You Are Here

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My husband and I started our adoption journey in August 2015. At the time, l didn’t completely understand that it would take almost two years to become a mother. I also had no real knowledge of how emotional the adoption process can be. As the long days of waiting turned into months, there were countless times when my patience was repeatedly tested and moments where I felt incredible disappointment and profound sadness. And then there were those exceptional days where I was filled with overwhelming hope and joy at the small thought of knowing that my son would one day join my family. Now as I pack for my final trip to reunite with my son and anticipate the next phase of this journey; I am certain that motherhood will begin again a new kind of joy-carry a different set of hopes.

The children’s book Wish by Matthew Cordell so beautifully and honestly captures how I’ve felt these past two years during this incredible journey.

At first, there is us. There is only us. But even then, even before we can know to know it, we wish you were here. We make plans for us. We learn. We build. We journey. But more and more and more, we think of you. Until one day we are ready. Ready for change, ready for surprise. Ready for you. We wish you were here. So we make plans for you. We learn. We build. We journey. And then we wait. We listen. So quiet, so patient, so still. And we wait…but you never come. And everything stops. This is not what we planned. We wish you were here. Time passes. We carry on. We live. We hope. We do not make plans. And one day, from out of the blue, there is a sound. We listen, we hold on, we stay still…as that sound becomes a rumble, becomes a rhythm, becomes a roar. And with every feeling that was ever felt, everything happens. That everything is you. That everything is us. You are here. You are here. You are here.

**Thank you to everyone who has wished, waited, and celebrated with me. I am deeply grateful.

 

I Wish For You A Beautiful Life

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There is a social stigma in Korea that if you are unwed and pregnant it brings shame and embarrassment to the birth mother, her child, and her immediate and extended families. Koreans follow a traditional Confucian family bond with a strong male centered lineage. When a child has no legal father, both the birth mother and child face social discrimination throughout their lives. Single mothers risk losing family ties, financial security, and even future job prospects. Due to this social pressure, it’s no wonder that unwed mothers feel like they have no other choice than abortion or adoption.

Ae Ran Won is a home that supports unwed mothers in Seoul, South Korea. This is a place where birth mothers can live while they decide on a birth plan. The majority of   mothers who arrive at Ae Ran Won choose adoption for their babies and each are asked to write a letter to her child. Most of these letters are filled with intimate feelings of guilt and loss, but also contain beautiful messages of hope and love.

This one letter in particular especially resonated with me because I understand that my son’s birth mother did an incredible selfless act when she chose adoption. Because of her decision, she and I are connected with the burden of love we carry for our beautiful sweet boy.

Letter excerpt from I Wish For You a Beautiful Life

To my adorable baby,

When you were first born, your mother was extremely happy. Your eyes were wide open, like two clear lakes. I remember vividly how when I hugged you, you yawned in my arms. My loving child, I wonder what you are doing right now. I am sorry that I can not be next to you. It has been almost a month since you were born. I hope you will understand why I had to give you up. My heart aches that I can not live with you, but wherever you are and whatever you do, I hope you will live your life to the best of your ability. I also hope you will develop your strengths and use your abilities, so that people will be proud of you. Live courageously. I will also try to live my life the best way that I can so that I may be a role model to you, if only in spirit. If we do meet again in the future, I hope we will not be disappointed by each other. Even though I had you in my arms for only a short while, I thought of many things. Would you be hurt because of my irresponsibility? Would you be able to find good adoptive parents? Would you truly be a well-adjusted person? Many questions and thoughts have burdened my heart about this situation. I took these thoughts and considerations into my heart as I chose your name. Your name means big and bright. My hope is that you will live up to your name, and shine brightly over a vast area. We are not apart. Know that your spirit is within my spirit and that even if we are not in the same place, our spirits are together. As we live our different lives and things get too tough, let us each look up at the stars and talk to each other. I will always pray for you. Let us live our lives to the best of our abilities.

Good-bye, my loving child.

Han 한

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“Why did my real mother give me away? Who is my birth mother? Why did you adopt me?” I know that I can’t necessarily predict the day when my son will ask, but I know it will come. Do I wait until he first asks the questions or do I tell him from the beginning that he’s adopted? Is there a right or wrong time to begin this ongoing conversation?

As an adoptee, adoption is a relatively easy and straightforward topic for me to discuss. I’d like to think that I can be open and honest with my son about his adoption. Why would I wait for him to ask me why he was adopted? I don’t want him to feel ashamed because he’s adopted or think that his life before me was a secret. My hope for him is that he feels proud of who he is and how he joined our family.

I understand there is a possibility that no matter how transparent I am with my son about his adoption story, he may still grieve for the life he could’ve had instead and resent me for adopting him. In spite of all the wonderful excitement and immense joy that surrounds his adoption, there are those small quiet moments where my thoughts drift to the Korean word Han. Han has no English equivalent. It is a concept that means a sorrow caused by heavy suffering or a dull lingering ache in the soul. I know that suffering is a certainty in life. However, I’d like to believe that my son won’t experience any pain during his lifetime because he was adopted, but the truth is; he probably will. The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh has a beautiful quote about the paradox of suffering. He says, “To suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life.”

