by Anti-Racist Parent Columnist Jae Ran Kim
Everytime I hear about an adoptee who has reunited with their families, the green-eyed monster makes a visit. I have witnessed three reunions and have had many more friends reunite with their bio families and while I am beside myself with happiness for them, it also reminds me that I am still waiting.
Still waiting to know who I look like. Still waiting to see myself reflected in someone else’s mannerisms. Still waiting to know the real reasons why I was abandoned at 14 months. Who was I living with before that cold, winter February day in 1970? Who took care to bundle me up properly and leave a note tucked into my little jacket with a name and birthdate?
A friend of mine who is the same age as I but was domestically adopted just found his sister. My friend reunited with his mom and his brother many years ago, but has been waiting for the day his sister would look him up. Last month, they were able to meet in person. Just thinking about it now gives me chills. It’s pretty heady stuff to digest. Despite their many difference, they do have many things in common – especially their musical talents, which no one else in their family has.
When I went to Korea in 2000, it was specifically to search for my Korean family. When people asked if I was taking a vacation, I’d tell them it was a trip – but it was anything but a vacation for me. It was my very first attempt at trying to put together the puzzle pieces of my life. There were very few breadcrumbs for me to follow. My parents knew nothing about Korean geography and thus I’d been told I was born in Seoul. Fortunately, I had a Korean American friend who discovered I’d grown up in the town I was really born in – Daegu. She was able to give me a map and some clues about the person who left me on the steps of the city hall that night.
An adoptee friend of mine once described her unknown history as a novel with the first few chapters ripped out. That is exactly what it feels like sometimes. There is no prologue or introduction. Only the imagined and the unknown. That is what I grieve the most.
Sometimes I’ve had people tell me that they wish they’d been adopted, because they lived with such dysfunctional families. Others have said my story isn’t such a big deal because everyone hates their family. That’s something only someone with the privilege of knowing their family can say. I was so anxious about the tenuous and uncertain place I lived that I was a serious and tense child and moody teenager, like many other kids – but was always willing to please my adoptive parents because there was nothing worse than feeling like I wasn’t wanted. After all, the only thing I knew was that I wasn’t wanted and that’s why I ended up in the United States. If I blew it here, with my adoptive family, I was losing it all.
The other night, at a work event, another adoptive parent made the “I wish I’d been adopted” comment and it made me wince. Some of those who say this are serious – I don’t believe it’s always a flip statement – but it still pains me to the core. I am not trying to invalidate their bad childhoods. Yet how can someone say that they would wish for the most devastating thing that happened to me – the complete and utter loss of my Korean family? I can’t imagine ever saying that I wish someone else’s parents would die or ditch them.
Several of my friends who have reunited have very complicated relationships with their families. I have seen a lot of pain and confusion over how much of a relationship to have, how much energy can be expended in establishing a relationship with people who are all but strangers, especially if that involves language barriers and geographic distances half the world away.
One of the things I don’t discuss often is that I thought I had found my Korean family, and then it turned out they weren’t. Back in 2000, a family contacted me. For a couple of months we corresponded through interpreters and they were so convinced that I was the youngest daughter in the family that they offered to pay for a DNA test in order to convince me. I received a 5-page letter, in Korean, which was kindly translated to me. The family was clearly heartbroken over the loss of their youngest member and they sent me gifts. One of the sisters even sent me a cross-stitched picture with a message about me, their “sister.”
Two months after I swabbed my cheeks, the results came back. Negative.
A teeny tiny part of me was relieved because I was in shock through out the whole “are they-aren’t they” process. But once I received the fat packet of papers in scientific language I could not understand it hit me hard. I actually grieved for the family whose hopes were dashed. To this day, I’ve not shed a single tear but it does not mean I don’t cry inside often. I feel I am still traumatized about this event and that was the main reason why in 2004, when I went to Korea a second time, I did not search again.
My friend is in the honeymoon stage of his reunion and I hope all goes well for him and his newly found sibling.
And I do hope that maybe some day I’ll get to experience a little of that joy.
Jae Ran Kim, MSW is a social worker, teacher and writer. She was born in Taegu, South Korea and was adopted to Minnesota in 1971. She has written numerous articles and essays and is most recently published in the anthology “Outsiders Within: Writings on Transracial Adoption” from South End Press. Jae Ran’s blog, Harlow’s Monkey, is at http://harlowmonkey.typepad.com/