Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Infinite Loss

“It’s like Papito is on a trip. I miss him. 
It’s different when you are traveling, you have the hope of seeing them again.”

These sorrowful words came from my 11-year-old daughter as we waited for our plane to Tennessee. So much wisdom comes from my children. I wanted her with me that day. Traveling alone seemed too daunting.

Less than two days earlier, my father collapsed on his way into work; he was 76.

As we waited, we jotted down the things that we would miss about him …

How he loved the Iced Lemon Pound Cake at Starbucks …

How he could sleep just about anywhere …

How he used his fart machine to bring us to tears …

How he loved Halloween …

He brought us our piano so that my children could learn to play. He loved music.


My daughter insisted on playing her Papito one last lullaby.


The pain is almost more than I can bear. The loss of my father follows many losses that many are able to identify in their own lives. I acknowledge their losses too. But I ask that you understand the profound loss as an adoptee. I have lost many times over. I lost a first set of parents, I lost a foster family, I lost my grandmothers, my mother and now Daddy.

While I still hold the option to search for my first family, I am unable to bear any more loss or rejection right now.

I am alone. Some try to comfort me by mentioning my husband and my children. I know this. But who knew me before? My sister, yes. But my parents, all of them, held their memories of me. Their love sustained me for 47 years.

I will miss the man who intervened when others had questions about our public hugs and affection. At the funeral, an acquaintance asked if I were my father’s widow, then moved on to ask the same of my sister. Daddy wasn’t able to protect us from that pain.

He wasn’t there to accompany us to the local Walmart to pick up goods. We are too identifiable as different. I wanted a cloak of invisibility, so my brother-in-law drove us to the next big city to shop invisibly.

He can no longer be there to FaceTime when I feel weak … when words wound me.

He can no longer reinforce our story of family when strangers doubt my loyalty to him.

He can no longer comfort me in his love and support.

He can no longer show pride in my abilities to elevate my voice.

I am holding on to the last birthday card he sent me. He loved Hallmark and read many cards before choosing the one that said perfectly what he wanted to say.

This year, when I tried to form my identity without the lies of the agency, he was there, sending his approval and love, not on the fabricated day, but on any day in November.

I felt lost this summer when the agency had nothing for me. I called Dad. I mentioned that I wanted him to come with me. He just said, “They won’t listen to me, and they won’t give me anymore than you already have.”

Today, I am truly lost.

I am still wandering around … looking for him, but knowing.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Jad Abumrad and the Adjacent Possible

So much is ruminating. November, Korea, #flipthescript, angry adoptive parents, co-opting original parents

Before all this, I processed my trip to Korea, the blank spaces in my life, my struggles in parenting a teen who’s forming his identity, while trying to reshape my own identity. I sat in my therapist’s office bouncing all these elements and captured them on his little legal pad.

Even with the success of #flipthescript on #NationalAdoptionMonth, I still feel I sit at the kids’ table. The core of adoption is the child. The child can be coveted and treasured or rehomed and abused. The child is “adopted.” Check that word. A verb or adjective that relates back to the adoptive parent or an adoption agency.

I want to own myself.

Last night, I went to the UW-Madison campus to see Jad Abumrad speak about creativity and discomfort in a piece he calls “gut churn.”

So much resonated with me. He began by talking about voice.
“Voice is yours and no one else’s. When trying to find your voice, you fill it with other people’s voices.” — Jad Abumrad
Wow. He called on audience members to “find your authenticity.” Then, his “idea grenade” went off … the Adjacent Possible, a theory by Stuart Kauffman. Here’s a good description on how complexity comes into play in the Adjacent Possible (Rifkin, 1981, p. 55-56, 76):
“Evolution means the creation of larger and larger islands of order at the expense of even greater seas of disorder in the world. ... In the process of evolution, each succeeding species is more complex and thus better equipped as a transformer of available energy ... Throughout history, qualitative changes in technology have always been toward more complexity ... ” — Jeremy Rifkin
Complexity. It’s scary and intimidating. In #flipthescript, the complexity of emotions in adoption finally came to the forefront and the perpetual parents, both adoptive and original, were scared by it.

