Friday, March 27, 2015

The 4-way or the Roundabout …

I love a good 4-way. Everyone slows down, stops, and acknowledges those at the crossroads. At a slower pace, you can make eye contact, be polite and motion another to go ahead of you. Others become human.

When I visit the UK with my husband, I am always anxious at the roundabout. Cars whiz by, no eye contact, no recognition of drivers. My heart races, my mind wishes we would all slow down. If we do slow down, the other drivers get impatient, honk and make hand gestures. They have places to go … in a hurry. They have no time for niceties.

Today, our world in the US is the paradox of these two modes of traffic. We once loved our 4-ways when times were slower. Now, we are installing roundabouts. We want to whiz through life, cut the drive time. Just let us flow.

Starbucks and its #RaceTogether campaign made the mistake of trying to create an organic 4-way that functioned like a roundabout. The initial town halls (the prototype) were the 4-ways. Those work. We have time to sit and discuss. But in the retail cafe business, folks just need their coffee … fast. Roundabout. I love a good tea, and Starbucks is often my go-to, but during this, I took the detour.

This week, let’s reinstall the 4-way. I am attending the American Adoption Congress meeting and slowing down … stopping. The beauty of a meeting like this is that all parts of the triad are present. We have the ability to see the intersectionality up close.

In one session, an adoptee mentioned the pain of domestic, same race adoption. Strangers at a funeral were fishing for similarities in her features to her parents. Obviously, for her the amplification of her differences as an adoptee colored her interactions. The funeral brought triggers. I can see that.

Another domestic adoptee mentioned the pain of people saying there is no difference between an adopted child and a biological child in a single family. While she had been matched racially to her parents, she mentioned that she couldn’t see herself in the physical features of her parents like a biological sibling can.

All these voices are valid. Mine may not synch with theirs, but we have common threads … the pain of loss. I wish my fellow conference-goers time to slow down, reflect and respect.

P.S. Sometimes I get carried away in person; my emotions can mask my intentions. Please remind me to SLOW. DOWN.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

#DearMe, speak your truth.

I am truly grateful for the community of adoptees. 

When I first became aware of the #DearMe campaign, I posted a suggestion on Facebook that I thought this campaign and its work with young people reflected the mission of Dear Wonderful You from the AnYa Project. I also suggested that we make our own videos to support our younger selves.

Thanks to Diane Christian of the AnYa Project, Kimberly McKee of the Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network (KAAN) and Amanda Woolston of The Lost Daughters for bringing this small dream to fruition.

For all the beautiful young adoptees out there:

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Twinkie Chronicles … Facebook Follies.

Over the holidays, I hosted my Puerto Rican cousins in balmy Wisconsin. After promising them snow, I failed. It was the warmest, snow-free Christmas since our move to Madison. We, of course, had moments of laughter and took lots of selfies!

On the advice of my dad, I took my cousin shopping. A Gonzo tradition … family shopping. We took everyone to the shops. Even here, I saw the underlying racism. My cousins speaking Spanish or broken English brought employees lurking around the corners … while I tried to establish normalcy by speaking loudly in English and flashing my proxy-white-privilege card.

We had a grand time catching up and FaceTiming my dad. 

Coming down from my family high, I checked my facebook feed. And …

Wow. Facebook can be such a downer and a life lesson.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Twinkie Chronicles … Bullies Galore

“Stop dragging your feet.”

“I wish you would wear clothes that fit you.”

“Don’t slump. Stand up tall with your head up. You are making yourself out to be a victim.”

These words from my mother are replaying in my head, as I watch my son move into his high school days. When you are belittled, you try to make yourself smaller. My mother did what she thought was right and helpful; she also supported me when I dyed my hair and cut it wildly to distract from my otherness. I find myself doing the same for my son, and I am sure one day, he will revive my missteps.

I worry that my son will inherit the low self-esteem from my young adult days.

Back then, I believed that no one would want me, except to use me. I had dated men, only to have them dump me for a blonder, whiter version of myself. When I turned 21, the man I thought I would marry, became a man with a secret life and a fiancée in Appleton, WI. While I had lived my life thinking I would use men before they used me, I just didn’t. I knew my Asian self wasn’t good enough “to hold a man down” in Tennessee. I was masquerading as a white person but always reminded that I was another kind of other.

I heard:

“Do something with your hair. It’s so greasy looking.” Because I couldn’t achieve the Aqua Net Big Hair of the 1980s.

“Does your cooter look different, like is it slanted from side to side?”

“Can you EVEN see with your eyes like that?”

“So, that guy who brought you to the prom … did your parents hire him as your escort?” My high school companion in those days was a Wake Forest college man I met while waiting tables at the Cracker Barrel. He was the only person I could write honestly and expect an honest, kind answer back.

