Relief?

This morning I noticed that my friend’s sister’s blog (who is a surrogate) had been updated, so I went ahead and read it.

Here are some excerpts (from today’s post as well as prior ones):

Mentally, it is still very easy to feel disconnected to the baby, and I have to constantly remind myself that I am pregnant.

Yes, this pregnancy feels like it is going quicker than my other pregnancies because I don’t have the anticipation of meeting my child. There is no: “oh, I can’t wait to meet my little girl/boy” or “I wonder when I get to finally meet you, little one.”

I feel nothing. I didn’t expect to feel this way. When I made this decision to do this, I knew that I would not feel attached or feel like I have some claim to the child but I didn’t expect to feel so emotionally, and mentally detached.

Earlier in the week, I was talking about these posts with someone, and the person wondered if I had any feelings of ‘relief’ about knowing this. At the time, I couldn’t process if ‘relief’ was an accurate way to describe my response, however when I read today’s post I realized that it’s not relief at all. Rather, it’s a jarring realization that this spectrum of experience exists. Having a degree in anthropology, I have always been focused on trying to understand the human experience, however in this regard (woman carrying child), I have always thought that those attachment feelings would be both natural and universal. Though, while I’m not naive enough to truly believe this, the larger part of me was hoping that I was right.

But, reading her posts have demonstrated that I was wrong, that complete detachment is not only a possibility, but a reality. A reality that both extinguishes the idealistic hope that I’ve carried regarding the sentiments above (i.e., belief that my birth mother would have thought things like “I wonder when I finally get to meet you, little one”), while also serving as a reminder of the “ungrounded/disconnected” feeling that is so pervasive in my life.

Ultimately, I think the hardest part to swallow is coming to understand (and accept) that it’s a very likely possibility that I entered the world more alone than I could have previously imagined. So, no, I don’t think that I have any feelings of relief when I read her words; it’s the complete opposite.

Constant Hunger

What would have been the one-year milestone of my (Ultimate Life Fail) ULF recently passed.

In fact, as I’m typing a group of wonderful individuals are together celebrating their mid-point together.

It’s a group that I should be a part of, but because I just couldn’t do it, I’m here, staring blankly at the disappointment of who I’ve become.

All of this led me to reconsider, once again, what happened and what went wrong. I can’t stop thinking about how different my life would be, how different I would be if I were still on that track.

If my circumstances had been different, would I still be there?
Would I be there, celebrating my resiliency, rather than here, wondering if there’s even a shred of resiliency left in me?
Would I still be that strong person that I used to be? That person where bad things could happen and I could take an Eastern perspective and say “that’s life” and move on, unbroken?
Would I still enjoy life?

If I would have stayed and found self-worth through my actions and doing something good, would this hunger that I have for love, acceptance and belonging be as intense? Would finding my biological parents still mean everything to me?

Orphans are always hungry. You can feed them Spam and chocolate bars and poisoned apples all day long and they’ll still complain about emptiness. That’s why the government manufactures cakes made of grass. The cakes have no nutritional value, but they possess a magical property that makes orphans feel full. -Jane Jeong Trenka in Fugitive Visions

I remember how it felt as the plane began its ascent toward Japan; how part of me wanted to do something completely inappropriate so that they would stop the plane and leave me in Korea, or at least buy me more time, because, for as much as I wanted to be anywhere but there, leaving stirred up those familiar feelings of failure and disappointment. You’re leaving. You’re failing your biological parents. You’re failing yourself. Try harder. Why won’t/can’t you try harder?! Do something, dang it! If it’s that important to you, you wouldn’t be leaving, you’d be staying. What don’t you get about this? It’s simple. And yet, you can’t do it. What’s wrong with you? You can’t give them that? You’re a terrible daughter, of course they were right to give you up. What don’t you get about that? You’re humanity has been demeaned; you’re barely human. You’re a monster. And monsters don’t deserve to live.

Process? Ha.

Ashuipda: to deeply, passionately want to have or to do something, but not be able to fulfill that desire.

It’s been 20 days since I’ve returned and as much as I’d love to say that I’ve processed things and have moved on, the truth is that I’m nowhere close.

Instead I find myself at a loss and needing to sort through “the loss of my birth parents, my birth country and culture, home, someone caring for me, family, love, closeness, happiness, sadness, understanding of my beliefs, honor pride. A loss of me, a loss of who I am, a loss of what life has to offer me” (Voices From Another Place). I can’t even begin to think about these losses in a way that doesn’t leave me as a crumpled mess on the floor. So rather than processing, I shut down, or at least attempt to, because the way I see it, there’s nothing else to say that hasn’t been said and nothing left to do that hasn’t been done.

