One step back for three steps forward?

Yeah, right.
Try three steps back with one step forward.
That’s exactly how I felt a few days ago.

Last Saturday, while at a park I ran into three really nice women who instantly identified me as “Korean.” They began questioning me on what I knew about the language and culture and each time I answered with a half-ashamed “I’m working on learning.” After realizing I knew very little about South Korea’s richness, they invited me to attend their Korean church the following day. Although at the time I was enthused (mainly for the food afterward…), the enthusiasm soon turned to reluctance.

I felt that it was too soon to 1) be in the church environment again and 2) be around other Koreans.

Nonetheless, when I woke up the next morning, I convinced myself to go because I knew that if I didn’t just ‘get it over with,’ I never would. January would turn into February, February into March, and on and on.

So when 12:20 pm rolled around, a friend and I jumped into the car and headed to the Korean church for their 12:30 pm service. I was a little anxious, but was able to keep calm by continuing to talk and make jokes.

That is of course, until we pulled into the parking lot and searched for the entrance.

As soon as we walked inside all of the anxiety I had been working so hard to keep at bay came on with full force. The pastor came up and greeted us, followed by the three women I had seen at the park the previous day. Everyone was super friendly and welcoming, but when you want to make yourself invisible, super friendly and welcoming is the last thing you want. Especially when they hand you a “first time visitor” card and request that you fill it out. I remember looking at the card, trying to figure out how to politely say “actually, I don’t want you to know anything about me…” when my friend took initiative and said that she’d fill hers out first. So following her lead, I filled it out too, however I must admit that I wrote somewhat illegibly with the intention of people not being able to read it…(filling it out counts for something, right).

Thankfully, once the cards were filled out, the woman who was waiting on them left us alone in our empty pew.

After we were alone in the pew I tried to get myself to relax, but to no avail. I began breaking out in hives, and in between squirming around in my seat to not-so-ambiguously scratch, I began to notice that I was actually surrounded by other Koreans, people who looked like me…for the first time ever.

Then, as a familiar song began to play (one that is often played at my former church), everything became too much to handle. Something about the merging of the two contexts/environments, my adoptive parents (church and the accompanying sentiments) and my biological parents (other Koreans), left me with a sense of urgency that I had to find my biological parents.

And with such urgency also comes the disappointment surrounding “what if they can’t be found?”

This is the point where I started tearing up, became really nauseous, and realized that I needed to get out and far, far away from the church.

When I got the okay from my friend, I rushed out of the building, completely ignoring the nice woman at the door who was trying to say something to us, never turning back.

Cool experience, huh? As you can imagine, the rest of the day was a bit rough. And I have no intention of going back, ever.

There’s my three steps back…
but thankfully, I think I might actually be moving forward…slowly.

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Big Steps

12/9/11

On December 9, 2011 I made the decision to attend the 2012 Holt-Bethany Korea Adult Adoptee Tour. This means that in a little more than 5 months I’ll be on my way to South Korea, the place where I spent my first 5 months of life.

I’ve been filtering through a myriad of emotions and am now resolved (to try) to just live life day-to-day, without thinking about the future implications of such a large decision.

One thing that has helped has been reading other adoptees’ blogs and seeing how their respective families have treated their adoption. Rather than living their life in secret and feeling disconnected from their families, I’m finding that most individuals were brought up knowing and feeling that they were okay and loved, feeling stable and secure. A lot were brought up learning about their heritage and celebrating their “airplane days,” the day that an adoptee was brought ‘home’– a word that still has me searching for meaning.

All of this left me realizing that my upbringing was a little different, slightly unhealthy, and may be the reason why I’m not open to trusting and being vulnerable with others. I’m beginning to work on these things, but after spending my life (thus far) building up tall, strong walls of brick, I’m finding it pretty difficult to even begin deconstructing this barrier. Nonetheless, I’m trying.

A couple of days ago I visited the local library and found a couple of books on adoption, one of which is titled “Lucky Girl.” It’s a great read so far and I’ve found myself thinking “I’m not alone; it was normal” more than once.

Here are some excerpts that I found particularly relatable:

“I had never cared about them before or even thought of them as real people. I never had– nor did I seek– enough information to feel a connection with my biological origins. My mom and dad told me what they knew, and I never sought to know more. This was probably both a conscious and unconscious decision. You are less likely to mourn those you do not realize you have lost– or those who have lost you. You do not yearn for a life that you don’t know exists. Now I not only knew what I had gained from being adopted, but I suddenly was beginning to see what I had missed, and I wanted to know more.”

“But it’s hard to avoid being stained by the ignorance of the people around you– ask any Asian American or other minority. On the mean streets of adolescence, you are on your own in the fight against your demons. I wanted to be anything but Asian. I used to curse being different in my journals and in my dreams at night. I overcompensated. I went out of my way to prove how American I was […] I was Little Miss Everything in high school, class president for three years, captain of the pom-pom team, and a member of almost every club that existed. I excelled at a lot of things: school, socializing, public speaking, organizing. Yet I was a tormented hypocrite. Outwardly I tried to ignore or make light of the stereotypes and slurs. The one time our terrible advanced placement English class actually read a Shakespearean play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I was accidentally cast as the “Chink in the Wall.” I was horrified inside but giggled to deflect the anxiety I felt. I allowed myself to acquire the nickname “Chinky”* […] I would defend my brothers, but I would never have dated an Asian guy. During high school, I resisted even hanging around Asians**.”

*Nickname: Check. (Mine was “Chinkerbelle.”)
**Phobia of Asians: Double check. (For a long time, I didn’t even like Chinese or any other “Asian” food.)

Pediatrician: Dr. Cho

Pediatrician, Dr. Cho, 1986

While doing some (secret) research over the details surrounding my adoption, I learned that I was in an incubator for fourteen days and later hospitalized three times. Next to this information sat a picture of my pediatrician, Dr. Cho.

Although the baby in the picture is not me (the picture appears to have been clipped from a newspaper article), I found the image of this pediatrician to stay with me. Something about realizing that a pediatrician could have been the most stable person in your life during those first few months has a lasting effect. Even though there’s no way she would ever remember baby number K##-####, it’s somewhat comforting to know that I have a picture of someone who would have interacted with me during those formative months, even if said interaction was one as impersonal as sticking me with IVs and checking my breathing.

Pediatrician, Dr. Cho, 2010

As such, you can imagineĀ  my excitement when I was reading the Holt-Bethany Adult Adoptee Tour blog from last year and came across the picture on the right. That’s Dr. Cho in 2010. As part of the tour, individuals were able to go and meet with her at the Holt Reception Center and learn more about her life and work.

After crosschecking (more times than necessary) the picture and name I have with the one on the blog, I finally let it sink in that that’s her. That’s my pediatrician.

She’s real.

She’s alive, reachable and, based upon her disposition in the picture, seems like a really nice person; one that I’d love to talk to (and one that I might be able to talk to in less than a year).