Image © Jonathan Hanson/ jhansonphoto.com

The Meaning of Relationships as a Korean Adoptee in Reunion

As a new speech pathologist in my twenties, I used to spend so much time pouring over my paperwork– creating reports that I felt were “perfect.” It took so much time and energy, and often led to work piling up. It occurred to me one day that the people reading the reports often valued succinct writing rather than superfluous writing. And, if my reports took me so long that they weren’t getting out to the person needing to read them on time, then no one would be needing them or reading them anyway. This got me thinking about the reasons why we do things and the meaning behind them. The reason I write my reports is to communicate with the people who need to know the information — be it the neurologists or surgeons or other doctors involved in the patient’s medical care. If I write a report and no one reads or understands the information, what is the point? Sure, I write shining reports because I take pride in my work. But, my writing means so much less if it just sits in a stack somewhere, unread. This idea translated to more than just the reports I wrote. I started thinking about how incredibly meaningful it is to have someone witness the things that happen in my life.

Photo by: Jonathan Hanson Photography

Within my speech therapy practice over the years, I worked with a very sweet college-aged client who experienced a traumatic brain injury. She saw me for speech-language and cognitive linguistic retraining to regain those skills after her accident. Her memory began to improve a couple of months after her injury. She was really glad she started to remember things, because she said. “It [made her] parents happy, and that [made her] happy.” It was really sweet to hear her say what she said. I could tell she wasn’t worried about recovering just because she was interested in pleasing her parents. It was deeper than that. She was happy to see how relieved they were when they saw her remembering new information because they loved her, and she loved them. Being part of a family takes the things that one experiences as an individual to another level in meaningfulness. The good and the bad things that happen in your life don’t just mean something to you, they mean something for someone else too. And that connection and shared meaning is where true beauty in life happens.

I think that’s why having a partner in life is so meaningful. Not to mention the friends and families in our lives, too. When life gets rough and things go awry, you can rest in the fact that someone cares about you and is there for you, no matter what. When your car breaks down, or your house is broken into, or your health takes a turn for the worst, you can ask someone for help. When something really great happens in your life, you can call him or her and share this awesome news with someone who knows how much it means to you.

Photo by: Jonathan Hanson Photography

There were periods of time in my life where I felt that I didn’t need anyone else in my life. I’ve grown from that and realized how relationships are actually at the core of what it means to be alive. Life is so much richer and more meaningful when you share it with others who you care about and who care about you. As an adoptee, it’s incredibly difficult to not know anything about your past before your adoption. Sometimes it’s like you didn’t even exist before your adoption. Looking at what life looked like before your adoption, it’s like looking into a black hole where all you see is nothingness. Maybe it’s because you don’t know who the people were who were in your life at that time. Maybe also because you don’t know what your life looked like at all.

Last year I reconnected with my Korean American biological family and met family members of mine who remember me before I was relinquished for adoption. This was so incredibly meaningful for me. It’s really amazing to think that these were the people who were in my life during a time of my life I didn’t think I would ever know anything about. Amazing to discover that before my adoption, I wasn’t alone. I was surrounded by family and being taken care of. The first day I spoke to my biological aunt on the phone, I still remember her really meaningful words, “You have a lot of cousins, and they all really want to meet you.”

emohalmoniThese connections have been incredibly meaningful for me to make– to tie the baby I was before I was adopted to the people who were in my life at that time. I met a great aunt of mine who was in tears the moment she first laid eyes on me when we reunited when I was 28 years old. With tears streaming down her face, she quivered as she spoke, “I took care of you. I changed your diapers. Your mom was sick. I took care of her too. But she’s in heaven now. So, don’t worry.”

In that moment, I couldn’t help returning her tears with tears of my own. Meeting people who were in my life during the time before my adoption filled gaps in my past that I thought I’d never fill. It’s definitely given me a lot of closure and made me feel more complete. Since my reunion, I’ve kept in touch with my Korean biological family and have enjoyed a lot of firsts together– first Thanksgiving, first Christmas, first birthday celebrations, and many more. It’s been amazing. My adoptive mom, Doris, was totally “adopted” into my Korean biological family. She was there during our first meeting and during all of our holiday celebrations. She’s been with me every step of the way. The day we first met, my Halmoni (Korean grandmother) looked my adoptive mom in the eyes and told her, “Thank you so much for taking such good care of her. You’re my daughter now. So, don’t worry about anything.”

My (adoptive) mom Doris now has a lot more connections and people who care about her. And that means a lot to me. It speaks to the human spirit to be able to share life with other people and to be able to share love and kindness. Not to mention how meaningfulness in life definitely makes life richer. After I reconnected with my bio family, I felt like I regained some long lost missing pieces and am really grateful for these new relationships in my life. They’ve truly meant the world to me.

 

 

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

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.”