A Kid Who Looks Like Me

This post is by K.

I’m adopted. I was born in South Korea and abandoned as a baby.  On my official adoption paperwork, they wrote that I was a “foundling,” which means I was neither abandoned by family or taken from my family. I was left somewhere and luckily, found by someone who took me to an orphanage. It’s kind of interesting to be a “foundling,” but I’ll save the birth story thing for another post.

babypicnaturalizationpapers

On June 15, 1984, I arrived via plane and was placed in my parents’ waiting arms. I was 17 months old with a thick head of hair pulled up into a topknot. My parents took me home to a small town in Western New York that was predominantly agricultural and rural. My parents were not farmers. They were public school teachers. They just wanted a country house, both hailing from a city.

When I was 4, we adopted my younger sister. She is also South Korean. She was 13 months when she arrived, so she is 3 years younger than me. Growing up, we were pretty much the only Asian kids in our neighborhood and at our school. My mom is a blond Swedish-German woman. My dad is 100% Italian. They are both 2nd generation Americans. My sister and I are technically immigrants. I have always felt very much like an American, whatever that means.

There’s the saying, “blood is thicker than water,” and I agree with the sentiment. I have uttered it myself before. Of course, our family is not drawn from blood. But my family is important to me.  We are a family, a close family, with all the things that come with family–both awesome and challenging. Love is unconditional in my family and I’m lucky to have two parents who very much wanted to have me–so much that they spent tons of moolah and went though lots of paperwork and stress and a home study in order to hold me in their arms. I value my family so much, even though none of us are blood related.

I have never felt that my family was any less because my sister and I are adopted. It was always and continues to be hurtful when well-meaning people ask if I know my “real parents.” My response is always that my real parents are my parents, my mom and dad, the parents who adopted and raised me, fed and sheltered me, clothed and spoiled me, angered and challenged me, loved me unconditionally. And no, I don’t know my biological relatives, nor do I plan to.

When I was little, I was very curious. It can be confusing to be the only Asian kid. I wasn’t deeply damaged by it, but I did have lots of questions. That’s just the kind of person I am. I have lots of questions. I would read books about Asian culture–Japanese, Chinese, and Korean. I asked my parents about finding my birth parents, not because I wanted to find my “real parents,” but because I was curious about what they looked like, if I looked like them, why they gave me away.

As I grew up, I liked to think that I looked kind of white–more white than my sister or than other Asian people. People of color, especially little kids, often desire to be white. Yes, that’s kind of messed up, but the reality is that it is better to be a little blue-eyed white girl than a little yellow girl or a little black or brown girl. You are accepted and you are beautiful when you’re a little white girl. Plus, when I was really little, kids sometimes made fun of me. In middle and high school, people didn’t openly taunt me, but they sometimes called me “that Chinese girl” and things like that. I spent a lot of my teenage years thinking I was undesirable because I wasn’t white. I also had body image issues and all that stuff that comes with being female assigned at birth and socialized female, but I blamed my inability to get a boyfriend mainly on the shape of my eyes and the fact that I looked different. When I looked in the mirror, I convinced myself I looked “a little white”. I asked my friends if I looked more white than other Asians. They said I just looked like me. I still have this white-washed image of myself in my head, even though I know it isn’t true. I don’t want it to be true anymore, but it’s a hard thing to unlearn when you’ve convinced your brain of it for a long time.

All that said, being physically different made me stronger. I was always a loud mouth and I generally stood up for myself. I especially stood up for others that I saw being teased or harassed. My parents say that I was “always trying to fix the bad kids.” I would try to keep them out of trouble and help them at school and such. I was a smarty-pants and a student leader. I had friends at the smart kids’ table and the weird kids’ table at lunch. I did a lot of extracurricular stuff. I think I had to self-identify early on in life, which made it easier for me to self-identify later in life, as queer and as a feminist and an activist. I built empathy for others from an early age. I was lucky to have an amazing support system in my family. They were always there for me, but they also didn’t let me feel sorry for myself. I give them all the credit for helping me become a strong and self-reliant adult.

I didn’t identify as Asian or Korean for most of my life. I’d joke that I was a Twinkie, yellow on the outside, white on the inside. In college, I tried joining the Asian Student Association, but it didn’t really work out. I ended up hanging with the one white girl in the club and generally felt out of place. Everyone was kind to me, but I didn’t really get the cultural stuff and I kind of felt like I was just too much–too loud, too fat, too radical–so I left the club after one semester. I got involved in feminist activism and social justice and queer rights and put my ethnic identity on a shelf. It wasn’t until my mid-20’s that I strongly started identifying as Korean-American.

Here’s how it happened. I started meeting more Asian-American people who were in my field–organizers, activists, nonprofit leaders, young professionals, feminists, and queer folks. I realized that my confused identity was not all the much different from many other Asian-Americans who are 1st or 2nd generation. I met more adoptees and found we had almost identical feeling in regards to self-identification with the dominant white culture over our Asian heritage. I realized that my Asian experience is an Asian experience, just one of an adoptee. It doesn’t make me any less Asian-American and there are many of us out there with unique, but similar stories.

