Saturday, January 22, 2011

I'm letting go...

[I wrote the following on January 5, 2011]

Over the months, something within me has been building or dismantling, whatever way one wants to view it. I feel as though I have been living life harder and fuller than ever before--feeling and thinking, experiencing and encountering, to the deepest depths and to the highest heights.

And with that, I think I am ready, or just about, to let go.

Let go of what?

I'm ready to let go of the pain.

Scary words to utter--that is, at least for me. Frightening, really. And I'll explain why, for me, the "letting go" of the pain associated with my adoption is a scary thing, and even exactly what the "letting go" means, because I have no doubt it will be misunderstood and misinterpreted by many.

First of all, let me state what I DO NOT mean. When I say that I'm ready to let go of the pain, it does not mean that the pain is gone. It does not mean that the pain doesn't still affect my life. It does not mean that somehow magically I've "gotten over" it all. And it does not mean that suddenly I love being adopted and think it's the most fabulous thing to come along since the horseless carriage.

It does not mean that I will no longer need to talk about the pain or feel the pain. It does not mean that I still don't cry about all that has happened and continues to unfold. It does not mean that I feel as though I am finished or that I have arrived. It does not mean the journey is anywhere near completion. It does not mean that I no longer deal with the ongoing consequences of my adoption. And it certainly does not mean that everything is now resolved with my Korean and American families.

What I do mean is that I am ready to allow the pain to no longer threaten or control me. I am ready to accept the good and the healing as well as the pain and the sorrow.

I think for a while now, I have needed the time to dwell in the pain, in the sorrow, because I have needed the time and the opportunity to grieve--unabashedly, without constraint. I was and have been denied all of my life the "right" to grieve, to deal with and face the pain and sorrow. And even still there are those who continue to deny me--but, I am ready to let go of them, too.

And now, after having time to seize the grief and finally making it my own, I feel that I can finally be at peace with it. Being at peace with the pain, however, does not mean that it is gone or that it does not still affect who I am and who I am becoming. The pain will always be a part of me. The sorrow and grief is always in me and with me. But it is not all of who I am, and it is not what compels me to live.

Yet the reason I fear letting go of of it, and even more so attempting to share this with all of you is because of the danger of misunderstanding and misinterpretation that likely comes with expressing my desire to let go of the pain.

I've had enough encounters with folks who say things to me that discount and invalidate the depth, intensity, and longevity of the pain, sorrow, and grief inherent to being an adoptee. By expressing I am ready to let go of the pain, I fear that doing so will only increase such ignorance and presumption.

I fear that by letting go of the pain, adoptive parents and the like will use it against us--against adult adoptees--to justify adoption by saying the ends legitimize the means.

I can hear it now--sighs of relief among adoptive parents and the like, brushing their brows with the backs of their hands, thinking to themselves or uttering softly, "Thank God, another adult adoptee who finally came around, got over herself, realized all the good adoption does."

Or, "See, Melissa, everything has worked out great for you. It all came out in the wash in the end. Sure, you've had some hardship. But ultimately, you were adopted into a great American family, and later, when the time was right, you got to reunite with your Korean family. Now, the picture is complete. The void is gone. Your family is coming to completion, especially now that you have an amazing husband, a son only days away, and an amazing life. We're so glad you finally realized all that adoption has done for you!"

Again, this is NOT what it means to let go of the pain. And this is not what adoption is or ever will be for me personally--an end to justify the means.

I know this sounds harsh and judgmental to some. I do not intend it to be that way. To be clear, for me personally, adoption is not solely evil. I am not purely anti-adoption.

However, when others frame adoption in such a way as to dismiss the loss and the grief of the original mothers and adoptees affected or to discount or even justify the circumstances and questionable practices that often lead to adoption, because they believe the "end results" are all that are worth considering or all that matter, not only is my heart pained, but I believe that to do so is dishonest and cruel.

