The Social Politics of Abandonment and Thoughts on Genetic Migration

Last week a friend from my past reached out to me, wanting to meet up for dinner. I had not seen Abby (not her real name) for at least five years, although we have loosely kept in touch. She was in DC from the Atlanta area for work-related travel and wanted to meet during her short time here.

Abby and I know each other from our days living in Orlando, Florida—a period of my life I often describe as being the weirdest, most frightening time of my adulthood years. Abby was one of several girl friends who was a transplant to the city just as I was, and I relied on her and a few others to help me reconnect with the normal world when things got too weird down in O-Town, a strange city that is so unlike the sterile fairy-tale fantasy of Disney World.

Anyway, we met up for dinner at Fireworks Pizza in the Clarendon neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia, not too far from where she was staying. It was really good to see her. She looked exactly the same as I remembered—she hadn’t changed a bit—still the stunning, younger version of Cameron Diaz I remembered her to be. So little had changed since we last met and yet our lives had completely transformed from our Orlando days. It was great to see that it was relatively easy picking up from where we left off nearly five years ago in a city neither of us no longer live in.

Abby told me how she had been following me and my posts about adoption, as well as my recent trip to Korea, and she was fascinated with the experiences I have had, the things I have learned and the thoughts I have shared online. I was surprised to hear this as she has not reacted online to my writings and posts, but it was wonderful to hear that she has been reading my contributions, and she admitted many of the stories I have shared were relatable to her own life, which is something I did not expect to hear.

Abby was not adopted and has a family that was created biologically, with adoption never being a real consideration in her life. But as we spoke, I realized adoption’s concentric circles intersect with several other life happenings connecting Abby and me in many other unexpected ways.

We spoke about common friends we had in Orlando, some who are still there and others who, like us, have left that strange place for more saner lives. About half of them we are still in touch with. One of those people in our former group of friends was also adopted from Korea, which Abby never knew since he used his birth name as his last name.

Unlike most of the people who were part of the old gang, I knew about David’s (not his real name) history. We had a shared affinity of not only being ethnically Korean, but also being adopted and from Minnesota. So because of this, over the years I managed to glean some inside information about his life that our other friends never knew.

For example, I found out that David has memories of his biological family and that he was adopted from Korea not as an infant but as a 5-year-old child. He has pictures of himself with his biological mother, father and maternal grandmother and vivid memories of his mother and grandmother in particular. He also knows the circumstances behind his adoption, and after hearing his story, I can’t decide which is most painful—knowing why one was given up for adoption or not knowing anything at all.

In David’s case, he was born out of wedlock as is typical of Korean adoptees. But his birth mother decided to keep him and so for the first five years of his life, he lived with her and his maternal grandmother who was the person who truly raised David. After some time, his mother, who was living in an extremely conservative Korea in the early 1970s, married, and David and his grandmother moved in with his new stepfather. It wasn’t long, however, until David’s new stepfather dropped the news on his mother and grandmother: he could not (or was not willing) to provide for David’s mother, grandmother and David himself, so someone had to go and according to David’s new stepfather, it was David who had to leave.

As Abby, who is the mother of a toddler herself, said when she heard about David’s story over our dinner, “I’m not going to even pretend to understand what would make a mother choose to give up her five-year-old son in exchange for marriage, but I do know there are situations I will never be able to comprehend.”

She then opened up about her own family history and her reflections on what she called “genetic migration.”

Like our friend David, Abby’s maternal grandfather was orphaned here in America when his unwed mother married a man who ordered her to give up her only son if she was to remain in the marriage. However, unlike David, Abby’s grandfather was a little older when this happened, and as a teenager, made his own way to California where he basically raised himself and somehow managed to turn into a self-sufficient adult.

A few years ago, Abby took a DNA test through Ancestrey.com. Some of what was revealed in her report she already knew from what her parents told her growing up, but some things were new to her. The most striking discovery she made was that of her maternal great-grandfather, the biological father of her abandoned grandfather. Apparently, he was buried just a few miles from where she was living in the Atlanta area.

“I still can’t tell you what made me move to the Atlanta area, muchless buy a little bungalow in a small town I had never heard of before,” she told me. “But it just floors me to realize that I now live minutes away from where one of my ancestors is buried. I am not mystical or superstitious, but this all makes me think about things such as genetic migration. Was it genetics that made me choose to live where I live today? Was I drawn by some invisible force tied to my ancestry? I don’t know,” she told me. “It all sounds silly when I talk about it, but some coincidences are hard to ignore.”

I never thought of this concept of “genetic migration,” although I can certainly relate to wanting to live somewhere I was genetically connected to. Like many adoptees, I returned to Korea as an adult to live and work and to experience the country I was born in. I wanted to see what kind of life I could have had and know what it felt being a part of the majority and not the minority. But this all seemed natural to me. It all made sense. Unlike Abby’s decision to move to a random community near Atlanta, my choice to live in Korea temporarily seemed completely logical.

Still, I can’t help but remember what she said to me over dinner that night, “Some coincidences are hard to ignore.”

I would like to think a higher being is guiding us to where we need to be in life. And I would like to believe everything happens for a reason. Maybe genetics can be credited for guiding us to wherever it is we end up settling down. It seems like an outrageous idea, but then again, DNA explains so much about who we are and why we do the things we do, that there could be something to this philosophy.

I hope it’s not another five years until I see Abby again. (She is trying to convince me to move to Atlanta—I have never been there before but would love to see what it’s all about.) But if it takes another five years to be able to have the kind of honest and fascinating conversation we had last week, I am willing to wait because some discussions, like it is with some people, only come around every few years and when they do, they open up a whole different world for you to consider. Just like my dinner with Abby last week.

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