Friday, January 13, 2012

Why I search

In the past six months, I have gotten a little more serious about my birth family search.  I wouldn't call it quite active, but the door is open for me to travel to Korea to appear on the KBS show "I Miss that Person," and I have built enough of a network that I feel I could pull off a somewhat diligent search when my personal resources allow.  In honesty, I can't say I have any hope that a search would be fruitful.  Nor am I sure I'd be fully prepared for the consequences of a successful search - but when can one really be ready?

The question I've fielded from a number of people is Why?  Why search?  When you already have a happy life, a wonderful family who loves you beyond measure, what could one possibly be searching for?  I can tell you that I am not searching for a family to replace the one I have.  I am not looking for a happiness that my own life denied me.  I'm not even looking for a "missing piece" of myself or my history.  What I seek is far greater in scope and much more difficult to explain.

The problem with trying to relay my motives is that I lack the vocabulary, and  I am also speaking to an audience who lack the frame of reference to understand.  But I'm going to try.

In the American culture, the vocabulary used to define and describe family is loaded with connotations.  Stop for a moment and think of what the word family means to you.  Look at the word parent, and pull it apart to all the ways it has been applied in your life.  Now mother.  At the most fundamental level, what is a mother?

Most adults I know cannot pull apart the concepts of parental love and biological kinship.  I mean this from the child's perspective - many adults I know have not experienced love and biology as mutually exclusive concepts and are therefore deeply ingrained to connect one to the other.  This is not a shortcoming of any person - it is just the way that our brains are able to make sense of the world.  To those who were raised by their biological parents, they do not even understand that "parent" carries both definitions - the roles and actions of a person who nurtures, loves, and parents a child vs. the spiritual and almost instinctive way that the parent is linked to the child.  One might understand this at an academic level, but there are implications on a deeply personal and emotional level that cannot be understood until the two concepts are cleaved apart.

How can you explain the parents who stand by their children who have committed murder, rape, or worse?  What causes us to forgive family members who have deeply wronged us, when we could never forgive a person outside of our biological circle?  Why do we place our own biological family, in most cases, in greater personal importance than any other person on earth?  It is normal and human to have a strong bias to one's own blood.

In parenting my own children, I observe the joy they take from having physical similarities.  I sense the confidence they gain from knowing that their parents are uniquely and biologically theirs.  They have a sense of roots, history and permanence in knowing that they were born into their perfect place in the world.

For children whose biological narrative is broken, they lack those experiences that most people don't even realize they are experiencing.  I will not speak for all adopted people, but I will speak for myself.  As I child I saw no faces like my own, and lacked that simple joy of physical validation.  I understood at a fundamental level that I was not unique - I was any child from any orphanage, and if I hadn't been placed with this family then another child would have.  I had no sense of personal family history - I felt my story began the day my airplane landed in the US, and that I had no roots.

Only as an adult am I beginning to reclaim some of that lost territory.  I find some physical validation in my children, I know that I am the unique and right mother for my children, and I know that my history will not end when I die.

But I choose to search because I should not have to find that simple human validation only as a mother.  In many ways, I had half a childhood.  This is no fault of my parents or greater family - I love them and they are truly my family.  My American family has not failed in any way.  I realize they may not completely be able to understand my motives for searching because they have had the luxury of knowing family to be both love and biology.  Most people believe that love is the definition of family, but that is because they have not had to isolate love from biology.  By default, biology is the most basic tenet of family.  Who can argue that it's not?

I know there are exceptions.  Please don't belabor the point with the myriad exceptions, or with examples of blended families.  This is just the best and easiest way I know to explain why I choose to search.  It is not something that every person can understand - and I don't expect every person to understand or agree.  If you comment in order to change my mind or make me feel I'm wrong, then you may want to examine your own motivations, and perhaps even your own insecurities.  My family is secure enough to know that their love and relationship are not in jeopardy if I am miraculously able to find my Korean family.

I'm not searching for something that is lost or missing.  I'm searching for something that, as a basic human right, has always been mine to claim.


  1. Can you contact me via email? I, too, am attempting my own search...

  2. Awesome explanation.

  3. I met an adult adoptee recently and asked him if he was in reunion with any of his first family. He immediately responded "No! I am perfectly happy with the way I was raised!"
    I said, "that has nothing to do with whether or not you might like to know your biological kin."
    But he was adamant that he would never want to betray his [adoptive] [not to mention deceased] parents by searching.
    I'm glad I'm raising my [adopted] children to know that loving me has nothing to do with wanting some consistency with their biological origins. (Thankfully they live in the city they were born in and have some contact with their birth mothers. Lucky us!)
    Best, best, best of luck in your search. I hope you are the exception and find someone. And it will be overwhelming, if you do, but you can do it--especially with your family's support, right?

  4. I am so glad you are back to your blog!

  5. I can't imagine myself asking someone 'why!' Why not!?

  6. Hi Raina,
    I was adopted as a child and searched for my birth family. I was successful in my search, though I no longer have contact with them. I remember reading books on searches after mine. One quote that stood out for me and still resonates is this one (I unfortunately don't remember the author): "every person has the right to look into the eyes of the person who gave them life." I am now an adoptive mother and it is very important for me to try to get as much information about my son's Ethiopian family as possible so he too can look into the eyes of the person who gave him life.
    I wish you success in your search,