Ultimately, I know folks won't understand what I mean or where I'm coming from--they'll interpret what I say as they wish. And that's in part, why at times, I just want to walk away from trying to share my experiences and views--because they get twisted, warped, and picked apart in ways that I never intended.

But again, that is part of the letting go for me--to understand that just as the pain will always be with me, so also will the misunderstandings and misconceptions.

I'm sharing this both for others and because it is emancipating for me. And I'm sharing it ultimately, because I know what I mean, and I am beginning to feel more and more secure in that, regardless of what others imply or assume. And then, of course, there are the few who actually do understand, and they are a great comfort to me.

Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, I am sharing this, because I want our son to grow up with a mom who is secure--who isn't driven by her pain, but rather is driven by her hope--the same hope that Helen Keller so concisely yet powerfully expressed, because, well, the woman lived it:

"...although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it."

Meaningful words written by someone who knew what it was to suffer, who knew what it was to be trapped in darkness, who knew all too well what it means when life is unfair and circumstances beyond one's control take away what every human takes for granted...and yet, she overcame.

I want to overcome. But overcoming does not mean forgetting. Overcoming is not one-sided. It is complex. Overcoming the pain, the grief does not mean ignoring it or discounting it--no, rather, it means embracing it and recognizing that it will always be there. And yet, it need not threaten me--not any longer.

It need not be something I try to control or suppress or minimize or hide.

And that's what I mean by letting go of the pain--to no longer fear it, to no longer be uncomfortable with it, to no longer try to control it, but simply to let it be what it is.

And I suppose by letting go of the pain, I am also letting go of the fear, ultimately. Pain often causes fear, and in healthy amounts both can help us.

But when pain and fear become so overwhelming and so dominant that they take over one's life and obscure everything in darkness, then they have lost the glory and beauty of their purpose.

So, I am ready--although I will still feel fear, I am ready to no longer give way to fear--to no longer fear that those I love will leave me, to no longer fear that those I love will be taken from me, to no longer fear that I was never enough.

Not that these things cannot happen, but that I need not fear should they happen, because what has made me weak has also made me strong. What has alienated me and isolated me has also surrounded me and filled me--with a depth and richness of life and people that although at times I forget, I cannot deny.

And again, I want my son to be able to grow up trusting that he can overcome his fears and his pain, that he can overcome the injustice and unfairness of life--not by ignoring it or by suppressing it, but by facing it, embracing it, and allowing it to teach him that he can make a difference in this world.

I don't want him growing up with a mom who is always afraid, because she is ashamed of her pain, of her sorrow, of her story. Conversely, I also don't want him to grow up with a mom who is too proud and so calloused, because she has chosen to harden her heart and deny her pain, and hence, the pain of others.

Rather, I want him to have a mother who although knows pain and shame and sorrow, she also knows healing, redemption, and hope. I want him to have a mother who lives life with certainty--not a certainty that life itself is certain, but a certainty that life is worth living and feeling deeply and fully, whether it be pain or joy, tragedy or victory. I want him to know he need not fear neither the heights nor the depths of life, but that he can face them honestly and truthfully.

And that is what it means, to me, to let go...

And that is the truth that I hope our son will grow to know and to trust...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

"You need to grow up...I feel you have no gratitude for the good in your life"

Everyone is entitled to their opinion and this woman's opinion, I suppose, is just as valid as is mine. I am not surprised nor unaware that there are plenty of other people, APs and adoptees and others, who would echo the following sentiments and opinions regarding me as an adoptee. (The below comment was written in response to my post, "Not Luck But Choice" at the adoption website, Grown in My Heart, but it was not permitted to post there.)

I don't even have anything to say really. Maybe I am an ungrateful, whining little girl. And if I am, then God help me to change...

All I can say is that I feel crushed, maybe because what the commenter said might be true or maybe because I'm just too weak to handle the scrutiny to which I expose myself. And maybe I just need to shut my trap and finally walk away...especially being only 6 days away from the estimated due date of our child.

