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.
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“The world is not a wish-granting factory.”

One of the reasons I love reading is that they provide a way for me to articulate how I feel in ways that I’m not (as) embarrassed about admitting. I’ve always been terrible at telling people how I feel, actually that’s a lie– I’ve never really told people how I feel until recently, but the gist of this is that I’m a doer, not a talker. Meaning, I prefer to show people I care, rather than verbally tell them; “talking” is just really uncomfortable to me. (Proof: I’m unable to answer direct questions in situations where the purpose is to answer said questions; thankfully, I have really good friends.)

One of the downfalls about communicating through actions is that when people try to tell you how they feel, it’s hard for you to really believe them because that’s not your primary form of communication. Maybe that’s a broad, sweeping generalization. Maybe it’s just a side effect of my “I’m unlovable” mindset. I don’t know.

What I do know is that I’m finally aware of this, however this doesn’t make accepting things any easier.

I spent Mothers Day trying my best not to think about my birth mother (and parents), or about the whole ‘I’m no longer talking to my adoptive family’ and accompanying guilt thing. Seriously, who doesn’t say anything to their adoptive mother on mothers day?! Of course, I failed, but eventually I decided to dive into a good book.

After downloading The Fault In Our Stars, a book which I was sure that I couldn’t relate to, I set out to block out everything. It was finally time to relax and hopefully get some food down.

Ha.

The book was really great, probably one of the best I’ve read in a long time, but I found myself resonating with two terminally ill cancer patients a little too much. Namely, that they both had timelines attached to their lives; they both knew their life was going to end sooner than their peers and loved ones.

At one point, the main character gets frustrated with her parents and equates herself with a grenade:

“I’m like. Like. I’m like a grenade, Mom. I’m a grenade and at some point I’m going to blow up and I would like to minimize the casualties, okay?”

“I’m a grenade,” I said again. “I just want to stay away from people and read books and think and be with you guys because there’s nothing I can do about hurting you; you’re too invested, so just please let me do that, okay? I’m not depressed. I don’t need to get out more. And I can’t be a regular teenager, because I’m a grenade.”

“I wanted to know that he would be okay if I died. I wanted to not be a grenade, to not be a malevolent force in the lives of people I loved.”

When I read these lines, I completely broke down because I realized that like her, I was also a grenade and that some point within these next two weeks I was going to explode. I realized how selfish I was; how I should’ve gotten away from people before they became too invested. I wanted to run home, pack for Korea, and then live at a hotel for the next week until my departure…all so that I wouldn’t be a grenade, or to at least minimize the casualties.

So of course I tensed up when he touched me. To be with him was to hurt him—inevitably. And that’s what I’d felt as he reached for me: I’d felt as though I were committing an act of violence against him, because I was.

 

It’s the reason I don’t like people in my bubble, especially people I care about, because in the back of my mind I always know that I’m going to hurt them; I know I’m incapable of giving people myself.

Everything about this trip, I realized, had been framed with an “I’m not coming back” mentality. I had written letters and made plans. I was pretty certain about how things would play out.

All of this was until yesterday, when I was forced to talk and to listen— listen to the impact that my actions would have and listen to people telling me that they cared…a lot. I’d be a grenade with a wide radius, a wider radius than I would have ever anticipated.

As I sat listening, I realized that these people actually meant what they had/were saying. They communicate like the rest of the human world, via words. The problem is that I’m not someone who has the ability to let messages like ‘we care for you’ and ‘we love you’ in. It’s not that I doubt that they do because I know that they’re authentic people who mean what they say, but I still can’t help but have my doubts. It’s an inability on my part. I’m just incapable of accepting and feeling these things.

All of that said, I don’t doubt the repercussions (which means that on some level that I can’t acknowledge yet, I’m letting myself realize that they do care), and realized that I’ve got to come home because I care more about these people than I do myself.

I gave them my 100 percent promise that I’d come back.

It’s really uncomfortable, and a bit disempowering, to have people care about you.

(why.am.i.so.weird.)

“It’s comforting to know Chris was here,” Billie explains, “to know for certain that he spent time beside this river, that he stood on this patch of ground. So many places we’ve visited in the past three years—we’d wonder if possibly Chris had been there. It was a terrible not knowing—not knowing anything at all.