I know that fear. I once wanted adoption to be fanciful, light and happy. I listened to the other voices of adoption … the agency voice, the adoptive parent voice, the birth mother voice. They formed my identity. I had, as Abumrad said filled my voice “with other people’s voices.”

Today, my voice is shaky but my own, and it can be angry as it protects my hurt. I admit that. My doctor says I am suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. When she told me this, I said, “I never served in the military.” But adoption and identity search within adoption is stressful, especially when the media and the general public quiet my voice with the voices of the perpetual parents.

My Abumrad “gut churn” was this past November’s National Adoption Month, Orphan Sunday and World Adoption Day. Abumrad asked, “Could the ugly be successful? It comes in the most terrified moment.”

The success of #flipthescript came from my terrifying moment of having to walk through the month of November, after a year of search and disappointment.

But the beauty? Well, Jad Abumrad said, “In periods of dark, walk with someone else.”

I did. Thank you, adoptees for turning my darkest month into a walk to remember.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Day of Loss

I asked my husband and kids this year to pick a day in November to surprise me with birthday wishes. They have been so supportive, despite their confusion. My daughter anxiously looks at the small pile of pressies on the dining room table and says, “When are you opening these?” I love the anticipation and excitement in her eyes.

Her youthful joy reminds me of mine at her age. My mom created this joy for me as a child. My fondest memories of my birthday were of those childhood days filled with homemade cakes and crepe paper. (Note: From now on, my adoptive mother will be referred to as “mom” and my birth mother will be referenced as my “mother.”)

Those days are gone. The mom I loved is gone. The mother I lost is not found.

I tried. I did. I tried to find my mother and my foster mother this year.

Today is such a lie to me. This date is only given to me, and not knowing the true date hurts.

I remember my children’s birth stories, and I remember my miscarriage in 2002. (That loss happened around this day of my government-issued birthdate.) Each of those stories makes me the person I am today. I am left to only imagine how special my birth day was to my mother.

My mother and I are separated. Time, the Korean government, the agencies, the Korean culture separate us. I cannot even hold on to a date to think, “I wonder if she thinks of me.” When she thinks of me, I may not simultaneously look to the sky and say, “나는 당신을 사랑합니다.”

And that brings me great sadness.

For this month of November, please consider sharing an adoptee’s story. (There are so many wonderful voices to share.) See some of my favorites below. If you share on social media, consider tagging your post with #flipthescript on #NationalAdoptionMonth.


And of course, The Lost Daughters!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

I want to own “adoptee.”

It is day 13 of the #flipthescript campaign during #NationalAdoptionMonth. After posting this:

In just a short period of time, The New York Times posted a story by a writer named Laura Barcella. Barcella is well-known in the world of xoJane as a contributing editor. What wasn’t a widespread known fact was that she is also an adoptee.

The #flipthescript campaign has finally elevated the adoptee voices. Adoptee narratives are flooding the twitterverse. No one story lines up with another. Each has her/his own tale to tell. We have finally left the loyalty feelings behind and emerged our own adult selves.

Before my feet touched Korean soil, I called my ceramics series “adopted.” Since returning, I have changed the way I view myself. Using the word “adopted” presents an action taken by someone other than myself. I am grown and can now act on who I am … an adoptee.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Let’s hear those adoptee #validvoices #flipthescript! Add yours!

Telling one’s truth is exhausting! Adoptees are taking the mic and tweeting. #FliptheScript began at Lost Daughters when I posed a campaign for the month of November. My sisters were supportive and excited. We are a family of adoptees. Each of us has a different story to tell, and our family of writers runs the gamut … domestic adoption, transracial adoption, foster care, international adoption and more. Some of our sisters are adopted parents as well as adoptees. I am always amazed at the diversity of voices.

