Wednesday, March 31, 2010

When an adoptee decides to search: After all these years, why now?

I would like to address a "phenomena," which really is not a phenomena at all. But I use such a word simply because it characterizes the way that I think the general bystander tends to view the process that I am about to discuss.

Over time, as I interact and correspond with more and more adult Korean adoptees, I have noticed a common reaction to Korean adoptees by their friends and families when they begin to demonstrate an interest in their ethnic heritage, which can often extend to initiating a search for one's biological family.

Family and friends often express a somewhat agitated, distrustful surprise at the seemingly "sudden" interest of a Korean adoptee in his or her ethnic and familial origins.

Often, friends and family are thinking to themselves (or they just say it), "After all these years, why now?"

After all these years, why are you now deciding to seek out your origins?

It's a fair enough question. But it's also a question that demonstrates, once again, the general ignorance and lack of awareness regarding the issues that adopted persons encounter.

And it's a question that is often asked by those who take for granted that they know from whom and where they came, and why they are who they are.

The desire of adoptees to want to know where they came from is no different and no more a phenomena than a non-adopted person's desire to know his or her own family history and ancestry.

But it is different in the sense that most (not all, of course) non-adopted persons have such knowledge easily available to them. Physically and temperamentally, non-adopted persons can look in the mirror and know why they look a certain way, or they can watch a parent and know where they got that quick temper or that sharp wit. Non-adopted persons can pick up the phone or send an email and ask a family member, Hey, does heart disease run in our family? They can look in the mirror and know where those freckles came from or how they got that thick full head of hair.

Yet, family often wonders why in the world an adoptee is wanting to know more now, especially if the adoptee has generally seemed to display healthy social and psychological adjustment.

Well, wonder no more. An adoptee's desire to want to know more is not odd or all of a sudden, despite the way it may appear.

The desire to know one's origins is quite natural and in the case of an adoptee, may simply have been dormant awaiting the necessary emotional tools and maturity to facilitate its emergence.

Why now?

Maybe it's because of a recent marriage or the prospect or actual event of having a child. Or maybe it's simply because becoming an adult has forced an adopted person to face the issues of identity more directly and frequently.

The deep and complex issues of one's identity are not normally a part of a ten-year old child's daily thought. And even in high school although the process of developing one's identity begins, it carries on into adulthood and really for the remainder of a person's lifetime.

It would make sense then, that certain facets of the adoptee's experience and identity development would not necessarily come to the forefront until certain stages in life have been surpassed or reached.

* * *

Hence, it is deceiving to think that once an adopted person has reached adulthood that he or she has completed the adoption journey.

If the adopted person has made it through high school, graduated college and gone on to join the workforce, it's easy to think that he or she has arrived at the end of the adoption journey.

But often it is only beginning.

As human beings, developmentally, most of us are aware of the fact that we have not arrived or reached the peak of our lives in our early twenties--rather we are in many ways, just beginning. Furthermore, our identities tend to shift and metamorphose throughout life.

Although a foundation is laid during childhood and adolescence, our identities are by no means complete once we turn twenty-one.

I am a very different person in my mid-thirties than I was in my mid-twenties. I also imagine I'll be different in my mid-forties from who I am now in my mid-thirties.

I am addressing the lifetime nature of an adopted person's journey simply because I have encountered adoptive parents who seem to hold the perspective that if their adopted child demonstrates generally healthy adjustment during childhood and adolescence that this indicates that the adopted person will therefore transition smoothly into adulthood with little to no concerns or issues with being adopted.

I have also encountered adoptive parents who also seem somewhat perplexed when their once "happy little child" grows up to become an adult who demonstrates conflict or turmoil over his or her adoption.

A lot happens developmentally between childhood and adulthood. As we transition into adulthood, our ability to process complex information increases and deepens. It should be no surprise then that an adopted child who seemed very well-adjusted matures into an adult who may eventually display more overtly an increasing curiosity and interest regarding his or her adoption.

It's not that something mysteriously surfaced and overcame the adopted person in adulthood, but rather that what was there all along has finally found its way out due to the ability to now not only process but identify and express the thoughts and emotions that accompany the adoptee's experience.

In addition, as I mentioned above, certainly marriage and the prospect of children can often thrust an adoptee into a flurry of thoughts and emotions that otherwise have remained dormant or suppressed.

The important point to keep in mind always is that adoption is a lifetime process. It begins the second the adopted person is relinquished by his or her original family and, despite seeming periods of dormancy or latency, the process never ceases from that point on...

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I didn't search because I was looking for a new family

I didn't search because I was looking for a new family.

My decision to search is not a reflection of you as a parent. I didn't decide to search for my biological family because you somehow failed me as a parent.

I did not decide to search because you as a parent were not enough.

In fact, although my decision to search certainly affects you, it actually has very little to do with you.

My decision to search is primarily due to the innate, inherent desire of every human being to want to know from whom and where we began.

My decision to search has more to do with the natural and normal longing to know one's origins, one's history, to answer such basic questions as, "Who am I?" or "Why am I the way I am?"

It's not that your love as a parent was not enough, it was simply that your love can not answer the questions that linger and hover over me. Your love cannot tell me why my original parents relinquished me. Your love cannot tell me what happened. Your love cannot give me the answers that have eluded me all of my life.

Only searching can help me to face these questions. And although I may not find the answers that I seek, I hope to find more of who I am along the way.

The best thing you can do is to understand that my desire to search is not about you as a parent. The best thing you can do is to be there for me, to let me know that you're not going anywhere, that you're secure enough in our relationship to let me take this journey.

The best thing you can do is to let go, while continuing to love me, knowing that although your love cannot answer all the questions I have, it can be a source of strength.

The best thing you can do is to not pull away or feel threatened by my desire to know more.

I am not leaving you in search of a new family. I am holding onto you as I search for the ones who--not unlike you--made me the person I am today.