Many people have told me that they admire Chris for what he was trying to do. If he’d lived, I would agree with them. But he didn’t, and there’s no way to bring him back. You can’t fix it. Most things you can fix, but not that. I don’t know that you ever get over this kind of loss. The fact that Chris is gone is a sharp hurt I feel every single day. It’s really hard. Some days are better than others, but it’s going to be hard every day for the rest of my life.” –Billie McCandless, from Into the Wild


I’m really hoping that going to South Korea will bring some sense of comfort, although right now, thinking about constantly wondering have my parents been here? seems like a dizzying nightmare.

I feel for Billie, and for everyone who ever feels this way.
It’s terrible not knowing anything at all.

And yet, in my life, I’m doing the exact same thing to people.
I’ve often wondered how people can be so cruel to one another, but sadly, I get it.
Sometimes our ideals are bigger than we are.

“I wish for you a beautiful life.”

Conflict.
Contradiction.

These two words seem to sum up life right now.

As each day creeps by, I find myself more anxious than the last, resulting in doing my best to block everything out. However, the events of the last two days have left me defenseless, confused, and in a continual state of ‘trying to process.’

Yesterday, rather than doing a myriad of other things that needed to be done, I found myself sitting under a tree reading I Wish For You a Beautiful Life: Letters from the Korean Birth Mothers of Ae Rae Won to Their Children.

As I quickly took in the words on the pages, this stream of consciousness occurred:

These birth moms loved their children enough to write them a letter. A lot of them even have hopes of meeting their child in the future –> That means I have a good chance of my mom/dad wanting the same thing, wanting to meet me –> Wait. –> My birth mom didn’t write me a letter. In fact, neither of my parents have even contacted the agency to learn more about me or try to initiate contact –> Hope dwindles, especially with the reminder that after my mom learned she was pregnant, she quit her job and moved from motel to motel, hiding from everyone she knew out of shame –> shame of me; how do you not take that personally? –> Regardless though, how could she not want to meet me now? –> But I get it (thanks, undergrad major) and I get the complexity. –> However, in this case, getting it is not nearly enough to make it easier.

Reading the collection of letters reiterated what I have learned in historical texts and memoirs and helped me understand Korean culture a lot better. During the time period I was born, males were highly valued over females and marriages were often arranged. As such, and given their strong ties to Confucianism, pregnancy outside of marriage was highly stigmatized (way more than in the US during the same time period), and to a large part, still is. So much so that their “family register” (a document equivalent to the US birth certificate) is examined upon entering jobs, schools, and so forth. When you don’t have a male (father) tied to your family register, you are instantly stigmatized and looked down upon. As such, a lot of the women described this in their letters as one of their reasons for relinquishing their baby– they knew how their culture treated illegitimate children and didn’t want their child being exposed to such harshness and inequality. At least in America, their child may be lucky enough to escape these erroneous judgements, albeit in place of another set of judgements.

See?
I really do understand how all of the parts of their culture are interconnected and I’m confident that I could explain the adoption phenomena that occurred in the 80s with a holistic approach. (Someday, I hope to do just that.)

But it’s still not enough to alleviate the hurt of what I’m experiencing.
And it doesn’t even begin to take into account the status of the relationship with my adoptive parents and the accompanying guilt and confusion.

Narrative

I’m almost finished reading Found: A Memoir by Jennifer Lauck. It is the story of Jennifer’s life and the journey of how she overcame the demons of her past. Part of it gives me hope, but the remembrance that ‘that’s her life, not mine,’ leaves me disheartened.

Nonetheless, as I was reading it, there were various passages that I found which resonated within me. Here are the passages (italicized), presented more like a narrative than a series of unconnected passages.


It starts at the beginning, from the day I was born. My thoughts drift to my mother as I imagine that I would have also listened, intently, for the timbre of her voice; I would have tested the air for her scent; I would have reached out to make contact. When these sensuous experiences were nowhere to be found, when the woman who I had been tied to for months was nowhere to be found, I wonder if I was like many babies who lost consciousness…over and over again. What is not commonly known—although it is common sense—is that within moments of separation from the mother, a newborn will experience outrage, panic, and eventually terror. Within forty-five minutes, studies show a baby will go into shock and lose consciousness. Once the baby awakens, she will use her senses to search for her mother again and if the mother isn’t there, the baby goes through the same process. Imagine what this shock must do to the brain. The only mercy for the baby (and the brain) is amnesia—shockbased unconsciousness. I’m not sure about the supporting research, as this sounds a bit dramatic, but I do know that my first compass, my first sense of being in this world, had been as an abandoned child whose mother did not hold her and later, did not search for her. Unloved. Yes, I had a strong sense that I was unloved and unlovable. I know these sentiments all too well, as they accompany me throughout the day and well into the night, often disturbing my slumber as their full realization bears down with an insurmountable weight. It’s unbearable.