The one thing I will say is that this person made some serious assumptions about me (without knowing me at all--my blog is only one part of me) and my relationship with my American family without knowing anything about the nature of my relationship with them. I often don't talk in depth about my relationship with my American family, because I love them and want to protect them...But I guess where I have remained silent, folks assume that I don't have a good relationship with them. For the record (despite the fact that I actually have communicated and expressed this time and time again here at my blog)--I love my American parents and consider myself to be very grateful for them and close to them. And I would venture to say that if anyone were to talk to my parents or my brothers, they would say they feel very loved by me...

I know other people feel the way she does and that just comes with the territory...and who knows maybe I am ungrateful and need to grow up. It's worth considering...I'm certainly not perfect...

But anyway, here's the comment. I share this simply to demonstrate what it is that we as adoptees face on a daily basis and why it's so challenging at times to not feel completely misunderstood and repressed...Also, I think it's a good example of the vastly varying responses and perspectives that characterize the adoption community:

yoon, i have been reading your blog for awhile- and this is the first time i have commented.

i think you are actually quite lucky. lucky does not imply that no choice played a role in you being adopted or finding your birth family. quite often the lucky ARE chosen…that is WHY they are lucky.

i have been following your blog, and i think i am going to stop. it is just too hard to hear what i think is whining on your part.

i do think you are quite ungrateful. i wonder how your adoptive parents really feel about the way you treat them and your adoption on the internet.

i understand the need for APs to have their eyes wide open and not believe they are “saving” a child. I get it.

But the more I read your blog, the more I think you need to grow up and realize that as bad as you had it, you actually WERE really lucky. I think about the kids who lived their whole lives in orphanages. Those who never had a voice. And all you choose to do with your voice is criticize and whine…on and on.

I have lived through intense tragedy. I have buried two of my children, which is something no parent should ever have to do. Yet, I choose to see the good in life and the best in others.

I hope that when you do become a parent, you are able to see things differently. I feel you have no gratitude for the good in your life, and as a result, I am afraid I am going to have to respectfully stop reading your words.

Life is too short.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Adoption & Choice: God's Plan or Man's Plan?

A reader left the below comment in response to my most recent post, Not Luck But Choice, at the adoption website, Grown in My Heart (I suggest reading the original post for context):

How do you explain choice to so many who do not even believe in choice to begin with? A lot of people in the adoption world view what happened to you as pre-ordained. I think that is one of the saddest things and one of the most damaging to adopted children.

The following is how I replied to her comment:

Very good point, Yoli, and one that I was trying to, although somewhat superficially, address.

For those who claim a faith in a loving, biblical God, it makes no sense to me to basically say, “Oh but it was God’s plan for you to be adopted." Such a statement and presumption inevitably and logically translate to adoptees like myself as "It was God's plan for you to be abandoned” (read "What not to say to an adoptee") or “God pre-ordained that your mother would be so poverty-stricken and hopeless and alone that she would feel no other choice than to give you away to strangers…” or “God allowed you to be abandoned and to suffer such loss and grief so that WE could adopt you.”

In my mind, that's pretty twisted, not to mention very egocentric thinking. That is not my impression of the God in the Bible or otherwise. Rather I understand a God who gives people free will even though he is often pained and grieved by their choices in how they exercise that free will (Genesis 6: The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain…).

And yet he can still bring good out of suffering…although his ability to bring “good” out of suffering does NOT therefore imply that he therefore WANTED such suffering to take place…and that again is where free will comes in…

Why could it not be suggested that perhaps God would hope that folks would use their free will to help BOTH the mother and child in distress? Why is it automatically assumed that “helping the poor” means adopting their children? Why is the conventional wisdom, “Oh, this occurred so that WE could adopt” and not “This occurred as a result of living in a broken world, and we should feel compelled to do all that we can to empower these mothers & families to stay together and give them the chance for the same opportunities to succeed as have been given to us…?”

Yes, the Bible and Jesus say that true religion is to help the orphans & widows and the poor in general (James 1; Matthew 25, etc.), but back then, within the context, orphans were truly orphans (parents & often extended family were deceased)–they were not the children of poor, neglected, and oppressed women.

