My Daughter, My First Blood Relative

My daughter — our only child so far — recently turned two. Not only was it a time to celebrate her two wonderful years, it was a time I found myself going down DEEP rabbit holes of the thousands of photos and videos I’ve taken of her over the past 24 months. All the feels. I also found myself reflecting on my own childhood and how my family came to be.

Let’s back up a few decades. I was born in South Korea, and adopted to the U.S. as a newborn. My parents received photos of me from the hospital, but since the paperwork and process took a while, and I lived with a family until I came to America. Back then, with the agency I was adopted through, they didn’t require the adoptive parents to travel to Asia. So, 3-month-old me hopped a plane to the states, and I met my parents in the Des Moines airport.

I know that all adoptees have differing experiences and feelings, but for me, I had a great childhood overall. I grew up in a smaller town in Nebraska with very, very few other Asian people, but was happy in my community. I never felt like I was missing a part of me by not searching out my birth parents. Yes, I did have some ups and downs with other kids and how I handled comments, but mostly I was just me, and my parents were my parents. (I feel like I should probably write an entire Part 2 of this story just about growing up Korean in Nebraska.)

Fast forward through attending college, meeting my husband, getting married, to the time that we decided to have a baby. Filling out medical paperwork is always a breeze, as I can never check any of those runs in the family boxes. (I had previously done 23andMe out of sheer curiosity and learned that I tend to have dry ear wax and a 77% chance of not having a widow’s peak.)

But, it didn’t really sink in until later that this child would be the first blood-relative I’d ever meet.

That’s me on the right.

I began daydreaming and having questions like “will she have a full head of hair like I did?” and “will she look more Korean like me, or more Caucasian like her dad?” It also made me wonder if I would have a new perspective on nature vs. nurture. I truly believe we are formed more by nurture, as I have a lot of similar personality traits as my parents.

I also wonder if my birth mother is still alive (she’d be around 60), and if she is curious to know if I ever had a baby. I would venture to guess she thinks about giving birth to me every June. I hope she knows deep down that I am thankful every day for carrying me and giving me a shot at a pretty darn good life. The paperwork I have about her says she was young (early 20s) and unwed. Both she and my birth father did not feel like they could provide for a baby and eventually made the hard decision of putting me up for adoption.

Getting to watch our daughter physically and mentally grow over the past two years has been such a mind-blowing privilege. Seeing traits of either her dad and I is such gift, and one of my favorite things to do is look in the mirror with her and see some of my face in hers.

She won’t grow up speaking Korean or knowing how to cook Korean food, but she will absolutely be jamming out to country music in the bath and visiting her mom’s hometown that doesn’t even have a Target. She has her mom’s nose and her dad’s love of ice cream.

From Korea to Nebraska and eventually to Kansas where I met my husband, the way our family came to be is uniquely ours, and I am so very thankful for my Midwest, mixed-race girl.

Kelly Engstrom
Hi! I’m Kelly! I was born in South Korea, grew up in Nebraska, went to college at Kansas State, and spent my 20s in Washington, D.C. I moved to the Kansas City area in 2012 (vowing never to complain about traffic again after commuting on the Beltway), where I met my husband who was then stationed with the Army at Fort Leavenworth. In addition to being busy with my job in digital advertising, I’m running around with our rescue dog and 1.5 year old daughter. I also love volunteering with various organizations in KC, finding new creative outlets, exploring new places and things to do, shopping a good sale, aiming to keep my plants alive, and spending time with friends and family. Someday I also hope to get back into something I did before having a baby – triathlons! My ideal afternoon involves a stop at Family Tree Nursery, listening to podcasts in my car with the windows down, and trying a new restaurant. The real treat of the day would be to actually witness my toddler eating her veggies!


  1. Kelly, we were foster parents and were able to eventually adopt our son, Steven. Because he was almost 5 yrs old when he came to us, we missed his years as an infant. He was blessed 3 yrs ago with his own son, and it’s been the most amazing journey to experience. First, he now has his own flesh and blood son , and I can see so many of the expressions and mannerisms that Steven had at his age. I’m so glad you can have this gift as well.

  2. Hi Jeb! Thank you so much for reading and for sharing your story – I had no idea! He is so lucky to have you as a mom, and I love that you get to witness his relationship with his son. I miss seeing you, and appreciate your support!

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