Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Meeting The Birth Parents

After almost seventeen years of wondering about them, we have met our oldest daughter’s birth family. When our daughter first found out that she would have the opportunity to meet them, the tears came steadily – tears of joy, tears of gratitude, and tears for their grief. I felt overwhelmed when I anticipated the privilege of being able to meet the people who gave my daughter life; the people who gave her life to me. I assumed that the actual meeting would be full of tears, grief and gratitude. When we prepared to leave for the Holt Children’s Services office in Seoul, I packed an extra package of tissue in my purse to make sure that we’d have enough to handle the onslaught of tears I anticipated. The initial meeting, my husband and I, our daughter and her birth parents, took us a bit by surprise and, while there were definitely a few tears and a few anguished cries of grief, they were short lived and the overwhelming feeling turned to joy as we exchanged gifts, looked at pictures and started putting together the pieces of our daughter’s birth story. In all we have met seventeen people in our daughter’s birth family – parents, siblings, a grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins. We are thrilled to finally have the chance to thank them for the wonderful gift of our daughter; to let them know how much she means to us and to let them see what a wonderful young woman she has become. They seemed to be celebrating the gift of having her back in their lives, of being able to explain the circumstances that led to her adoption, of seeing her loved and happy.

While the two meetings we have had were joyful and interesting, they were not the “fireworks” that I had expected. There were a few tears, but the smiles definitely outnumbered the tears. There was a little grief, but the happiness far outweighed the grief. I have struggled to define my feelings about the two meetings we have had with her birth family. I had expected extreme emotions, intense feelings, but the more accurate description would be the ho-hum of “normal”. It felt normal to meet these people; it felt normal to watch our daughter interact with her siblings; it felt normal to say, ”Thank you,” and to receive back a thank you from them. I talked with a friend about this lack of fireworks and she pointed out that, for us, we’d had our emotional moments when we first found out that the meeting was actually going to happen; then, the meeting itself, became the obvious “normal” next step.

It’s true that this is a huge event in our daughter’s life; it’s an event that affects our entire family in one way or another, but it was a normal next step for her and for us. It is certainly the beginning of a new chapter in her life, but how salient that chapter becomes in her overall life story is yet to be seen. I do know that I am thrilled that she is on the bus heading home with us.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Lesson(s) Learned

I’m sitting awake in the middle of the night in a town in central S. Korea. Tonight was supposed to have been our homestay night with a Korean family. Because of the size of our family it would have been two Korean families, actually; our family needed to split into two groups in order to be accommodated by the host families. The homestay is a part of this tour that I knew from the beginning I did not want to do. My husband and at least some of the kids echoed my feelings. For two months, since finding out about the homestay, my husband has been suggesting that I contact the group leader about alternative options. I did not make our concerns known, however, because I was really trying to go along with this “group trip” idea and I didn’t want to make problems for the group leaders. Well, as we made our way by bus to the city where we were to stay, my apprehensions grew and, eventually, popped. I lost my composure and “flapped” as my oldest son would say. My comfort level had been breached and I couldn’t move on. After talking with the tour leader I tried to say that we’d go ahead with the homestay, as planned, but he graciously offered us the option of a night in a nearby hotel.

I feel terrible about disappointing the two families that were to have hosted us. I am quite sure that they went to great trouble to prepare for our arrival. It’s especially ironic that this wasn’t comfortable for me since we love to host visitors in our home. However, I do not regret that we did not experience a Korean home; we will do that on a day visit with our oldest daughter’s birth family. What I learned, though (which my children had great fun pointing out to me), was that I should have followed my heart and spoken with the tour leader two months ago. Our plans could have been altered, the stress and apprehension could have been avoided and the two families would not have been inconvenienced. As my middle son said, “Mom, you always tell us that we should talk about what’s bothering us. You tell us that we can’t be helped with our problems if we don’t tell anybody that something is wrong.” Well, that’s just what I had done. I had not informed the people in charge about our level of discomfort with the plan and then the issue came to a head too late to remedy the situation without undue harm.

As I’ve sat awake tonight (I haven’t slept through the night since we arrived) thinking about what my son said, I realized that, in addition to needing to vocalize my concerns, I’ve also learned another lesson. Sitting here in the dark I realized that, in anticipation of this trip, I did not plan for my own care. I’ve been so concerned about helping my children through this trip back to their birth country and helping my oldest daughter navigate the experience of meeting her birth family, that I didn’t think about the toll that caring for others was likely to put on me. We’ve traveled a lot with our large family and I’m used to counting heads and herding children across streets and through crowds, but I’m not used to adding in the intense emotions that this type of trip was sure to have on my children and how those emotions also effect me. I’ve had in my mind that this trip is all about the adoptees on the trip, but the reality is, the adoptees are all part of families and we are all affected by the discoveries and, in some cases, the reunions the adoptees in our families are experiencing.

