Your Story: Carissa Woodwyk

I am honored to begin the ‘Your Story’ series with friend, author, speaker, marriage and family therapist, Carissa Woodwyk.

Finding Me.
written by Carissa Woodwyk

I remember the moment that I found out I was pregnant. My heart…it leapt, it soared. That dream so many women share, had come true. I was going to give life to someone…someone who looked like me.

After two years of “trying” and fertility meds and injections and ultrasounds and blood draws and prayer and cautious hope, we saw the + sign on the stick. The celebration and elation and dreaming began. The months of all-day sickness, an ulcer that led to Darvocet, months of numb taste buds, the gradual weight gain that every woman despises, the restless and ever uncomfortable nights, and the waning energy all ended with a sum of 40 weeks growing the life inside of me.

Mysterious, miraculous, unbelievable.

As an adoptee, the journey of becoming a biological mother didn’t come without reflection…reflection of my life in my birthmother’s womb. What was she contemplating? What was her heart feeling? Did she want to give me up for adoption? Was she forced to give me up for adoption? What were the voices around her telling her to do? Was I a secret? Was I planned?

It’s hard to imagine that a birthmother wouldn’t want to keep the life growing inside of her. I would only imagine that my birthmother wanted to keep me. As I experienced my own body changing and as I began to feel the life inside of me moving, there was a sense – a connection – that my baby needed me, I needed her. The thought of relinquishing my child was excruciating, no matter what the circumstances around me would have been.

I chose life…and so did she.

I honor that. I’m humbled by that. I’m deeply grateful for that.

But she…he…didn’t keep me.

I was born in Korea in 1974. A sweet, cuddly, loveable little black-haired baby girl. The name given to me was Jun Yung Hee. The details of my story are mostly unknown. The reasons for my relinquishment are fully unknown. I spent time in a Korean orphanage, as well as in a foster home. At five months of age, I was adopted by a white family in Michigan. My father was a pastor, my mother was a homemaker, and my Caucasian brother was also an adoptee, fourteen months older. I entered into a world of people who celebrated my arrival with balloons and parties and food and newspaper articles. From a common American perspective, I was part of a success story. I had completed a family.

But I lost…everything I knew.

Something happens deep within the mind, body and soul of a baby whose birthparents, for whatever reason – good or bad – say, “We aren’t going to keep you.” Or, “We can’t keep you.” Or, “We’re going to place you for adoption.”

Something happens deep within the human heart when the core longings to belong and be loved and feel significant and wanted are not met by his/her birthparents…the two people who gave you life.

So…like many adoptees, I adapted to the life my adopted family offered me. It was good and safe and moral and structured and intentional. My physical needs were met. My cognitive needs were met. My social needs were met. I was a quiet, introspective, dutiful, obedient, intelligent and gifted girl. I was often noticed and complemented on my smile, my docile behavior, my piano performance, my academic success, and my exquisite ability to engage with just about anyone.

The excruciating and awful parts of our family’s life were hidden and secret – the addiction and screaming and threats and stonewalling and anger and chemical imbalance and fighting and raging. They only existed to us. As a pastor’s family living in the 80s, it wasn’t socially, culturally or spiritually acceptable to expose the dirty laundry that was piled up behind the walls of your home. Image was most important because, obviously, you were the pastor’s “testimony.” The “Christian” world around me seemed more interested in learning about a holy God and tightening up their beliefs about him and winning souls for him than taking the time to see the human heart and finding ways to step into how God was redeeming the broken and fractured and forgotten.

Suffering was minimized. Pain was dismissed. Bad behavior was prayed for.

But…what about my soul? What about my story? The beginning? The loss? The missing pieces? The missing people? The questions? The fears? The pain and sorrow and joy and elation and despair and hope? What about all of that? Why didn’t anyone ever ask about that?

And so, I did what most people do when they feel that their heart doesn’t matter. I shut it down. I camouflaged it. I protected it. And the worst part is…I didn’t even know I had done it. It just happened. Somewhere in my story (I would say very early on), it happened. The questions and curiosity and hurt and grief…they were silenced…because they had to be. No one was inviting them out. No one was eager to hear them. Seemingly, they didn’t matter.

Our family moved five times before I was 18. In those years, I experienced homeschool, Christian school and public school. I won piano competitions, sat first chair blowing in my flute, traveled many cities singing alto and ended up graduating top five in my high school class. I moved on to complete my BS in Biology, completed coursework to teach secondary education and somehow, randomly and miraculously, ended up holding a MA in Counseling Psychology.

Post high school is when I began finding me…the true me. It was in the diversity of my job choices, the friends and mentors who began speaking truth into my soul, the unexpected places and experiences I found myself in, my faith journey – each part of my life began changing how I saw myself, the world, people, story, God.

Or maybe, it was just time for my heart to come undone.

Whatever the process and whatever the significant pieces may have been, it was gradual and kind and hopeful and lasting.

“Finding me” meant exploring and discovering what makes me come alive, what challenges me, what disappoints me, what ignites me, what I find beautiful and stunning, what I fear, what I trust, what I love, what empowers and drains me, what I do with my pain, what I love to create, what gives me hope…the answers to these questions have meant that I’ve taken the time to know me…and then helps me understand if, how and when to offer those things to the world around me…to the people who look like me and to those who don’t.

It’s a gift to be able to offer who I am rather than finding who I am in others.

So, when I find myself in sacred and holy moments, I’m grateful. I’m grateful for how my story began – both the broken and beautiful parts – because it profoundly shaped me. I’m even more grateful for how my story is being used for good…how it’s being redeemed…over and over and over again. As a counselor, as a mom, really in all my roles, I get to tell people how good they are, how much the world needs them, how much God loves them…no matter what story they’ve come from. It blows me away.

Our heart is worth fighting for…because it matters.

We are worth fighting for…because we matter.

The Woodwyk Family

As a Korean-born adoptee, wife, mother, author, speaker and marriage and family therapist, Carissa blends her personal relinquishment and adoption story with her front row seat to the impact of the world’s brokenness on people’s heart and minds. She speaks with a diverse understanding of what it means to be human and hopeful and a deep empathy and compassion for how much each person needs to know how loveable he/she is no matter how their story unfolds. Carissa and her husband have two children and live near Grand Rapids, MI.

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One thought on “Your Story: Carissa Woodwyk

  1. Carissa, thank you for sharing part of your story here. The first time I read it, I cried. I was sad for what you have experienced, but then so happy at how you are choosing to view life – embracing both the sad and the strong moments.

    What caught my attention in your story is the persona that Christian households attempt to maintain – that everything is fine and perfect. Ironically, some tend to believe that they will be a better “witness” if they don’t show the scars, bruises, warts and all. I am personally affected most deeply by the stories that unveil the darkness – because those are the stories I can actually relate to! As you alluded to, shoving this darkness under the rug only increases its power. Thank you for your vulnerability.

    Each time I read this story, (I’ve read it at least 5 times now ), I get pumped up and feel an incredible sense of hope. I realize I am not alone – both in the way I feel and not alone in some of the sad things I have experienced.

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