It is with all this in mind that I wanted to adopt from South Korea. We can’t. Just. Legally, we can’t. It made me sad, not being able to adopt from Korea. I know that I could relate to an adopted kid in a special way and I’m so grateful of being adopted into a loving family. I wanted to provide that love for another abandoned kid.

When we realized, through much discussion and very personal revelations about ourselves, that having me carry a pregnancy would be the best option, something shifted for me. I have never dreamed of having kids. I’ve never dreamed of being pregnant. I’d never thought about what it would mean to carry a child with my DNA. Assuming I can get knocked up and have a kid (fingers crossed), that kid will be the first and only person I know who shares my blood, my genetics. I think about it and it kind of blows my mind. I would love my kid equally, whether adopted or conceived, but I am kind of dumbstruck at this idea that I will have the opportunity to look at another face and see parts of my face. In fact, since I was 17 months old when I came to the U.S., I have no idea what I looked like as a baby. Suddenly, having a Korean kid became something I really wanted. W doesn’t care if the kid looks like him or not. We have talked about seeking out a Korean sperm donor.

I never thought I would have any interest in what my kid looks like, if I ever had a kid. In fact, I have to admit that I never understood why more people don’t adopt. I thought it was a little selfish to want a kid who looks like you. More than once someone has talked to me about wanting a kid who looks like them, not knowing I’m adopted, and it stings a little. I know it’s not about me, but they are kind of saying, “Adopted kids are the 2nd option. We are less than perfect. We are not really as good as biological kids. Why would you want a kid who is not really yours?”

So it feels so strange to want a Korean baby and to want one who looks like me. It’s going to be a weird and wonderful moment, I think, to look at a kid and see myself in them. If you’re not adopted, it is probably hard to imagine spending your whole life being the only one who looks like you. It is probably hard to imagine not knowing where you were born or what you looked like as a little baby. But this is my normal. I wouldn’t trade it for anyone else’s normal. I wouldn’t trade my family for anyone else’s family. I just can’t fathom anything different and it freaks me out a little. In a good way.

In queer communities, we know a lot about creating the families we want and the families we need. Our families are often not blood related and frequently are not recognized by law. Many of us have our real parents and our queer parents–the ones who helped us our while we were coming out, or struggling with our identities. I am excited to create a little queer family with W. More excited than I ever thought I could be about having kids. I love that W doesn’t care if he looks like or is perceived as the father of our kid. He knows that he will be that kid’s father as much as I know my parents are my parents. I am freaked out that I am going to meet a person who looks like me and I am kind of in a state of constant awe about the thought of it.

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8 thoughts on “A Kid Who Looks Like Me

  1. One thing you find throughout the process is that no matter what happens you always look like your child even if your the bio parent or not. They say things with your regional accent, they’ll have the same good and bad habits and the list goes on. It’s a fun adventure as long as you leave expectations at the door.

    • I totally agree. I picked up lots of mannerisms and (good and bad) habits from my parents. And when I was in high school and college, people would sometimes think I was my mom when I picked up the phone. There’s definitely no feeling of loss for me that I don’t look like my parents. We are similar in many ways.

  2. I am an adoptee and can relate to a lot of what you’ve said here. I think I was able to embrace being our guy’s non-gestational parent because I grew up with the value that family doesn’t necessarily equal biology, but love.

  3. I like JR’s comment about leaving your expectations at the door. It’s amazing when they start doing things/reacting/making facial expressions the way that you know you do/did…good or bad. But expecting anything to happen a certain way, is impossible. At 3 am, when you’re cleaning up projectile vomit that covers you from head to toe, because you wanted to hold that poor, sweet, sick child, nothing else in the world matters. Your child will be an amazing individual, regardless of DNA:)

    • Ha! So true. People have said that I sound like Mom on the phone. I definitely picked up characteristics and personality traits from my parents. Biology really doesn’t matter that much. It’s love that makes a fam, as evidenced by the deep cousin love in our fam. 🙂

  4. When we were trying for our second kid (via my body & egg), I struggled to reconcile my desire for a child who I carried and who shared some of my genetic make-up, with my visceral understanding that my love for our older child was not depending on gestation or genetics (she arrived via my wife, both were conceived via donor sperm). It was confusing to so deeply understand family bonds that crossed genetic lines, and yet also desire the chance to have a genetic connection. It sounds like you may be navigating something similar — valuing and understanding the connection you have with your parents, but also excited to hopefully have a person you know in the world who “looks like you” — who shares some of the physical fabric of who you are, and perhaps especially your Korean background. I know it’s not exactly the same, as I’m talking about my kids and you are describing relationships with both your parents and your hoped-for child, but I can say that experiencing both kinds of connections has been really wonderful for me. I bet it will be for you, too.

    • Thank you so much for your perspective! It is a strange mix of feelings to hold up together. One of the main reasons we started writing this blog (way in advance of actually having a kid) was to connect with others who have shared similar experiences. It is incredibly valuable and validating to hear your experience. I look forward to understanding this part of myself even more as the actual process of getting knocked up gets closer. 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

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