Monday, March 29, 2010

a new book by Korean birth mothers

Dreaming a World: Korean Birth Mothers Tell Their Stories

The above is a link to a new book written by Korean birth mothers. It is a follow-up book to I Wish for You a Beautiful Life, which I have read and personally own. (And I plan to purchase Dreaming a World).

Reading these books will give you incredible insight into the realities that unwed Korean mothers face. Reading I Wish for You a Beautiful Life was one of the books, among many, that prompted me to want to search for my biological mother.

Proceeds from Dreaming a World go toward support and assistance for unmarried Korean mothers who choose to keep and raise their children.

*Just for clarity's sake, due to the mature themes and intense subject matter, neither one of the books listed above is intended for children. Both books are intended for emotionally mature audiences. I was sobbing by the end of the available excerpt from Dreaming a World, while I also always end up weeping when I read I Wish--and they are not happy tears or tears of pity, but rather tears of very real and intense sorrow and grief, and sometimes even rage and despair...just be aware.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Why adoption hurts (Part 3): a List

Part 1 and Part 2, I discussed somewhat extensively and in more detail regarding "Why adoption hurts." As I continue to ponder this subject, my thoughts are coming together more thoroughly and at least with somewhat more lucidity.

I continue this series of posts on "Why adoption hurts" with the following pseudo-list for easier reference. Hopefully due to its attempted concision (well, at least in comparison to Part 1 and Part 2), this will offer more clarity, coherence and understanding as to "Why adoption hurts":

Adoption hurts because it involves a person being tragically separated from his or her original family.

Adoption hurts because--despite the aforementioned trauma--the general public expects the adopted person to adjust without experiencing the emotional, social, and familial consequences of such a loss.

Adoption hurts because when the adopted person does demonstrate or express difficulty due to the trauma of the loss, his or her family and friends often do not acknowledge or accept the reality of the adopted person's pain.

Adoption hurts because it removes a person from his or her original language, culture, and people and displaces the person into a foreign language, culture, and people from whom the person differs drastically in physical appearance.

Adoption hurts because, although the adopted person may be able to adapt and assimilate within the new culture and language, the adopted person will never be able to assimilate physically due to the obvious differences in physical appearance from the people in the assimilating country.

Adoption hurts because others tend to underestimate and dismiss the profound effects that the aforementioned differences in physical appearance exact upon the adopted person's experience of life and identity.

Adoption hurts because the adopted person often experiences discrimination, prejudice, racism, bigotry due to these physical differences in appearance.

Adoption hurts because when the adopted person experiences the aforementioned instances of prejudice and bigotry, he or she does not have a family of similar appearance to which he or she can turn for validation and identification of these physical differences.

Adoption hurts because although the adopted person may try to turn to those whom he or she does resemble in appearance for validation and belonging, the adopted person may often feel rejected or marginalized due to the inability to relate to the language and culture of these albeit physically similar, but nonetheless, culturally and linguistically exclusive individuals.

Adoption hurts because although the adopted person resembles certain people physically, he or she may experience ridicule and ostracism from those whom she or he resembles physically due to the adopted person's general lack of knowledge of the pertaining culture and language.

Adoption hurts because the adopted person experiences discrimination and prejudice not only from the people in the adopting country, but also from the people from whom the adopted person came.

Hence, adoption hurts because the adopted person often feels consigned to an awful state of in-between due to the rejection experienced from both groups to which the adopted person relates but is not fully accepted.

Adoption hurts because the experience of loss is compounded by the aforementioned rejection and marginalization by both the pertaining peoples and cultures.

Adoption hurts because so many consider all of the above hogwash.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Why adoption hurts (Part I)

[Click here for "Part 2" and here for "Part 3"]

Adoptees must attempt to make sense of a complex, deep matrix of circumstances, emotions and thoughts. It's not easy, not only because it's not easy, but also because most folks don't realize that it's not easy.

There is an assumption that if an adoptee discusses or expresses the "not easy" experiences or feelings regarding his or her adoption that he or she is an ungrateful, angry, bitter, resentful adoptee who fails to recognize how fortunate he or she is to have been adopted by a family who loves him or her.

Do you tell a widow that she is being negative, ungrateful, angry, bitter, resentful if she still tears up or struggles with grief or sorrow over the loss of her first husband even after she has happily remarried? I would hope not.

Although adoptees--similar to a widow who has happily remarried--may have gained a family, you must keep in mind that the only reason they have so-called gained a family is that they first LOST everything. And when I say everything, I mean, everything.

They have lost their original father, mother, grandparents, siblings, extended family. They have lost their language, culture, and country of origin. They have lost any connection whatsoever to their beginnings, to their identity, to the most basic elements of who they are. They have lost any knowledge of what happened and why.

The love and trust that was supposed to be there has been broken and scorched. They have lost the inherent sense of security and stability that is often assumed between a child and a parent.

They have lost what most others take for granted: what it means to be a family.

And contrary to popular assumption, being adopted into a family, whether at six months old or at six years old does not somehow magically sweep away the repercussions of these profound and almost indescribable losses.

The story of adoption is not a fairy tale in which the adoptive parents star as the fairy godmother who can wave a magic wand of love and expect the sorrow and grief to vanish.

It's not that your love is not good enough. It's simply that such pain and loss cannot be instantaneously transformed by love. No doubt, love is always needed. It's just not a miracle drug.

Just as all the love in the world couldn't take away the pain when I flipped off the front of my bike at eight years old and ate asphalt with my chin, similarly, all the love in the world cannot instantaneously wipe away all the wounds that I've sustained since that irrevocable day of relinquishment and loss.

Yet for adoptees there is often a well-intentioned but grossly inaccurate assumption that still persists today that adoption is neutral--that it is without psychological, social or familial repercussions.

I would like to address some of these misinformed assumptions and discuss just a few of the reasons as to why being an adoptee is "not easy" nor without consequence. However, I will do so in a "Part 2" simply to prevent this post from being too long and too saturated.

