As an adoptee, I grew up in a wonderful, loving home that supported and nurtured me every step of the way.
For so many years, I felt that my incredible sadness was unwarranted, and that I was ungrateful for having feelings of deep sadness.
How was I entitled to this pain when it shouldn’t be there?
But the grief would leak out in outbursts of tantrums when I was growing up, and dramatic breakdowns as an adult. I finally realized that it wasn’t going away no matter how hard I tried to deny it. So instead of running from it, I turned to face it.
Terrified, I finally gave myself the space to grieve. I had stuffed it down so far inside of myself because I hadn’t believed I deserved this space, that when it finally came out, years and years of tremendous sadness came flowing out.
And so I grieved and grieved and grieved. My grief was a waterfall, and it continued to flow from every orifice of my body. It was infinite. I laid on the ground and let it cradle me as my body shook with primal, ugly cries.
During this time, I couldn’t always articulate why I was grieving so much. I was feeling the loss of my birth mother, my birth family, my country of origin, my language. Sometimes I didn’t understand it myself, but I knew what I was feeling, and it was intense loss.
As a developing baby in my mother’s womb, I felt her pain and her fear as her illness took over. And as soon as I was born, I was taken away from everything I ever knew: the sounds, the smells, the air. The mother who grew me in her belly was not ever coming back. I couldn’t help but fantasize in my head what life would have been like if she had lived. It was incredible to think that I would be speaking a completely different language and living halfway around the world.
During this process, I grew to appreciate the meaning of grief, and how painfully enormous it can get. It felt like I was being closed in, and that if I didn’t release it, I would drown. And the only way to minimize it was to let myself feel what I was so afraid of feeling.
I had to allow the guttural cries to come out and stay there for awhile. During this time, I was able to get to a place where I could greet it and get comfortable with it. I can feel, and I can let myself feel. I was no longer making myself numb to avoid it. It was a powerful feeling. I was no longer hiding from it. And as a result, I am awake to the rest of the world. As a result, I am now able to hold the space for others’ pain and grief and stay there with them.
This spring, my birth brother came to visit me in the U.S. It marked a time for healing from the loss for me. I had lost a mother, but I had gained a brother. And an entire family in South Korea. And we plan to stay in touch. They had been loving me all of these years, and I hadn’t known it. They had been missing me like I had been missing them. After all of the mess of my incredible sadness and grief, I have realized my own truth as an adoptee, found my birth family and most importantly found my voice.
I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and I am certain that by gathering the courage to face my fears and grief, I have gained an amazing amount of strength. And for that reason alone, I am grateful for this life that has brought me this magnificent lesson.
People often ask me if I wish my birth mother had lived, if I wish I was living in Korea with my birth family. Of course I have wondered about it, and at times have wished that was my life. But then I think: that’s not the life that was meant for me; this one is. I never would have known my adoptive family, who taught me unconditional love. And I never would have had the opportunity to embark on this incredible journey and grow into my own power as surely and wholly as I have now.
Without allowing myself to grieve, I never would have been able to realize that this is the life that was meant for me, and this is the life I want. I would still be stuck in my resentment and denial.
Every adoptee’s journey will be different. I understand that not everyone wants to find their birth family. Or they may not yet be ready, or they might not ever find their family after searching. This is just my perspective from the path that I am walking. I honor and respect everyone’s choice with whatever they decide. I know all too well the confusion and the struggle with the unknown. And even more so the confusion and the struggle when answers about the past start to uncover themselves.
I still walk this path, and still encounter darkness at times, but I know that I am not alone. I know that when I can no longer walk, I will be carried by the strength of all those who love me, and the strength that I have gained from this extraordinary journey.
And so I walk.
Author: Annie Ermanis
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Author’s Own