‘Was I a mistake?’ I was terrified she didn’t love me. I kept trying to be the ‘perfect’ person.’: Korean American adoptee searches for birth mom, ‘I’m thankful she gave me life’

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“At the beginning of March 2020, I began a birth search to try and find my birth mom. Less than two months later and with the help of my amazing social worker in South Korea, I found my birth mom and learned the sweetest news.

I was adopted from South Korea when I was 4 months old and began my birth search a few weeks after my 25th birthday, so it has been quite the journey to bring my birth mom and I back together. One that has been filled with rejection, grace, redemption, heartache, and most importantly, love.

Courtesy of Kara King

I began to explore more about my adoption story and Korean heritage when I went away to college. Being on my own was a big wake up call for me to understand my family was not the ‘norm.’ I quickly learned a Korean American adoptee who grew up with white parents and a white older brother in Middle Tennessee was not something people thought of as being a typical family unit. I will never forget my freshman orientation week when someone asked me what I ate for dinner at home or the countless times I was mistaken to be an international student. I was shocked at the number of assumptions placed on me simply because of my outward appearance. To be completely honest, even though I am Korean on the outside, in many ways I feel more white than Asian because of my experience growing up in a white family. So, going to college where people thought I could speak multiple languages and thought I had traveled thousands of miles to be at the college was confusing and hurtful. I felt like I had to explain my story and for the first time, I questioned my identity as an Asian American woman and what that meant to me.

Courtesy of Kara King

While in college, I had the opportunity to travel to South Korea twice, which impacted my life greatly. My first time back to Korea since being adopted was in 2015 when I stayed with a college friend who was an international student from Seoul. I stayed with her over winter break and fell in love with the country. Not because it was my Motherland, but because it was a beautiful county with generous people and amazing shopping and food. On this trip, I did not explore or try to learn anything about my adoption because one, I did not feel ready to open that door, and two, I really wanted to make that journey with my parents.

Courtesy of Kara King

That dream came true in 2017 when my parents and I traveled to Korea after I graduated college with the intention of learning more about my adoption. I still wasn’t ready to try and find my birth mom, but I was ready to discover more about my birth culture and what my life was like before being adopted. My parents and I traveled with an organization that specifically help adoptees and their families travel back to their homeland. While on this trip, I was able to meet my foster mom, visit my adoption agency, and explore my birth city. It was a surreal experience to visit and meet these people that, for years, I had only read about in my paperwork. In many ways, my life before being adopted felt like a fictitious story because I had nothing real to base it on. But on this trip, I embraced and visited my foster mom, the woman who cared for me my first months of life before my parents came to bring me home, I touched the walls of the hospital I was born in, probably the last place my birth mom and I were together, and I walked the streets of the town I would have grown up in had I lived in Korea. These people and places were no longer just words on a page for me but very real and tangible pieces of my story.

Courtesy of Kara King
Courtesy of Kara King

When I returned home, I was a bucket full of emotions. I felt this immense amount of joy because of the experiences I just shared with my parents in my birth country, but I also felt incredibly confused, lost, and this heavy sense of unrest. The following year was one of the hardest years of my life because I was faced with confronting feelings and emotions I had been repressing for years.

During that time, I experienced two major ah-ha moments. The first one was I realized I deeply fear rejection from my birth mom. Can we all agree that rejection sucks? Whether it’s being rejected from your dream job or major crush, rejection is like this infection that lingers and says, ‘Hey, don’t forget about me.’ To be honest, I think I feared being rejected by my birth mom for most of my life, but it was too scary for me to admit and work through. I pushed those feelings down and covered them up with getting good grades, being a good child, being a hard worker, trying to be a ‘perfect’ person so there would be little room for someone to actually reject or not like me.

Courtesy of Kara King

Growing up, people asked me if I would like to meet my birth mom. I remember quickly and awkwardly dodging the question and saying something like, ‘Oh, no I don’t think so. I just don’t feel like I have to.’ Now, that wasn’t a bad answer. I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer when it comes to an adoptee considering doing a birth search. However, what was wrong with my answer is it came from a place of fear. I remember when I was younger, trying to think about my birth mom and my mind would just go blank. I was so scared she was angry with me or didn’t even think about me that I just pushed her away. I thought it was safer for me to reject her before she could reject me.

