My adoption journey began in Seoul, S. Korea in the 1980’s. As a small child, I was found alone at a street corner in Seoul. Subsequently, I was taken to Holt International and after some time living in the orphanage, I was adopted into a family living in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. On June 20th, right before my 3rd birthday, I arrived with 2 American teachers into Chicago O’hare airport. I found my place as the youngest of 5 children and had a pretty typical childhood growing up in Wisconsin.
Very early on I believed I was a difficult child. Difficult in my behaviors that were coping strategies I had developed as a result of my experienced trauma. Difficult to place because of my medical needs and not being the most desirable as many people wanted to adopt healthy babies. There was a moment, at the age of 7, the night before my final and most extensive operation, I asked my mother,” ok, so after the surgery and I’m fixed, then am I sent back?“ I felt difficult in needing so much medical care and resources. I am so blessed that I was adopted by my family, who at the time already had 4 children but really had adoption in their hearts and originally planned to adopt multiple children. I was immensely loved and unconditionally accepted.
The journey from that point had moments of absolute sweetness but also real challenges for me. Just being a kid who did not look like anyone in our family, and at many levels felt out of place and misunderstood. I remember having a distinct awareness, around the age of 5. I vividly remember sitting in the church pew one Sunday morning, looking around at the families around me and having this realization that I…looked…different. Our family looked different. And as a young child, I heard so much from adults and kids a like that reinforced this: “Who are your real parents?” “But where are you really from?” “Can you speak your language?” “Do they love you the same?” Or even worse, people staring while trying to figure out our family. I wanted to be unseen. With transracial adoption, I could not hide my adoption story. I wore it everyday whether or not I wanted it to be shared. I struggled with this a lot growing up.
These experiences sent me the message at that age that something must be wrong with this girl who was adopted. I remember thinking to myself, why is it that I feel for some reason ashamed when these things are said. I am adopted. I was saved. I should be more grateful. I just felt embarrassed. I felt shame. There were times I would come home to my mom in tears. Regarding something someone said. I got a lot of hurtful comments just on my ethnicity. My mom talked to me in beautiful ways. She was always really great at that. She told me I was chosen, I was prayed for, I was wanted, they waited for me and the moment they saw my picture, they knew I was their daughter.
There were a lot of holes in my story, many unanswered questions and details about my history. As a result, I didn’t know a lot of times as a kid, how to address my feelings and thoughts. It was hard. I knew I was loved by my family. But I also knew there was this family out in the world that had chosen to let me go. I understood that I was wanted; that my adoption was so beautiful. But on the other side of it, there were parents that chose to relinquish me. When we think about the transitions and displacements that happen within adoption, there is a disruption there. A family must be broken in order for an adoptive family to be created. And with that come real feelings. I didn’t have the ability to really process and understand that pain. I began to sink into beliefs that I was lesser than, that I was not enough.
I was seeking to feel like I belong. To be validated that other adoptees feel this way too. I know my parents have questions, when they look back, regarding the choices they made for me. But I must add, that the decisions I made did not make it easy for them either. As I got older, I pushed them away, refusing to let them love me the way I needed to be loved the most. The truth is, both the adoptive parents and the adoptive children are doing the best they can. My parents were and still are truly amazing.
Adoption was a natural decision for my husband Jacob and I to build our family in this way. Now being an adoptive mother of 2 (Tatum 5 years and Taylor 11 months) my experiences have called me to help my children find their voices. Claim their own identity understanding that adoption adds a layer of complexity. Help them see the beauty in their stories. As we raise our family, we are overwhelmed with gratitude for our children. We did not save them. They are the ones instrumental in God’s redemption of us. Teaching us to love recklessly. Teaching us how to live with intentionality and mindfulness. Teaching us to lean on Him because we are imperfect and cannot do life without God as our foundation. Our children are enriching our lives and we could not imagine life without them in it.
Adoption is a never ending journey that has proven true in my own experience as an adoptee. There is so much we learn over a lifetime living in the experience. I can see clearly how my life is entirely a blessing and I am grateful for everything. I believe the hardest things that we live through are the most transformative. And I see every step of the way, looking back, how life happened for me and not to me. Giving me the resilience to face adversities throughout life. Teaching me to let God do what I cannot do for myself. Preparing me to be an adoptive mother. Giving myself grace to not be perfect but have vulnerability to be my true self and the person God intended me to be. Allowing myself to feel and grieve the sad parts of my story and confess that it did break me. But now to rise up and transcend it. To do something with this gift of adoption in my life. My God sees who I am and I know I am His. He pursues and he is loyal. He shines through each and every part of my story revealing the beauty of it all.