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This week’s blog post is a bit long. It is long for a reason, it takes a look at three personal stories about one-family-set of DNA tests. Why is this on a racial equity blog? Personal stories and narratives are important to understanding people of color’s histories and truths. We also believe in relationships. Heidi and Marki are integral parts of the Fakequity family, understanding them is to understand the team as a whole. Thanks for sharing and trusting us with your story.
By Heidi Schillinger, Marki Schillinger, and family
This post is personal. Really personal. At the risk of no one deciding to read this post, I am really writing it for myself. As a way to process, heal, and normalize the experience of being an adoptee. I think sharing our personal stories is a way to connect to humanize.
Anyone who knows me knows I am addicted to Korean dramas. I started watching Korean dramas over 20 years ago to “help” with my Korean language learning. I am not sure it has really helped, but I keep watching. Korean dramas have evolved to encompass every possible storyline, but the best original K-Dramas had you in tears by the end of the first episode. They were full of family secrets, raw emotions, and unbelievable coincidences (not to mention love triangles, cross-class forbidden romance, and terminal illness). Recently my sisters and I have joked that we have our very own version of a real life Korean drama. Sad and true. Or true and sad.
I want my sisters to be able to speak for themselves, and the chief Fakequity editor enforces a word limit. So, I am going to do a quick summary of events to get you up to the point where I proposed to my sisters that we take DNA tests to confirm whether we are biologically related.
Episodes 1-5: A Quick Recap of the Long Search
My sister, Marki, and I were adopted into a white family (hence the name Heidi Schillinger) in the mid-1970’s. Our parents originally wanted to adopt one child but were swayed when asked if they’d consider siblings to keep us together. We joke that they were duped in a two for one scheme. We grew up like many Korean adoptees during that time, fully assimilated into dominate white American culture and disconnected from Korea. It wasn’t until my senior year of college when I studied abroad in Korea that I started to consider my connection to Korea.
While I was studying in Korea, people told me I should look for my biological family. Actually, they told me I should look for my “real” family, but that is for another blog post. That started a nearly decade long search for my biological family. At first, I searched because people told me I should, and I was young and impressionable. But it was emotional, overwhelming, and disappointing. It took a few years and coming up with my own reasons for searching before I started looking again. Thanks to a Korean friend, Marki and I appeared on a national TV talk show called Achim Madang (아침 마당) , on our local MBC Mokpo news program, in a national newspaper, and even in a Korean song dedicated to Korean adoptees. We met with families who had given up children, some exposing long held family secrets and shared tears with them over our common connection with loss. During other periods of living in Korea, I often wandered around Korea looking at older women and thinking about the title of the children’s book “Are you my Mother?” Years later, Marki recognized our bio mom randomly in the subway.
Just when I thought we had exhausted all of our search options and I had come to peace with the fact that we might never find any biological family, a Korean drama-like coincidence unfolded. I had since moved back to Seattle but happened to be in Korea visiting. At the same time, a distant paternal cousin happened to be visiting from Japan. And our oldest paternal aunt happened to be visiting from the U.S. (Boston). The distant cousin from Japan begins to relay a story she heard from her sister about our Achim Madang TV show appearance from a year ago to our paternal uncle, who lives in Seoul, and to our oldest aunt. Within about 24 hours, our orphanage in Mokpo and the Korean national TV station are calling my old Korean phone number, which the friend I am visiting still happens to be using. And a few hours later, our paternal uncle and aunt show up at my friend’s house in Daegu (5 hours from Seoul), claiming to be our bio family. It was a very emotional and confusing time. My first emotion was disbelief. Even though I wanted to believe, I couldn’t. We had met other families on this journey that didn’t turn out to be our relatives. At some point, I started to get numb to the process and prospect as a coping mechanism.
