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.

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

14 thoughts

  1. You write so well, your pain is so palpable, I can almost feel it. People can be so thoughtless with their words when they say “I wish I had been adopted”, I can only hope they read your post.
    I have been reading your posts for a few months and your honesty and strength continue to amaze me, I truly hope and pray that one day you will find the joy and peace you seek. I had never really thought about transracial adoption issues until I began reading your posts and I really appreciate your thoughtful and insightful comments, I am so glad you are writing and getting the message out there.

  2. Ah, JR, you put this into words so eloquently. Every day, every day! I wish to meet birth family. It is a constant, underlying hope. I know things aren’t easier after reunion, and in many cases, whole new arenas of grief and confusion and anger occur, so I don’t want to romanticize it, but it feels like more than chapters are gone. The whole series is missing. And for a book lover, it’s not only maddening, it’s also tragic!
    Thank you for such a lovely post.

  3. I’m really glad you wrote about this, JR. I have been intimately familiar with those green-eyed feelings of jealousy, too, before my search produced results. You’re right in that reuniting helps fill in those missing pages, to a certain extent. Either way — reunited or not — I think what you, Mudeng & other friends have expressed, as well as what I and some of our other reunited friends have expressed, just goes to show that any way you slice it, adoption brings with it irreplaceable losses. The trauma and devastation cut us deeply, and some wounds never heal.
    I fiercely wish for intros and prologues and first chapters for you.

  4. I had an atrocious childhood and I don’t wish I had been adopted. I know who I am and who I look like, I know when I am being like my mother, I know my family history. I come from a long line of women writers. My daughter who was separated from me by adoption is a writer too.

  5. Oh Jae Ran. My heart really ached with you as I read this post. I have also had so many people come up with that terrible “I wish I was adopted!” line. It stings. They have NO IDEA.
    I feel very fortunate to have had a reunion with part of my birthfamily. It hasn’t been easy. But I do feel that the truth, and ANY story, is so much better than no story. People ask me if I regret finding my birthmother because it has often been very painful. NO. I don’t regret a minute of it. I’ve often felt jealous of adoptees with “better reunions.” Does it ever abate?
    I wish for you some answers, and some of those missing pages.

  6. How absolutely amazing- you and I wrote virtually the same post, used almost the same picture and on the same day. Doesn’t it blow you away how connected we are as adoptees? How wonderful it feels to have our feelings validated by seeing others experiencing the same emotions! This is actually freaky in coincidence. On some level I think we are all kindered spirits.
    I guess saying I understand would be a bit of an understatement wouldn’t it? ;o)

  7. I have these feelings as well. I belong to several groups so I know a lot of adoptees but some times it is so hard to watch some come along and within months, reunite. Even though I can see the emotions they are going thru, whether bad or good, it can make me sad and jealous even though I am happy for then.
    Great post.

  8. I think one of the worst aspects is the guilty feeling you get when you have to try and set aside your own feelings of sadness and grief in order to be happy for someone else’s success. I’ll never forget standing with my friend when his birth family, all 8 or so of them, walked in the door. Just to see how much he resembed his sisters – it was truly amazing. And yet I was numb. And in some ways, still numb today.
    Mia, I think what you wrote at the end of your post really struck a chord with me. Apologizing for not being able to celebrate. Wow, it was like you were reading my mind.

  9. Yes, the “I wish I was adopted” drives me mad. It is so ignorant,it is so invested in the idea that an adoptive experience is necessarily positive.
    Great post

  10. I am shocked and so sorry that people would say “I wish I was adopted,” especially not an adoptive parent. I’m not even sure what they mean by that. I hope for my daughter that ultimately her life is a very beautiful thing, despite loss and tragedy and, as you say, devastation. But I would never have wished that loss, that tragedy, on anyone in the first place.
    I’m sorry for your loss of the possibility that you had found one another in that family. I can’t even imagine that kind of trauma. I hope very much that someday you do have some of those first pages, even while I know it will not restore all that was lost.

  11. Thanks for writing this, Jae Ran. I’ve yet to find the words to express how my own reunion-envy, the sorrow that comes with it and how all of it has manifested itself in my life.
    Even knowing that finding birth family would open up a brand new chapter of complexity and even grief, I still want to experience that. It has to better than the vacuum I carry around with me now.
    The last time I heard “I wish I was adopted”, all I could do was shake my head and say, “You have no idea.” And of course, they didn’t. People are use to Little Orphan Annie and Disney’s happy-ending orphans. Hopefully, our voices speaking to the contrary will change that.

  12. I have never once found a post by another adoptee that echoed, so clearly, every thought, sentiment, feeling, fear, wish I ever had growing up, that I still have today. It is incredibly alarming to see your thoughts written by someone else’s hand, but overwhelmingly comforting at the same time. This is honestly one of the first times in my life I have not felt the suffocating feeling of being ALONE. Thank you – for your words and for your honesty. And for helping me realize that I am not as isolated, or as abandoned, as I thought.

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