On Self Discovery

 

Photos by Lee Soo Hawn.

The birth of my son in 2015 put two journeys in motion: founding my eponymous brand, and finding my birth mother. Seeing my son for the first time was, in a way, seeing myself for the first time, too. I was placed up for adoption as a baby, so I’d never looked  into the face of someone who looked like me until then. Having my son gave my life a meaning and purpose that had never existed before: and I felt a desire to model for him the fullest pursuit of life’s possibilities. My longest held dreams were illuminated in a new way. 

This year, I traveled to Seoul to meet my birth mother for the first time. These photographs of our reunion in October capture a lifetime of longing and amazement unfolding all at once. 

I expected our meeting would bring resolution, but the gift I return to is expansion. Now, I have a daughter in addition to my son, and I’m so grateful they get to see me create through this brand, and seek new understanding of my story.



We met for the first time at The Grand Hyatt Seoul which is a really beautiful hotel that both tourists and locals love for the incredible views of the city including Namsan Tower.

Our first embrace brought forth a rush of thoughts:
She was so beautiful. Her skin was incredible. But also how long we waited for this meeting. We were connected in 2016 by Holt, an international adoption agency that placed me. I’d wanted to visit her much sooner, but life was full and getting fuller: Covid, a cross country move, and my daughter’s birth kept delaying our reunion. In March, my birth mother told me she’d turned 71 and I decided to make this trip as soon as I could.

Our wonderful interpreter, Jackie, was my lifeline during this trip. His elegance, calm demeanor and voice were the perfect conduit between my birth mother and me. We brought forth our conversations, and our connection. He was present, precise and generous.


After meeting at the hotel, we went to lunch in a traditional Korean restaurant in Bukchon Hanok Village, a neighborhood known for its beautifully restored residential architecture. My friend, Christopher Kim, an Los Angeles-based stylist, connected me to Esther Kim, a talented producer who helped curate this incredible day for us.



This was my first time visiting Korea, so Esther took great care to show me my heritage, and bring me to some of the most scenic places in Seoul. Here we are walking around with Jackie in Gyeongbokgung Palace, a 14th Century Joseon dynasty palace surrounded by the city’s modern skyscrapers.



Visiting Holt's Seoul office, the adoption agency my birth mother worked with 43 years prior.

Even though this was our initial meeting, I was struck by how similar our facial expressions and mannerisms are. Particularly our mouths. 

When my son was born I felt truly connected to him the first time I held him in my arms. I asked her if she held me after I was born, she said it would have been to hard for her, so she patted my head and the nurses took me away. It felt so heartachingly sad to hear this. For families who choose to give their children up for adoption for a chance at a better life, I truly believe that it can be one of the most selfless acts of love.



I read a statistic years ago in The New York Times that only 30% of adopted Koreans are able to reunite with their birth families. I’m not sure if this is still accurate, but I feel incredibly grateful for this experience and everyone who has supported me on this journey.

Seoul is such a vibrant and futuristic feeling city, but amidst the innovation and fast pace, our meeting and connection brought a sense of profound calm, a serenity within my personal history.


Older Post