by Julie Young
As I sat on the couch with my Korean mother/Umma, I felt like the parent. These were our last ten minutes together. Perhaps, it would be the last time we would ever see each other. I hope not, but perhaps. She is a diminutive woman, built with ironclad fortitude. As we sat on the couch next to each other, her head on my shoulder, her arms clinging to my waist, I felt her small shoulders move with her quiet sobbing. She tried to muffle her sobs, as I held her in my arms and as she did, all I could think about was the lifetime of pain and regret that she has carried so heavily upon her tiny shoulders. I could feel the pain and regret through her body and, for the first time, I forgave her.
From the moment she put me on that plane, Umma told me, she regretted giving me up. These are words that my heart has waited thirty-seven years to hear. These words tell me that I was loved by my mother. Her tears tell me that she still loves me.
I was emotionally guarded during my Umma’s stay. Umma and my sister cried many times throughout the visit. I, on the other hand, cried once. I am an extremely emotional person, so this came as a surprise to me and to those who know me. Reflecting on why I was so emotionally guarded, I realized that it was what I had to do in order to survive the three week visit; in order to continue to function in my roles as mother, wife and professional.
I did many things, such as emotionally guarding myself, that were selfish. These were things I needed to do for myself in order to lessen the immediate affect the visit would have on me. I did not share my bedroom, I worked the first week they were here, I went running while they waited patiently for me to go into Manhattan.
Up until this visit, as the adopted person, I have always thought about my perspective, my hurt, as the supreme perspective and hurt. I was righteous in asking how on earth could she have given me, her baby, up?
One of the results of Umma’s visit was that, for the first time, I am able to have empathy for my Umma. Before my Korean-American story, there was her Korean story. Before my hurt, there was her hurt. On one of their first nights here, I asked Umma to tell me all about her life. Some of what she told me, I already knew. A lot of it, I did not. I knew that she was severely beaten by my father. Sometimes he would beat her with objects to the head. He was paranoid. He never worked. He was an alcoholic. He was the friend of one of her brothers. Her brother told her she should marry him, so she did. She did not love him at first but she grew to love him. My mother told me that one time, perhaps when I was two, he was beating her and I stopped him. What must that have been like for my two year old self? What must that have been like for my Umma?
After she put me on the plane, she immediately divorced my father. Such strength. And she immediately went into a depression. Such sadness. My entire family was forced to separate from each other for approximately seven years. My mother did not have the means to take care of my two older sisters and one brother. My oldest sister, Ji-Ae, went to live and work at a factory. She was only eleven. She was unable to go to school. One of the weights of regret upon Umma’s shoulders. While she was here, Ji-Ae told me how hard that time in her life was, how she sometimes wanted to end it all. My second oldest sister went to live at a Temple and my brother was sent to our grandmother.
Umma was taken in by a church. They allowed her to live and work there. Eventually she would save enough to get her family, with the exception of me, back together. She even went on to graduate from college. I now understand why she is so deeply religious. The church literally saved her life.
Throughout the visit, my feelings vacillated quite a bit. I was struck with the realization that I am one of the lucky ones. There are far too many adopted people who wish they could find and have a relationship with their birth families. Neither of my families is perfect but they are mine. I have two families who love me. I acknowledge the blessing of my two families.
The aforementioned only time that I cried during the visit was when we were at my (American) Mom’s house. The house in which I spent my high school years. I was sitting in the family room alone peering into the kitchen watching my two moms cooking together. That sight emotionally startled me and my tears were uncontrollable. The triad that we create, my mothers and I, is one that is difficult to put into words. We are intricately bonded. Yet, this was not a sight I could even fathom witnessing. It wasn’t something I dreamed of seeing because I never, ever would have imagined it could be. Seeing my two mothers cooking together was a vivid, yet surreal, scene.
I am still somewhat guarding myself from the watershed of emotions that I know at some point are going to hit me in the aftermath of this visit. I am still processing and I’m sure that I will be for quite some time. Overall, it was a good visit and I am grateful that my family came to stay with me. I think and hope that my Umma is happy she made the trip as well.
Thank you Umma for making the same long journey that I took as a three-year old. I need you to know that I forgive you. I want you to let go of the regret. You have suffered enough in this lifetime. Please Umma, please, forgive yourself too.