personal work

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!

 

Robbed, Destitute—But Coming Back Swinging!

Had a really tumultuous weekend in my hometown. Was in town helping a friend of mine with a photo shoot for a fashion spread in a national girl’s magazine he shoots for. We were shooting two models against the backdrop of an old abandoned fort in Baltimore County just past Miller’s Island. The shoot was grueling with mishaps happening at every turn. We were working hard all day to make sure the shots were incredible. Thankfully in spite of all of the issues that arose, the shots we captured were amazing—truly stunning.

Sometime within the course of the photo shoot, someone shattered the passenger window of my friend’s car to steal some of my most prized possessions: my wedding rings, my favorite Kate Spade weekender bag, my designer handbag given to me by my mother for my birthday, make up and clothes that I curated with care, my glasses carefully selected and fitted by a boutique over multiple trips to NYC, and my treasured special edition iPod. The thieves also used my credit cards to charge over $500 worth of gas and merchandise as well as taking the cash and checks in my purse, my phone charger, and my car keys.write pic

In spite of being robbed of over $7K worth of some of the most expensive of my most prized possessions, I was most heartbroken over losing the journal that was tucked inside my Kate Spade bag. I was writing in this lovely space over the past year. A small pink notebook with beautiful gold lettering on the front with the words, “Write” inscribed on the front. This tiny token probably only cost $15. But to me, it was a priceless item that cannot fully be replaced. I’ve had so much personal growth over the past year and each milestone was documented within the pages of my little pink journal. I was also in the process of writing a series of children’s books—and had just completed a concept web outlining the backbones of each book in the series of 7-10 books that fit the theme. These inspired ideas came at a stroke of genius moment just one week ago while late-night writing at one of my favorite coffee houses after a long day. It was one of those monumental moments where the ideas were flowing, and I felt so energized to get the project going that I began making plans to collaborate with illustrators and publishers to get these inspired ideas out there. My journal also had pages of sketches for clothes I recently designed during other moments of inspiration. I was working toward creating them for events this year. I also had painstaking notes on trip details and options for traveling to a few destinations to celebrate my milestone birthday this fall, which took mad time and energy to research and plan. All of which I enjoyed and loved doing at the time—so for me, this journal was a patchwork quilt of pieces of my life that I loved. It documented these moments of insight as they happened. And it contained exciting plans for the future.

The county police officer was invested in trying to help me regain what I lost and to identify the suspects. After the shoot, my friend and I went back to his place to determine a plan of action. Thankfully the hair/make-up venue used their shop-vac to clean out the chards of glass scattered around the passenger side before we drove home. They were able to clean about 90% of the glass. The drive was pretty crazy as some of the residual small chards of glass still crackled in the side of the door as we went over bumps or made sharp turns. Each time the car accelerated, both of us kept forgetting that he no longer had a window and instinctively pushed the window button to try to shield ourselves from the wind. Upon each attempt, we both cringed hearing more grass cracking in the slit where there should have been the smooth caressing sound of an intact window closing. Thankfully, we made it to his house without any more mishaps. I decided to go out to unwind and connect with other people. I decided to drive back to my mom’s house to shower and change since I was super muddy from the shoot. That’s when I realized those tools stole my damn car keys, so I was stranded with nothing but the clothes on my back without access to my car or cash. Nothing I could do about accessing the car that night. Everything was closed. car window

I was super dirty from shooting outside at an abandoned fort all day. So, I showered and washed the clothes I was wearing. As I stood in the shower washing the last of my make up off, I felt pretty stripped of everything I held dear. Without any cash or cards to replace any of the items that were stolen—I felt pretty destitute. Sounds pretty dramatic, but it’s truly how I felt. Grr, I was going to have to go out on a Friday night without any makeup on.

I decided to still go out despite that I felt naked and destitute without any of my usual things. And I met up with some really great people. So weird to have nothing but the clothes on my back that night. No money, no credit cards, no car, no purse, no makeup, no dress clothes, no favorite shoes, no phone. But I had friends. And that was nice.

