The Story Behind the Photo: My Life in Photos

Age 3, Playing with older sister, Melanie (left).

Before traveling to Thailand, Molly Martin sat down to complete a difficult task — choosing the photos from her life that she would share with one very important woman, her birth mother. 

After my first semester of college, I came home for Christmas break and sat on the floor of my bedroom among hundreds of photos. There were photos of me as a little girl dressed up in princess costumes, photos of my chubby years, photos of me playing various instruments and sports, photos from family vacations to the beach, photos from school dances, photos from my high school graduation, and photos of me at college with my new friends. There were photos from all of my major life events as well as photos from my everyday, mundane activities. As I looked through all of the photos, I saw the story of my life, as if it were a book. However, the first chapter of my story didn’t start at my birth, but rather it began when my parents flew to Thailand to bring me back to America. It was almost as though my birth was the prologue of this book – a prologue that was a mystery to me.

Playing in the leaves with older sister, Melanie (Right), age 7.

As I sat on the floor looking through those photos, I knew that in a few short days my family of four would be boarding a plane for a very long flight to Bangkok, Thailand. This trip was not an exotic Christmas vacation, but a trip to meet the woman who knew the prologue of my story. However, unlike me, she didn’t know how the rest of my story unfolded. She had lived the prologue, but did not know how chapter one began or how the current chapter of the story was being written. This woman, my birthmother, was the beginning of my story, yet she was not featured in any of the chapters. So, this is why I was sitting on the floor of my bedroom, among hundreds of photos, selecting pictures to bring to my birth mother so that she could “read” the story that she had started 18 years earlier.

With sister, Melanie, at Phuket, Thailand, after attending Holt’s Homeland Tour of Thailand, age 12.
Photo from my high school’s Varsity Basketball Team, age 15.

My birthmother and I don’t speak the same language. I can say “hello” and “thank you” in Thai, but that’s about it. I’ve heard it said “a picture is worth a thousand words” and I hoped these photos would tell a lifetime of stories. I wanted her to see my new life in America, my love for frilly dresses, and the loss of my first tooth. I wanted her to see the embarrassing chubby years, my love for playing piano and clarinet, and the fun I had on swim team and playing basketball and volleyball. I wanted her to see the variety of friends I had, the types of food I ate, the fun I had at the state fair and the sights I saw on vacations. I wanted her to see me dressed up for dances, and in my robe to speak at my high school graduation. I wanted her to see that I was getting a college education. But most of all, I wanted her to see that I had a loving family that cared about me. I wanted my birth mother to know that I was happy, that I was loved, and that her choice to put me up for adoption was a good one.

Senior Homecoming, 2014, age 17.

I ultimately decided to bring my birthmother five mini photo albums. I divided the photos by age, so that she could look through them chronologically and watch me ‘grow up.’ I had no idea if my birth mother would even be interested in looking through so many photos, so I was definitely not prepared for her response when I showed her the photos I selected for her.

School trip to Fort Caswell with school friends: Ashley, Pranaya, Ashlyn, and Hailey (left to right), age 17.

After a tearful introduction, my birth mother started asking questions about me, about my life in America, my family and my friends. Through the translator, I told her I had brought photos for her that she could keep. Her face instantly lit up and she started rummaging through her purse. She pulled out a wrinkled photo of me that I sent her years before through Holt. She told me that she always carried the photo with her, and that she looked at it every single day. She also told me that she was extremely excited that she now had more photos of me to share with her parents. As she flipped through every page of the five photo albums, it was obvious that each photo meant the world to her as she was getting to see how the rest of my story played out. She expressed such relief to see how well my life was going, and confessed that she had always felt tremendous guilt for putting me up for adoption.

High school graduation in 2014, age 18.

Through photos, I was able to show my birth mother the rest of the story that she had spent years wondering about. Even though the prologue seemed so hopeless and sad, she now knows that my story is a happy one. And through photos, I hope to continue telling the story of my life. A picture is definitely worth a thousand words, and several pictures are worth a lifetime.

Molly Martin | North Carolina

learn help advocate

2 Replies to “The Story Behind the Photo: My Life in Photos”

  1. What a wonderful idea, Molly! My kids are 13 and 10, but I think I’ll start having them select photos for a book like this for their birthmothers. Even if they never get to meet her, they can at least leave the book at Holt in Korea, just in case their birthmothers ever decide to check in. Thanks….enjoyed reading about you.

  2. So much beauty here, it’s breathtaking.
    Thank you so much for sharing.
    I’m a birthmother and I understand so well your biological mother’s joy
    in seeing images of the moments and mystery that she missed.
    You gave her an incredible gift….so much healing to her heart.
    Bravo to you, brave girl:) Your parents should be wildly proud of you
    and the generous young woman you’ve become.
    Big joyful grace to you in all of your tomorrows,
    (i knew your mom and dad years ago and fondly remember their excitement
    over your homecoming. SO loved, you:))

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