Why adoption hurts (Part 2)

[click here for Part 3]

In a previous post,
"Why adoption hurts (Part 1)", I discussed in general why adoption is not neutral and why it is inaccurate to assume that adoption is without psychological, social, and familial repercussions.

I ended the first post by stating that I wanted to address in greater detail some of these misinformed assumptions and discuss just a few of the reasons as to why being an adoptee is "not easy" nor without consequence--but I offered that I would do so in a "Part 2" simply to prevent a single post from being too long and too saturated.

So here are just a few for starters:

LACK OF RESOLUTION OVER PROFOUND LOSS: Adoptees have no way to get resolved regarding the loss of their original parents and extended family.

Often there is no knowledge of the circumstances that led to their adoption and even less knowledge of their biological parents' identities or histories.

How do you get resolved and move on when you have no idea what happened? It's like telling someone to get over the husband who is missing in action. You in some ways have no choice but to "move on" but you can't ever actually get resolved, because you can't ever know what happened or where he is. It's a similar situation for adoptees.

PUBLIC IGNORANCE: Most people are generally ignorant of the profound effects psychologically and socially of adoption on the adoptee's identity and overall experience of family and life.

This compounds the existing difficulty of working to find resolution and understanding. If the rest of the world acts as though adoptees are crazy and wrong for having difficulty with being adopted, we're not going to feel comfortable or free to deal with the emotions that accompany it. Most likely, we'll just ignore or suppress the thoughts, questions, and emotions that trouble us.

It's like a friend telling you she was abused all her life, but you then proceed to tell her that it's over with now and she should be fine. Hopefully, in most cases, the majority of people would never do this.

However, when it comes to the profound loss and grief that adoptees face, most people have NO CLUE. This ignorance only increases the sense of isolation and alienation experienced by adoptees, which in turn makes it all the more challenging to cope with being adopted.

ETHNIC/RACIAL INDIFFERENCE/INSENSIVITY: If someone was adopted transracially or internationally this can also further complicate the adoptee's experience.

This is a HUGE factor and is often grossly under-acknowledged and under-addressed. And it's probably going to get a little touchy and I'm probably going to say something that offends someone. Just know that I'm not here to bash or tear anyone down. And I'm also still trying to formulate and gather my own thoughts and perspectives regarding these issues. I'm just trying to discuss the issues in a mature and respectful way, while maintaining openness and honesty. So, let's all be patient with one another.

For example, in my case, a White family adopted a Korean child. If you're White, try to imagine yourself, say, being adopted into a Nigerian family or into a Chinese family and growing up in the respective countries with little to no exposure to anything else or anyone else like you. Hopefully, you can envision the identity issues you would encounter in addition to the issues of loss and grief that come with being adopted.

Furthermore, there is a tension that exists between White Americans and other Ethnic Americans.

Whites say, Oh, I'm color blind. I don't see color.

Okay, let me go ahead and get this one out of the way. Don't strive to be color-blind, okay? You do see color. We all see color. It's inevitable and a natural part of the life scape. It's not a bad thing to see color.

However, what I've noticed is that a lot of White people seem to choose to deal with the color they see by ignoring it. They think the only way to avoid being racist or prejudice is to ignore a person's ethnic heritage.

Let me be clear, that's not the point. The key is learning to recognize and appreciate someone for who they are, which means not ignoring key elements of their identity--and that includes their ethnic background.

I know it seems contradictory. You say, But wait, I thought people didn't want to be discriminated against. I thought we are not supposed to be prejudice.

Yes, you're right. But being prejudice and racist is completely different from appreciating and cultivating someone's ethnic origins. You can acknowledge someone's ethnic origins without being racist or discriminatory. Just in the way that you can appreciate that someone is taller than you are without discriminating against them, you can learn to appreciate someone's ethnic background without being a bigot.

It's not that I want people to see me ONLY as Korean. Because really, that's just a part of who I am. But to completely ignore it is also detrimental. It's really not contradictory.

It's simply more complex than "black and white," because people are more complex than "black and white."

That's the problem with racism and bigotry. It fails to recognize that people are complex and instead makes gross judgments based on oversimplified conclusions. But being "color-blind" is basically the other shoe in the same pair. Putting it on a different foot doesn't change what it is.

Don't ignore someone's ethnic background but also don't make sweeping generalizations based on someone's ethnic heritage. Certain stereotypes do exist for a reason, but those stereotypes become dangerous and harmful when we allow them to overtake common sense and basic human consideration.

For adoptees in particular, for example in my case, it could not be avoided that growing up as the only Asian in predominantly White communities would have consequences regarding my identity development and my overall experience of being Asian in America.

Rather than either extreme: Oh, I'm sure you were fine. I'm sure your race didn't matter one bit. You're just a human like all of us versus Hey, slant-eyed flat-flace, you look weird and you talk weird. Hoing-doing-choing-doing.

There are of course more subtle and covert encounters that I have with harmful stereotypes, but they nonetheless sting just as much.

I'm simply saying that I can tell you from personal experience that even though White people like to think of themselves as "color-blind," they most certainly are not.

I'm not saying that you are not a generally kind and considerate person. What I'm saying is that even with your best efforts to not treat someone according to their ethnic appearance, you will inevitably do the very thing you're trying to avoid.

So, don't avoid it. Just try to embrace me for who I am--with all its complexity and all its seeming contradictions...Just don't be racist or ignorant about it...

And in terms of adoption, recognize that being adopted as an Asian into a predominantly White community with accompanying standards of beauty and conduct cannot but have long-term effects on my experience of the world and my identity.

ASSUMPTION THAT REUNION MAKES IT ALL GO AWAY: There is also an assumption that if an adoptee "reunites" with his or her biological parents and/or family, then that adoptee will no longer have any questions or difficulties.

Again, this is a misguided and misinformed assumption. Although "reuniting" with my biological parents and family has answered some of my questions, it has not answered all of my questions. And actually, in many ways, it has created more.