November’s significance lies in a few adoption industry campaigns, National Adoption Month, Orphan Sunday and today … World Adoption Day.

The wonderful talents in the adoptee family have converged to make sure our voices are heard and seen as #validvoices. Filmmaker Bryan Tucker (Closure), created a wonderful video featuring the Lost Daughters voices.

Now, I look to you. Adoptees only. Join your family and tell your story below in the comments. Also note that I will be pulling out some of your comments to tweet this month. Let our voices ring out … loudly, honestly and collectively.

While frustrated with my old woman confusion, my son did help me create a MEME; and yes, he is the baby in the photograph.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Parenting? Well, that’s a pain-filled one.

My daughter, like myself at her age, says she will never bear children. Her reasonings are based in physical pain. She cannot imagine a child exiting her vagina. My reasonings were far more complex, and as a teenager, I selfishly wanted a life without responsibilities that children brought.

Parents of all kinds kept repeating the “You’ll never know the joys of parenthood until you are actually a parent.” My husband and I would just roll our eyes; we were DINKYs (Double Income No Kids Yet & livin’ the good life). That is, we thought it was the good life, until going out to dinner every night and drinking with friends became unfulfilling.

The moment I realized what that blue line meant, I was frightened and excited all at once! Could I do it? Could I be a good parent?

The minute my first child emerged, bloody and crying, I knew I was meant for this. I was connected despite that umbilical cord being severed. I tried to ask my mother about parenting a little boy. She kept saying, “Well, I just had girls. But just love them.” Six weeks after my firstborn’s birth, she had a stroke. The minute her eyes laid sight on him, they twinkled. The ICU nurses said she physically and mentally perked up. He was our little light in all the sadness of my mother’s illness.

After her death, I felt lost. Lost because I was a mother without a mother. At first, I thought that her death was the only thing I could relive and understand my loss. I replayed it over and over and over again.

But then, the penny dropped. This year, the first and primal loss surfaced. This year, I realized the first loss … my birth mother, my original mother, my natural mother. Like my connection to my own children, I understood that like Philomena Lee, my mother may have felt the loss I was feeling … that we might be connected by the same spiritual umbilical cord that keeps me connected to my children.

My son is a teenager now. His fears and anxiety are real, but sometimes, they get the better part of him. When that happens, his fear wounds me in a way I am not sure all mothers know.

You see, recently, I had no control over his safety. I was forced to leave him in a place where he was distraught and scared. I wanted to help. I wanted to stay, but the powers that be, made me leave him.

When I walked out of his hospital room, I felt the pain that I imagined my birth mother felt as she left me. I will not know how she left me, but the many ways play out in my head EVERY. DAY. Was her leaving me out of her control? Was I taken from her? Was she powerless?

I never thought that I could be powerless as a mother, as a parent, but my son’s recent trips to hospitals have illustrated that I cannot always control the safety of my children. That frightens me and pains me. I am wounded every time my son tells strangers that he is afraid of me. (He explains to me that he is not physically afraid of me, but he is afraid of the truths of life that I try to explain to him … like his need to go to school … how life isn’t always fair.) I am fearful that others will take my children from me in misunderstandings and just plain recklessness of systems that do not care to know those involved.

All this reminds me that my circumstance as an adopted person … as an adoptee was completely beyond my control and possibly my birthparents’ control. If I cannot keep my children safe, how can I expect that my birth mother could?

I have not told my son the workings of my pain. I never want him to feel the guilt that I feel today … the guilt that I may have caused my mother to face ridicule … the guilt that I may have caused my mother pain in the separation … the guilt that I feel my mother may feel to this day because I am simply not with her.

I feel ripped up, torn, tossed away and salvaged. I spend my time these days in the pottery studio. Recently, I created the belly bowl. It represents all the birth mothers who feel that the adoptees have been torn from their lives.

