Deep breath. Here we go:
Last Wednesday morning when I was at work, I was scanning through my email inbox when I noticed an unopened mail from a sender I didn't recognize. Subject line: Sister.
I was feeling light-headed and dull from my sinus cold and the previous night's NyQuil, so I had to read it a couple of times to realize what it said.
I'll paraphrase parts of it here:
My sister… Our family is delighted, happy, elated since finding about you few days ago.
We were supposed to wait for your response but forgive me I could not wait any longer and had to write to you. My name is Sara Kim (real name disguised), your older sister. I had been crying and dreaming of you last few days, wondering how to proceed and interact with you. Hopefully I have made a right choice in writing to you now.
Briefly I will describe our family:
Our dad and mom are healthy, independent, and still very active. They live near us and visit frequently. They are extremely anxious to see you soon.
Your oldest sister lives in Seoul, married with one daughter ... She is a perfect sister, supportive, and caring.
I am also married with one daughter ... My husband is a Korean-American who is a ER physician ... You have one younger brother ... He lives in Manhattan... You have same nose and eyes as he.
We do not want to put any undue pressure on you but anytime you are ready, please contact me. You can call me or email me. You can ask me anything then.
I could hardly believe what had happened but we are grateful to you and your parents, friends of all the support and love that you have received.
Hopefully we can be friends, sisters, family as we get to know each others.
We will support and understand you in any decision you make.
P.S call me….
What? No, this can't be true. Surely it's just a scam or a really mean joke. But odd that it came directly to my work email. And is it a coincidence that she says she's 4 years older and the handwriting on the back of my adoption paperwork said that my next oldest sister was 5 years older?
She also included a link to what looked like a homepage or facebook page in Korean, with a picture of herself and beautiful daughter. She didn't look like me. Very pretty. But, not the same facial features, as far as I could tell.
I ran two desks over to where Andy sits. His reaction was (1) what? (2) you should confirm that this isn't a scam, and (3) but it sounds like it could be true.
I immediately wrote to KSS, the orphanage where I lived as a baby and visited in 2009, after which I applied for birth family search services. I hadn't heard anything in the past year and a half, other than they hadn't found anyone so far, but be patient, it can take a long time.
The next 24 hours was looooooooong. Luckily, a day full of forecast review meetings distracted me for chunks of time. Otherwise, I found myself day-dreaming one minute, then jumping up and down while giggling like a school girl the next minute, then keeled over in the bathroom with sharp stomach pains the next minute. I told Andy that I was going to bounce off the walls and through the window, or throw up all over my desk. Luckily I did neither.
I did, however, call my parents in Minnesota as soon as I got home that night. I'd already forwarded the email from this alleged sister. I love my parents: they were both nothing short of thrilled for me, as I knew they would be. We pondered whether it could be true and even started looking online for flights to Seoul.
"I want to fly to Bern first! Then we can fly together to Seoul!" my mom exclaimed.
"Let's have Dawn come too, and we can start to search for more information on her!" we said.
The next morning, I walked to work with the biggest grin on my face... as well as the biggest pains in my stomach and worrylines on my face. I was elated... and scared. I'd been checking my blackberry every few seconds, to see if the orphanage had responded.
And like magic, within minutes of sitting down and skimming through my inbox, a new message appeared:
Dear Ms. Amy Paulson,
Attached please find a letter regarding our searching for your birth family.
Best Wishes for a Happy New Year!
Sharp intake of breath. This is it. Here's what the attachment said:
January 6, 2011
Dear Ms. Amy Elizabeth Paulson:
I hope this letter finds you are dong well in good health. I wonder you are still living in Switzerland but I think it is nice to be able to contact with you through email.
I hope your trip to Korea was a good experience to understand your adoption and to learn more about Korea. On your request, we have tried to find your birth family and it is very nice to send you good news that finally we have located your birth family. When we gave the first phone call to your birth parents, they were very surprised at our contact and your searching for them and told us that they needed time to think about this matter because their children did not know about this adoption. But later they were getting more comfortable to talk about you and shared their feeling of guilty for your adoption.
According to them, they had very hard life with two daughters when you were born, so they decided on your adoption for your better future. And we learned that your birth father named you Jung Sook. For their information and interest, we sent your pictures and the information on yourself by post, and they were happy to know that you have been doing well with your adoptive family, and they talked with their children about you.
On the 4th of this January your parents and sisters visited KSS to know about your request in detail so I showed your request letter to them on their request. But I explained them that we needed the necessary steps to be in direct contact between you and them, and promised them that we would let them know when we have any response from you to my letter regarding our searching. They looked to understand the situation but I think your sisters remembered your email addresses on your request letter for KSS. I am sorry to make this problem.
Your birth father is born in 1941 and the birth mother in 1943. And you have two sisters, born in 1968 and 1972, who are married, and one younger brother, born in 1979, who is studying in New York, USA. The 2nd older sister, got married to a Korean-American. She understands English and is now living in Korea with her husband for 2 years. And all family members are doing well.
We are sending your 2nd older sister’s email address for direct contact and I hope you could enjoy the direct contact with your birth family, if it is alright with you. But please feel free to contact us, if needed.
I hope you would be happy with this news. Best Wishes for a Happy New Year!
So....... that was last Thursday.
I spent every day and night since then, trying to figure out how to respond to my new sister's email. I could only get as far as: Dearest Sister... and then: nothing.
How do you start a letter like that?
I've been dreaming of finding my birth family for over 30 years. The dreams never started with a magic email. Rather, someone would instantly appear at the front door of whatever home, dorm room, or apartment I happened to be living in at the time. I'd see a mirror image of myself and instantly know. We'd then hug and cry, and that's pretty much where the dream would end.
Suddenly, I now have to take it a step further. And, that's when the fear set in.
What if they don't like me? What if I don't like them? What if I've just built up the whole thing so much in my head that the real life experience is just a disappointment? What if...? What if...?
These thoughts were still eating at me when I wrote back to my new/old sister yesterday morning. I had to apologize for taking so long to reply, as I explained how overwhelmed I felt.
She quickly responded back, saying how relieved she and the rest of the family were, as she called each one of my new/old siblings and parents to tell them the news about my email. They are all excited and waiting.
And, so am I.
We are now trying to arrange a time to Skype in the next few days.
I still cannot wrap my head around what is happening - that I may soon meet the family who gave birth to me. It just sounds silly. I can't even say it out loud yet. If I do, it all might disappear.
And while the anticipation, elation, and constant worry threaten to give me a heart attack, there is one comforting thought that I keep returning to: how lucky I am to have such a wonderful family. They are not my "adoptive" family. They are my real family. They have been completely excited and supportive of me throughout this entire process, including now.
My dad Skyped me at 3am Minnesota time last week to tell me that he couldn't sleep (due to his "bad cold") and was thinking about me and how lucky I am to be experiencing something that few people will ever get the chance to live. He told me to remember to take it slow and soak it all in. "Love, Dad #1"
My mom also wrote me to say she was so happy for me, she had tears in her eyes.
And, my sister. Like always, she knows just how I'm feeling and can somehow empathize with all of my unintelligible emotional babbling. And she loves me for it.
I'm so lucky. And, it's only because of the unselfish love from my real family that I have the courage to see what happens next...