Reunion do not simplify or fix the issues that adoptees face. In reality, it complicates the issues and surfaces all kinds of emotions. And the reunion isn't over after that first meeting. It continues on into what's often referred to as "post-reunion."

Post-reunion is often neglected, in part, I think because so many assume that reunion is the end of the story. But post-reunion is one of the most complex, fragile, daunting, draining, testing processes. It's even hard to explain or discuss because it is so incredibly complicated.

If adoption is inherently complicated, reuniting with one's biological family certainly is no less complicated and often only deepens and widens the existing complexities.

[click here for Part 1 and here for Part 3]

* * *

Please feel free to chime in. Certainly, the issues discussed above only scratch the surface. I had a hard time myself, even explicating all the complexities. I never seem to get to a place in which I feel as though I have properly and adeptly discussed the issues of why adoption hurts.

I'm sure I'll have to further clarify statements I have made in this post...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

a Metaphor

Okay, so I figured out a metaphor that more clearly depicts why I feel so irked by the currently scarce, underdeveloped, and generally shoddy availability of post-reunion services by adoption agencies for Korean adoptees.

In a previous post, "the Price of Translation: the lack of post-reunion assistance," I discussed my frustration with the inadequate and often pricey services that the adoption agency provides for post-reunion, in particular the heavy charges for translation aid between adoptees and their biological families.

(Just for clarity's sake, I am fortunate enough to have a friend who is beautifully and adeptly fluent in both Korean and English who volunteers to translate letters for me. However, without her, I would basically be trying to dig a well without a shovel. Scraping at the ground with my fingernails--needless to say, but I'm saying it anyway-- would not get me very far, and I'd die of thirst.)

I am not discrediting the efforts made by organizations like G.O.A.L. and even some of the adoption agencies. Thank goodness at least some are doing something.

But they're certainly insufficient to meet the increasing demands and the growing complexities of post-reunion. They also somewhat neglect to consider the potentially sensitive and fragile nature of post-reunion.

Having random strangers translating deeply intimate and personal information can feel invasive and raw. But hey, as the great old American adage goes--beggars can't be choosers, right? But what if I didn't choose to be a beggar, and what if I want to be a chooser but my circumstances only give me a choice between A and A.

I'm using too much metaphor. Moving on...

So, here's the metaphor that I intended to share. It exemplifies what the experience of adoption, search, reunion, and post-reunion have felt like to me:

Say a doctor shows up at my door.

He tells me, "Hi, I'm a doctor. I will take care of you."

He then proceeds to beat me silly, black, and blue, ties me up, and throws me in the trunk of his Lexus.

After a long, dark, painful ride, the car stops. The doc unlocks the trunk and stares down at me.

He then says, "Gosh, I'm sorry. I feel awful about beating you. But hey, like I said when we first met, I'm a doctor. I'm here to help. I brought you to the hospital at which I work."

He carries me to a hospital bed, treats my wounds, and attends to my injuries--albeit, the ones that he inflicted.

When he is done, he pats me on the head and says, "There, there now. All better."

Then suddenly he hands me a bill for ten thousand smackers for the treatment I just received, and goes on to say, "Oh by the way, you're also going to need ongoing treatment and physical therapy for some of the more severe injuries you sustained as a result of me beating you. The cost is going to be considerable, you have health insurance right? If you don't, well, you'll figure something out, now, won't you?"

He concludes by saying, "Well, I hope you get to feeling better. I sure am glad I'm a doctor and that I was able to help you with the wounds after I beat you so badly. Sorry about the long, dark, bumpy ride. It took me a while to figure out what I was thinking. Good luck with your ongoing treatment. I can't really help you from this point on, but there are support groups for folks like you who have been beaten by doctors like me. Take care, now."

And then he walks off.

Every once in a while I contact him because I need his help to manage the details of the injuries sustained in order to get the appropriate ongoing treatment, but otherwise, he remains pretty uninvolved and removed.

He steps in here and there when he thinks it is needed, but overall the burden of navigating and figuring out the complexities of the process of healing and treatment due to his beating of me remain my responsibility.

* * *

Many would say, Well, girl, that's just the way the world works. And I would say, Yep, you're right.

But I don't have to agree with the way the world works. And I don't have to shrink back and act like nothing can be done to improve it.

* * *

Another little clarification: I always feel like I'm having to clarify to others that I'm not an angry, bitter adoptee. I always feel as though that's how people are going to label me when I express these types of thoughts.

If you were to ever meet me in person, you'd know right away that I'm not a bitter, angry person. Just keep in mind, though, that the purpose of this blog is not to toss out warm fuzzies for everyone to snuggle and cuddle with.

It's to illuminate the honest, unfiltered experience of an adult adoptee. Yes, here and there I will wrestle with a beast of emotion, but it doesn't mean you then proceed to discount what I'm feeling as just "that angry adoptee stuff."

If you're going to enter the adoptee world, you have to be willing to see it from the myriad perspectives of those who occupy it. And if you're not willing, then maybe you should re-think not only why you're reading this in the first place, but why you wanted to enter the adoption world to begin with...

the Price of Translation: the lack of post-reunion assistance

[Note: there is a "Part 2," or follow-up post, to this, if you are interested: "a Metaphor for the 'Price of Translation']

Okay, I have a gripe. It has been building for a while.

It's simple: translation. Post-reunion translation and assistance.

It's practically non-existent, particularly through the adopting agency. This increasingly disgusts and incenses me.

I know taking on the role of victim is not going to get me very far. Ultimately, I have to be proactive and do my part. I say this simply to clarify that I'm not looking for a pity party.

I just think it's ridiculous that an adoption agency that specializes in mediating and promoting inter-country or transnational adoption provides so little post-reunion services.

The adoption agency is a major reason as to why the adoption even took place in the first place. Would it not be logical and considerate that the agency would provide equally developed services and assistance programs for post-reunion, since the agency's adopting practices are a primary reason the adoptee was adopted out to another country?