The beauty of it is its contents. Adoptee pendants. I will stop using the word “adopted” to describe me or my series. From now on, I want to own the title “adoptee” for it represents secret pain, strength, perseverance and purely who I am.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Korean Kin, Part 3 (final)

When I feel lonely, I turn to my Lost Daughters sisters. They know my pain, my confusion and my sadness. When G.O.A.’L asked me if I would have emotional support when I returned home, I said that my Lost Daughters sisters were my family and my support.

Just before leaving, I opened a fortune cookie to find this:

My friends rejoiced. “See! This will be a fabulous trip!” 

My expectations were scattered. In my mind, I worked through all the permutations. Who I might find or not. Who might want to see me or not. Who might look like me or not. 

I worried about my birth family, my adoptive family and my children. This trip would change me. I knew it. My family knew it. We were all anxious.

But once my feet hit the ground in Incheon, I felt the unspoken comfort of home. Like a long lost relative, John from G.O.A.’L, texted me as I moved through immigration and customs.

I was met with several happy, tired faces. Some spoke English, others Dutch and one French, but our faces were familiar. The next ten days brought personal disappointment and road blocks, wonderful food, many late night conversations at the BOA Guesthouse and a road trip to Gyeongju.

Before I knew it, our time was up. At the end of my journey, I wrote this:

“The plane takes off and tears are streaming from my eyes to streak my cheeks. I close my eyes in hopes of blinding the thoughts and images from the past ten days. The friends are so super special — my new family. ”

I had selected a beautiful handmade paper for my family room from a well-known calligrapher in Insadong. It was carefully rolled and stayed with me but would not fit in my suitcase. In my absent-minded fog, I left it on a counter outside security. Airport staff informed me that I could not retrieve it.

I was devastated. It seemed so silly to feel this way over two sheets of paper. I posted my sorrow on FaceBook. 

My new KAD family of lost brothers and sisters came to my rescue. Two women made it their mission to find the paper as they were checking in for their European flights. The news that they had found it reached me just as I was boarding. Relief and joy overtook me. Not many people would risk delaying a flight to search for two sheets of paper, but these were no ordinary friends. They knew that my attachment to those two sheets of paper was not trivial.

All my life, I was told that I was “chosen,” and yet, I felt out of control. This time, I was surrounded by people who knew my fears firsthand. I had chosen them as family, and they brought great peace to me.

I miss my adoptee family, but now, I am embarking on a new search where the circle of family will widen. Check out this short film by Bryan Tucker, videographer from Closure, that introduces a new book by adult adoptees for teen adoptees and fostered youth. Dear Wonderful You, adoptees are your village.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Korean Kin, Part 2

Sadness. Overwhelming sadness is the only way I can describe how I feel about learning nothing new about my history before my adoption. I lost my adoptive mother in 2001, I lost my biological family in 1968, and I lost them again this year.

Loss seems to be a pervasive thing in my life. I accept that. The biggest blows in my life have been the loss of the women … my mother, my Grandma in Tennessee and my Abuelita in Puerto Rico. Losing them was like losing my compass. However, now, I understand the loss more. I knew loss long before I lost them.

Before these mothers, I had an original one. I know nothing about her except that she cared well for me until I was six months old. After I lost her, I found another woman, my foster mother, who would love me and build a bond with me. But then, I lost her too.

I had hoped that my interview with the Korean news agency, SBS, would allow me to find this second mother. But alas, that would not be. The only clues I was given came from the adoption agency social worker. She seemed surprised that I owned photographs of my foster mother. “In those days, only the wealthy could afford photographs such as these taken at home.” I have stared at these images since early childhood. They were sent to my parents after my first birthday by the adoption agency, but today, the agency has no record of who they are. I hold on to these words from my papers:

“Is attached to her foster mother, and not shy of strangers. …” — Progress Report dated August 23, 1968. 
“Sook Hyun is a happy and healthy girl, who enjoys a normal progress. When she came at first, she had a little herdship [sic] adjusting herself, but now she is a different girl, who is always cheerful and in good shape. She is loved a lot by her foster family and is expected to be a nice addition to her would-be adoptive parents.” — Progress Report dated December 11, 1968.
A piece of me remains in Korea, in the corners of my foster mother’s mind.

