The way I tell my story today, is very different to the story I told even just 4 years ago. I was never shy about the telling of my story, people are fascinated by it, and I was happy to oblige, with the words flowing easily, and I could tell it verbatim: I am adopted, I love being in Australia, I am so lucky to have been adopted. I would even throw a joke in saying how much I didn’t like eating rice, so I would have just starved on a Korean diet. Today, I hold my story much more protectively, and even in trying to write it down, the complexities of it make it almost impossible to find the words that will convey all of the joy, love, respect, resilience, trauma, sadness, scarring and loss.
I was adopted in 1984 in South Korea where I was relinquished at birth. My foster mother cared for me until at 4 months of age until my Australian parents travelled to Korea to bring me to my new home. My parents had friends they met at church who had adopted a Korean boy in the same year and after an unsuccessful attempt at adopting from a different country, my file came up. My parents had a biological daughter who was 15 at the time of my arrival and two years after bringing me home, my parents adopted another Korean child, a boy.
My parents divorced when I was five, after a very tumultuous marriage. The house was filled with a passionate love for each other but there was also emotional and physical abuse and my sister had left home earlier, at the age of 17 due to conflicts with my parents. My brother and I had a few visits to foster carers and child homes during the separation of my parents and when the divorce was finalized, my brother went with dad and I stayed with mum. This arrangement lasted for about a year, until such time mum tried to take her own life and I came to live with dad and my brother and my stepmother.
The years in between then and when I turned twelve were very unstable years. Mum was diagnosed with breast cancer and spent 6 years in and out of hospital. She was also fighting for custody of my brother and I and the family was in and out of court for this entire duration. I had always had a strong bond with mum and I wanted to live with her, but she was hindered by her health and she had been diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. I know now she suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder which caused her to behave unpredictably, at times violent and manipulative. However, my relationship with mum was the most real thing I had in my childhood and she is how I learnt true love, empathy, respect and how to fight for the things I want in life.
Dad and my stepmother were the polar opposite. The household was devoid of any emotion and I was frequently punished for no good reason. I was neglected both physically and emotionally and also abused emotionally. Seeing mum was like having a refuge, even though many of the times we saw her were filled with violence and unpredictability due to her mental illness. However, tragically, after a year of being in cancer remission, mum took her own life.
My early 20’s were my most tumultuous years. Years of rejection and abuse had caused me to become very depressed. At the same time I was doing a lot of soul searching and trying desperately to reach the light at the end of the dark tunnel, in the hopes of leading a more content life. In the end, I stopped speaking with dad, my stepmother, and my sister – who had taken on many abusive traits similar to dad and my stepmother. It was then that I was able to begin to heal.
About 2 years ago I first started speaking with other adoptees after I came across a Facebook group for Korean adoptees. I had not been able to find any resources in my previous searches and I had just come back from Korea where I had met my biological family for the first time and was hoping to make a connection with others. Meeting my family was joyous but I also spent months in grief following the meeting where I mourned the life I was perhaps living in a parallel universe – one where I was loved and wanted and grew up without the trauma of this life.
The first time I met up with other Korean adoptees was the first time in 28 years that I’d realized that I wasn’t a crazy person and that many of the terrible things I had thought about myself weren’t just limited to me. In particular, it was amazing to hear that others too had become “people pleasers” in a subconscious effort to stop people from leaving them – like their biological parents, and in my case, my adoptive parents. Also, how hard it was to grow up in a predominantly white country being the odd one out in your family and community. Development of personal and cultural identity was a very confusing journey for me. I never felt like I fit in. I was convinced I was the ugliest person on the planet and I never had a proper sense of home.
I hold my story close to me now because for all of the fascination and love it elicits, it has also been met with contempt, mostly and unfortunately by prospective and current adoptive parents. It saddens me greatly, as I have worked so hard to overcome the many traumas from my upbringing – but also because it means they are not acknowledging any responsibilities on their own behalf to really understand the impact of adverse events on an adopted child.
At that most primal level how could anyone but another adoptee begin to understand what it is like to know the greatest bond in the world, that of a mother and child, was broken – that you were not “enough” for your mother. Even those with a sunnier childhood’s than mine still bear the mental scars of their adoption. I know my journey will never be over – abandonment will continue to be an issue that will come and go forever. But I am proud to still be standing and will continue to strive for contentment.