But instead, if I were to go through the adoption agency for translation, I would have to pay $15-$25 a page to have a letter to or from either one of my Korean parents translated. If it happens to be a two-page letter, well, then I'd be paying half a benjamin. Ouch.

Or I can pay $75 an hour for translation services during a [conference] phone call. Slap.

So, basically, I have to pay in order to communicate with my own flesh and blood. And in particular, I have to pay, even though I didn't make the decision to lose my original language and culture. I have to pay, even though I had no control over the circumstances and choices that determined my fate.

I have to pay, even though the agency is in large part, the entity responsible for my current predicament.

I know all the things people would say to justify and support the agency's fees and practices. Well, their staff can't work for free, you know. This post-reunion stuff takes a lot of energy and time, and well, the demand is so high these days...

Exactly my point. Well, then, maybe the agency needs to consider this and pay to have someone on staff to provide translation and post-reunion services, so that the adoptee doesn't have to shell out hundreds and hundreds of dollars just to say hello, how are you, to her own flesh and blood.

Maybe the agency needs to be a little more willing to focus not only on the front-end but on the back-end of its adoption practices. Maybe the adoption agency needs to think a little more thoroughly about the consequences and repercussions of what it's doing, and change accordingly. And of course, the consequences and repercussions go much deeper than translation services. But that's another post.

Learn the language. Sure, okay. No problem. Become fluent enough to discuss deep issues like "Why did you relinquish me?" or "Why didn't you tell my Appa?" Sure.

It's one thing to have a basic conversation but dealing with intense and unresolved emotional issues requires an understanding and fluency in the relevant language that normally comes only with a lifetime of exposure.

Or at the least, it requires living in the nation of origin for years and years. And even then, expecting to speak like a native understanding all the nuances and subtleties is something that even years of experience may not fully develop.

Yes, maybe I'm feeling a little resentful, bitter, angry at the moment. I won't allow it to consume me or steal away the good in my life. And as I stated earlier, I ultimately have to take responsibility for my part.

At the same time, this is a very real dilemma--one that affects my every day life and obviously, my ongoing relationships with my Korean parents-- that resulted from a set of circumstances and a series of decisions over thirty years ago that had nothing to do with me but affected and continues to affect everything about me.

So much is lost in translation--more than simply words and meanings. Who you are, who they are remains lost...Finding one another has certainly been a dream come true. But trying to know one another has been and will continue to be a slow, daunting, and painful process.

Only so much can be grasped when getting to know one another through translation.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

What not to say to an adoptee...

Wow, you're [adoptive] parents must be such special/good people to have adopted you.
[Translation: You're parents must be such amazing people in contrast to you--the lowly little charity case. They really must be saints to have been willing to take you into their family and home because, man, obviously neither your original family nor anyone else in their right mind wanted anything to do with you.]

You're so lucky. [Translation: You're so lucky that you don't know a thing about your original family--whether they are dead or alive.]

You must feel so grateful. [Translation: You must feel so grateful that you lost your original family and have no idea what happened to them].

You are so fortunate that someone adopted you. [Translation: You are so fortunate that someone wanted you.]

Don't you feel blessed that you got to come to America? [Translation: The country you came from was such an awful, terrible place and the people didn't want you anyway, so you should feel fortunate that America is so much better and so much more willing to accept someone like you--someone your own country and own people wouldn't take care of...]

Wow, you must be so glad that you didn't have to grow up in [country of origin]. [Translation: The country you came from was such a poor, uneducated crap hole, it is best that you stay away from that place anyway.]

You're not [ethnic origin], you're AMERICAN. [Translation: Just ignore and forget about who you are and where you came from, how different you look and how differently others treat you--it's not important anyway.]

It shouldn't matter to you whether you ever find your biological parents, you already have a family. [Translation: You're being ungrateful and foolish. You shouldn't want to know who or where you came from or what happened. You should just be grateful.]

* * *

I know that when people say things like what I listed above, they generally mean well. That's actually one of the primary reasons I posted this list.

Just because someone is well-intentioned, does not automatically mean therefore, what he or she is saying or doing is helpful or beneficial, and in fact some of the most "well-intentioned" words or acts can often have the most unintended detrimental and hurtful effects.

Particularly when it comes to adoption, many people have good intentions, but they are MISGUIDED or MISINFORMED intentions.

If you've ever said these things or thought these things or they just generally reflect your view of adoption, I'm not bashing you. I'm simply trying to "enlighten" you, or in simpler terms, just trying to educate you and correct your misconceptions.

If you're an adoptee and someone has ever made the above statements to you, I also recognize that such statements may not translate in the same way to every adoptee. Other adoptees may be less sensitive or may have different perspectives regarding their own personal adoptions.

I'm just sharing these things based on my experience and the experiences of other adoptees I personally know.

Certainly it is not an exhaustive list, but I think it communicates the overall point: Generally, most people prefer to see adoption as an act of saintly charity in which the heroes are the adoptive parents and the adoptee is the lowly, grateful recipient of their charity.

Often, ignorantly and unintentionally, people end up coating adoption in thick layers of euphemism and misconceived notions, because the practice of adoption is more comfortable and more digestible that way. To others, it feels better to view it that way.

But it doesn't feel better to the adoptee.

It's not that I do not love my family. I do. More than I can even express.

But it's also not that I do not grieve and ache over what has been lost. I do. More than I can express.

And the ongoing struggles and issues with which I must cope as an adult adoptee do not diminish or magically disappear, simply because I have found my biological family or because I am now an adult. Rather, they grow and intensify. They remain.

In more ways than I know how to explain.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

adoption: generally misunderstood

The persisting lack of knowledge and awareness regarding the issues that adoptees face continue to astound and confound me.

I was reminded recently how rampant and pervasive are the utter ignorance and incomprehension when it comes to the profound loss that adoptees experience.

My husband was speaking with a friend. We'll call him Clark.

Clark and my husband, Mike, happened to stumble into a conversation about a friend of Clark's. Basically, Clark's friend has a daughter in her early 20's, who Clark described as troubled and distant. Clark's friend was described as being a father who is removed and frustrated by his daughter's apparent disconnection and detachment.