And then, there were the misnomers: “Chinese,” “Cambodian Swamp Rat,” “Jap,” “Dirty Diaper Food Eater” …

I kept many of these things from my family. When I returned home for my father’s funeral, my cousin asked me why I didn’t return to Tennessee every year. I had to be honest with her and tell her of my discomfort and how I felt traumatized when I came home. There were too many bad memories. I felt inadequate and strange in my hometown. She was floored. “I never knew this. Who would say such things to you?!” she asked. I told her that some things were said to me at church. Again, she was floored.

My white family members insist they do not see my color or race. I know they don’t and when I was very young, I tried to ignore that fact too. It worked just fine when the safety of their whiteness was within earshot, but that safety inevitably left with them.

Let’s fast forward. Today, we think we have it better. We do not. The racist comments are now more politically correct, but they are still racist. The Twinkie has begat another Twinkie. This one is more authentic but nonetheless still viewed as Asian.

We moved to liberal, “most livable” Madison, WI, in 2009.

My kids quickly became aware of the prevailing air of racism. At first, I thought they would be immune, that their father’s whiteness would save them. But just like their Twinkie mother, my Asian genes would betray them as well.

I recently found this drawing of my son’s day tucked away in his papers.

Trying to combat racist bullying is hard. Without proof (a witness or video footage) there is little the school can do to stop it. My son returns home with holes in his pants, bruises and anger. He is fearful of school.

My son’s bullies come in all colors; mine did too. I always said, “Shit rolls downhill, and I am the smallest minority.”

For me, the biggest wounds came from whites. Their superiority and power scared me. They ruled the hallways and campuses. They still do. White America continues to beat people of color down, pit us against one another. This fact was emphasized in the first episode of Fresh Off the Boat, in this line spoken by Walter, the only black kid in school, “You’re at the bottom now; it’s my turn.”

Why must anyone be at the bottom?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Somebody Else’s Past: Growing up in the Shadow of Adoption

Dear readers, below you will find the words of one I call “the second generation of adoptees.” These words are poignant as they may be echoed by my children one day. Read and respect them, because adoption is more than just birth parents, adoptive parents and adoptees. Our lives and adoptee experiences reverberate to those we now call family … our children.

By CS Brown

It makes me a little uneasy to write about the experience of being the child of an adult adoptee.  I feel like I’m stepping into a war zone. There seem to be two camps — adoptees and adoptive parents — and both seem fierce and unforgiving. Whose side am I on?

Mostly my mom’s. She was born in a government hospital in Bombay, India, into a culture and time where poverty and female infanticide went hand-in-hand. Instead of being poisoned or starved, she was taken to a Catholic orphanage, where she lived for two years until she was adopted by a Portuguese Catholic Indian from Goa, which was at the time a Portuguese colony but is now an Indian state.

In the 1930s, under the Indian and Portuguese laws of the time, the legal rights of the Indian adoptee were neither specified nor protected. Foreign adoptions were infrequent; unwanted children were most often adopted by upper and upper-middle class Indians as servants. As she grew, Mom was raised not as a daughter, but as a housekeeper, farm laborer, and nursemaid; an older female servant physically and emotionally abused her.

She bore the paralyzing cultural stigma of being adopted, or poskem. Regarded as socially inferior, most poskem existed on the margins of society. Many remained unmarried, continuing to serve their adoptive families. At the death of her parents, the poskem received no inheritance, but would continue in service to her parents’ biological children. If they wed, it was usually to another poskem

It’s a lot of backstory, but I needed to explain that my mother’s ongoing emotional pain at her abandonment and adoption is complicated by cultural, social and other issues, and I write this with a (mostly) complete understanding of them.

Through some miracle of God, lucky twist of fate, wormhole in the Universe, or whatever else you choose to believe, she and my North Carolina-born father were in the same strange place at the same time, looking for something different than what they had always known. They found it, got married, and came to the States together in 1964.

I can’t remember ever not knowing that Mom was adopted and understanding that it was a source of enormous pain. Her sorrow, anxiety and controlling nature dominated my childhood. When she talked about her biological parents, it was always the mother, never the father. “I still don’t understand how she could just give away her baby,” she says. “How could she do that? What kind of person could do that?”

I’ve always felt kind of sorry for my Indian ajji — I’m sure she had a horrible, horrible life before and after my mother was born — and I always make excuses for her. Maybe she lived in a slum and already had too many children, I speculated. Or her husband made her give away the girl-baby, or she was young and unmarried and her parents made her take the child to the nuns.  “Mom, you hear these stories on the news all the time,” I say. “It doesn’t mean she was a bad person.”

Usually she answers my theories with tears, or as she’s gotten older, silence. As she approaches her 80th birthday, I’ve learned to keep my big mouth shut when she wonders out loud about her mother. At this point, the best response is “I’m sorry, Mom,” and a big hug.