Folks often identify the stories of Moses and Esther and such to rationalize that it is God’s idea, plan, goal for adoptees like myself to be relinquished and subsequently adopted. I find this a gross and absolutely misguided misinterpretation. (Also, keep in mind that Esther was adopted by her blood relative, her Uncle Mordecai, and even Moses remained in contact with his original family…his own mother was able to nurse him and obviously his brother, Aaron, and sister, Miriam, remained in his life…)That’s like using the examples of incest in the Bible to suggest that it was God’s plan for a woman to be sexually abused. Completely out of context and completely disturbing…as well as NOT the original purpose or reason that such stories are included in the Bible. The stories of Moses and others are not in the Bible to justify adoption–-they’re there to tell the story of how the Israelites came to be, to give a spiritual and historical explanation and account of their origins…but so often, people twist and turn the Bible to fit what they already want to believe rather than understanding it at its face value, for its plain meaning within the appropriate context…

I know many would find the above comparisons offensive…but I find it so myopic and self-serving to take the stories in the Bible out of context to serve one’s own agenda.

Again, referring to “luck” or “God’s plan” is such a cop-out to me that frees people from taking personal responsibility for their actions and their role, not only in adoption, but in life. It’s the easy way out to say that my adoption was pre-ordained. It oversimplifies the matter, and it stunts growth, reform, and change from happening today. As long as adoption is “God’s work” or “God’s plan” people will not feel compelled to reform it or to address the root causes of poverty and social and economic injustice that often serve as its substrate. Although I am at peace with what has happened in my own life, I think it is crucial that we learn from adoptees’ stories, so that current practices can be ameliorated, ultimately resulting in less families being separated…

And how many nut jobs have claimed the same thing–-that they were God’s tool to execute God’s plan or have used the Bible or other religious texts to justify heinous and unjust acts? The Crusades are a perfect example. American slavery is another example (talk about twisting the Bible!), or opposition to interracial marriages (which still happens today). Or the existence of the KKK (which is still alive and active in the town that my husband and I reside). Or more presently, Islamic terrorism.

I’m not saying adoption is therefore comparable to the Crusades or American slavery, but I am saying that people can think something is perfectly and only good, to the point that they are deceived and miss completely the reality of a practice’s inherent flaws and misconceptions.

It’s easy for us to look back on slavery or the Crusades and scoff and say, of course those were bad. But at the time, they were viewed as good and justifiable–they were popular and supported, in general, by the masses. No one saw anything wrong with these activities.

In the same way, adoption is often seen as purely good, an act of God, and hence, people choose to ignore, dig their heads into the sand, regarding the often preventable “behind the scenes” that leads to adoption, that results in adoption…

In taking care of the poor, it does not mean, take care of only the children and those whom you deem worthy…

Adoption is a CHOICE. It is not some mythical, religious experience designed to bring you closer to God and bless you with the child YOU always wanted…I’m not saying that God cannot work through adoption, but I am saying that there are CHOICES that transpire that could have been DIFFERENT choices that God would perhaps approve of just as readily, and even perhaps identify as of a more noble and selfless nature…

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Not Luck But Choice

Here's the link to my monthly contribution to the adoption website, Grown in My Heart. The title of this month's article, Not Luck But Choice, addresses the common misassumption and aura that I'm a "lucky girl," not only because of being adopted but also because of being in reunion with my original family. Here's an excerpt:

To the outsider, it may appear a fairy tale, a dream—those who were lost from one another have now found one another. What a lucky girl she is—to have the best of both worlds—to have both her American family and now her Korean family.

But that’s just the trouble—it is two worlds—two worlds that do not readily or willingly merge. Rather it is more comparable to a collision.

And luck has nothing to do with it all. Luck had nothing to do with me being relinquished and adopted in the first place. Luck had nothing to do with me finding my Korean parents and family...

[Click here for the entire post.]