But my paternal uncle and aunt seemed sure. They seemed so sure they insisted I come home with them immediately. I didn’t. I made them convince my Korean friend who had been helping me search first. My uncle managed to convince my friend with old middle school documents that provided the same home address that was on our orphanage adoption paperwork. This was it. I had been searching and waiting for this day. This moment. What proceeded was a whirlwind of family stories, where I learned everyone has their own version of the truth. My uncle even led us on an investigative journalist style chase down of our biological mom, complete with the dreaded knock on her apartment door and her full-on breakdown in the backseat of my uncle’s car. In the meantime, I am asking myself, “What was happening? What did I just unearth? Is it worth it?” I’ve just disrupted so many lives. Including my sister, Marki’s life. She never signed up for this roller coaster ride. She thought she was just being supportive of me. Maybe she never really thought I would find anything or anyone. Back in Seattle, Marki was also being bombarded with calls from our biological family.
The other life I disrupted was of our oldest biological sister, Unnie (older sister in Korean, even though technically Marki is my Unnie too). Our Unnie immigrated to the U.S. with a paternal uncle in the mid-1990’s. She was married and had three children by the time we were reunited. And, her immediate family and in-laws had no knowledge of us. After I returned from Korea, Marki and I immediately flew to Boston to meet our Unnie and family there. I don’t remember much, expect there was a lot of food, a lot of crying, and a lot of exposing of old family secrets.
Episodes 6-10: Let’s Take a DNA test! Huh?
That brings us to now. Fifteen years after finding our biological family. Fifteen years of living as family with our Unnie in Boston. Those years included trips to Korea together, yearly visits to Seattle or Boston, seeing our niece and nephews grow from little kids into amazing young adults, and a lot of food. I mean a lot of food.
A few weeks ago, Marki and I visited Boston to see our family and attended our niece’s college graduation, Hooray, Carrissa! On our final day there, I pulled out three DNA test kits and proposed we take them and confirm if we really are biologically related. Our Unnie asks, “why now? We’ve been living as family for 15 years. Why do this now?” That’s a good question.
Why now? Seriously, I don’t really know. It could be because the DNA kits were on sale during Black Friday last year, and I thought why not. I don’t think easily accessible DNA testing was available when we first reunited. But really, the answer is maybe I am just curious. Curiosity has been a driver all along. Somewhere along the journey, I came to terms with the fact that curiosity can be enough of the reason. As an adoptee, I didn’t have the luxury of knowing where I come from, who my biological family is, where my physical and personality traits steam from, or even if I am truly connected to this place called Korea. People would often tell me if I am happy with my life and family in the U.S. then I shouldn’t be curious, but I believe this is a false and dangerous dichotomy. I believe curiosity about who I am and where I come from is natural, despite my current situation or relationship with my (adoptive) family.
Unnie asked me, “What if you find out we are not biologically related? Will you search again?”
What if? This is the scarier question. I have all these what if’s running through my head. I want to believe that regardless of the results, my relationship with both my sisters won’t change. But somewhere I wonder if I am embarking on another part of this journey that will disrupt lives again,including my own. Here are some of the what if’s running through my head- my feelings, my rational thoughts, and my feelings.
What if Marki and I really aren’t related?
We’ll be fine. Our relationship won’t change.
But what if it does?
What if Unnie is not really our biological sister?
We have lived as family for 15 years it will be fine.
Some little part of me is scared that it won’t be the same. It won’t be fine.
What if it says we are related? Is that the end of this journey? Will I be satisfied.
Yes, this is the definitive answer I have been searching for through this process.
I probably won’t be satisfied. I will want to meet our half siblings despite our bio mom’s objections
What if it says we aren’t related? Will I search again?
No, I’ll be satisfied with the “bio” family relationships we have created.
I’ll probably feel the need to search again.
Marki and Unnie already have their DNA results, but mine came back “unsuccessful” – perhaps because I am not human or had too much chicken in my saliva sample. We promised to wait until we all could open our results together. So stay tuned for the next episodes of our very own Korean drama – the DNA Results!