Well, eventually it came up that Clark's friend's daughter is adopted. And not only is she adopted, but her [adoptive] Mom died recently and suddenly--only two years ago--in a car accident. (The first loss of her biological family is compounded by the loss of her adoptive Mom).

Of course, as Mike was listening to Clark describe the situation, Mike was startled by the lack of awareness and understanding and proceeded to try to explain to Clark how being adopted most likely accounts for much of the daughter's behavior.

Clark demonstrated difficulty grasping the concept, and in response to my husband's efforts to educate Clark, Clark asked, "Well, do you think it's just better for parents not tell their children at all that they're adopted?"

Inside, Mike is thinking, "!!!!!!!!" There seemed to be no acknowledgment of the double trauma experienced by Clark's friend's daughter as a result of being adopted along with the recent loss of her adoptive Mom.

Although frustrating and alarming, neither Mike nor I should have been surprised.

As much progress that has been made, we still have a long way to go.

It is estimated that there are anywhere from 6 to 8 million adoptees living in America. Sure it may only be a small percentage of the overall population but it's significant enough that most people know someone who is adopted, if not multiple persons who are adopted.

And yet, the adoption experience remains one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted issues even today. It is subject to repeated euphemism and often the general public thinks they understand when they really have no clue.

What other trauma or loss is treated in the same way? Divorce, death of a loved one, returning from war--all of these major life events are viewed appropriately and treated with matching sympathy and compassion.

Yet when it comes to the adoption experience, society ignores any acknowledgment of trauma to the adoptee. It's not simply frustrating, but it is detrimental and hurtful to all of those involved in the adoption triad.

When a woman experiences a miscarriage, generally, most understand the loss involved. (Although, certainly, there will always be people who say well-intentioned but utterly misguided things).

How great is the loss when a woman relinquishes the child she has born? How deep the grief when that child must spend his or her life having lost the first mother and even more so having no answers, no knowledge of what happened.

It is indescribable the frustration and angst I experience in response to the lack of respect and understanding for the situation that adoptees face.

I continue to encounter individuals who not only do not understand but make no effort even to acknowledge the simple fact that adoption involves a profound loss and the accompanying grief and sorrow, confusion and pain that such loss involves.

I hope with time, more and more people will be willing and open to acknowledge the inherent trauma that adoption involves.

And if you're reading this and you think that perhaps you're one of the folks who perhaps does not quite get it, but you're willing to try to at least attain a basic understanding, please keep trying.

And feel free to contact me any time. I am more than willing to help you understand. And I promise I will be patient and considerate--just as I would hope that you would be patient and considerate toward me.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

flashback: my 19 year old adoptee self

Okay, brace yourselves. I've really dug out a few things from the archives...and they're simultaneously disturbing and cliche, and easily mistaken for melodramatic teen angst.

Despite the above disclaimer, and the rudimentary and novice nature of both the writing and the art, I assure you that the following pieces were born of more than the temporal and whimsical woes of adolescent rebellion.

I created the combination pieces of art and poetry in 1995 at the age of 19, although only one month away from my 20th birthday.

As mentioned, the writing and art are comparatively unsophisticated and reflect the young age at which they were written. But nonetheless, I think they are poignant and honest examples of the sometimes horrific inner struggle I faced as I dealt with the confusion and despair that have come to characterize, in part, my experience as an adoptee.

I often think of myself as a more extreme case. But maybe I'm not. Perhaps I simply have been limited in my encounters with other individuals who express thoughts and emotions similarly dark and dismal.

(Although there are certainly a few "kindred souls" who come to mind, whom I know will connect somewhat with this darker side...).

Furthermore, whether one is adopted neither precludes any single person from experiencing such emotion nor does it necessarily induce such emotion. It is simply to be human that gives any individual the potential capacity to experience such depth of emotion.

It is clear from the pictures and the accompanying writing that I was wrestling with very intense emotion--some intensely dark emotions. Regardless of their origin, the self-loathing, the confusion over my identity and place in the world are nothing more and nothing less that what is known as the human condition.

However, in my particular case, I now realize, of course, that so much of my struggle was directly connected to being adopted. But at the time, my family and I were clueless.

The darkness that poured out from me seemed inexplicable and without cause. None of us knew any better.

Now we do.

And although these pieces remain a bit shocking and unsettling to me even now, they also give me hope. I do not see myself in the same way that I did when I was 19, almost 20--well, that is, most of the time.

At least today, the confusion and emotion are not as self-abhorrent and self-destructive, and seem now to be directed in a healthier, more self-actualizing way.

It is not that I never enter into darkness again, but rather that the light is now allowed to come in.

[oil pastel on paper, 9x12]


what an ugly sight
who would build such a thing as this?
all measurements out of proportion
especially there in the middle
unpleasant bulges
unbecoming shapes
beyond disgusting
what a shame
a shameful site

in that black tunnel
through that brown window
i see her strangling herself
for she broke the scale
and she is swimming in her 24-hour meal

just an addiction she cannot stop
just a coping skill
to kill

the emptiness

it is all or
she would prefer nothing

the art of self-control
the ritual of discipline

she cannot maintain

she wants to be a skeleton
so she can hide in her closet
never hungry again
never full again
but just a plain old skeleton,

with skin.

[oil pastel on paper, 9x12]

The Missing Stanza

judgement stares her in the eyes
condemnation orders her

on her face
on her knees
she doubts to grasp the offer

bloated head
bloated heart
bloated stomach
hazardous consumption

staring in the toilet,
her reflection
swims in defecation
lacking explanation

perhaps a dance with that
fiery gentleman
until she is silver ashes
dancing on the breezes
winking in the winds

embrace his freedom?
taste his milk and honey?

then cease her staring
in the toilet
and her visions murdering
each other

in her bloated brain.

tip toes

I am feeling anxious about writing letters back to my Omma and Appa. I am feeling anxious overall about the current situation. I want so much to move forward. I want so much for things to progress.

