Meeting Umma

My Birth Mom's visit was overwhelmingly beautiful, therapeutic and life changing. There were countless times when I was stretching myself and pushing limits but I did it! I could not have survived without my family. My "real" family. The ones have always been there for me. Between my brother being there to capture the reunion, my sister taking Lulu numerous times when she was getting antsy with adults all the time and especially my parents for... well, for everything. They are hands-down the most amazing and Christ-like people I have ever known. This entire experience could not have been without them. 

But most of all I am grateful for my best friend, my husband.  This man worked seven 12-hour nights in a row, just to be there for me while my BM visited.  I am so grateful that he did because there were times when there was no one else that I needed but him.  

I knew it was her from the first moment I saw her.  I had remembered her from pictures and the look in her eyes when she saw me sealed the deal.  I didn't know how or what to feel, other than astonished at the entire reunion.  There I was, embracing the woman who gave birth to me 27 years ago.  Until 3 years prior, she had no idea where I had gone or what had happened to me.  She held my hand tightly and never let go.  

We all drove back to my parents house where they would be staying.  My Birth Mother (Umma), Birth Uncle and acquaintance HeeYoon (interpreter) were very kind and seemed surprised at our gestures to make them feel comfortable.  If you know my mom, you know that she is truly the "Hostess with the Mostest."  She had the house tastefully decorated for Christmas without overwhelming the birth family with her usual 27 Christmas trees and 1000+ Santa collection.  She had slippers for them to wear around the house as many Asian cultures do not wear shoes or go bare foot around the house.  The bathroom had a large basket filled with travel soaps, razors, perfume, cologne, lotions, toothbrushes and other toiletries.  My mom was very thoughtful in her research and preparation for this visit.  Among many things, I love that about her.  

After dinner, Andrew and my dad were doing the dishes and cleaning up the kitchen.  Umma, Samchon (uncle) and HeeYoon were all very surprised that the men were doing the work.  They said that you would not see that in Korea.  They commented on this a lot over the week as my dad would cook and cleanup breakfast for them every morning.  HeeYoon joked that she wanted to find a Mormon man that would cook and clean for her.

At the end of our first night with them, we exchanged gifts.  My mom had sewn a quilt and made a scrapbook for my birth mom.  My birth mom gave us each traditional Korean Hanbok clothing.  I could see sadness in my birth mother's eyes as she looked at the scrapbook. On more than one occasion, she said "you would not have had this kind of life in Korea" and "your siblings had nothing like you had."  I told her that I appreciated her sacrifice and had a very happy childhood.

Throughout the week we ate lots of Korean food, took our guests to watch my dance classes, shopped at H-Mart (Asian market), ate more Korean food, went on a dinner cruise in Portland, the Nike store downtown, ate Korean food, attended a Portland Trailblazer basketball game, cooked Korean food, ate at several restaurants both Asian and American, visited Zoe's grave... oh and did I mention we ate lots of Korean food?  It was a very fulfilling (or should I say "full-feeling") week.

The dinner cruise was fun because we got to see boats decorated with Christmas lights passing by.  Since HeeYoon was trying to translate several conversations at the same time, my dad took it upon himself to explain the menu to Samchon.  He balked for chicken, moo'd for beef, made a swimming motion with his hands for fish and said "Italiano!" for pasta in his best efforts at an Italian accent.  This was the first time we caught a real smile and laugh out of Samchon.  I love my dad.

Another fun memory was the Blazer game.  This was a first for all of us, except for my dad.  HeeYoon even won a CD from the Ford blimp (broke a nail doing it too!  Don't mess with a determined Korean).  Umma had never even seen basketball before!  Umma and Samchon were bored at first but by the end, they were cheering and throwing up high-five's with every score for the Blazers.  It was truly a coming together of cultures.

As the week presented itself with more and more surprises, HeeYoon was one of my favorites.  Without the language barrier, there was an instant sisterhood.  We could not have made it through the week without her.  She wasn't just "the translator," she was a sister and friend to all of us and an auntie to Londyn.  I still text with her almost every day and am so grateful for her friendship.

On our last day together, HeeYoon was so sweet and bought these matching bracelets for us at the Portland Saturday's Market.

