optical illusions, 3D stereograms and eye tricks

Ever stare at one of those prints where you are supposed to cross your eyes and slowly step back and a 3D image is supposed to pop out of the picture?  Some people get it immediately and listening to them explain the image to someone who is not seeing it can be alternately humorous and incredibly awkward, especially if you aren’t seeing it either.  It feels like the world is conspiring against you and you are a complete idiot for not “getting it!” AND THEN, Eureka!  You see you and of course!  Why would ANYONE think it would be something else?

The crazy bit about those pictures is that once you see the new image, you can’t undo it, you can’t NOT see it.  The picture has changed forever.

I am always thinking about my ongoing obsession with topics of race, identity and adoption.  I have been preparing for a presentation to do with a friend and colleague on this topic.  We realized that our lives have come full circle and our paths have met again talking about the very same things 10 years ago!  I look at my bookshelves and half of the shelves are filled with writings of Asian American authors who through various memoirs, fiction and non-fiction, keep writing about these very same topics.

I have been reading The Accidental Asian by Eric Liu again and Child Catchers by Kathryn Joyce.  Interesting mix of reading but pretty much sums up where my head is lately.  Always seeking a metaphor to explain what my mind’s eye experiences, I liken staring at one of those 3D pictures to conversations on race, identity and adoption.  Once you see the pain, the loss, the injustice, the dishonesty, the hypocrisy, the racism, the aggression, the privilege…you can’t not see it and feel it and be changed by it.  Once you experience the amazing moment that someone gets how complicated adoption can be just by simply stepping into another persons narrative and holding it, it is impossible to not hope that others will see it too.

I saw some relatives this weekend while they were waiting for another one of their kids to begin the process of launching into adulthood, interviewing for college.  Along the way of our lovely coffee, we got to talking about adoption.  I love these relatives.  They are curious, witty, brilliant and always loving to me.  Someone they know is adopted and at the age of 50something, has been found by his birthmother.  His birthmother never married, never had any other children and was beginning to be described as a bit strange.  His children have a hard time relating to her and while they call her “grandma” they are perplexed by her oddity and cold ways.  Didn’t I think that was odd?  Didn’t I wonder why this woman went to great lengths to find her son only to be so cold and distant?  No, I said.  I didn’t think it was odd.  I began to use words like shame and grief.  I suggested that for her, I wonder if time has stood still?  She might have searched, but perhaps her grief has morphed to grieving the past AND the present.  Perhaps she doesn’t know how to convey warmth, never having felt entitled to show those emotions to her one and only child?  And now her grandchildren?…”Oh, I never thought of it that way…”

Onto the next story of how adoption has hit their lives, this time of someone young and in college and adopted.  He has been found by his birth sibling and has now learned that his birthparents actually got married and he has full siblings.  Wow!  How crazy is that.  Facebook found his birth family but not of his choosing.  How must THAT be like?  To be found?  Well, I was found too…I have to say, I hope he has lots of support and stability around him, he is in for one very interesting ride.  But I wonder if he knows he can create boundaries, can say no, can opt to put them at arms length…at least while he is still trying to figure himself out, as he is not yet a grown man still on the path of creating his own identity. “Oh right…you’ve got a point there.”

That moment, when the conversation goes from interesting anecdote to questions to a quiet, “Ohhh”…is that the moment that the 3D picture comes into focus?  Has the image created change in perception?

This is all in the course of one conversation and while the work I do generates a fairly higher percentage of these stories for my ears, I am reminded that the perception of adoption, about search and reunion, about birthmothers, about class and culture have felt more and more like I am seeing one image and they are seeing another.  I do not mean to insult, nor be hyperbolic in my claim that this feels like a burden in any way, but I am struck by how there can never be a casual conversation around these topics with me. But I struggle to find the right inviting words to stress just how desperately I want others to see what I see.

It is as important to have these conversations as it is for me to talk about the latest weather phenomenons, the latest credit card breach and what my kids will be doing for the summer holiday. It is essential for me in my hope that at the end of the conversation, there will be another person who will be moved to educate, correct, validate or invalidate their next chat with someone else. I am in the business of collecting allies, fellow seers of the 3-dimensional sides of adoption.

