Friday, May 10, 2013

A Fragment in Time: Recovering a Key Piece of My Adoption Narrative

In the early hours of the morning, shortly before waking, I dreamed I opened a trapdoor in a wooden floor and discovered a pulsing, hot ball of pain. I recoiled immediately, as if burned by fire. In my head I heard a voice saying "If you really want to heal, you are going to have to deal with this."  
"Not now," I answered. "Not yet." 
-- me on January 31, 2013
I know what's under the trapdoor, but opening it requires rewriting a key piece of my official adoption story.

When people ask me when I learned that I was adopted, I usually answer that I've always known. Of course, I recognize that this is not true in a literal sense, but saying so was my way of explaining that my adoptive parents brought up the subject in a child-friendly way from such an early age that the fact of my adoption was woven seamlessly into my life's narrative. There was no shocking moment of discovery.

As is often the case with narrative, this story has elements of truth and elements of untruth. Today I must peel away the untruth.

Because here's what's underneath:

winnond at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I do remember. I remember struggling to wrap my young mind around the idea that I had another mother -- an invisible mother, a faceless mother. A mother as inaccessible as the most distant galaxy. I might lean toward her, but I could never touch her. I was discovering her and losing her in the same moment. And in that one brief fragment of time, sadness and loss and confusion rose up. But the shapeless, wordless grief was not mine to keep. In the next instant I was given the replacement. Before the sadness even had time to settle through my body and register on my features let alone escape my lips, it was taken away.

My loving, well-meaning adoptive mother spoke the words she had been given by the adoption agency and the literature of the day, with the assurance that these words were all that was needed to make everything right. She told me that my other mother, the one whose belly I had been in, had loved me, but had simply been unable to take care of me. She told me that she and Daddy loved me -- as much, or possibly even more, than if I had been born from them. She gave me the word "adoption" and explained that it was simply a different way to become a family. Some kids were born into their families; others were adopted. It wasn't a significant difference or something we needed to think about much. The main thing was that I should always remember that I was wanted -- really wanted. She and Daddy had waited a long time for me; I was the answer to many prayers. She gave me the word "birthmother" for the other mother, the one who loved me but wasn't there. She assured me that all was well.

She was my mother and I trusted her, so I took what she gave me. I closed the trapdoor and placed the cheerful, colorful rug of her story on top of it.

She had no way of knowing how much I was losing in the exchange. She could not have known that this would be the moment when I would wall off an essential piece of myself and learn that my own feelings could not be trusted to guide me. She could not have guessed that I would judge my own emotional compass useless, tossing it aside and replacing it with a habit of looking to others for clues of how I should think and feel. And she would never really know of the disorienting numbness that would exist for years from that moment forward beneath the facade I presented, to the world and most especially to her. 

14 comments:

  1. I relate to this post. I have always known, and I believe it is best to always know. (No secrets.) Yet, always knowing gives you no opportunity to grieve as you are immediately presented with the replacement and expected to instantly move on and adjust. And it is vital for adoptees to have that space to come to full realization and to grieve. Thanks for this very insightful post.

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  2. Rebecca...you and Deanna have really captured how it felt for me growing up...thia universal, painful confusion is remarkable to me

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  3. This is very insightful to me. I see that for an adoptive parent, the telling is just the first part. The listening, the abiding, the allowing of emotions -- maybe even the prodding of them -- is the other part.


    Thank you for this.

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  4. So, as the grandmother of an adopted child, what SHOULD I do? I couldn't love this little guy more and really want the best for him.

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  5. I think Lori does a great job of outlining the alternative below. Telling is first step, followed by listening and allowing space for the child to define his own experience. My adoptive mother truly meant well, and she was following the prescribed advice of the day, but her narrative overrode my own experience, before I could even begin to define it for myself. When children ask questions, we can answer them using "I statements" while still leaving space for alternative viewpoints. We can ask questions, too. "How do YOU feel about this?" And we can tell them that whatever they are feeling or experiencing is okay and normal, because it is.

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  6. Thank you Lori! "The listening, the abiding, the allowing of emotions -- maybe even the prodding of them -- is the other part." Yes, exactly!

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  7. You might also find this helpful: http://www.rebeccahawkes.com/2013/01/the-adoptive-parents-role-in-adoptee.html

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  8. It's interesting, isn't it? I struggle to put words to this thing that I never had words for. My words for my experience. Not the script I was given. And when I do I find others who say, yes, that's it -- you've named the thing I felt. So much commonality. Each adoptee is unique, of course, and we all have our own experiences, but there's often so much overlap as well.

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  9. Yes, I'm certainly happy the information wasn't withheld! And yet it took me so many years to sort out the interpretation ... to realize that THE NARRATIVE wasn't necessarily an accurate reflection of my experience. I've had to go back and grieve, and it's an ongoing process. Healing requires maintenance, I find. It's not a one time destination. So many layers!

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  10. Beautiful, insightful post, Rebecca. You describe it so poignantly. I have found that trying to create a narrative for somebody else just doesn't work. Does anyone really know how our birth mothers felt at relinquishment? I find it disrespectful for adoptive parents to try to create a narrative that really isn't there own to begin with (thank you, adoption agencies). And trying to wrap it all up in a bow just doesn't work.

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  11. Thank you! I think we can do that. In our case we don't have to guess at what the birth parents were thinking because they wrote a letter to our little guy. We shall see if it helps. And maybe it helps that they picked my daughter and her husband specifically (that's how the adoption agency they used works). But I know that my heart breaks every time I think of them.

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  12. Yes, it is helpful. Thank you! We have lots of information from the birth mother we can share. The birth father is himself adopted and doesn't know anything about his birth parents. But I have been thinking that our grandson should feel like our history is his as well. Because that shared history, because it shapes us, will shape him as well, genetic grandson or not.

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  13. I understand your point, and yes, we are all shaped in lots of ways -- not just by genes -- but please be careful. Many adult adoptees feel that the adoptive family history was imposed on us. On the whole we hate, hate, hate (and I cannot emphasize this enough) the family tree exercise that so many teachers seem to love to assign. Seriously, get a group of adult adoptees in a room together and mention the family tree exercise and you will hear a collective groan. I feel a connection to my adoptive parents and the grandparents I knew and I even feel some connection to the great grandparents I never met but know through family stories. Beyond that, not so much. I have some slight interest to the extend that it is my parent's history and I am connected to them, but I don't really view it as my history. I have a _relationship_ connection to my adoptive family, but genealogy is bio. If your grandson expresses an interest in the adoptive family history that's one thing, but I'm worried that if you expect him to embrace it and he doesn't that will backfire, leading to disconnection rather than a stronger bond with the adoptive fam. I hope this make sense. It's another case of letting the child self-define and self-narrate rather than imposing an external framework that may not work.

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  14. there is so much insight and truth here, laid bare. thanks for sharing this, rebecca. it's so important to read this, as an adoptive parent who is charged with beginning the telling of that story for our daughter. it's an invaluable reminder to perpetually create the space and opportunity for her to interject and weave her own narrative until it truly becomes her own. while we hope she may find her own voice some day, however, I think this is especially challenging with a small child, as (at least for now) she looks to us for that story.

    do you have any suggestions on handling these delicate stories for little ones? or is it truly, as lori said, about the listening and prompting and abiding later? thanks again. lots to ponder here.

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