I was recently talking to friends of mine who are adopted and now parents to their own and the discussion landed on whether we see ourselves in our children. This is a topic of constant fascination and curiosity for me. As a young person, I would love to pore over my friends’ baby albums and look at their photos and see family resemblances. I am one of those who can spot familial characteristics in people and was in awe when I caught sight of them. I always wondered if I would see myself in my children.
Physically, my boys look like brothers and look more like their father. But being ethnically full Korean has made the distinctions between who they emulate a little harder to figure out. Remembering when my first child was born, truth be told, he was an exact replica of his father. I searched for similarities, but to no avail. Some mothers are amused when people say “well, if you hadn’t given birth, we would never know you were the mother!” I was not so amused. I needed to see something. I noticed his fingers were as long as mine and was a bit wistful that he got my very fair complexion, a source of great derision growing up. But as he is getting older, I am beginning to notice that it is his personality that most resembles me. Things like his fastidiousness, his anticipation of the end of a show and wanting to “go again” before it is all over, his quiet anxiety in new situations, his ability to smell things that most people miss, his love for new words, his stubbornness, his demand for control and his absolute dislike for loud noises are all things that match me. I was always under the impression being adopted contributed to many of these traits; that the transplantations of my early life was the cause of my cautious, stubborn and controlling ways. But to see it manifest in my son has made me question just how powerful was my adoption experience over my DNA?
The question of the impact of DNA comes up time and again with my adoptee friends. It’s kind of like the “chicken or the egg” dilemma. Are our children’s ways because of heredity or because of our life experiences as an adoptee that has influenced the way we parent, exacerbating some of those lovely neuroses?
To add to the mix, another set of DNA to consider. Son #2 came into the world and the question got posed again with different qualities of his. His quickness to kiss and hug when he knows he is doing something you don’t want him to do, his constant need to know where everyone is and only happy when we are all together, his tenacity to hold onto things, his loyalty and ah, too his stubbornness….me.
It wasn’t enough for me to just see such a nebulous concept as personality. I wanted to KNOW what they got from me. Having no baby photos made me more earnest with curiosity. That earnestness drove us to take that long trip to Korea when my first child turned one. I used Korean tradition as an excuse, but it was really so my birthmother could look at him and tell me he looked just like me. I needed to hear that she remembered how I looked when I was a baby. It will be the closest I could ever get to that baby photo in my head. I needed to photograph the moment she laid eyes on him…mother to child to mother to child.
That trip to Korea was awesome. In the privacy of a hotel room, our three generations met and it went just as I had hoped. Umma said just what I needed to hear and my son took to her immediately. I am still struck by how easy that was. And yes, he looked just like me! We couldn’t go to Korea for child too. But after sending photos, I was reassured again, he looked just like I did when I was born.
Motherhood has brought about some interesting reactions among my adoptee friends me. For one, to a woman, we all found it necessary to nurse our children. All of us persevered through the pain to make this possible. Is this a reflection of the time or is it us? I loved nursing my children and loved being so physically close as well as physically on demand for them. All of us carried our children more than used the stroller. I even bought the wrap every Korean woman uses to keep their child on her back. Attachment parenting had nothing on us. And, even for those of us who did not know our birthmothers, the thoughts of her came closer into view. Stranger still for the women who have daughters, that desire seemed to take on a life of its own. When my sister was pregnant with her daughter, she really mourned for her birthmother and weeped to know who she was. It was less emotional when she had her son. I wonder if having a daughter kindles something more visceral than having a son? No matter, the prevailing question was “how could it be?” We adore our children so profoudnly making it almost unfathomable to empathized with a woman who could “give away” a child she bore or understand the powerless position she was in that made her hand over her child to her ex-husband’s family with no assurances that she will ever see the child again.
Motherhood has also meant entree into another community, the community of Mothers. Never will this identity leave me no matter where I go in my life. Now and forever, every decision I make is first as someone’s mother. It is inspiring and daunting. No wonder so many want in.
I became a mother after years of talking about parenting to adopting parents. I gave advice to those who choose to adopt a child from the perspective of that child. Now all grown up, it is an interesting twist to call upon some of those women whose journey to motherhood was different from me, but whose love and support I have come to accept through their friendship. I have found a rare few who have allowed me into their lives to see the ugly and learn that love is unconditional. Thanks.