 

 

Three Dreams of Korea: Notes on Adoption by Lee Herrick

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1.

This one happens in the morning

as a nearby crow wakes me,

calling God, God, look at this:

I am on the steps of a church,

wrapped in Monday’s Korea Times

telling of the drought in Pusan.

You can live by the water

and still die of thirst, and I,

there on the cold brick steps,

am dying. But dying

means the presence of breath.

This one happens on Hangul Day,

Independence Day in Seoul,

where girls in purple satin

hanboks parade through

downtown streets. In this dream

I make eye contact with

every single one of them.

Another boy, a few years

older than I, rides

a tricycle in the streets

trailing the girls.

He sees me. He winks,

as if he knows how

everything will end.

2.

This one happens in the evening

just as daylight surrenders to the moon,

and the flute of dusk arrives.

It is cool.

I am wrapped in a sky blue blanket,

so whoever finds me thinks kindly

of whoever left me.

The one one finds me is a nun.

She opens the door, looking

beyond me

into the tired night,

then looks down.

She gasps softly.

She says, ahneyong, you sweet

beautiful child. She bends

down like an angel

and takes me

into her arms.

3.

This one happens in the cruelest moment

of the day, as heat curls flowers

into dirt. A man, drunk

with despair, screams at the sun.

His sorrow is a collage of

moths and ants, crawling

from his face to his chest.

I watch from the steps.

It is the year of the dog

and I am a part of it:

unable to speak

but an expert at listening:

to the old man from Laos who sits

on the steps two buildings down:

he is telling another man

how Hmong children become human

on the third day of life,

after the soul calling ceremony

and the burning of animal flesh.

He smokes from a pipe

and closes his eyes as he inhales.

I can hear all of his.

I can hear a woman rustling inside the church.

She is a dancer, so she speaks with her hands.

I hear her rise, sweetly

from her knees to her feet.

This means she believes

in dreams. I hear her

slide her hand, sweetly

along her hair. This means

she believes in the sun.

I hear her move towards me

and place her open palm on the door.

This means she welcomes me.

This means she believes

in the miracle of possibility.

Golden Rule #1: Love Thy Neighbour as Yourself

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Do you consider yourself a religious person? How significant is religion in your life? Religion has always been a fundamental part of my life. I grew up in a Christian home and identify as a Christian. As a young girl, I was deeply involved with my church. I regularly attended Sunday School, eagerly participated in AWANA, and eventually found like minded friends through my youth group. Church was my community. It was where I first learned the popular Golden Rules: Love thy neighbour as thyself and do unto others as you would have them do unto you. These formative lessons helped me navigate my small protected world.

Bible Camp was also a place where I learned about God. I can remember  fondly singing a song with the lyrics, “There’s only one way to heaven and it’s Jesus.” I sang that song with such conviction. But now as an adult, I question how having faith in God secures me a place in heaven. It seems to defy reason. And what if I believe in a different deity like Buddha or Allah then am I automatically doomed? Why is Jesus the only way?

I understand that my son will first begin to construct his worldview from the beliefs and truths that I teach him at home. Even though I was raised a Christian, maybe Christianity isn’t something he will prescribe to. How would I feel if he decided to practice Buddhism or even Islam? Would I be fearful or feel disappointed that he doesn’t believe in my God?

Maybe it’s equally important that my son learns how to be empathetic towards others who are different from him or that he is able to be objective when others challenge his perspectives, or even critically question the status quo, rather than what religion he practices. I’d like to think that he can make his own decision similar to who he will choose to befriend at school or which college he wants to attend. Perhaps in this moment, it really is as simple as loving my neighbor as myself.

Salvation by Lee Herrick

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The blues is what mothers do not tell their loved sons,

in church or otherwise, how their bodies forgave

them when their spirits gave in, how you salvage love

by praying for something acoustic, something clean

and simple like the ideal room, one with a shelf

with your three favorite books and a photo

from your childhood, the one of you with the

big grin before your knew about the blues.

I wonder what songs my birth mother sang in

the five months she fed me before she left me

on the steps of a church in South Korea.

I wonder if they sounded like Sarah Chang’s

quivering bow, that deep chant of a mother

saying goodbye to her son. Who can really say?

Sometimes all we have is the blues. The blues means

finding a song in the abandonment, one

you can sing in the middle of the night when

you remember that your Korean name, Kwang Soo

Lee, means bright light, something that can illuminate

or shine, like tears, little drops of liquefied God,

glistening down your brown face. I wonder

what songs my birth mother sings and if she sings

them for me, what stories her body might tell.

I have come to believe that the blues is the body’s

salvation, a chorus of scars to remind you

that you are here, not where you feared you would be,

but here, flawed, angelic, and full of light.

I believe the blues is the spirit’s wreckage,

examined and damaged but whole again, more full

and prepared then it’s ever been, quiet and still,

just as it was always meant to be.

The Realities of Race and Adoption

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How do you talk about race with your child? How early do children start to recognize that not everyone has the same skin color? Is race one of those topics you should discuss openly and honestly with your child like how to safely cross the street, or why you shouldn’t talk to strangers, or the dreaded “Birds and the Bees talk”?