Courtesy of Kara King

My second ah-ha moment was I realized, deep down, I feared my birth mom didn’t love me. I came to terms with this fear when I was asked the question, ‘What would you ask your birth mom if hypothetically everything worked out and you had the opportunity to meet her?’ My mind quickly filled with questions like ‘Was I a mistake?’ or ‘Do you think about me?’ or ‘Are you upset with me?’ I realized, again, all those questions came from a place of fear. I was terrified my birth mom did not love me and was horrified at the idea I may never truly know how she feels. I was stuck in that dark pit for quite a while until one day, my counselor asked me the simple question, ‘Do you love your birth mom?’ I was so worried and engrossed with thinking about what she thought of me that I never stopped to think about how I felt for her. It was like in that one moment it all clicked. Yes, I do love my birth mom. You know on Oprah where she was like, ‘You get a car! And you get a car!’ That is how my heart felt at that moment. I just wanted everyone to know ‘I love my birth mom! I love my birth mom! I love my birth mom!’

Courtesy of Kara King

Often, we worry so much about what other people think about us that we miss what is right in front of our faces the whole time. I knew then if one day I got to meet my birth mom, I would just want her to know I love her and am so thankful she gave me life. I knew at the end of the day, that was what really mattered, and if she felt the same for me, then that was just the cherry on top. No matter how she felt, my love for her could not be taken away because true love gives and doesn’t take.

Fast forward to February 13, 2020, my 25th birthday. Birthdays feel extra special to me as an adoptee because I think of it as more of my and my birth mom’s day to celebrate. It is probably the last time we were together, and I couldn’t help but wonder if she thought about me on this day too. I remember talking with other adoptees who had been on the birth search journey already and asking them when they knew they were ready to search? They simply answered, ‘You will just know.’ At the time, it was a frustrating answer because I had no idea what that meant. How could someone ‘just know’ they were ready to do something of such a great magnitude like a birth search? However, as usual, when you are ready, you do just kind of ‘know.’ It was this sense of peace and trust I knew the time was now.

Courtesy of Kara King

I officially sent in my paperwork to begin the birth search process at the beginning of March. It was a rollercoaster ride of emotions during the waiting period to see if my birth mom would respond. What was so hard about this journey is I had absolutely no control over the outcome and really no idea what to even expect. There was a myriad of scenarios that could play out — my birth mom could have passed away, she could choose not to have contact with me, she could receive the telegram but not respond, never receive the telegram because there was no updated address for her, etc. If you have ever seen Avengers: Infinity War when Dr. Strange is trying to find the one endgame solution, yeah that is pretty much how my mind felt when I was trying to think of the one outcome of my search. However, nothing really prepared me for the email I finally received two months after I began my search.

Courtesy of Kara King

On April 13, 2020, I received an email that forever changed my life. I was with my parents and brother when I received the email from my social worker, and I remember staring at the unopened email for 10 minutes. My hands and heart were trembling because I knew I was one click away from the happiest day of my life or the hardest. I finally mustered up the courage to open the email I had been praying and hoping for my whole life. I then read the sweet news my birth mom called the agency in tears herself and wanted to have contact with me. Tears of joy streamed and prayers of praise were prayed and gratefulness filled the night.

Since that beautiful night, my birth mom and I have written one another multiple letters and shared pictures, and I can confidently say I know who I look like now. I know this story could have ended very differently, so I’m just so humbled and can only praise God’s goodness and faithfulness for allowing us to find each other. It’s the most amazing gift to know who my birth mom is, that she loves me, that we look alike, and that she never forgot about me. Having these answers after living a life of mystery for so long just feels like a dream.

Courtesy of Kara King

In many ways, it feels like my life has completely changed but also like nothing has changed at all. This has been the hardest and riskiest journey of my life, but one I would never change because of the lessons it has taught me and the strength it has given me. It has been my lifelong wish to know who and where I come from, and it is nothing short of a miracle I now have that answer.”

Courtesy of Kara King

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kara King from Murfreesboro, TN. You can follow their journey on Instagram and their Etsy shop. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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