But each morning as I prepare for the day, a sense of dread hits me…dread at having to trudge through another day when all I feel like doing is curling up in a ball and giving up. You’d think that this dread would have relented by now, at least a little, however it’s only become more intense.

The process of cutting back on obligations/commitments and adding in more enjoyable activities has, ironically, exacerbated things. My life should be more organized and calm than it has been in a long time, right? Instead, the nothingness feels like I’ve been thrown into a state of complete disarray.

It’s like being lost in the middle of a cornfield– every direction looks the same and no matter how hard you look, you can’t find your way out; standing still isn’t going to get you any closer to finding your way out, so you walk, directionless, just to get closer to an unknown something. But after all of that walking, you’re still lost and notice that you’re hungrier than ever, emptier than ever; you become weak and begin questioning if you’ll ever find your way out or if you should just sit down and accept the inevitable.

“No Feelings, Just Ice Cream: A Memoir”

On the last night in Seoul, a few of us went out to get ice cream, opting out of the optional “Reflection” time that our tour leader so apathetically presented (it says a lot when a whole group opts out, but I digress). There were a few of us who became good friends, so we decided to go out and enjoy what remained of our last night together (it was already 10 pm). On the way there, one of the individuals (aka: my twin who happens to be 4 years older), had remarked that we were skipping all of the mushy feelings– “no feelings, just ice cream.” I laughed and said “that sounds like a book title,” to which she responded with something to the effect of “yeah, for your memoir.” We laughed again because of how fitting and accurate it would be.

When looking to the trip, I envisioned being magically “healed,” or at least closer to a resolution and feeling okay and at peace. Now, at the tail end of the trip, I’ve realized that nothing has been resolved. If anything, more things have been stirred up and I find myself in an emotional limbo, stuck and unable to “join loved ones” on this side due to my inability to be loved and be accepted, both by myself and by others.

Everyone who was able to meet their birth parent(s)/families or foster parent(s)/families have spoken about how they feel ecstatic, happy, healed; how they have been forever changed. They realize that there will still be complications, given the complexity of adoption and its repercussions, however they know that they will be okay. They’ve found it– their past, their identity, love from their birth parents, a way to become whole.

Listening to everyone’s stories was torture, but I am so, so happy for them because I know how much it must mean. Although everyone’s experiences are relative, I can feel how significant it is for them to know about who they are and to finally begin to become whole.

After seeing what’s possible, I’m craving it now more than ever. You hear stories about reunions gone awry, but I’ve just witnessed more than five and know the healing power that even a simple, short meeting can hold. How does one ever move forward knowing that it’s out there? Knowing that their healing has only come from a reunion? Knowing that you’re being forced down a different path that will be “close, but no cigar?”

I can’t fathom anything else, any other way.
It’s just not possible.

Holt Office, Reception Center, and Kyeong-Dong Children’s Home

5/22/12 Reviewing adoption files (Holt Office)
The day before one of the group guides stated that many adoptees, more often than not, find additional information in their Korean adoption file. The reasoning for this is because their social workers want to explain things in person, in order to prevent important information from getting lost in translation. This makes complete sense. “More often than not” became my mantra, regardless of my futile attempts to block out any hope/excitement. Unfortunately, I generally tend to be an optimistic person, so there’s usually a part of me that finds something to hope for.

But of course, since the universe just really hates me, there was no new information in my file. She showed me the original intake report (written in Hangul), but said that she couldn’t share any of it with me, noting that the parts that were sharable have already been given to me. In hindsight, I’m disappointed that I wasn’t clever enough to find a way to covertly snap a picture on my phone. I’m also surprised that I didn’t grab the paper and begin running, because there was a strong urge pulling me in that direction. I’m confident in my ability to run and certain that they wouldn’t have been able to catch me. Being arrested for wanting to know my birth parents’ names and information about them? That’s something I can live with. I’d love to meet someone who thinks differently.

The only surprising part about reviewing my file was that they had my adoptive parents’ application– their background/histories, reason for adopting, and so forth. When I asked to read through it, the social worker said that I was not allowed to since there may have been confidential information, then said “you probably already know all of this anyway.” I wonder what she would have said if I would have told her “trust me, if you’ve read through this, you already know more than me– I don’t even know what year my parents were born. We’re pretty close.”

5/22/12 Holt Staff (Holt Office)
At the Holt Office we were quickly introduced to the key staff members and then watched a brief overview video of the history of Holt. My feelings throughout were very diverse. One moment I was grateful for the organization, while the next I found myself filled with loathing, wishing that the building would spontaneously combust.