I’d like to think that as a person of color I have some extraordinary insight about how to talk about race, but the truth is, I don’t. Talking about race is simply uncomfortable. Is it because if you’re white it conjures up a great deal of emotions like uneasiness, defensiveness, and possibly even anger? And if you are the person of color, undoubtedly, there are feelings of shame, hurt, and at times isolation.

I understand and accept the fact that by adopting my son and bringing him to live in America, he will be judged by his skin color. There will be school playground incidents where kids will make fun of him because of his physical differences-his eyes, his nose. More than likely I will have to explain to him the hurtful name calling and navigate the tricky questions he will ask about not being white. Others will try to pigeonhole him because he is conspicuous and he will feel vulnerable living in a mostly white world.

Maybe the platitude, “Love is all you need” doesn’t apply in this situation. I can’t love away my son’s pain and grief, but what I can do is help prepare him for the messy complicated reality. As his parent, I do need to be honest about the hurt he will experience when kids ridicule him for the first time because of his eyes and skin color. I do need to be candid and tell him that his race does matter. But mostly, I need to be empathetic about how he feels because when that inevitable day arrives where he realizes for the first time that he’s not white, then my only choice is to quietly listen.

I Love You 사랑해

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As the months and weeks move closer to the travel date when I finally get to meet my son and begin parenting, the self doubt and worry seem to be looming now more than ever. My thoughts have begun to take on new worries like, “What if my son’s not ready?” “What if he doesn’t like me?” “What if he later resents me because I adopted him?” I understand that these are natural fears and doubts for any parent who’s adopting. Nonetheless, these fears feel incredibly big and too real.

There is a considerable amount of adoptive parenting research about how to ease the transition from when my son leaves his foster home and begins his transition with me. One recommended strategy is to “cocoon” which is a critical time for my son and I because during this period we will begin to learn everything we can about each other in order to bond and create healthy attachments. Likewise, my son will also be experiencing a great deal of loss and grief. He will more than likely be inconsolable as he grieves for his foster mother. Will he even accept my attempts to comfort him during his time of grief? I’m not sure. Everything that is familiar and comfortable will no longer be a part of his world. I am reminded that my son didn’t choose adoption. Adoption happened to him.

As I prepare to transition into parenthood, the truth is, I’m entirely scared. I have no idea how my son will respond to me or how long it will take him to love me. I know there will be significantly long and challenging days ahead. Maybe all I can do is quietly wait for the moment when he wraps his warm little arms around me and says, “I love you.”

The Bigness of Love

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It’s been one week since the election and my feelings of anger, disappointment, sadness, and hopelessness have emotionally exhausted me. As a female and a person of color, this campaign has felt entirely personal because so much of the hate filled rhetoric was targeted at people who like myself have been marginalized due to my race and gender. Opportunities and entitlements belong only to those who fit into the Trump version of America. If you are labeled different, then you excluded. But I see you. I understand you. I am with you in your anger.

This week was also a difficult teaching week. I took the easy way out and avoided any election discussions with my students because I didn’t have the emotional capacity. How could I remain neutral when all I wanted to do was unleash my own anger and sadness? I wonder what words I would say to my son if he was here and old enough to understand. I’d like to think that I would tell him the truth no matter how hurtful it is, but honestly, I don’t know.

Eventually, I will have to stop grieving and crawl up off the floor. There are small moments when I feel myself moving forward, but then I learn about yet another racial graffiti hate crime or I overhear a student chanting, “Build the wall!” and I’m right back where I started. The truth is that no matter how stifling and confusing the world feels right now, I have to find a way to acceptance. I didn’t choose to elect this president, but I do have choices. I can choose to listen. I can choose to show empathy to others. And I can choose to be inclusive with those who are different from me. Now more than ever I want to stretch myself in the direction of kindness and forgiveness. I choose to be filled with the bigness of love.

The Other

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Growing up, I remember there were two clearly distinct experiences when I felt noticeably different. One time a stranger in a store commented, “Your skin is so porcelain just like a China doll!” Or another time when a stylist cutting my hair declared, “I thought all Asians had straight hair.” Although these comments weren’t malicious, nevertheless, I remember feeling confused that my appearance should be different than what it was.

I know that early on in my son’s life, he will experience feeling different. He is Korean and will grow up as a minority in America. He will more than likely be teased by his classmates because of his eyes, nose, skin color or simply because he doesn’t look white. I struggle knowing that he may internalize this as him being inadequate and feel ashamed. How can I protect him from this? I know that I can’t. It’s entirely impossible.  

As a new parent, maybe I’m naive to think that if I enroll my son in a Korean language immersion school, attend a multiracial church or have playgroups with other Korean adoptees, he will grow up to have a positive self identity. The truth is, that even if I do all of these things to support his connection to his Korean culture, there will still be moments when he will feel conspicuous and compromised because of his race.

I understand that my son doesn’t have a choice. He will leave his Korean culture and gain an American one. These are the losses and gains of being adopted. But maybe throughout his adoption journey, my son will be able to find a new space where he is able to create his own narrative that is completely free from the expectations and definitions of others.