Book Review: ALL YOU CAN EVER KNOW
Nicole Chung’s touching new memoir, All You Can Ever Know, shares the beautiful and sometimes painful realities of the author’s own adoption story, from being birthed as a premature baby to starting her own family in her late 20’s. With candor and insight, Chung details how her story as a transracial Korean adoptee has influenced and affected the past thirty years of her life. Just after the book was published to rave reviews, BPAR had the privilege of meeting Chung at Porter Square Books. Our team of clinicians agree this author is remarkable in that she gives readers the opportunity to read first-hand about the profoundly deep and confusing components of adoption that can occur for an adoptee. Moreover, her book tells the story of an adoptee who never stops looking for acceptance, meaning, fulfillment, and love from those around her.
As adoption competent therapists, BPAR clinicians understand that every adoption is a lifelong journey. Chung’s open and honest self-reflective narrative describes this journey in detail, including the hardships and unexpected connections she finds along the way.
All You Can Ever Know highlights 5 main themes we commonly see at BPAR when working with adopted families.
It’s important to remember that everyone is unique, and that these themes look and happen differently for every adoptee and adopted family. With the help of Chung’s own words, we explore how these themes relate to the adoption-specific therapeutic work we do at BPAR.
1. Transracial Adoption
Chung poignantly describes how growing up as a Korean, transracial adoptee with white parents in a small, rural Oregon town impacted her early years. Her story is especially powerful when addressing issues of identity and assimilation. Despite coming from loving and giving parents, Chung describes the drawbacks that she encountered due to their insistence on creating a “race blind” environment. Chung advises, in speaking to adoptive parents, “to warn them that even if their adopted child’s race didn’t matter to them, it would matter to others-that it would be brought up, in countless situations they could not hope to control, in ways and in words that might not even reach their ears.” Within transracial or intercountry adoptive families, discussing and understanding race can be discomforting. Chung confirms the importance of acknowledging racial differences within family units and being open to how they affect the family, specifically the adoptee. Furthermore, making a conscious effort to understand and incorporate customs and practices from the adoptee’s birth heritage are very important. By doing this, the adoptee can experience traditions from both backgrounds and decide how and where they want to use this to build their identity and sense of self.
2. Birth Search & Reunion
Finding the right time to search and possibly reunite with your birth family is uniquely different for every adoptee. In her memoir, Chung shares her thoughts and hesitations around searching and reuniting with birth family members. After years of wondering what her birth family was like, she eventually makes contact and meets some of them in person. Throughout this process, she finds out that some of her fantasies and expectations about family members and family dynamics are not as she imagined. Making peace with this discrepancy and understanding how to create positive, lasting change from the unexpected becomes her ultimate goal. Chung says it best when she advises, “If you do search for your birth family someday, don’t rush things. Just like any relationship, it’s delicate, and it should be allowed to grow and build as naturally as possible.” At BPAR, we believe it is important for the adoptee to understand all the working components that go into meeting your birth relatives. We strongly recommend carving aside time to process and reflect throughout this exploratory time. Being honest with yourself about what is coming emotionally and seeking support during this process is essential.
3. Starting Your Own Family
The process of planning, conceiving, and growing your family as an adoptee has the potential to stir up emotions for everyone involved. As exciting as this can be, it can also become stressful and emotional. For Chung, the thought of conceiving her own biological child brought up painful unanswered questions about her own birth such as: Was I brought into this world by love? Did my mom hold me when I was born? What medical issues might I be passing on to my children? By acknowledging her fears, seeking support around this, and educating herself about the birthing process, Chung was able to experience birth in a positive light and embrace this new transition. “One way or another, my family – the one I had chosen to create – was growing. Our child’s birth might prove empowering for me, not simply terrifying, for all its mystery and all my fear.” Chung goes on to say how incredibly proud and connected she feels with her children. Her struggle brings perspective to what it means to begin with no control over your own birth story and then rewrite it with someone special — someone who is half of you.
4. Seeking Support & Help
In the memoir and at the book reading, Chung suggests how helpful and important it is to access support and guidance from an adoption competent therapist throughout the adoption journey. Chung states, “I desperately wanted to hire someone who would listen, understand the unique circumstances of my placement, and see us all as individuals with our own feelings and histories to be respected.” Training in the complex and layered components of any adoption story is salient in order to carry out rich therapeutic work. This resonated deeply with BPAR clinicians, who take particular care to acknowledge and understand each adoptee’s individual story and the unique factors needed to create a meaningful understanding of their adoption story.
5. Embracing “Your” Story
Through first-person narrative, Chung shares her experiences as a transracial adoptee growing up in a time when race was hardly recognized or embraced. As she grows older, new struggles and discoveries are made, some more rewarding and challenging than others, but uniquely hers nonetheless. Chung repeatedly emphasizes that each adoption process will look different for every adoptee. Although adoptees share common realities or experiences, each story is special. Chung stresses that while in pursuit of happiness as an adoptee, you must do what is best for you. She writes, “My identity as an adoptee is complicated, fluid, but then so is everyone’s else’s.” At BPAR, we believe embracing your story is a mandatory step toward creating a meaningful life.
Nicole Chung gifts readers with a beautifully written narrative of her adoption journey up to this point in her life. It’s rare to find an author with Chung’s willingness to be open and vulnerable as she shares her innermost thoughts. She eloquently demonstrates how making peace and developing an understanding of one’s adoption truly is a lifelong process. We thank Nicole for her bravery and ability to share the themes we know many adoptees and adoptive families experience. More education and awareness on such topics only allow for more understanding and compassion in the future.
“The adoption story I’d heard so often growing up was supposed to remake me, give me everything I needed, make me feel whole. In the end, though, real growth and healing came from another kind of radical change—from finding the courage to question what I’d always been told; to seek and discover and tell another kind of story.”
Written by Erin Weaver, Clinical Intern
Boston Post Adoption Resources