29 October 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.

24 October 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.

03 October 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.