So, I should have talked to the group leader; I should have “used my words” as my husband pointed out and I should have acknowledged that this trip would be an emotional roller coaster ride for me as well as my children. Lesson...no, Lessons learned! (I hope.)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Parenting: Sometimes It Even Makes You Proud

For the second time in just over a year we are in a foreign country with all but the oldest of our children. Last year it was Europe, this year it is South Korea and for at least the second time in over a year I am immensely proud of our children. Let me assure you, they are not perfect; however, they do understand the importance of appropriate behavior, respect and open-mindedness. I have been amazed watching them engage in the culture of this country; watching them alter their behavior to fit the situation; watching them show interest in and respect for the customs and history of this proud land; watching them dive in with relish at new foods brought to the table, knowing that it is perfectly okay to say, “I don’t care for this,” once they have given the food a fair taste (though it rarely happens that they don’t like something once they’ve tasted it). Last night my husband and I sat back at dinner watching our kids as they talked with others in the group and with Korean photographers and tour guides; as they sat appropriately and enjoyed a 21 course meal; as they clapped at the end of formal welcomes, compliments and good-byes. Both of us were pleased with our kids – with who they are, with their interest, their exuberance, their willingness to listen and learn. Yes, sometimes (quite often, really), parenting can even make you proud.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Connections

It’s 5:00 a.m. and I’m watching the light begin to rise across the city of Seoul, S. Korea on the second day of a tour designed to reintroduce our children to their homeland. This is my sixth trip to this country and, while I would not presume to consider myself Korean, I definitely feel a sense of homecoming and familiarity when I arrive, when I walk among the crowds of people and when I open the curtains in the morning and look out upon the city.

I love my hometown of Portland, Oregon, USA and I’ve always felt a pull toward, and a connection with, Mt. Hood, the 11,000 foot mountain which towers over the city on its east side. In Disney’s movie Pocahontas there is a song called Colors of the Wind that is about connectedness with nature; whenever I hear that song, I think of how I feel about Mt. Hood. When our family visited Arizona several years ago, I was surprised to find the same sort of pull, the same sort of connectedness with the saguaro cactus that grows throughout the state. I now sit in the middle of the city of Seoul and, in a similar way, I feel a connection. It’s not a connection to a particular object like a mountain or a type of cactus; it’s a connection to this entire country, to the people, their customs, and their history. It’s true, I have an actual connection through the four children born here that are an integral part of my family, but in many ways, the connection I feel is personal; it does not run through my children. I think that if I were to have visited here, to have learned about this country before becoming the mother of children born here, I would still feel some sort of pull, some sort of familiar connection. While my heart bubbles over with warmth and satisfaction at being here, I wonder how many other places and objects there are that might illicit the same feelings in me. I hope to keep my heart and eyes open and my mind active with learning so that I might discover again this satisfying feeling of being connected to a place or an object that is not part of me. But for today, I will go out and relish the sights, the sounds, the smells and the wonder of this place that feels like home but which so obviously isn’t. I hope that my children will find this same connection.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Motherhood is a Miracle -- No Matter How it Comes to You

A couple of years ago I saw a plaque in a store that read, “Motherhood is a miracle – no matter how it comes to you.” That touched a note with me since motherhood has come to me in more than one way. My husband and I have children that were born to us, children that were adopted by us and a child that just sort of melded into our family – that I am a mother to each of them is, truly, a miracle. When we welcomed our birth children into our lives, there was the miracle of creating a new life; when our adopted children arrived, there was the miracle that we had been chosen and entrusted with the blessing of raising these children. As the mother of adopted children, I’ve always been aware that they have another family: their birth family. Even though we don’t have information about these other families, they are there, in the background of our lives. Over the years I have dreamed of meeting our children’s birth mothers; of being able to perhaps offer them some peace with their decision to place their child for adoption. I’ve wanted to let them know that their children are treasured, they are loved and they are growing up to be wonderful young people. Now, with our upcoming trip to South Korea, we will have the opportunity to meet our oldest daughter’s birth family and my emotions have been running on “high” ever since we received this news two weeks ago.

Now that we know more information about our daughter’s birth family, I am even more humbled and grateful that she became a part of our lives. I’ve been running through my mind the “what ifs”. What if she had not been born prematurely; what if her birth family had not made an adoption plan for her; what if, what if, what if. She is so much a part of my heart now that I cannot even imagine what life would have been like without her. A set of circumstances, fortuitous for us, led her to us and, while I have no doubt that those circumstances were devastating for her birth family, I am forever grateful that she ended up here.

My husband and I firmly believe that it is our duty to help each of our children with this type of search if that is what their hearts desire. While the reality of this upcoming meeting has left me with reeling emotions far beyond what I’d expected, my husband, my daughter and I chose this path and none of us regret it. While our entire family will be affected by this meeting, I know that this is truly my daughter’s “event” and that it is monumental for her. My husband and I will be beside her to help her, support her and love her. We hope she will take advantage of that and lean on us even as she stands up proudly to welcome her birth family into her life. Yes, motherhood is a miracle – no matter how it comes to you or how it comes back to you.