Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives.
Uncovering My Roots
The darkroom smelled like musty flowers mixed with elements of sage and cedarwood. Rows of shelves hung on the walls and housed miniature glass bottles, each one filled with tinctures promising to awaken an emotional state, such as 'calm,' 'clarity,' and 'intuition.' But I wasn't there to purchase a magical potion: I was visiting a spiritual guide in hopes of uncovering the roots of my ancestry.
Clarissa had long dark hair, dark eyes, and wore a navy, Adidas tracksuit. She didn't have the 'Earthy' vibe that I had imagined a spiritual intuitive would inhabit. I had envisioned a robust older woman dressed in a colorful, flowing robe, but Clarissa was svelte and appeared no older than forty.
I stood across from her. She studied me from head to toe, like a physician getting ready to make a diagnosis. "Sit down. Let me see your hands," she said. I showed them to her, and she examined my extremities from every angle, carefully peering at each finger and studying each palm.
Then, like a nurturing mother, she placed her hands over mine. The minute I felt her delicate fingers press against my skin, I lost my breath. I wasn't used to physical touch from maternal figures as my mother rarely showed affection in this way.
Next, Clarissa closed her eyes and began taking slow, deep breaths. I waited in anticipation for her to start talking. But when her eyes opened, she remained silent. Then she grabbed a pile of miniature, white seashells, shook them between her hands, and rolled them like dice. On a small white piece of notebook paper, she quickly jotted down some numbers. "Your mom, the one who raised you, she's not your only mother," Clarissa declared.
Chills raced up my spine. "How did she know?"
I was adopted from Seoul, Korea, when I was three months-old and raised by my adoptive mother in the Midwest. I had come to see Clarissa hoping she could tell me about my birth mother, whose mysterious absence I had grieved throughout my life.
With no information about my biological lineage, consulting a spiritual medium seemed no more farfetched than boarding a plane and traveling across the ocean in search of my family.
“How did you know?” I asked.
She didn’t answer. Instead, Clarissa kept talking, sharing things like: “You will have a daughter. She has a mark on her stomach. She will be born via C-section,” and “Spirit says they are not sure how it will happen, but you will meet a member of your biological family, and you will reunite with them in the U.S.,” along with “You must also always wake up to music--music is what makes your heart sing.”
As I pondered Clarissa’s premonitions, I wondered how I would ever meet a member of my birth family (this was several years before genetic testing kits like “23andMe” became available). But before I could ask, Clarissa looked at me and commanded: "Do your spiritual work. You give too much. Don't be afraid to be who you are."
Her words sunk into me like an invitation I had always wanted to receive. For as long as I could remember, I had fought against the fabric of my identity as an adoptee.
Growing up, being noticed was a constant reminder that my adopted mother and I weren't biologically related. To cope with intrusive and hurtful questions, such as "Do you have a real mother?" and "Do you know why your mom abandoned you?" I became invisible by focusing on other people's needs. From helping my teacher after school to always listening to friends' problems and doing my classmate's homework, I felt confident that being 'useful' to others would keep them from discarding me.
While such coping mechanisms helped me survive the early trauma of maternal loss, they left me with an even larger emotional question mark. By doing so much for others, I began to wonder how much I mattered as a person. If I stepped outside of my care-taking role, would my friends, teachers, and family still value me?
“Your mother says you are a good daughter,” Clarissa stated. Then, she took a deck of Tarot cards, shuffled them, and said, “Take a card.” I chose, “The King of Cups,” and she said it was a very “loving” and “lucky” card. “Spirit says to speak from your heart, don’t hold back your emotions,” Clarissa advised.
I looked at Clarissa, and her dark eyes peered into me. “We are done,” she said. Then, she got up from her chair, shook my hand, and walked me to the front door.
Before we said goodbye, Clarissa gave prescriptive instructions. She said to purchase white candles and incense and to set-up an altar in my home. She suggested I decorate the altar with fruits, sweets, and flowers--gifts for my spirit ancestors.
Even if what she shared was inaccurate, Clarissa gave me something I had always longed for. Like a biological family member, she offered information about my origins and painted a picture of what my future might hold.
Two years after my reading with Clarissa, I gave birth to my first and only daughter, who was born via C-section. On the day after her birth, the pediatrician checked on her physical health. "Come, look at this baby," she instructed the medical team, "She has what we call a 'hemangioma,' the doctor explained.
“Can you see this small red mark?,” she asked us.
With a team of medical students and residents gathered around the bassinet, we stared at my newborn daughter's squishy tummy and saw a faint red circle forming on her skin.
“We call it a strawberry kiss,” the doctor said. Then, she explained that a hemangioma is a collection of blood vessels beneath the skin. She said mark would darken at first, but would eventually fade away, most likely by the time my daughter turned three. “Nothing to worry about,” she reassured us.
At that moment, my heart began doing somersaults and my skin felt cold and prickly as I remembered Clarissa's words, "Your daughter will be born with a mark on her stomach."
"What else might she know?" I wondered.
Six weeks after my daughter’s birth, I called Clarissa hoping to schedule another reading. The phone rang five times before someone finally answered, “Ritual coffee, how can I help you?” the person on the other end asked.
Caught off guard, I hung up the phone. I double-checked the phone number to make sure I had dialed it correctly. "What if I can't find her again?” I worried. Frantic, I opened my laptop and hopped onto Google, where I typed in Clarissa's address, only to see the name of the coffee shop listed instead.
While Clarissa seemed to have vanished, I realized I was finally holding the one thing I had always wanted--my first known biological relative.
That afternoon, I offered a loving-kindness meditation to Clarissa, "May you be happy and healthy," I recited, "And may you love yourself unconditionally--just as you are." As I recited the mantra, I Imagined sharing those words with all of my biological family members--wherever they may be.
While she grew up in the Midwest, Juli now lives on the West Coast with her husband and her daughter.
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Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie's blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter
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