She has a single snapshot of herself as a child, taken when she was ten years old at her first Communion. Her birth certificate is a piece of cut-in-half letterhead from St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Byculla, Bombay, with a few typed lines indicating the days of her birth and baptism. She cried when she showed it to me. She was ashamed of its paucity, especially when compared to the elaborate footprinted and notarized birth certificates of her American-born children. “It’s nothing but a few lines, but I needed to have it,” she said.

She once told me that even though she had a full and happy life, she felt there something missing —  a little hole deep inside that she would never be able to fill. This was too much for the teenage me. Why was she always so sad? Why did I have to spend so much time comforting her?

Why wasn’t she grateful?

She had us, after all. Daddy would have done anything for her. His mother treated her like a daughter. She had two boys and two girls, exactly what she told Daddy she wanted when they got married. We weren’t rich, but we had a three-bedroom house in a decent neighborhood, a big yard, two cars, a phone, and two TVs. It was a lot better than living in a Byculla slum, pissing in an open ditch, fetching water from public taps, and working as the servant of a wealthy Brahmin.

Wasn’t that enough?

What disturbed my 13-year-old self the most was that if Mom hadn’t been abandoned and adopted, she wouldn’t have eventually met Daddy. I wouldn’t be here. She hated the fate that allowed me to be alive?! Even though it was awful, it led her to Daddy and to us.

Weren’t we enough?

Like most teenagers do, I took it personally. Trying to work through it at a young age, I decided there must be “bad” adoptions and “good” ones, and reckoned that my mom’s psychic pain was the result of her “bad adoption.” Adoptees with “good adoptions” were lucky, and probably grateful and happy. A nice and tidy explanation that helped lessen my teenage cognitive dissonance.

Beyond that, it was too difficult to understand or deal with, especially since I was also busy juggling race-related issues. At that time, a chocolate-brown, sari-wearing Indian woman, a white American man, and their four little biracial kids didn’t exactly fade into the woodwork of a small Southern town. I spent most of my time and energy dodging rednecks on the school bus, avoiding racists in the hallways, trying to fit in with anybody who didn’t call me a half-breed, and studying hard enough to be able to get away from the walnut-minded people in our stupid little town.

I only became curious about Mom’s background in my late twenties, after I left the South. Away from my mother, the overtly hostile stares and behind-the-back glances at our freaky mestiço family, and the rest of the South’s creepy racial baggage, I traded in my anger and frustration for sympathy. I began to grow closer to her.

Life happened — career, money, marriage, sickness, suffering, death — the ten thousand joys and sorrows of growing older. In between, I imagined the lives of ajji and ajjo. I dreamed of dozens of aunties and uncles and cousins, and had the staggering realization that I will never know them, ever. I was born in an abundance of inherited sadness, sings Ryan Adams. You're born into this life paying for the sins of somebody else's past, says Bruce Springsteen. I wanted to know: What sadness? What sins? Whose past?

I realized that my emotional needs and longings were so similar to my mother’s. Her sense of loss had become mine, although hers was much deeper and more painful. With a sense of shared experience, my feelings towards her then evolved from sympathy (feeling sorry for her) to empathy (being able to put myself in her shoes). It was a turning point in my understanding.

How could she not be controlling, anxious, and depressed? Much research has been done on the psychological issues of the adoptee. The neglect and loneliness experienced by children institutionalized in orphanages is well documented, as are the feelings of shock, trauma, rejection and loss experienced by many adopted children. Research has shown that fetuses respond and adapt to stimulus in the womb, including elevated stress hormones. Scientists think that the fetus permanently conditions itself to deal with elevated stress hormones, putting it at a higher risk for stress-related conditions as an adult.

Wouldn’t carrying an unwanted pregnancy to full-term, knowing that you’re going to give up the child at birth, be a pretty major source of stress? That would make adoptees biologically more susceptible to anxiety, depression, and other emotional issues from birth. I’m not a scientist, but through the lens of mental illness, it seems kind of obvious.

Adoption itself can be a blessing — but abandonment is a curse. Being adopted is never going to erase the trauma of being abandoned, whether or not the adoptive relationship is “good.” So to my teenage self: yes, adoption saved Mom from life in a Bombay tenement. It brought together two people that loved each other, and many beautiful people exist because of it. But, dear teenage me, adoption by definition is preceded by an abandonment that can have a devastating impact on the adoptee.

