Longing to Belong

I held my son as we giggled at the mirror, making funny faces at our reflections. He has sparkling brown eyes that are the perfect almond shape and crinkle when he belly-laughs. I spent many years longing my small brown eyes away, wishing they would be the big, blue eyes of my friends, the only kind of eyes I thought were beautiful, the ones of Barbie and movie stars.

But now I can’t imagine a more perfect set of eyes on my son, and they look just like mine.

I was adopted when I was two from South Korea. My birth mom died shortly after I was born. My birth father couldn’t take care of me, which led me to here – Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I have long wondered what my birth parents might have looked like – would their eyes match mine? Would they be short? Would their brown hair have chestnut highlights too?

I have lived most of my life under the powerful hold of trying to fit in, begging for the foreign world I was dropped into to claim me as their own. I studied for a summer in college in South Korea. I walked the streets peering into faces, hoping that one might match mine. I wanted to believe that if I knew someone who had known me from the very beginning, it might lead me back home. But I had never felt more alone and more unknown in my life.

Being displaced from my first home erupted a longing to know if I had been held, loved, or soothed. I have questioned why I wasn’t enough, why my birth dad didn’t fight to keep me. But I have learned how to tuck those questions into tiny corners of my heart, pleading them to stay in their places so I can carry on with the poise of someone who is confident that she belongs.

And now I hold my son and beg the world to accept him, to claim him, to love him as their own – that somehow his almond-shaped brown eyes, his endless curiosity and questions, his sensory anxieties, and all his quirks won’t make him feel foreign in a world intent on keeping the status quo.

Perhaps in all of us there lies a fear that we’ll never be enough. Perhaps we’re all wandering the same path, hoping that someone will claim us and whisper at the doubts we tucked away, that they’re safe now and can come out of hiding.

I know too many of these stories don’t have their happy ending. That adoption is a tangled mess and implodes attachment, belonging, self-worth…and that each adoptee and adoptive parent relationship is drastically different, and no journey is a straight line.


My journey is far from its end. I will never know a mom who looked like me, a mom who carried me for nine months and marveled at how my eyes were hers and my nose was like my dad’s. But my mom, with her shiny blue eyes, claimed me. She carried me home from an airport, not a hospital, and has loved me with fierce belonging and radical acceptance. It is the mom I want to be every day for my son – who says over and over that he belongs here, that his fears don’t need to hide, and that wherever he is in the world, his mom will be his home.

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