“Be prepared for travel to Korea within the next four to eight months.” When I first read the email, I felt queasy, anxious, and utterly excited because at that very moment, time felt like it was happening at warp speed. Once my panic settled and reality set in, I thought, “This is definitely happening and I’m not even close to being ready.”
In order to prepare parents for travel, my adoption agency gave me a 47 page handbook. The purpose of the packet is to provide suggestions on how to best prepare myself for meeting my son. One section provides expectations for the first meeting. It clearly states, “It’s hard not to cry at the first meeting, but try to do as little as possible to create loud noises and anxiety in the room for the child.” After waiting nearly five years to finally become a mother, rest assured, there will be tears. How will I feel on the day when I’m actually able to bring him home? This is the same day when his foster mother, who has loved and cared for him, says good bye and hands him over to me, a complete stranger. This should seemingly be a joyful day filled with happiness, yet my son will be experiencing an incredibly traumatic experience filled with confusion and loss.
As I begin to prepare for travel, the logistical preparations of what to pack, where to stay, and what to bring on a 14 hour flight are necessary, but feel entirely insignificant. Now my thoughts turn to bigger questions like, “How will my son respond to me the first time I hold him?” “Will his foster mother want to meet him again one day?” “How will I be able to comfort him when he is grieving for her?” I’m beginning to understand that it’s naive to think I can be fully prepared to parent. Maybe parenting is like the game Hide-and-Seek. My son is “It” and he turns and calls out, “Ready or not, mom here I come.” I have no other choice than to begin and hope that sooner than later I am able to find my way to home base.
What does it feel like to be pregnant for nine months and make a birth plan to give your baby up for adoption? I can’t even begin to comprehend the unimaginable grief and loss that my birth mother endured. What is it like to know that you have a child but will never be able to experience a life together? When people learn that I was adopted from Korea, I often get asked the standard question, “Have you ever searched for your birth mother?” On the surface this appears like a seemingly simple question, but for me, the answer is extremely complicated.
Adoption doesn’t singularly define who I am. It’s one layer of my identity. Right now, at least for me, being adopted is more about knowing my identity than finding my Korean family. Certainly, there were times growing up and even lately when I wonder, “Do I have any siblings?” “Do I look like my birth mother?” Why did she give me up for adoption?” These questions will continually remain dormant in the back of my mind. I’m adopted. I will always wonder.
Now as I prepare to become a parent, many of these questions have resurfaced. A few months ago, I contacted my adoption agency. I thought, “I’m already traveling to Korea so I should at least try to begin the search for my birth mother.” However, I know it’s not that easy. Often times searches can take countless years to find a relative, much less a birth mother. And then, what if the improbable chance happens that I do find her? How do I start a relationship with a person who is a complete stranger? What are the expectations of someone who gave me life, but didn’t parent me? Maybe I’m not ready to open Pandora’s Box and release my unresolved hopes, sadness, and fears.
In the meantime, perhaps it’s enough to travel to Korea, experience the culture, and understand what it means to be Korean. And if one day my son declares the seemingly simple statement, “I’m ready to search for my birth mother.” I have a shared understanding because some days I have experienced that feeling too. The next time someone asks, “Have you ever searched for your birth mother?” I can simply and unapologetically reply, “No, not yet.”
During the time when I was struggling with my infertility, I also had to come to terms with the fact that even if we adopted, this would be my only child. I remember feeling unleashed with anxious nagging thoughts like, “Doesn’t he need a sibling to play with?” “Will he feel lonely?” “What will happen when I die and he has to face the burden of caring for me alone?” I know that these thoughts are based entirely on my own fears and assumptions of what I expected my family would look like. Even though, I can’t seem to shake my periodic pangs of regret.
I think family planning can be a life changing decision. I envy the parents who have the luxury to decide how many children will be in their family. In my case, life’s circumstances chose for me. Maybe I’m still struggling with the loss that I will have only one child. Isn’t that enough? Why don’t I feel more grateful? Shouldn’t I feel overwhelmed with joy that at least I get to be a parent?
One of my favorite writers, Elizabeth Gilbert, introduced me to the concept of holding on to the “stubborn gladness.” The idea was born from her favorite poem A Brief for the Defense written by Jack Gilbert. In one part of the poem he beautifully writes:
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure, but not delight.
Not enjoyment. We must have the stubbornness to accept our
gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.
I love how this poem compels me to find a quiet space in the center of my disappointment and loss and to take hold of the wonder and the joy-the “stubborn gladness.”