In reading Child Catchers by Kathryn Joyce, I started doing what I usually do, flagging pages and writing down quotes I didn’t want to forget.  After the first chapter, I stopped.  It was getting ridiculous.  Ms. Joyce has way too many noteworthy quotes.  I realize I have been in this work for a very long time since she mentioned just about everyone I knew or hear of in the field.  It has been scary and oddly satisfying to read that this person, a non-triad member, someone who had so little personal connection to adoption, sees my community the same way.  She sees the underbelly of adoption, the business of it, the ethical quagmires, the conflicts of interests and the suffering of the children who grow up having been pawns, not cherished human beings.  Her sarcasm and dry wit is palpable as she relays the messaging of various agencies, church organizations and prospective adopting parents.  Reading this book has made me understand that words like “orphan” and “adoption” have becomes so altered these days that I don’t recognize it for what I have always believed them to be.  I am beginning to wonder if I have been fooled all along and it is me that needs to re-examine those pictures again.


A typical morning dropping off the kids.  Ping!  My phone goes off.  Friend forwards me an article…

“My parents have moved on, but I am living in the past.”

Pause. Do I want to read this right now?  Will I just get pissy?  It is a special day, my sister is coming for a visit.  It’s a celebratory day.  A day that has become only for us to share as the date pushes further behind me.  A made up day to acknowledge I was born just like everyone else.

READ.  I hope you do too.  It is a good, truthful, raw read and I want to reach out this adoptee.  I am not often compelled to do that.  Sometimes, the media does it just right.  My friend and I each got something different out of it.  The feeling that one is without a home either in Korea or in America, the missing of the past, the inability to graft in the future.

“I look at how my father interacts with my half-siblings and it’s a relationship I will never understand. And to fully comprehend the fact that I will never have a relationship like they do is just devastating. I can’t do it anymore.”

I am reminded of my Umma and brother.  They have a relationship.  While I am not deluded into thinking they have an ordinary relationship, it is something I will never have with Umma.  I am her fantasy child, lost and found again.  She can’t come close to me and feel entitled to chastise, joke, tease or demand.  I am getting better at pulling her in.  I am hopeful she will follow my lead.


I love a well wrapped gift – the perfect amount of paper, tape well hidden and matching double sided satin ribbon to accessorize.  I have a tendency to want things wrapped up nicely literally and figuratively.  This one year anniversary of writing this blog seems to come with a desire to keep writing and doesn’t have that nice ending I usually seek.  This one year of writing thoughts of adoption and being adopted has been simultaeneously cathartic and agonizing.  It has allowed me to empty my head of the thousands of words I had stored up there only to find that the space got quickly replenished.  It allowed me to meet more adoptees, learn more stories and confirm for me that we are such an eclectic diaspora of experiences.

Anniversaries remind me that time keeps moving forward.  Yet, with time, I still feel unfinished about my feelings about adoption, my identity as an Asian American woman, my job as a mother and as a social worker.  Being part of the blog-world has opened up old wounds, questioned my loyalties and challenged my belief in civil discourse among adoptees.  I am astounded at the lengths in which we will take in defending a point of view about adoption and the amount of venom adoptees working in the field of adoption still recieve.  It has brought out the old defenses I thought I had put to rest once I left placement and my work at an adoption agency.  It has affirmed my dedication to continuing in post-adoption and working with the kids (and their parents) as they become another generation of adopted people.  It has given me wanderlust in being in Korea to do more of what I do there.  It has made me a seeker again.

At the same time, time being the prevailing teacher, I have met people this year I would probably never have had the courage to speak with about my thoughts on adoption.  On the surface it seemed we were on polar opposite sides and yet our adoption status has been the unique and most powerful connector.  I am humbly grateful.  It seems there is a newish revolution coming again of activism in the adoptee community.  I look forward to the opportunities blogging has given me to stay connected to those who want to change the way we talk about adoption and be included in parts of that change.

Anniversaries also remind me of what I have missed.  This year is marked by a second year without my beloved grandmother, which reminds me that love does not come in a human form but in the memories created with that human.  I miss her and her spontaneous way of calling me, “Honey child.”  It also marks more time that has passed between my adoptive parents and me.  While I continually negotiate in my head as to how I truly feel about that decision, I feel empowered each time I choose the love I seek to create rather than settling for a falsehood in the name of being a good adoptee.

This summer marks over 35 years that I have been in America.  And while I feel so very American, my orphanage, my Umma, my brother, my static life in Korea runs constant commentary in my head.  On paper, I was adopted long ago.  In my heart, I am still adopted now and it is this identity that clearly colors my thoughts, influences the way I hear things and continues to be the frame of reference from which I base much of my decisions about people, friendships, love and trust in others.

Perhaps adoption is not so far in the backseat of my life.  I think I am ok with that for now. Not everything can be packaged so neatly in the chasms of our heart.