I would hope this would be Adoption 101 for prospective adoptive parents, and that they have a reserve of intelligence, compassion and common sense to draw from as their children grow, ask questions, deal with race problems, seek answers about their background, experience emotional issues and setbacks, and perhaps eventually search for their birth parents. But sadly, the online anger of adoptive parents directed at supposedly “ungrateful” adoptees tells me that this is not the case. (In the reaction of many white adoptive parents to their non-white children’s feelings of loss and curiosity about their background, I detect more than a whiff of that toxic-but-so-familiar combination of white privilege and white man’s burden — but I digress.)

And so since the adoption industry, and I use that word fairly pointedly, can’t even seem to properly instruct adoptive parents on how to deal with their child’s potential emotional problems, it has certainly not gone the extra mile to develop guidelines for adult adoptees and their children. We need empathy, understanding, love and maturity to figure out for ourselves how to navigate these rocky shoals.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

What stopped me from adopting.

In my third year of undergraduate studies, I read the most heartbreaking story.

Four Korean sisters, ages 6 to 13, made a suicide pact to relieve the burden they believed their parents shouldered as a low income family of seven on $350 a month. This became my view of my birth country and my driving force as an adoptee and a young woman.

In those days, I had finally fallen in love with a young man from Appleton, Wisconsin. I was making plans. In them, I wanted to have a biological child and adopt a young girl from Korea. I wanted to save a young girl from that feeling of uselessness.

This Wisconsin love of my life crumbled as I found he was promised to another back home. My trust was broken, and I vowed that I would stay single and possibly adopt on my own.

Life throws punches, and we roll with them. My parents fell in love, moved to Japan and tried to start a family. But tragedy struck. My mother delivered a stillborn infant son in January 1968. My parents sunk into sadness. They wanted to be parents. After realizing they could not be biological parents, they ventured into the land of Harry Holt. (Here’s where I come in. I know you knew that!)

On their application, they submitted this photograph of themselves. Don’t they look proud and excited? (Holt will not allow me to have the hard copy of this photograph, even though they have an electronic copy of it with my file. It belongs with me, my sister and our children, but never mind.)

Five years after they adopted me, my parents were able to have a biological child. From her hospital room each night of her one-month bedrest stay, my mother cried as she watched me, a purple-coated dot, in the parking lot. Then … my sister arrived. She was cute and cuddly. I wanted to name her Penelope, but my mother decided against it.

My mother would dedicate her life to her girls. She stayed home, volunteered at school, nurtured us to adulthood and with my father, she would console me when the Appleton man left. I told her I wanted to be a single mother with a job. I wanted my life to play out differently from hers. I wanted to seem strong and independent.

Years later, I would meet the man. We married, and my parents asked about grandchildren. My husband agreed with my initial plans, a few years as a couple and later, parents to a biological child and an adopted one. We lived in Rwanda one year after the 1994 genocide and witnessed so many children displaced by war but happy in their home country. My adoption plan was beginning to crumble.

As I turned 30, my GYN asked if I planned to have children. “Yes, of course!” was my reply. She went on to explain that sometimes women might take years to get pregnant, and that I should discuss this with my husband. This reminded me of the pain my mother felt with numerous miscarriages and the still born son. She shed tears every January for that little boy.

Within two years, I was pregnant. The moment my son’s bony hand touched mine through my stretched skin, I was in awe, and the thoughts of any others fell away.

When the moment came for me to finally meet my first biological relative, he was placed on my chest, and I exclaimed, “He has my square-mouth cry!”

We were a happy threesome, and as that joy set in, my mother passed away. I felt lost. I felt I had hurt her as my sister and I found a letter my mother kept. In it, I had written that I wished I had never been adopted. I felt the pain I had inflicted on her in my teen years. But my sister quietly said, “You know, she was so honored that you decided to stay home and be a mother.”

After all those years of pushing back against my mother, years of ridiculing her life’s decisions, I realized that motherhood was my job. I relished it and was proud to be “Mom.”

I would feel my mother’s pain again a couple of years later as I miscarried my second pregnancy. I felt lost again. I felt a failure and decided I was happy with being a mother to one. My husband revisited our earlier plans of adoption, but at the time, we were three on the salary of one, and adoption just wasn’t financially possible.

We would eventually welcome our daughter into our family. I must admit that I beam when my children say they are like me. I waited so long for a chance to compare myself to another human being who shared my DNA. I also share their sadness when they realize that they don’t share biological similarities to my side of the family.

Now that my parents are gone, I wrap myself up in the comfort of my little family. We still do not have the financial means to adopt, but I am content. My initial well-meaning, youth-driven intentions of saving another little Korean girl like me have disintegrated with each adoptee narrative.

Even if I could adopt a Korean girl, I couldn’t add to the pain of a single mother in Korea feeling hopeless to the point of believing her child would have it “better” in a place where material wealth trumps family.

Instead, my focus turns to learning from the past … my past, looking to the future for my children and the future of other adoptees and their children as we navigate the confusion and complexity of adoption.

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.