So crazy but this moment of destitution actually sparked some painful memories of the feeling of abandonment and destitution related to being abandoned as a little baby when my birth father gave me up for adoption. It was painful to make the connection as I stood there in the shower and reflected on how destitute I was when I was left as a little baby to fend for herself with nothing but the clothes on her back and a small box of toys. I realized that since I was able to bounce back from that, I was sure I could bounce back from this.

I’ve learned so much from this experience. May sound cliché, but these moments really did remind me of what was important. Do I need to have the best make up, the finest clothes, the biggest engagement ring? No. Do I really even need more than a little food and water? Not right now.

The night I was robbed, my husband was able to work with my friend and I over the phone to help me devise a plan of how to get a new set of car keys. And the next day my friend Sean and my mom spent the time to help me get my car towed and get a replacement set of keys programmed at the dealership. I am so grateful for their TLC. I couldn’t have done it without them. Being completely purseless, my mom spotted me money for food, the tow, and the new car key. All of these kind gestures made me really think of how truly grateful I am to have such wonderfully loving people in my life who care about me. If I didn’t have them around, I truly would have been in a pickle. I am so appreciative for all of the people in my life who I know I can truly trust and count on in moments of need, namely my mom, my husband, and my friends.

I think that holds true for my adoption story too. While I was left with nothing material apart from the clothes on my back, I was placed into the loving care of my adoptive mother. She was always a huge source of love and support, and without her I would be truly lost! I am convinced that it was her unconditional love for me that gave me the confidence I have in myself to be the strong woman who I am today. I don’t let her know how much she means to me as much as I should.

Losing such precious things reminded me of how fleeting things are, and how important it is to savor and enjoy the things you love in your life—because nothing lasts forever. This past year I invested a lot in myself. The things that were stolen were so painful to lose because I loved them so much. Makes it easy to think it may be better not to care about anything at all. But at the same time, I think it’s better to love something for a while to then lose it than to never put yourself out there to love anything at all.

After traumatic things happen like this, it’s a knee-jerk reaction to question whether or not I should’ve done something differently. Should I have traveled to Baltimore, gone on the photo shoot, left my bags in the car, or the list goes on. But I think that when you put yourself out there and take risks and do amazing things, some bad things are bound to happen in the process, and that’s just life. I would much rather live a huge life and have things happen than to stay reclusive and lead a small life where nothing really happens at all.

I can rewrite the ideas in a new journal. After all, the journal itself is only a written expression of thoughts that I myself created—and thank God, I am still here. So, I can create something new. Conceiving the ideas are the hardest part of writing. Once the idea is conceived, it’s fairly easy to rewrite –especially for something as memorable as an idea conceived during a stroke of insight. And I can buy more beautiful clothes and handbags. There is a silver lining in everything. I am allowing myself the space to be mellow, chill, and sad for a time, because this experienced sucked!!! But after that, I am going to use this angry passion for the things I lost to fuel a flame to recapture everything that I lost and held dear or to reinvent them in a fresh new way.

This loss was a personal attack trying to keep my spirit down. But it’s done the opposite. This loss actually fanned a flame for the things that I’m really passionate about. It’s pissed me off. But in a good way. I feel so incredibly fired up that I feel even more energized to fight even harder to move forward with the things that I planned in my journal. I feel so incredibly stoked to write that I can’t even stand it. I am going to redesign the garments I sketched and create them to love and show off and cherish. I am going to recount and rewrite every detail of every memory from my previous journal that I still want documented in a beautiful new journal, or incorporate them into a book I am working on—which was even better. I am going to pick out gorgeous new clothes, and who doesn’t love that?? I am going to buy new makeup that I love. And I am going to use this as an opportunity to redesign new rings to fit the personality and style that I want to convey in a fresh way, rather than to try to duplicate my previous wedding rings. I have a few jewelry designers in mind, so will be a fun new endeavor that I am excited about. This is a fresh start.