When I saw Director Kim all I could think about was “you talked to my birth mother! you know her voice!” Part of me wanted to run up to her, fall at her feet and beg for information– what did my birth mother sound like? what did she say and how did she say it? did she sound angry, scared or a combination of the two? I was, and am, desperate for something, anything, that can help me begin to imagine my birth parents. While passing people on the street, I can’t help but wonder about things like how my birth parents dress (do they dress casually or business casual and stylish) and what they do for a living (are they street vendors, business people, teachers, servers, hotel staff). Not knowing anything about them makes everything a possibility. This is all information that Director Kim could know, if only she would ask. As such, seeing her in real life, made her more real, made my parents more real. There seems to be a direct correlation between my parents becoming more real and the distance put between us.

Juxtapose that with my response to seeing Molly Holt (the daughter of Harry and Bertha Holt), which was a combination of loathing and compassion, and you can begin to see how this got emotional pretty quickly. Seeing Molly Holt made me want to vomit. It’s not that she disgusted me, but the image of what she represented disgusted me. Watching her was a constant struggle to stay in control and remember that she is probably a very nice and wonderful individual. It’s not fair to blame her for the things her parents did, but given the complex views I hold of adoption I still found myself constantly having to “be her,” to see myself in her, in order to think clearly, objectively, and with compassion. For me, it was the epitome of an empathic, transcendent even, experience. All of this was so unexpected and at the end I found myself hurting a lot, but thinking “Molly, you’re okay, you are.”

The next person to be introduced was Dr. Cho, my pediatrician for the first five months of my life and the only person who I know spent time with me, even though it was to perform routine tests and check-ups. Even though she was the pediatrician for all of the babies, I still felt a strange, emotional attachment to her, mainly because she is the only real link to my beginnings. Upon seeing her, I had the desire to run up and hug her, like you would do upon seeing a good friend after years of being apart. She’s such a beautiful woman and a delight to be around. She’s one of those people who glows, one of the ones who brightens any room, one of the ones you’re always sad to leave.

5/22/12 Holt Reception Center
Visiting the Holt Reception Center (the place where the babies are taken and kept for various durations) made me recall some of the things that people, especially adoptees, cringe upon hearing. The main ones are the following:

“I want an Asian baby!”
“She’d stuff one in a suitcase and bring one back if she knew it would be safe!”
“Bring one back with you!”
“You should take one home!”

Believe it or not, babies at an orphanage really are different than puppies at a pound.

They’re not puppies.
They’re not objects.
They’re not commodities.
They’re humans.

5/24/12 Kyeong-Dong Children’s Home
On the 24th I was able to visit the orphanage that I was in. Although the building wasn’t the original, the director was. She was a really sweet woman and was really happy that myself and another adoptee came back to Korea to visit. I’m not sure how many adoptees have returned because our presence there was really emotional for her (based off of a comparison of another adoptees’ visit to her orphanage).

Although this was emotional for her, I felt pretty disconnected from all of it, given that it wasn’t the original building and not knowing if she had spent time with me or not.

We were able to review the file that the orphanage had for us. Again, no new information (except that I was the 106th baby admitted), but there was a picture of myself that I had never seen before. It was really surprising to see because I didn’t know any others existed. (Note: There was a huge translation error while reviewing the file, which brought me pretty high up and, upon correction, left me plummeting downward again.)

All of that said, it was refreshing to see the orphanage because it was a really nice facility, filled with volunteers who were actively playing with the babies (one of the disconcerting parts about the Reception Center was that a lot of the babies were just slung onto womens’ backs while they worked). The children here seemed like they were well taken care of it.

(After the mistranslation, my ability to feel was replaced with numbness, so the rest of the tour of the orphanage was pretty flat and disconnected for me. Hence, I have very few comments/thoughts on it.)

Bittersweet.

There are multiple people on the trip who are able to either 1) meet one or both of their birth parents 2) meet their foster mother(s) 3) see the actual place where they were born or 4) talk with a friend of their mothers.

Words cannot express how happy I am for them. Having been denied all of these experiences, I can imagine how wonderful it must feel. Complex, yet great nonetheless. One cannot know the deepness of this happiness until one knows the deepness of the pain. Knowing the latter, I am so grateful that they have these opportunities and a better place to move forward from.

Likewise, words cannot express how envious I am of them and how much it hurts to hear their stories. To be filled with that familiar longing, doing all you can to force yourself to stay focused on the person, to fully share in their joy, while inside you’re dying is quite the struggle. It’s like being at a wedding when you’re 80 and unmarried, your heart breaking again and again and again.

Slowly, then all at once, your will to keep going slips away like a thief in the night, transforming you into an automaton with only basic functions.