Friday, January 14, 2011

My Omma's Words...

Excerpted from a letter I recently received from my Omma as we await the birth of my husband's and my first child:

"I don't know whose mercy helps us to meet...I can't describe any words to express how I feel gratitude to see my grandchild. You may lived full of sadness, and to me, it was uncomfortable to live day by day until this day comes...Even though we live separately, but I always be with you. Although the baby isn't born yet still, he may feel good because your happiness is also baby's happiness...Your bad mother always pray for you and now I can give happiness to you...I love you so much my daughter, take care. Thank you, dear Melissa and Michael..."

* * *

My Omma's words speak for themselves--even through the broken and strained translation, her words tell us what needs to be heard, what needs to be felt...For anyone who doubts or questions the complexities surrounding adoption and reunion--the simultaneous grief and hope--her words make clear that although we have found one another, it is so only because we first lost each other...

And although her words tell us so much, as both she and I anticipate the birth of my husband's and my first child, there still remains so much emotion, profundity, and depth unspoken that all the words in the world could never even begin to express or illuminate...

Twelve more days, Omma, and your grandson will be here, awaiting your arms, carrying within him a piece of you--along with all the hope that you and I never knew until now...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"It is not easy to care about the pregnant teen or the struggling mom"

"...the idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that's wrong with the world."

~Dr. Paul Farmer

(Mountains beyond Mountains written by Tracy Kidder)

* * *

Adoption is not for everyone. Nor is it the answer to the world’s orphan crisis. In the best of circumstances, adoption creates a loving family for a child who has been orphaned. But it does not address the root causes of why a child has been abandoned or orphaned to begin with. It is a band-aid on much larger social problems that all of us should want to see eliminated – child abandonment, poverty, lack of resources, drug abuse, and social stigma. It is estimated that 99% of the world’s orphans will not be adopted. Adoption is an answer for some orphaned children . . . but not for most of them.

There are two sides to the orphan crisis: finding families for children without, and preserving families that are intact. Prevention is the side that is not addressed by adoption. If we say we care about adoption, then we must care about the circumstances that lead children to be orphaned. If we care about adoption, then we must care about seeing less children enter orphanages to begin with.

It is not easy to care about the pregnant teen or the struggling mom. But it might be the starting place in this whole scenario.

(And if we care about orphans, then we must care about the children in foster care in our own country.)

* * *

Minus the quote from Dr. Paul Farmer, the above is an excerpt from a post, "Adoption Discourse: A Little More Talk, A Lot More Action," at the adoption site, Grown in My Heart.

I wanted to share the post, because the author, an adoptive mom, actually addresses the reality that adoption "does not address the root causes of why a child has been abandoned or orphaned to begin with." I was refreshed to encounter such insights being expressed. Furthermore, the author goes on to offer very practical ways of addressing the root causes both locally and internationally:

So, I’m gathering a list – a list of things that assist children at risk. The first is a list of things you can do locally. Then, I’ll give some resources to organizations that are on the ground in impoverished nations, that you might think about supporting. These are the organizations that are helping to sustain families financially, so they don’t have to face the threat of abandoning a child due to poverty. THIS is where our attention should be.

Finally. Progress is being made--people who are willing not only to acknowledge the realities surrounding WHY adoption happens in the first place, but people who are also willing to promote doing something about it. Glory.

* * *

I'd also like to address, however, the statement that

"It is not easy to care about the pregnant teen or the struggling mom. But it might be the starting place in this whole scenario."

This statement, I believe, is quite revealing and honestly, to me, alludes to one of the root causes not only when facing the reasons behind adoption but the reasons for so much of the injustice and inequity that trouble our world.

In the words of Dr. Paul Farmer, as quoted above, who has been working in Haiti for most of his life (for decades--long before the earthquake hit):

"...the idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that's wrong with the world."