Marki’s Pre-DNA Test Result Reflections:
“We can only know where we’re going if we know where we’ve been.” Maya Angelou
My sister, Heidi, and I were adopted in 1975, from South Korea. We were young and were told we were biological sisters. I believed it. I still believe it. It’s what I’ve believed all my life. Our voices sound alike, we have some similar mannerisms, and we’re both terrible singers. I mean very terrible. Here’s one of our best photos together.
Marki and Heidi as children riding a toy pony. One of the few pictures of both of them in dresses.
Heidi and I spent many years growing up in a small Washington State town. We played basketball together, we went on family vacations, and we fought like sisters do. We grew up in a family with four additional siblings.
About 15 years ago, Heidi searched, and found our biological family. We met our birth mother, birth father, aunts, uncles, cousins, and a sister. We immediately flew out east to meet this sister we didn’t even know existed. Finding another sister in our 30s was amazing. We met her family and have continued building a great friendship with them all.
Marki and Heidi riding bicycles in Korea.
As adults, Heidi and I have remained close friends. We traveled all over, including a cross country trip in South Korea on our bikes. She said I snored, but I don’t believe her. Here’s a picture of one of our epic journeys together.
A few months ago, Heidi proposed we three sisters take DNA tests together. I was surprised, but curious. I had settled for the truth of what others had told me, but DNA could settle the matter once and for all. I wanted to know. Heidi and I flew east and took the 23andme DNA tests with our sister.
Initially, I was a cornucopia of emotions. I had so many questions. What if we weren’t really sisters? What if my life had been built on something false? What if it meant Heidi and my relationship would change? Where would I belong if I wasn’t related to my sisters? What if only two of us were related and the third wasn’t? What if… what if… As I wait, I wonder…
Then, I remember all the memories. I remember all the times I spent with Heidi and my family growing up. I have memories of us at the beach, having picnics, playing basketball together, seeing newborn nephews and nieces, graduations… I have so many memories with Heidi. I remember sharing a room as teenagers and blasting my 80’s music over and over and Heidi trying to cover her head with her pillow to drown out the music. I remember drawing a line in the middle of our bedroom floor as to separate the space that was individually ours, and the other couldn’t cross. Except I didn’t leave Heidi any room to exit, she was trapped. Oh the things I remember. The funny stories, the tears, and the love. I remember our birth search we did together, I remember the awkward meetings between Korean women who wanted to be our mother, but just couldn’t have been based on information, ages, etc. I have more than 40 years of memories with Heidi and my family. I have more than a decade of memories with my newly found biological sister on the east coast. Those don’t just go away, the relationships don’t just disappear. I’m pretty sure we three sisters are biologically related, but there’s a chance we aren’t. In that case, I know where I have been. I know the memories I have, and I know my future will include my sisters and my family.
Boston Family’s Pre-DNA Test Result Reflections:
Unnie (via Our Niece): Yes, I think we ‘re sisters. If not, I guess we’ll still keep in touch and keep our relations. The past 15 years we believed we were sisters so now what? I’m going to keep believing we’re sisters.
Brother in-law (via Our Niece): (nodding head) I think they’re sisters. Too many family similarities; all have bad singing voices, all have bad skin, and all can’t drink.
Aunt (via Our Niece): They’re sisters. The address that you had matches up with the address that we have. Heidi looks exactly your mother. Marki looks like your grandfather on your father’s side. Kum Soon looks exactly like her grandmother on her father’s side.
Niece: I think they’re sisters. Definitely having the same home address is weird but the physical features are very similar. Heidi and my mom look really similar and oddly I look very similar to Marki. I definitely think it’s scary to ever think Marki and Heidi aren’t my biological aunts because they’ve been a part of my life for so long, but like my mom said so what? In my heart they’re always going to my aunts and a part of my lives. They have been with me through thick and thin and I couldn’t imagine a world without them.
For now we wait. We wait until Heidi’s results come back and the great unveiling. We wonder what will happen and what the next episode of the Korean Sister Drama will be. In the meantime we will practice singing, or maybe not, or maybe just to torture our brother-in-law.
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