And it’s nothing that anyone can help with because how do I not take it personally? How do I not make a leap and say it must have been me—that I was lacking or worthless in some essential way? How do I overcome these feelings of lack in order to find my true human value when my own mother placed no value on my presence in the world?

So all I knew at the age of twenty was that I was in pain and no one could help me. I considered suicide as an escape. But instead, I’m doing my best to cope. To cope with the pain I have been feeling for most of my life and have been denying and redirecting, I drink way too much wine late at night. Or, I get my bike out of the garage, pedal hard, and sweat myself blind as if in training for the Iron Man competition. Or, I press Spencer and Jo to my sides and read silly books like Captain Underpants and Bad Kitty. The latter is the only way to actually still the fury. Warm bodies, sweet breath, steady hearts, and the familiar sound of their laughter. They are whole and loved and kept children. Their proximity makes me whole and loved too—for a while.

The closer I get to finding my parents, the harder it is to effectively cope. I’m actually doing a terrible job, yet I’m still pressing forward. I was now getting very close to someone who had never searched for me and had potentially locked me away—as a deep secret. To bury something as powerful as life, which includes identity and selfhood, is to beg for it to explode to the surface. I am motivated, very likely, by the very power of the polarized system in which I exist. I am reaching for the light of my truth. One more moment of being suppressed is unbearable to me. It isn’t me that creates the condition of urgency. It is actually Catherine, by her denial of me, who provides much of the momentum.

As I press forward, I realize that I just want the person who has denied me all these years. I want my mother and father. And I want to tell them “Love me. Take me home with you. Don’t leave me again.” I need to find that happiness that can only be filled by unconditional love.

Just like I need to find a way to be whole, okay, and right. “It’s as if you have put yourself on hold—from a sense perspective—from the moment you were born, and the only one who can take you off hold is your first mother […] if you find her and spend some time in her presence, you will find your Self begin to take truer shape. You’ll establish a firmer base than you’ve had—you will stop being so defensive and so afraid. You’ll be able to move on. It’s as simple as that.”

Moreover, maybe I’ll be able to find (more of) an identity. One thing that Jennifer learned was that she lacked a Self. When asked a series of rather mundane questions such as favorite book, favorite food, favorite ice cream, favorite flower and so forth, all of her responses were inconclusive and she realized she didn’t have any “favorites,” crediting this to too many choices. However, she soon realized that there was no “I” in “me” and her questions finally pinned me down and brought me face to face with the horrible truth. Maybe this explains why I have such a difficult time answering the same questions. Or maybe I’m merely trying to make myself feel okay about having the annoying inability to make simple decisions and provide simple input. (I’m guessing it’s the latter.)

Regardless, I just hope that this journey is helpful and not harmful.


All of these passages help me understand why I am who I am, although I’m not sure of their scientific accuracy. It helps me think ‘maybe that’s why I’m like this…,’ even though I’m a strong believer that you create who you are (yet another large contradiction). Still, I can’t help but hope that at least some of it is slightly accurate, mainly because I need a reason to be okay with who I am, one that is outside of being fundamentally flawed.