While coloring Umma's hair on Monday, she told me that my birth father would have loved to meet me.  I was surprised because up until this point, I had been told that he took me from her after she passed out post-labor.  In my mind, I assumed he was the "bad guy."  She explained that birth control wasn't used at that time and after having 4 daughters and relinquishing a 5th daughter just 4 years before myself, they could not provide a life for me with them.  My birth father did not want Umma to have to make the decision, so he made it for her.  He made himself the "bad guy" so that she wouldn't have to be.  When asking about the infamous 5th sister, Umma told me that she had memories of her and myself up until I found her a few years ago.  After I found her, the trauma led her to forget the few details that she had.  She had kept us as secrets from her children and even her siblings.  Only my birth father knew the truth and he passed away in 2009.  Like many things in life, I believe that the truths of the story will be revealed in the afterlife.  But for now, we can find peace in just being together.

Now I know where my crooked pinkies come from!  Apparently my birth sisters all of the same pinkies.

Another unexpected moment of revelation was when visiting my grandparents.  While teary and emotional, Umma told us that she hadn't told my siblings about the 5th sister yet.  I was surprised because I thought she told them about both the 5th sister and myself when I found her.  Umma said that she didn't want them to judge her or think she was a bad mother.  She said one of her sons-in-law would be very judgmental.  As her tears flowed, I couldn't help but feel helpless for this woman.  She had endured so much and had no one to share her burden.

At the end of our last evening together, Umma and Samchon expressed their gratitude and love for all of us.  Umma gave my parents an envelope and explained that my birth sisters and birth brother wanted to do something for me but didn't know what kind of gift to give their long lost sister. They decided to pool their money together to gift to us.  We were all shocked at this unexpected gesture.  Umma mentioned several times that it wasn't much but it was what my siblings could and wanted to do for me.  I didn't care about the amount, I was just amazed at how much love my birth siblings have shown through letters, broken e-mails and now this very generous offering.  My parents later told me that the envelope contained $2800.  This was no small amount and I am near certain that it was a significant financial sacrifice from each of them.  Although love can never be measured in dollar signs, sacrifice certainly can.  My parents have decided to save this money for our plane tickets to Korea in 2015.

As Umma held my hands tightly on the last night, I gave her a bracelet engraved with the word Umma.  I told her that even though I won't be with her in Korea, she can wear this and know that I am thinking of her.  I also gave her a Korean Book of Mormon and told her that she should read this book if she wanted to understand who I am and how I find peace.  She told me that she would read it... for me.  We also gave one to Samchon and HeeYoon.  These three Book of Mormon's came with their own divine intervention.  My friend's Lennae and Hanna went to Deseret Book to find three Korean BOM's for me and they told them that they rarely ever have any in the store.  Deseret Book recommended the Visitor's Center at the Portland Temple.  Lennae called there and were told that they used to have some but again, rarely ever do.  The Visitor's Center suggested the mission home in Hillsboro.  Lennae and Hanna then called the mission home and were told that they usually don't have them but they had just received exactly three Korean Book of Mormon's and they were hers if she'd like them.  This was no coincidence.  Thanks to my persevering friends and Heavenly Father I was able to share the most important part of who I am and that is my faith.

Throughout the entire week, I compared her experience of losing me to my experience of losing Zoe.  Although our losses are very different, the pain is very much the same.  We didn't want to put our children in the hands of another, but we had to because it was best for the child.  Letting Zoe go was the most painful and important decision I have ever made.  Keeping her would have been selfish, withholding her from peace and joy with our Father in Heaven.  In many ways, my birth parents gave me that same gift when they blessed me with the opportunity to have a life filled with love, the Gospel and endless opportunities.  When I replay the video of the first moment my birth mother saw me at the airport, I know that the joy in her eyes will be mine when I am reunited with my sweet daughter Zoe.  Heavenly Father works in mysterious ways, but I know that this parallel in my own life gives me the faith and strength to endure to the end so that I can return to Him and be with my eternal family forever.    

No matter the country, language or culture... a mother's love is just that.  Love.    


Thomas said...

Absolutely beautiful Kacie, you are an amazing young woman. It never ceases to amza me how our Heavenly Father watches over all His children.

Lisa said...

Kacie...such a beautiful story. Your Umma, her loss and yours...your reunion and your very awesome Milne peeps!!! I'm in tears so happy that you all have each other!

Much love and admiration, Lisa Pascoal

Kelly said...

I just stumbled across your blog, but what a blessing. As our family prepares to bring 2 children home from China I just dream about them getting such a reunion. Though I know it is very rare. This was just amazing to read and had me in tears. Happy Tears of course.