What Happens After Reunion?

by Matthew Pellegrino, adopted from South Korea to the USA, composer, musician, oboist. You can follow Matthew at Youtube or Instagram @compotatoser.

My omma and I over the years at the place where we first met. We come back here every time.

If an adoptee birth search was a fairy-tale, then reunion would be the “happily ever after.” As far as adoptee birth searches go, I’m statistically very lucky. Probably less than 5% (and that’s a high estimate) of all adoption birth searches have a result as positive as mine. I’ve been reunited with my family for a full 3 years now and sometimes if I think about that for too long, it’s completely mind boggling because it still feels like just yesterday that I was seeing my mother’s face for the first time.

Adoption is a complex, multi-faceted experience. It extends so much further and so much deeper than just “you were adopted.” The number of people affected by adoption is not just limited to the adoptee. There’s the birth mother, the families, generations of relatives, and society outside of the family. In my case, it’s a silent pain that my mother had to keep to herself for 24 years, my grandmother who knew I had been sent away and cried every time she saw a story about family reunions on the news, my aunt who wept after meeting me because she “should have been there to take care of me.” It’s also all the hardships we have yet to face together after reuniting. How do we overcome a language barrier and manage the pressures and expectations of learning to communicate with one another? How do we navigate our cultural differences in the face of the shame we feel? And how to we try to move forward knowing that this relationship has been forged and will continue to evolve for the rest of our lives?

Grandma at the head of the table, as she should be. She’s definitely in charge.

This is my story, so I feel it’s my responsibility to present it candidly. Not just the beautiful, “happy ending,” but also the complicated, messy and at times painful “ever after” of reunion — learning to be mother and son, learning to be family, after 20+ years apart. It isn’t easy, it’s a lot of work, but at the end of the day I am very lucky.

Check out the recent Transracial Adoption Story told through music and dance, which Matthew composed the music for, titled Dear Mother:

2 Replies to “What Happens After Reunion?”

  1. andestanley – Hi. I'm Ande. My name is pronounced On-dee. In 1999, I learned that my feelings over the years that something was a wee bit off in my family was ACTUALLY True. In my thirties, I accidentally discovered that I am an International, Stranger Adoption. Think adult woman locked in a restaurant handicapped stall, trembling, sobbing, dripping snot, wondering why her "mom" would consider a Fresh Choice an appropriate venue for confirming her suspicions. After returning home from that little humiliation, I began what I think of as The Great Paper Chase. This blog is about that chase. A little from the legal perspective, but primarily from the emotional and physical. Over the years, I managed to find a slew of clueless people, and a few well informed individuals, who helped me navigate applying for and receiving my paperwork. I encountered almost zero people able to help me with the arguably more important side of adoptee-dom. How do I cope with how all of this makes me FEEL? When I am feeling infantilized, what do I do? When I can hear my heart pounding in my ears and my head feels like it may explode into a hundred dangerous bone shards and a whole lot of squishy mess, how do I calm myself? Am I crazy for wanting my file, my original birth certificate, my proof of existence? How do I find the courage to open this damn envelope? Now that the envelope is open, what do all these squiggly lines actually mean?! Will I feel this guilt, fear, grief, shame, anger…forever?! I decided to start this blog as a way to explore the emotional and physical challenges of seeking our identities and adoption files, as part of community. I don't think of this as My blog. I think of The Adoption Files as Our blog. Our place to ask the questions, discuss the emotions, validate one another and plot the next steps in the journey. Along the way, I will share some of my experiences as a Late Discovery, International, Stranger Adoptee trying to make sense of the lies, the application forms, the attitudes and the consequences of reclaiming myself. I hope to hear from others as they apply for, receive or are denied thier paperwork, summon the courage to open those envelopes or emails, and read and reread the contents of those communications. I also hope to wheedle a few interviews with professionals in the legal and mental health and physical health communities who have valuable insights into how we, as Adopted people, can recognize the need for, implement and maintain healthy coping strategies so we can come through this process healthier and stronger than when we began. The goal is empowerment. The goal is also connection. Adoption life, what I think of as The In-Between, can be incredibly lonely. I have benefitted greatly in recent years from the discovery of this whole online world of Adoptees finding our voices and forming connections and sharing our stories. Every single one of them has helped me along the way, whether they know this is so or not. They amaze me every single day. If you are reading this, know that you are amazing. You are inspiring. You are not alone. We are United in more ways than we can imagine. Just one of those things that unite us is that we all have some form of paperwork, some absence of it, some document we are seeking. Now, let's talk about that paperwork.
    andestanley says:

    I am so glad you are talking about what happens after reunion. In talking to adoptees, I am finding that many of the adoptees with positive outcomes feel hesitant to talk about their experience, because of how rare it is. It’s funny, because television shows would have you believe that all reunions are great, when that is not the reality.
    I love that you explain that adoption does not stop with the act of adoption, and that the adoption affects more people than just the adoptee. Knowing our identity and history is something we give our kids (if we choose to have children). 💚

  2. Yeah, you see the fairy tale reunions, but you don’t really think about how the relationship will be afterwards. You just think in your head oh we will just pick up being Parent/Child, but that process is so much more complex. My own personal experience, I’ve reunited with my bio father. It was a sweet reunion with empty promises to work on building a relationship but after 2 years we are not in touch anymore. It feels like rejection all over again. But when you think about finding your bio parents later in life as I have done, there’s just a disconnect. We don’t have anything in common, live miles apart so there’s nothing bonding us. It’s at the point ok, I know where you are and that you exist. And you each go back to your day-to-day routine as if nothing major just happened.

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