SHE IS WICKEDLY SMART. She is hysterically funny. She is fantastically gorgeous. Not necessarily in that order. And yes, there is even more—good things, every single one—but she won’t allow herself to consider herself in such grand terms. If she thinks of herself with any kind of praise, a feeling of itching anxiety sends her running to organize a drawer, fold laundry, wash the floor on her hands and knees, or clean out the refrigerator. As she fritters over these meaningless tasks of order, she fills her head—like a countermeasure—with all that’s flawed. You talk too loud, your rear end is too big, your nose—what a honker on your face, and you’re not really that smart, no, you’re just street smart. You’re scrappy. The voice in her head is a combination of the voices she’s heard throughout her life: Richard, Peggy, Deb, Auntie Carol. And the voice is also unique. It is her own. The voice is like a form of protection—a firm taskmaster that needs her to lay low. It tells her she will die if she brings attention to herself. The voice believes that to know her merits is dangerous. Such knowledge would put her one step away from becoming arrogant or proud and both of these very human qualities would then lead to her standing out in the crowd. To be outstanding would bring attention, and to bring attention would make her a clear target. The voice tells her she is most safe when she is below the horizon line and behind the scenes. When she tidies up, helps without complaint, and follows the rules, all is well for her. Anything else, any large expression, is disaster.

But deep below the surface of herself, there lives another truth. It is a seed, awaiting the mysterious conditions necessary for a new self to emerge. One day, those conditions will exist and the voice in her head will stop ordering her to drop down low and she will rise from her hiding place, scramble over the edge, and stand to her full and glorious height. She will dust the dirt of the past off her shoulders and legs and then, she will take flight. A phoenix rising won’t be her metaphor. Such a suggestion will be too puny and passé. She will be without a name, an awe-inspiring sight, and will rise as bright as the sun. Right away, in one blink, she will merge into that light. Most won’t see the ascension of the small human who once lay so low. When people finally look, trying to see this magnificent sight, she will be no more than a speck in the forever blue.

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.

Thanksgiving Reflections

Being thankful and expressing gratitude has never been hard for me, however this year I found it incredibly difficult. Actually, it was nearly impossible.

While thinking about the perfect words to express what I’m thankful for (for a Facebook status of course), I realized that all of the words felt empty and meaningless, like something being said merely for the sake of saying something. I had lost the ability to articulate, or even come close to articulating, what I’m thankful for. This was deeply troubling, as what does that say about someone?

Slowly, I realized that I still felt a tremendous amount of gratitude, however due to all of the contradictions and conflict occurring within, I couldn’t find a way to clearly express everything (nor did I feel right in doing so).

This entire search process is being conducted in secret; only two other people know. As such, I’m constantly carrying around an overwhelming sense of guilt when surrounded by friends and family, as keeping something this big a secret is nothing short of inauthentic…and I have a big problem with that.

But, perhaps the worst part about this search is that it juxtaposes the feelings I have toward my birth parents with those toward my adoptive family; pulling me closer to one and pushing me further from the other.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, my adoptive family and I are not close…at all. I know that they love me and I love them, but we’ll never have that deep love for one another that is only achieved by truly knowing the other. I’ve come to terms with that and sadly, I’m well beyond the point of wanting it. (And I get that this admittance makes me a horrible person.)

While eating Thanksgiving dinner I saw a stream of pictures of my brother with his sister-in-laws, each picture accompanied with a full recount of the corresponding memory. Watching the happiness beam from their faces and hearing their laughter as it reverberated throughout, I couldn’t help but feel happy for him; happy that he had found a sister(s). I can only hope that having found them helped fill the void that I (might have) left, and that it has given him peace (that is, if he was ever conflicted by our lack of a real relationship).

This led me to thoughts about my parents and how thankful I am that they have a son that they’re able to be close to; someone to receive that treasured parent-child connection from. Nonetheless, I’ll always feel guilty for not giving them that relationship from me.

The next day, while eating leftovers with my dad I became inundated with sadness. As we were silently eating I looked over at my dad and noticed how he would turn his attention to the television in the background and then back to his plate, rarely looking up at me. While his eyes were downcast, I could see and sense his sadness at the display of how distant we were– two people, not talking and not even looking at each other. His sadness instantly became part of me, and as I melded it with my own, this image of the epitome of sadness forever etched itself into my memory. It was enough for me to want to breakdown and say “I’m so so so sorry,” but as the sadness of it all overtook me, I found myself hurrying to escape the room.

All of this is occurring in the context during a point where my mom and I aren’t on speaking terms. After hearing about things she has said regarding my current life decisions, one of which being that the reason my ‘life-fail’ occurred was because I “no longer had Jesus,” I find myself actually angry for the first time. I feel cold. And I hate that; it’s so uncharacteristically like me.

Needless to say, this Thanksgiving has been rough and has left me hoping that the holidays hurry up and pass.

The faster, the better.