The moment my feet hit Korean soil, I felt at home. Comfortable and reassured. Included and content. No more wondering how I would cope with Korea.

If you haven’t read Part 1, you can find it here. Stay tuned for Part 3 … the silver lining.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Korean Kin, Part 1

“We’re kin,” my Tennessee family said when there was the hint of confusion. Kin. I wanted that kinship in Korea.

Falsely, I believed I would find Korean kin in one trip. I believed my birth family would be waiting for me to search. I believed I mattered to someone there.

If they were searching and had contacted Holt Korea, I would have found out … right? The Holt Korea office had nothing to show me. No records of my foster mother, no record of the officer who found me, no paperwork beyond what I have seen.

I became my best detective. I traced my six-month-old tracks to the police station. The original building was gone with a shiny new one in its place.

The woman at the police station tried her best to look through all the files in her database, but no files existed for 1968. So instead, she swabbed my mouth to record my DNA in the Korean database.

I desperately placed posters of myself at town halls and retirement homes in the area. I asked the chestnut vendors if they knew anyone who had lost a baby long ago.

I imagined my pregnant mother busy and buying chestnuts for Chuseok in the fall of 1967. She could have known these vendors and walked by them everyday. I could hope.

I took a self-care break in a local stationery shop. I love pens and paper and wanted to purchase some things for my daughter and myself. While talking to the shopkeeper, he said he had lived in the neighborhood for years, and in the year of my birth, he had been a school boy. He drew a map to a wall that was the original neighborhood.

I was on a mission now to see this old wall and its distinct light blue tiled square. I wandered the streets, searching for that one wall … a link to the past where I could visualize and dream of my first days.

The neighborhood seemed to harken back to the era. Traditional medicine and herbal remedies offered interesting smells.

My feet were killing me, but my soul was still aching to see the old wall. Finally, the old barbed wire and merchant doors came into view. Had my mother knocked on these doors? Had she looked at the barbed wire with worry?

Finally, I spotted the blue tile.

I dream in Korean now. I dream of these old streets of vendors and warehouses. I dream of a pregnant woman going about her business and imagine the in utero sounds I might have heard as she purchased herbal remedies.

That one day in the neighborhood disappointed me but also gave me a sense of who I am … a Korean.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

How words like “lucky” and “grateful” hurt me.

My last night in Korea, I was on a high with my new Korean adoptee friends (KADs). The pain of the last week fell away as we laughed and sang at a karaoke bar.

Yet, this morning, the reality of returning home hit me hard.

First, I absent-mindedly left handmade paper I had bought from a famous Korean calligrapher behind at a counter. While it seems silly to most, I cried when I realized I would not get it back (as it was left outside security). I also shared my distress with my fellow KADs. A few who were leaving after me used their precious preflight time to retrace my steps and found it. I was already on the plane, but they said they would mail it to me.

They touched me and healed that silly sore.

The second blow of my flight back was a family that sat within eyeshot. Their daughter was just over one year, and they were traveling with the grandparents. The mother looked as mothers do … tired yet strong.

The beauty of watching this Korean family interact just brought up the longing. The longing to have that connection with my foster mother … the longing to be embraced by my Korean family … the longing for roots.

As the grandmother strapped the little one on her back with an airplane blanket, I flashed back to a time when I may have spent my time strapped to someone’s back.

I tried to distract myself with the magazine … then this.

“A meeting resulting in pain.” I know too well the false expectations of fortunes and horoscopes, but then, I had this encounter.

This encounter came after a time when I thought I had come to terms with my loss. But I haven’t.

I am raw and aching. I know I should feel fortunate, lucky and grateful that I had this experience in Korea. But those words just boil me down to generalities and adoption stereotypes. It is time to change the language and stop using words that make me feel diminutive and my search trivial.