The Story of Rhiarne Bruce
In November 2016 I returned to Korea, my country of birth, for the first time. To be honest, I had not previously wished to return to Korea. My attitude was that of a young, stubborn child. I did not want to return to the country that had rejected me as a baby. However, when my birth family contacted me in 2014 I began wondering.
I am so glad that I went.
I probably need to backtrack and explain the context of my trip a little. In order to understand, you must consider all of the things that make you who you are. The colour of your eyes that you inherited from your mother. The long family history of snoring. Your sense of humour that only your dad appreciates. Knowing exactly where you came from. What time you were born. Your medical history. These things pin you to a point in time and space. They give you a connection to other people and in turn, they inform you of who you are.
Growing up I had none of these reference points. I moved through life not quite sure about who I was and where I came from. Everything I’d known – happy memories and sad ones too – was coloured by this sense of not quite belonging. I had a hole inside me. Not a critical hole. I could function adequately with it. But a hole nonetheless.
Despite the hole, my stubbornness won over and I never searched for my birth family. I thought about it from time to time, but it was always because other people had suggested it. It never popped into my head of my own volition. So in March 2014, when the Department of Child Protection contacted me to inform me that my birth mother was trying to reach me, my jaw hit the floor. I wasn’t ready and I felt like it was an intrusion into my life. I felt like it was just another part of my adoption that I never had a choice in.
I’m not sure if this is a side effect in all adoptees, but for me one of the consequences of my adoption was that I grew up to be a control freak. The communication from my birth mother was unexpected and uninvited. It was also rare. It’s not common for birth mothers to contact their adopted children, and while I understand some adoptees who are desperately searching may wish to slap me in the face for not being more grateful, I just want to explain that every situation has its own feelings and consequences. And those were my initial feelings.
When I told my adoptive mother she immediately suggested that I return to Korea to meet my birth mother. I wasn’t ready, and I dismissed the idea. I didn’t want to go because I felt like I had to (my control issues are deep seeded and far-reaching). However, 2.5 years later, the anger and hostility had faded a lot. I was in regular contact with my birth mother and siblings and I was ready for the journey “home”.
I tried not to think about the whole thing too much on the flight over (I find dissociation to be a great coping mechanism). However, when I landed, the Chinese lady seated next to me looked at me and quietly said “are you home?” which broke down my otherwise strong wall of dissociation and reduced me to tears. Embarrassing airplane tears.
I have travelled to Bali and Japan, but when I landed in Korea and looked around, I truly felt like I was home. When I looked into the crowd, the faces looking back at me reflected my own. Walking through the streets, the sights and smells seemed strangely familiar. I fell in love with the busy streets of Seoul and the mountainous backdrop, both reminding me that I was a small piece in a much larger puzzle.
Mostly I fell in love with my birth family, who were the most loving, caring, welcoming family I could have asked for. Physically, I fitted in so easily. If I had entered the family portrait while your eyes were closed mid-blink you would have thought I’d been part of the family my whole life. I also slotted in emotionally. My family was so warm and open that I felt like I already knew them. Plus I had been speaking with them for the last 2.5 years which I believe really, really helped. It gave me time to get all of my reactionary feelings out of the way. I was quite angry at the beginning and needed to communicate that anger to my birth mother. Which I did. Thankfully, she took it on the chin and persevered.
Of course I was overwhelmed and homesick at times. I cried many times out of sheer exhaustion. Like a small child who needs to have a nap but refuses to. I spent a lot of time feeling dazed. On the flight home I woke up thinking it had all been a dream, and quite honestly, it could have been. The experience was so surreal.
Today I am incredibly grateful that my birth mother found me, that I’m in contact with my family and that I will continue to foster that relationship. BUT please don’t think it came easily. In the 2.5 years leading up to the trip I spent a lot of time with my adoption counsellor, I had many many disagreements with my adoptive mother, shed tears and lost sleep. I worked hard to establish my boundaries and find reasonable expectations for my trip to Korea. I had great support from my friends and my family (on and off). I was very lucky but also very realistic.
Throughout my adoption experience I have always thought of the delta ∆ as the symbol that best epitomizes the situation. There are 3 parties and each sees things from a different angle. There is also continuous change which means you can never comprehensively capture and understand all of the circumstances at any one point in time. The above is how I feel now, one week after my return from Korea. If you had told me 2 years ago that I would go to Korea, alone, and meet my family and it would be amazing, I would have politely asked you to drop the subject. You never know what’s going to happen or how you’re going to grow and change or how others are going to grow and change.