I am not the type to just take things lying down. This terrible thing knocked me down, but I’m gonna come back up swinging. For a while now, I’ve been burning to do a long distance race. Don’t know what it was, but I felt an immense desire to run over the past couple months. And this trying experience tipped the scale and inspired me to commit to training for one. I don’t know what it is about pushing yourself physically that makes you somehow stronger and your enemies weaker… but it does. And I’m ready for that.

I’m not going to let these criminals ruin the things that I love and the things I cherish in my life! I’ve got too much going for all of the things I’ve set out to do!

Just thinkin’ out loud. Hope these thoughts hit you right.

Sending my love, prayers, and positivity out to you! Send ‘em back to me, please! I’m gonna need them this week. < XoXo

 

Korean Adoptee Meet up in St. Louis

Within the past year, I joined a couple of Korean adoptee Facebook groups and met the most amazing adoptees from all over the US. It was in one of these groups, that I met April—a really lovely soul. This beautiful girl was abandoned in a marketplace in Korea when she was 5 years old. She still remembers her grandmother releasing her hand for the final time. She can still taste the salt of her tears and feel the grit of the dirt and her hair as the wind blew these across her mouth. April still flashes back to this moment when she hears her own beautiful little daughter cry for her. Such a profound moment in her life. Definitely something that has been a part of her past. But, April has not let the hardships she’s faced define her. She is stronger for her experiences. But she doesn’t dwell on them. She is one of the most incredibly loving, open, funny people I’ve ever met. She is married and has two beautiful children. Her family lives in St. Louis.

Last year, April began opening her home for Korean adoptees to meet up from all over the US. I had the most incredible time meeting up with the best girls and guys last weekend at April’s house. All of whom were Korean adoptees, like me! There were a bunch of Korean adoptees from St. Louis and the midwest, including Michigan and Ohio. A few from Texas, and my friend Gina from LA. It was so much fun to share similar stories of growing up in white families in white neighborhoods and to hear all of their European last names. I told everyone how I recently jokingly told someone she could call me, “Hey you!” and the woman thought I was telling her my Korean name: “Hei Yu.” Others had similar funny stories.

Some girls reunited with their birth families already. Many discovered their entire back stories were wrong. This can definitely shake a person to the core and is something that many adoptees can relate to. One girl reunited with her birth family and decided to spend a couple of years in Korea to get to know more about her Korean heritage. Another girl just started the process of searching for her birth family, so she’s really nervous about how everything will pan out. A few people shared that they never had a strong desire to reunite with their birth families, and they are okay with that.

We went out to a Korean karaoke bar and laughed when only two out of twenty of us knew enough Korean to work the controls. Thankfully, we were all okay singing out to English songs. There was kimchi. There was soju. There were beautiful Asian features. We were as Korean as it gets for Korean adoptees.

april, gina, me

I brought two pairs of shoes with me that I’ve been trying to give away for the past 6 months. They were two sets of gorgeous pumps –one metallic chrome and one bright turquoise. I haven’t had any takers because no one can fit into these gorgeous heels—my feet are very small. I even posted them on an online Facebook yard sale in my area with no luck. I brought them to this gorgeous group, knowing most of my Korean girlfriends would have similar frames. When I brought my shoes out, I immediately found new owners for these bombing shoes. So funny how such little things can make such a difference in normalizing my own petite features.

This meet up was so incredibly meaningful to me in my own personal journey. It’s amazing to think that I’m in such great company in my own personal experiences. So nice to feel the camaraderie and warmth of other Korean adoptees.

It’s amazing to me that in our shared experiences we all had an instant bond. I love getting to know new people and sharing stories. It definitely creates a special community where one can really feel that she belongs. One of my newfound friends described our meet up well by saying, “I have a tribe, a place to belong. It’s something you can’t really explain in words… it’s an experience. One I truly treasure.”

 

#mytribe #adoptees #koreanadoptees #stlouis

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