But just like I didn’t develop the relationship I have with my American parents overnight, or even over several years, I can’t expect my relationships with my Korean parents to automatically emerge as though we’ve always known one another. It doesn’t work like that.

We’re not old friends who simply lost touch over the years. We can’t pick up where we left off. I was a newborn infant when my Omma last saw me. My Appa, well, he never got the chance to even look at me.

Now, fast forward almost 35 years. I’m clearly no longer a child. I'm a grown woman.

Additionally, the relationships I have with my Mom and Dad are hard-fought and hard-won, and we’re still growing. We were not always as close as we are now. There was a time when the chasm was so vast that it seemed insurmountable. The tension was so dense and seemingly irreconcilable that I would often despair and subsequently withdraw, which of course, only deepened and magnified the chasm.

We were people lost and estranged from one another due to misunderstandings, ignorance, miscommunication, and a resevoir of tumultuous, misinterpreted emotion. But we continue to work through these obstacles, and although it’s not easy, it’s certainly possible and attainable.

My Omma and Appa and I were people lost and estranged from another in the truest, most practical sense. We have no shared history. We share no common language or culture or experiences other than the loss and grief initiated over thirty years ago by a series of events. We, of course, share our genes. But nature certainly cannot compensate entirely for the absence of nurture.

Yes, there remain many things about my adoption experience that my Mom and Dad do not understand. But similarly, there remains the past 35 years of my entire life that my Omma and Appa do not know and therefore do not understand.

Truly, it is a double-edged sword that cuts going in and coming out. The wounds can be treated, but in many ways they will always be vulnerable.

* * *

I will say that it feels good to read the letters from my Omma and my Appa, to feel their love, their longing—to feel the sincerity of their desire to reach out to me and to know me. It is so hopeful and comforting. Their words, although not completely but in part, do act as a poultice to the deep pain and persistent uncertainty that writhe within.

Yet things still remain so fragile, so delicate. As much as I feel their love and longing in the letters they wrote, I also hear their sorrow and desperation, fear and anxiety.

We still tiptoe and dance around one another, testing the ground on which we gather, whether it will be solid enough to withstand the burdens we carry or whether it will split open under the weight and tear us apart once again.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

the language barrier

I received a letter from each birth parent last Friday.

Of course, someone else had to translate the letters from Hangul into English so that I could actually read them.

But once I could read them, both letters were parturient with deep emotion and longing. Even after a year has passed since the News, so much remains unfinished, incomplete, and almost desperate at times.

The rift of the language differences remains expansive and not easily bridged. I am grieved deeply by the inability to communicate with them directly, yet I am equally UNmotivated to learn the language. I know it is what I need to do if ever I am to have a functional, more normalized relationship with each parent. But I seem to shrink back and somewhat wither beneath the heat of such intense pressure.

Even though it was only six months ago that I last saw my Omma and my Appa, the language barrier makes the months seem like years.

For instance, I don't actually get the chance to visit my Mom and Dad but once a year or every other year, yet we can talk on the phone at any time. I can fire off an email to them whenever I'm thinking of them. We can talk weekly or daily, and hence, close the distance that would otherwise corrode and steal away the time that we must be apart.

But with my Omma and Appa, time apart is truly time lost. I cannot simply pick up the phone and ask my Omma, "How was your day? What have you been up to?" I cannot call up my Appa and have a conversation about how each of us has been spending our time over the past month or week. The time is lost.

Rather, we communicate in truncated, concentrated chunks of information, saturated with emotion.

So, although we have "reunited," it is as though we cannot move past the initial stages. Our relationships remain somewhat stunted and unable to grow.

However, I am not complaining nor am I taking for granted the incredible opportunity I have to even be able to deal with such a dilemma.

It is simply the reality of the situation. Although I feel very fortunate and grateful to have found those whom I thought were lost forever, I would be lying if I said that it's easy, or that it's everything that I ever dreamed it would be.

The dream of finding my biological parents has no doubt been realized. Now, the dream of having a functional, healthy relationship with each of them--well, that remains to be seen. I am ever hopeful, but one never hopes for what one already has. The very nature of hope is to seek after that which seems intangible, untouchable.

Ultimately, I suppose all that I am saying--like I always say--is that being an adoptee, particularly one who is in post-reunion, is not the fairy tale that some would be inclined to assume.

It just is.

Monday, March 15, 2010

old art therapy

[dimensions: 18x24]

[dimensions: 18x24]

[dimensions: 18x24]

I have been trying to do some organizing lately--you know, going through the closet where you stuff everything that you don't really know what to do with, but you hold onto anyway because it has sentimental value, or something like that...?

In doing so, I have come across some old "art therapy" that I did over ten years ago.

I don't particularly like these pieces now, but I have clearly held onto them for a reason: they function as reminders of where I have been and from I have come.

I look at these paintings and
recall where I was in life at the time I painted them. I simultaneously feel both relief and nostalgia as I gaze at these old paintings, realizing that so much has changed since then, in ways both unimaginable and indescribable.

Nonetheless, I am glad to have moved through and lived beyond those past phases in life to be where I am is not always easy but it is always needed and ultimately welcomed...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

two of Each

Two mothers. Two fathers.

But you can't make up for three plus decades. And yet you can't erase biology.

I am realizing more and more, at least at this point, that I will never have the relationship with my Omma that I have with my Mom, and perhaps vice versa.

I made mention in a previous post, All is Well, that "I also seem to have found my Mom and Dad here in the States in a new and more appreciated way."

In reuniting with my Korean parents, I have only realized more than before that my Mom and Dad are truly my Mom and Dad.

I know that every adoptee's experience is their own, and that there are adoptees who do not necessarily feel this way about their "adoptive parents." It is important that we always acknowledge and respect the diversity of experiences among adoptees. So, please, do not use my personal experiences to take away or judge the experiences of other adoptees, but also don't conclude that my experiences are invalid if they differ from your own.