To me the above statement captures WHY it's so hard for some people to care about the moms facing the extreme difficulties and circumstances that may prompt them to relinquish their children. Whether it's a single mom facing intense poverty or a young teen lacking resources or a widow left alone or a woman struggling in an abusive relationship--the root reason for why it's easy for people to dismiss these moms is what Dr. Farmer addresses in his statement--that some lives matter less than others.

Maybe you don't view it that way, but what other reason or explanation is there for why folks are so willing, even eager, to help the children involved, yet so hesitant, even averse, to helping the mothers and families of these children? The mothers' lives matter less to them (for whatever host of reasons they use to rationalize and justify their discriminations--the mom is irresponsible, she shouldn't have gotten pregnant in the first place, she's uneducated, she doesn't have what it takes, she's immature, her actions prove she doesn't deserve to parent, and so forth), while the lives of the children matter more.

And yes, you're right, it is complicated--exactly. It's "easy" to help a child--they're so "helpless" and "innocent." But it's so much more difficult to help an adult--we're willful and obstinate and loaded with all kinds of flaws and emotional baggage.

So, it's easy for people to dismiss the lives of the moms being affected while feeling saintly for caring about the lives of the children. But if folks really cared about the children involved, they'd care about their moms, too. And if people were a little less inclined to think so highly of themselves yet so disparagingly of others, then true change, true reform, and true help could happen not only in the world of adoption, but in the world as a whole.

When we stop assigning a hierarchy of value to individual lives based on such finite and temporal terms like money and wealth and education, and begin acknowledging the inherent value of every human being, not for what they don't have or can't do but for what they do have and can do--particularly when given the opportunity and support they need--it is then that we will truly be on the road to progress.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Yippee! Two of my poems published!

This is a bit of a divergence, since I normally focus on only the adoptee part of my life at this blog. But I figure it's good to diverge every once in a while, especially since I'm taking a bit of a "break" from the adoption realm.

But even still, this is somewhat relevant, since much of the poetry I write shares a kind of connection to my adoption experience, even if somewhat indirect.

Two of my poems were published this month (on pages 10 & 27) in an annual literary publication, "The Inkling," sponsored by the mother monthly publication, "The Verge."

Although a small local publication, I still feel pretty honored to have gotten a couple of poems published in this year's "Inkling"-- the other writers with whom I was published, in my opinion, produced beautiful and quality poems, prose, and stories that challenge me and call me higher. Kudos to my fellow writers! And also, if I somehow squeaked in there among writers whose work I can appreciate and admire, then maybe I'm not all that bad.

(And maybe now I can officially say that I'm a "writer" being that I've been published several times, even though in very small, niche publications? I had another poem published last year in the same publication, on page 9 titled, "Creation," but didn't bother sharing...I'm weird like that. I also will have an interview printed in the next issue of "The Adoption Constellation," and I write or have written for a couple of adoption sites? Ok, maybe not quite ready to proclaim that I'm a writer, but getting closer...)

But if you feel so inclined, give it a looksy--there really are some gorgeous writings and some interesting art. I personally liked the poem by PM Rogers, "Good night, Ambrosia" and the one by Daphne Maysonet, "My Theory Sonnet" as well as the one by Abby Spasser, "A Prayer for My Father."

And of course, if you so desire, my two poems are on page 10, "The Engagement" and page 27, "Destinies." For insight, "The Engagement" is a short haiku-like poem written about a time I punched a tree--yes, really--I was 19, and just beginning to awaken in response to my adoption. And "Destinies" was written after Mike & I viewed the poignant film about Iraqi orphans, "Turtles Can Fly."

* * *

[Also, if you happen to be interested, I have more samplings of poems I've written contained within this blog under the label, "poem"...]

Single mothers in South Korea still shunned for keeping their babies

World Vision Report: Unwed Mothers by Michael Rhee


South Korea prides itself on its modernity and development, but the country's citizens also maintain traditional values. Single women who become pregnant often face rejection from their families and community. Society then pressures these women to give up their babies for adoption in order to hide the shame.

The few single Korean women who choose to have their babies face an ongoing struggle. From Seoul, Michael Rhee reports.