by Hollee McGinnis born in South Korea, adopted to the USA, Founder of Also Known As (AKA), Assistant Professor of Social Work at Virginia Commonwealth University
Like many adoptees, the only pictures I had of my birth growing up were the ones of me when I entered the orphanage around the age of two that convinced my parents I was to be their daughter and photos of my arrival to the U.S. when I was three. And so, I felt as a child I had fallen out of the sky on a Boeing 747, walking, talking, and potty-trained.
Being born was foreign. I had no evidence of it happening to me, no one to be my mirror to remind me, except when I peered into a mirror and saw a face that looked foreign to me because it didn’t match the faces of those I called my family, peering back.
It has been a long journey to know ~ and accept and love ~ that face, this body, who held all the knowing of my birth. The terrain of my face I carry from my mother and father, and my ancestors in Korea. Yet, the laugh lines, the crows feet, are all imprinted from a life filled with love from my family and friends in America.
After I first met my Umma, my Korean mom, she gave the above picture of me (on the left) as an infant that she had carried with her to my foster Dad, who was the director of my orphanage, who sent it to me. I remember my Mom Eva Marie McGinnis and I both shocked to see me as an infant with my curly hair! She too had been denied any evidence of my infancy.
Later, when I saw my Umma again, she told me she had curled it and had taken this photo of me. She laughed heartily about taking the photo and it was clear that it brought back a happy memory for her. I tried to imagine the moment captured in this photo: my Umma taking the time to curl an infant’s hair (I must have been wriggling the whole time!), the clothes she picked, finding a place to pose me. All gestures felt so familiar, memories of my Mom helping me sweep my hair up, hunt for a beautiful dress, find a place for me to pose (see junior prom photo below).
Integration is a path to wholeness, and yet for so many adoptees this is not possible because there is no opportunity to find birth family, no photo, no memory to trigger the mind to imagine and make meaning. And so we are left with a vague sense of knowing, of course, right, I have a blood lineage, I was born. But we are only left with the aging features of our faces and bodies as witness that we were birthed into this world like the rest of humanity, yet are prevented from having any truthful information about it.
So my wish on my birthday, is for all adopted persons to have access to information about their origins so that they can have the affirmation of their birth and humanity. And I invite anyone who feels disconnected from their origins, to know you carry them in your body. Your ability to look in the mirror and see your mother and father with the love, compassion, and tenderness you would look at a baby picture is the photo you have been always looking for.
You can connect to Hollee at Insta @hollee.mcginnis
Read Hollee’s previous share at ICAV from 2014 on Identity