adoptee essay: Turning Fifty: Rethinking My Experience of My Adoption
Fifty years ago my, six-teen year-old, birthmother was as big as a house and only days away from delivering her baby. I cannot know what was going through her mind, but I have seen enough pregnant women, new mothers, mothers whose babies have been removed from their care by the Department of Children and Family Services, mothers who have decided to have a therapeutic abortion because the child within them has developed with gross genetic anomalies, and women who have lost their babies to know that the maternal bond is profound and irrevocable. I have lost three dear children of my own who never drew a breath and mourn for love of them even after these many years. Somewhere in the sharing of body and blood, between the mother and her child, is an eternal and transcendent love and nurture which survives the ravages of poverty and drug abuse, emotional deficiency, profound malformations, even death.
For fifty years I have struggled, to a greater or lesser degree, with so many of the issues which confound the lives of countless other adoptees: abandonment, loss, low self-esteem, feelings of unworthiness and of being uniquely and particularly flawed athe core of my being. Years of therapy and seeking the of a deeper relationship with Jesus have helped, but only to an extent, deeper parts of my inner life still carried horrible scars which were made visible in the world by a series of less than self-affirming decisions.
I read books about the adoptee experience, and the internet postings of other adoptees, and have felt the affirmation of their community for my feelings of brokenness. I have read about Adult Reactive Attachment Disorder and the Primal Wound and found affinity with the traumas they describe. But I have also always felt a still deeper piece of me struggling to be affirmed, one at the deepest level of my being, whispering that my worth, value and wellbeing as the child of the One who called all Creation into being is not dependent on the vicissitudes of the other broken people and systems I have encountered across my half century of life.
Those whispers rose to the level of shouting the other day when a baby, over a month old, was given over to the care of our hospital by its young mother. Her act of love unfolded among us, as I watched nurses and nursing assistants, social workers, interpreters and housekeepers, administrators and secretaries, and so many others lavish love and good wishes, prayer and petitions on this little life given over to our care. Quite against my own intention, I ended up spending over an hour with the mother as well. In those minutes, I came to understand, for the first time the deep and profound love of the woman who shared my life and then offered it to the care of others. No matter what her circumstance, the offering of the gift of a new life into the care of strangers takes profound love and courage, hope and trust. I watched them in the eyes of this young woman, bleary from little sleep; I heard it in her voice, buried deeply beneath a shield of anger and bravado; watched her return to it, time and time again as particular circumstances offered her other avenues and motivations. Always, she returned to her deep love’s course, the one which would offer her child the best chance at a life of love and happiness.
Somehow my questions of the inheritances of physical characteristics, intellect, talents, temperament and emotional tendencies have receded before my small part in the handing over of care of this one little life. My own paradigms of pain have been split open in a way which is at once terrifying and disorienting, healing and hopeful.
I have reflected many hours on this thing, which is being born anew in my life. There is a true disparity between my fifty years experience of myself as an adoptee and the miracles of love and compassion which I experienced as I shared a small part of this one child’s sojourn among us. I am split open and seeking new ways of understanding my self and the experiences of my lifetime. At this time, I am seeking guidance not only from Jesus, but also from the French psychoanalyst, Jaques Lacan, and his interest in how language shapes, or misshapes, our understanding of reality and the French philosopher, Michael Foucault, and his notion of the “metanarrative,” language in which is embedded a theory or story which passes itself off as truth without exception, a story which is more often than not more false than true.
I am beginning to think that adoptees are more hurt by the language and cultural myths of adoption than by the act itself. I am beginning to believe this is true, even if the family into which a little one is given over for care, is more broken than not. I certainly know that the family entrusted with my care failed miserably on many, many levels to offer me the love and acceptance that any child deserves. Yet, they are victims as well, victims not only of the metanarratives of adoption, but also of fertility and family. For I have struggled as well with my own feelings of worthlessness and flaw in the face of menopause and my failed fecundity and the absence of family. I am not the ideas of others. I am not their fears and prejudices, misconceptions and misdirected longings. I can never be who I was born to be, if I do not free myself from the notions of people who do not care for me. At age fifty, time is running out. If not now, when?
I must lay claim to who I was born to be. I am obligated, for myself and for the woman whose life I shared and for the one who in her own inept way care for me, to strive to fulfill the gift of love and courage, hope and trust bequeathed as these two women struggled to love me best, each in their own way.
Your thoughts and reflections would be appreciated