain real life exposure to patient care. The program was called “Patient Partners.” Basically, I went into patient rooms, armed with a survey asking patients how their stay was at the hospital. Easy enough. I went into the volunteer program with hopes that I could gain an idea of what it would be like to be a nurse or a doctor. I lasted one day. The experience served its purpose, and I was a fast learner! In that brief experience, I learned a really quick, valuable lesson: I was not meant to be a nurse or a doctor, regardless of what my family wanted. And this volunteer program was an experience that I sought out myself. I had done well. Lesson learned– able to move on.

One thing I realized through that volunteer experience was that in a career as a doctor, I felt that I would more quickly stick a needle in someone than actually talk with them. For me, this objectified and dehumanized the whole experience of wanting to go into a career where I could make a difference people’s lives. Later on, through probing out different careers I landed on the idea of a speech language pathologist. I could still use the medical and scientific knowledge to work with clients to regain parts of themselves lost after injury or illness. But, I could actually spend time working on regaining some of the skills that are unique to the human experience– eating and speaking. An ER doctor could spend 30 minutes pumping on a patient’s chest and ultimately bring her back from the brink of death. This is an extraordinarily commendable feat. But, sometimes, these patients are shells of the people they once were. And that wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to work with patients on the things that make life worth living– connecting with others and enjoying some of life’s simple pleasures– like eating a piece of decadent chocolate cake or sharing stories. I’ve been practicing medical speech therapy for seven years now and absolutely love the work that I do with patients. This was definitely the right career choice for me. I am really passionate about my work, and I take a lot of pride in what I do. I really love seeing my clients make gains to be able to eat and speak again.

These are the types of invaluable lessons that every single individual on the planet must learn! Being an adoptee sometimes muddies the water a little bit, and can make learning these lessons of self discovery a little complicated. But I want to encourage every adoptee that it’s not impossible. You can do it! It takes hard work, determination, and a lot of exploring. But through and through, by and by, you will learn more about yourself, the world, and where you fit in. It’s a lifelong process– not only for adoptees, but for all humans. And no one ever feels like he or she has fully arrived at total self-discovery. But the beauty is that you get to decide who you are and how you want to design your life. And if you don’t like something about the way your life is headed, you can redesign. It’s magical, really.

Good luck! I’m rooting for you!

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.”

Reuniting With Me

Reconnecting with my birth family has been one of the most amazing, incredible experiences of my entire life. With it, I definitely had to take a step back and look at my own life. Who was I? Why am I the person that I am today? Am I this way because I was raised this way? If I was raised by a different family, would I still be the same person I turned out to be? Would I believe the same things? Would I have the same job? Would I marry the same person? Would I have the same type of friends, like the same music, wear the same clothes? In general, I had to ask myself, “Was I the person I was meant to be?” and “Am I happy with who I am?” Tough questions if you really think about them and really examine your own life.

In reconnecting with an entire set of family, I had to figure out how I fit in, and how I still kept my individuality. I saw so many similarities, and yet I wasn’t an exact replica of any one person or group of people–even within my bio family. In the months that followed my birth family reunion, my head was spinning with all of these questions. I felt like I was a teenager trying to figure out who I was all over again.

I really took a magnifying glass and examined every area of my life. Through a lot of soul-searching and a lot of time exploring things, I did realize a couple of things. Some things I already knew. Other things I knew but forgot. Others were new entirely. Regardless, I’ve listed a few things that I have discovered about myself at this time in my life. And I am choosing to embrace them all, regardless of who is surrounding me or what others may think of me. This soul searching wasn’t easy, but I know it helped me create more of the life I was meant to live at this moment in time. It jump-started a re-design of my life to help me live life more “on-purpose” rather than to just allow life to happen to me. I do feel like I know so much more about myself and about what I like/dislike– which has been invaluable.

This is Me:

1. I like Pop music.

2. I like to dance.

3. I like red nail polish and red lipstick.

4. I love Marisa Web’s redesign for Banana Republic. Stylish sophisticated with a touch of edge.

5. I like being creative. I like creating things and expressing myself. I like admiring other creative people’s work.

6. I like being innovative– at my job and in my personal life. I like trying new things and being the first one to do something.

7. I love that in my job as a speech pathologist, I get to give people back their lives through two things that are unique to the human experience: eating and speaking.

8. I like having my photo taken (when it looks nice!)

9. I like being autonomous.

10. I am a little bit of a feminist.

11. I like being surrounded by people.

12. I like city life.

13. I love my husband, and still think he is the most wonderful person I know.

14. I am who I am, and that’s okay.

15. I LOVE Guardians of the Galaxy. (It is my new favorite movie!)

16. I am a Baltimore native. I forgot how much this city contributed to my childhood.

17. I know how to make sauerkraut and kielbasa, probably better than any other Korean girl I know.

18. I like dance music, yoga, and aerial dancing

19. I love to travel.

20. I love to try new restaurants with friends.

21. I like to do what I want to do, when I want to do it. (And usually that’s as soon as possible!)

22. I don’t like to be owned, controlled, or manipulated.

And I am still learning…