I am one notarized document away from sending in all my paperwork to start the search for my birth family. And I feel weirdly peaceful about it. I’m about to embark on a life-changing process that has no predictability, that may reveal new, more complex emotions, that could hurt me, even. I know the risks involved and yet I’m walking deliberately in this direction. It feels right to do this now as the person I am now, if that makes sense. And as I reflect on everything, I realize one of the biggest feelings I’m experiencing in this moment is gratitude. Towards my mom.
I have listened around the adoption sphere enough to know that gratitude doesn’t have the best reputation. You know, gratitude: the concept of adoptees being indebted/grateful to their parents for being adopted or as some might even put it ‘saved’ from (insert some example of a decreased quality of life here). Just so we’re clear, this sentiment makes me cringe. Remember, I am the anti-pity girl who doesn’t need or want anyone’s charity! My mom didn’t save me from a third world country in the name of God or anything like that. And thank goodness. I honestly think I would be different today if I knew my mom adopted me as part of some grand humanitarian project. Heck. no. So, we’re clear on that, yes? I don’t feel as though I owe that kind of gratitude to my mom nor has she demanded it of me.
But I am feeling a different kind of gratitude and I wasn’t even thinking about it so much until yesterday. Mom and I were having a casual phone conversation when I brought up that I had finished filling out most of my birth search paperwork. She expressed how happy she was for me that I was doing this. And that’s all it took. I started crying and going on about happy I was that she was supporting me through it all. How thankful I was. I don’t even know if she understood half of what I said! I was just overcome with gratitude for her love and, maybe more than that, her selflessness. She said she would love it if I were able to meet birth family and keep in regular contact with them as a permanent fixture in my life. She acknowledged that this is an important part of who I am and who is she to stop me from pursuing it? It meant everything to hear those words spoken out loud. Everything.
I wish my mom’s attitude were the norm with adoptive parents, but I’m not entirely sure that it is after talking to other adult adoptees. I have friends who can’t even talk to their parents about their adoption without someone getting defensive and shutting down. It seems to me that some parents see their adult child’s interest in his or her roots as a threat. That they’ll watch their child grow up and then run away to Korea and never come back. It makes me so sad to know that this is the reality for many families. If this is how my mom felt, I would be heartbroken. This search is so significant for me. I think it has been easier for me to do things like go to Korea and pursue the search because she has accepted my decisions. She understands that me exploring my heritage and looking for answers does not take away from the fact that I will always, always be her daughter. She is not clinging to me with fear, but opening her heart to the possibilities.
I don’t want to leave this on some surreal, picture perfect note. Let me also be clear that we are not the sublime mother-daughter duo. We don’t do or say all the right things to each other every day. There are adoption things I bring up sometimes that I know she doesn’t ‘get’. But today I just needed to express my gratitude for the relationship we have. I realized that not all parents are like her. She has made the distinction that I am her daughter; not her possession. She was my soft place to land as a child, but I’m an adult now and she is learning the art of letting go while still supporting me. I asked her why she didn’t force me into doing the birth family search when I was a kid and she said, “I just knew you would do things in your own time. It was your choice.” Even when I was young, she was respecting my decisions and gave me enough room to let me become who I need to be. This is possibly the greatest thing my mom has ever given me and that is something to be thankful for, whether you are adopted or not.