Root causes…

Root causes for adoptions…

Could it be that we really don’t want to know the root causes?  Do we know the root causes a person is rendered unacceptable in a society?  You can’t have an “in” group without an “out” group – can you?  Are we all on the same page that family preservation is THE top priority?  Actually, can we believe it is about family at all?  Which family are we preserving and is there truly a right heirarchy of the kinds of families that matter?  Is that even OUR real top priority?

Whenever I hear adoptees speak, it’s not so much that they didn’t want a family.  In fact, all they seem to want to talk about is their family: the relationships within, the want for their family to be different, the want for acknowledgement by a family, to redefine the concept of family, to claim a family for themselves.  What trumps one family over another?  Who is to say that preserving my birth family would make me any more happy, secure, less angry, less anxious.  If I stayed with my birthmother, I am not so sure I would have looked at my life in terms of, “well, I may be poor, uneducated, but at least I wasn’t adopted!”  That feels awkward.  I can’t even say it outloud.

So here is a sacrilegious thought that keeps pervading my head. If the bond that binds between mother and child is so great, then why is being in reunion near impossible for some?  At what point can we actually stop and say that our birthparents were at fault in all of this too?  Not victims, but actual participants in perpetuating a faulty, non-child centered system?  There is the tale of the fourth, fifth, sixth child of a family being chosen to be given up.  And also the tale of extended family members posing as the birth parents to place their niece/nephew for adoption.  These are not the one rare exception, but time and time again, the same story.  Not in the adoption papers, but from the adoptees who have searched and reunited with their birth family.  How do we make sense of that situation in the broader context of whether adoptions should continue or not?

There was a time when I was obsessed with reading about the plight of the Korean comfort women.  Upwards of 200,000 women were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during 1930s-1945.  True Stories of the Korean Comfort Women edited by Keith Howard effected me deeply.  This book published the actual translations of the testimonies of the women who were forced into this slavery.  Adoption was in there as many of these women returned to Korea shunned by society and cast away from their families.  They became mothers through adoption and comforters of a different kind to children who were also cast away.  They found family and redefined it.  What a powerful message it was for me to know that the urge to mother was so great.

In reading these testimonies, I was struck by the way Koreans treated other Koreans.  It was after all the common thread that put many of these girls into such torturous situations.  It was a Korean face that enticed them into a bus or truck with promises of work and money.  It was Korean faces that cajoled them into believing that they made the right choice to go.  Everything about these testimonies is anger worthy, but the idea that these innocent children (yes, these women were children) were used by their fellow brethren makes me angry the most.  And for a minute, I think about that in adoption too.  There is plenty of fingerpointing to go around…but one could also be directed to our immediate flesh and blood.  In my mind, they were supposed to stand firm in their belief that family is all that matters.  Not always true.

Here in lies the quagmire for me.  I can neither undo my past, nor predict my future.  And yet, I live and form ideas based on my past in order to change my future.  I can not ever know if I was not supposed to be adopted and yet here I am.

Dear Dan Savage…

Dear Mr. Savage

I know nothing of your famous columns about sex.  I know you simply as the genius behind the “It Gets Better!” Campaign.  I love it and as a straight, Asian American, international adopted woman, I relate to it.  I even blogged about it here, I hope you get to read it.

It is no secret that you and your husband have adopted a child.  You boldly put it out there (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/11/fashion/sundaystyles/11LOVE.html?pagewanted=all) about the complicated, challenging, loving, heartwrenching task you have of maintaining an open adoption and thereby creating the possibility of a relationship between DJ and his birthmother some day.  As an adopted person, I am not totally comfortable knowing the ins and outs of all that you went through to maintain this relationship, and wonder what DJ might think about the world knowing so much about his birthmother years before he will be able to synthesize it for himself.  Admittedly, I was one of the many readers who could not stop reading it though.  I hope it helped some other adoptive parents out there.

I live in New York and was one of those people glued to the radio when the announcment came out that gay couples could now marry.  I am happily awaiting the day one of my church members and his partner can proclaim their love in marriage.  I have admired how much this issue has galvanized people of all orientations to come together in support of love.

It got me wondering…will the gay community help the adoptee community gain equality too?  As an adoptive parent, you know first hand that your children get an “amended birth certificate” and in places like New York, will never have access to their original birth certificate.  Does your son have an amended birth certificate stating you and your husband as his parents?  I wonder if you see any humor in that piece of paper?  I wonder if you are enraged at the untruthfulness of that document?

So, my question is simple to you and to the many in the gay community. Will you help us?  Will there be room in your hearts for equality for all, including your children?  Would you, and your very public platform, help adoptees around the United States gain equality and help them access their original birth certificates so they too might know who they were born from just like your son?

Thank you so much for your kind consideration.