Honestly, though, reuniting with my Korean parents has in many ways drawn me back to the comfort and familiarity of my Mom and Dad.

When I am sick, I long for my Mom. When I have something I want to talk about, I want to tell my Mom. When my husband and I need advice on buying a car, I go to my Dad. They are who is familiar--we speak the same language, we know the in's and out's of the same culture.

It is not that I do not wish that I could just pick up the phone and speak with my Omma or ask a question of my Appa. It's that I CAN'T. The obvious reason is that we don't speak the same language, but more subtly, it's that my Appa could never give me advice on how to buy a car in the States because what he knows is Korea. My Mom and I have 30+ years of history, and so when I call her up to tell her something I don't have to give any kind of back story. With my Omma, I wouldn't even know where to begin.

So you see, it's easy for me to drift away and unintentionally avoid "dealing" with the post-reunion aspects of cultivating relationships with my Korean parents. With my Omma and Appa on the other side of the world living in a place where the language and culture are foreign to me, it's easy to allow the distance to take over.

It's easy to retreat to what is comfortable and familiar.

I almost feel guilty as though I am taking for granted or growing complacent toward those for whom I waited all of my life to find. Yet, as my husband corrected me, it's not that I am taking my Omma and Appa for granted nor is it not that I feel complacent about our relationship, it is more that I feel overwhelmed by the task at hand. Trying to cultivate relationships with each of them is a constant reminder of all that has been lost and can never be retrieved.

There is of course always hope, I believe.

But each letter I attempt to write, each gesture of reaching out simultaneously brings to light how great is the distance, how deep is the chasm of the past three decades.

As I alluded to in the post "All is Well," trying to manage post-reunion and the relationships involved (with both my American and my Korean parents), feels as though I am staring down into the Grand Canyon. It's breathtaking and complex in both its beauty and terror. And lest I lose my footing and tumble into its perilous depths uncontrollably, I find myself timid and apprehensive to begin the careful and delicate descent into the natural wonder.

No doubt, a journey into it will reveal both danger and awe, joy and grief, disruption and redemption, but it will require patience, caution, wisdom, courage, and most significantly, perseverance.

Lately, however, I have found myself gazing across the canyon from an agreeable distance, focused on the insurmountable, seemingly impossible goal of getting to the other side, overcome with exhaustion and uncertainty at simply the thought of such a task.

And so, I walk away. I return to the warmth of the home I know with it's king-size bed and stocked refrigerator, heat or cold easily remedied by the push of a button.

Yet something feels different and not quite right. Something feels neglected and longing even amidst the coziness and familiarity.

And I realize that the home to which I have returned has changed irrevocably, and that in fact it is not my home any longer. Rather home is now on the other side. For now, I must be itinerant. For now, I am a nomad.

And the truth is that I always have been.

It is not that I have never had a home, but rather that my home was never easily defined or confined within clean, crisp boundaries. My home has always been wild and undiscovered. My home is more than a place. And it is more than just one person or one people. America will always feel like a home, because it is what I know and who I know.

But my home stretches not only into but also across that natural wonder, over the vast seas and oceans, to another place and another people.

That which is familiar to me will always comfort me. I will always return to those whom I know and know me. But I will also continue to stretch myself across to those who knew me if only for a brief moment and now have returned to try to know me once again, for the very first time.

all is well

I just finished reading the adult adoptee memoir, "Lucky Girl," by Mei-Ling Hopgood. I will simply say that every adoptee is truly an individual and each experience is subject to a high degree of variation.

Reading her memoir, however, of course, has forced me to think more about my own experience, thus far, of the process of search, reunion, and post-reunion.

Lately, trying to process all that has happened up to this point has felt like trying to perceive the Grand Canyon or trying to comprehend the depths of the Pacific Ocean or trying to tame a hurricane.

So, instead, I just walk away and tell myself that I will save it for another day. But in the mean time, I'm falling into it, or drowning within it, or swirling about in its chaos, all the while acting as though all is well.

I had a conversation last night with a fellow adoptee friend, and it somewhat ended with her saying, "Well, then, it sounds like things are going well?" I replied, "Sure, yes, things are going well." Although, in my mind, I felt a sense of hesitation, there was nothing immediate that I could identify that was causing me to hesitate. So I could respond in no other way except to say, "All is well" despite the nameless uneasiness and restlessness I felt.

So, I thought about it some more. In general, yes, all is well. I have found my biological mother and father--my Omma and Appa--while I also seem to have found my Mom and Dad here in the States in a new and more appreciated way. [That mention will require a whole other post.]

But I suppose the hesitation that I felt pull at me last night was the reality that it is always complicated. To say all is well feels to me as though I am ignoring the difficulties and complexities of post-reunion. It feels as though I am hiding from the convoluted reality of post-reunion, and hence contributing to the misconception that the story ends when "reunion" takes place.

When I say "all is well," I am simply acknowledging the fortune that, yes, I am one of the "lucky ones" to have found both of my Korean parents. Yet hidden behind such an acknowledgment is the proverbial "but."

All is well BUT I am having a hard time. All is well BUT communication is sparse, broken, strained, draining. All is well BUT how does one draw near to people who live on the other side of the world, who speak another language and live in a different culture.

All is well BUT I have this sense that this is going to be a lot harder than I thought. All is well BUT I feel anxious and uncertain about the future.

All is well BUT I'm not telling you everything, because I don't want to think about it.

All is well because I have been in hiding. I have been setting it to the side. I have been moving on, perhaps, before I am ready to move on, or perhaps because it is the only thing I know to do.

And maybe, it is also because I can grieve only for so long, only for brief moments. Not that I will not return to where I had to leave off.

As of late, I have simply needed a time to wander away.

Yet I sense that I am already on my way back--to return to this confusing state of attempting to merge what seems like divided loyalties, isolated origins, estranged identities--all of which I seem to both love and despise simultaneously.