Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Could've, Would've, Should've... Adoption Story

Today (Tuesday) was a sunny day in San Francisco, so I took the BART all by myself to San Leandro to visit my Imo (Korean word for aunt-mother's sister) and Uncle Stacy.

I wasn't going to meet with them if the weather was as bad as predicted--hail in some cases. Some parts of California even got snow this morning!

Anyway, I digress.

I learned today that my Korean mother and father WERE NOT indeed poor when my mother secretly placed me for adoption. Lack of income was a reason used in my file, and I kept that thought alive for the last 12 years. To me, it just made sense, and I never questioned it.

Apparently, my Korean mother had a lot of urging and pressure from my father's eldest brother. You see, my birth father and birth mother were the babies in their families. My eldest uncle on my birth father's side was a lot older-- when I met him in the year 2000, he was in his 70s. My birth father was in his early 50s. My uncle was a strong paternal figure for my Korean parents.

Anyway, my birth father's eldest brother pressured my Korean mother to have a son. I won't say much more than that, other than apparently he wasn't too pleasant about it.

My Korean mother was also superstitious. While pregnant, she went to a fortune teller. The fortune teller told her that her child (me) would not have a long life in Korea. Korean people tend to be very superstitious... but because my mother was still pregnant with me, she did not tell anyone what the fortune teller told her. (I knew she had gone to a fortune teller, but I thought that was after we reunited. I didn't know this influenced her decision to relinquish me.)

When she gave birth to me, she placed me for adoption in secret. She told everyone I had died. My birth father was away at sea, traveling between Korea and Japan for business. For some reason, I always thought he was a fisherman, but I don't think that's true either.

Nonetheless, my Korean mother felt she had no choice. I still feel so sorry for her because she must've felt terribly alone.

My Imo didn't know I was alive until I called her one day. I remember it being around the year 2000. I have a hard time understanding that because I got her phone number from my Korean family. I assumed she was given a "heads-up" about me calling... but tonight, my Imo said that she didn't know about me until then. So, either I misunderstood something, or that's really the truth.

Funny thing, my Korean mother and father were both so ashamed, but my Imo saw the good side. She said she told my mother that, "Michelle is a blessing." All of my sisters went to college, everyone turned out okay... and I was in the United States. A blessing, indeed.

And then... Stacy turned to me and said something like, "Yung (my imo) was upset because she would've loved to adopt you." My Imo then shouted, "Yeah!" It was as if she wholeheartedly agreed.

It was a simple statement, but it had just never occurred to me. Suddenly, a million thoughts rushed through my head... my brain was in overdrive. What would it have been like to grow up near San Francisco instead of rural Missouri? Would I know Korean? Would I have been me? What would my profession be? What would my parents, Charles and Sharon have done--who would they have adopted? Who would I be married to right now? Would I know I was adopted or would my auntie and the family keep it a secret? It's all totally plausible because Korean people tend to NOT be forthcoming... it's a cultural thing.

I told Jim, and it was a bit heavy for us. And, at the same time, as I left San Leandro, I felt a stronger connection to Imo and Stacy. They would've cared for me and loved me, for sure. But, I don't have any regrets, and I don't think they do either.

It also occurred to me that I have a greater responsibility to care for my Imo when she gets older. I am her only blood relative in the United States. She and Stacy don't have children... only a few nieces and nephews. They both are great people, and although I know they're happy, content, and competent, I worry about who will take care of them as they age.

The funny thing is that revelations can be small and seem insignificant in so many ways. At the same time, one sentence can trip you up for a few hours. Knowing my birth parents had the financial means to raise me seemed a little disappointing. Hearing that my aunt would've willingly raised me stunned me. It's not a big deal, but it is a big deal.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Finding birth family does not solve anything. It does not bring closure. It, in fact, complicates things and feelings. Sometimes I envy those adoptees who can still fantasize about their birth family and place them on a pedestal. They can still have dreams of being a "Korean princess", or a little Asian, orphan Annie.

At the same time, I wouldn't change a thing. My life has been so enriched, and it's forced me to take more pride in being Korean. I just told someone last week that I've spent more than half my life being embarrassed about being Korean... and I won't do it anymore. I won't let people tell me who I am. My life experiences make me who I am--whether it's from Charlie and Sharon or Won Gap and Hang Soon. Or my IMO... I am blessed, just like Imo said!

On a lighter note, check her out! She really cracks me up.


Gregory Holman said...

Michelle, this is a super-wonderful essay.

Anonymous said...

I love the person you became as Charles and Sharon's daughter. They are amazing people who deserve an equally amazing daughter. With your inate spirit, you would have shone no matter who raised you.

The fortune teller was right. You didn't live too long in Korea... because you've lived most your life in the US.

Unknown said...

I really enjoyed this post. It's an interesting story for sure.

I often think of the many Korean-born adopted people of this country and their journey.

I appreciate your quest for truth and understanding, though you may find that the search ends up giving you more than any answers you were looking for.

I'm also happy to see that you do not shy away from your history as so many do (due no doubt to external pressures as much as anything else).

I look forward to more.

I would like to note that Korean is not such a difficult language to learn. The Hangul alphabet is especially comprehensive and easy to pick up.

Though there is little international interest in learning Korean, many non-Korean people who have tried have been able to learn Korean with little difficulty.