The Lucky One

Dramatic tears.

Hugs all around.

Curtain closes.

End scene.

I think this is how people often envision birth family reunions. I probably used to think the same way. But now, 7 years into my own reunion, I know how things are so not like that at all. In those 7 years, my family had just about one hour that (barely) resembled anything like that, when we first met in the conference room in Holt Post-Adoption Services in Seoul with our translator. The fact that is lost on many is this:

There is an entire life to be lived after that initial reunion.

This was completely lost on me until I found myself with my family at their home each weekend after that first conference room meeting. We had a lot of awkward moments. We got on each other’s nerves. We didn’t have a shared language, or, even more significantly, a shared culture or set of norms. They didn’t understand why I did things the way I did, and I thought they were crazy people for the way they went about their daily routines. I was so ill-prepared for the challenges we would face and kept thinking, “Where is the instruction book on this?”

Further, I found myself in a vicious cycle of feeling frustrated and weary of the reunion complications, then chastising myself because I should be more grateful for the opportunity and stop whining. In everything I’d read online, I was one of the “lucky ones.” One of the adoptees that got a chance at reunion. So why didn’t I feel so lucky?

Along with the rest of the world, and I suspect, many of our blog readers, I have been captivated by the new NBC series, This Is Us. If you haven’t watched it yet, I would recommend it. The storyline is complicated but one particular component has been so affecting to me: that of the adult adoptee, Randall, and his reunion with his birth father, William. Besides the obvious draw of my similar situation (and exceptional performances by the actors), I couldn’t put my finger on why I felt so completely captivated by these characters. But then it dawned on me. For the first time, I wasn’t seeing a typical Hollywood reunion being acted out in front of me (spoiler alert: those types of reunions really don’t exist!). I was seeing all of the messiness and uncertainties and complications of a birth family reunion and it felt so affirming, because I thought I was the only one to go through that.

I cried when I watched Randall fall into panic attacks when he couldn’t keep everything together, no matter how hard he tried. I laughed so much when he met his extended birth family and shouted, “You get a cousin, and you get a cousin! Everybody gets a cousin!” because I know exactly how that feels. I wept uncontrollably as he was forced to grapple with the second loss of a birth parent, and his adoptive sister acknowledged, “I am so sorry that you have to go through this twice.”

Because these are the real life versions of how birth family reunions work, the parts that are unseen. Some days you don’t feel like the “lucky one” and the weight of that pressure threatens to suffocate you, but you can’t share that with anyone, because how ungrateful could you be?

These stories need to be told because they have been hidden for so long, leaving others also feeling all alone, even though, in reality, we are all experiencing the same things. This Is Us is not perfect, and it doesn’t get everything right, but the introduction of this conversation is something I am so grateful for.

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© We the Lees, 2017. All Rights Reserved


6 thoughts on “The Lucky One

  1. Great post! I haven’t seen the show but that’s great it’s portraying a much more realistic version of a reunion. I personally haven’t been reunited with any of my biological family at this point in my life, but I totally see how it wouldn’t be all roses and happiness after the initial meeting. Despite the DNA ties, they are still completely new people that I’d have to get to know just like anyone else I meet, and that takes time and work and there are sure to be bumps along the way.

    Thanks for sharing your journey and honest insights!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Agreed. (And I also love This Is Us, despite it making me cry every. single. time.) These complexities were some of the many things missing from the movie Lion, even though it had a lot of opportunity to open the door wide open. So, binge watching This Is Us @ KAAN 2017?


  3. Thank you for this piece. My daughter is considering a birth family search (she is 18 and heading off to college) and I have encouraged her to wait 1-2 years so that she can deal with only one emotional upheaval at a time. It will be helpful for her to hear your point of view. FYI – I just heard that you will be attending our culture camp this summer in MN (Kamp Kimchee).


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