I wish adoptees came with instruction manuals. The most important instruction would be 1. Say I love you. Repeat. Say and repeat even when the adoptee is acting like she could care less. Say and repeat even when the adoptee is making faces and pushing you away. Especially then.
Why? you ask. This may be true for others, you say, but my son, my daughter, my wife, my husband, my sister, my brother, my best friend, are fine. They are not like these other adoptees you talk about. They don’t have any issues.
I hear you. So many adoptees are such good actors that no one, not even themselves, know they are acting. They are fine. Everything is fine. Granted, you will say, they have trouble focusing in school or they have drug issues, food issues, self-esteem issues, or they have trouble sticking with things or they have anger issues or they have health issues, particularly gastro-intestinal issues, but that’s different. That’s just being human. That has nothing to do with the fact that they are adopted. Except. Except that if you start to ask around and get honest answers, almost every time you talk to an adoptee you will hear one of the above symptoms mentioned.
I know, I know. You so badly want to prove me wrong. I’m making sweeping statements with no medical footnotes or even any kind of credentials other than the fact that I’m adopted and have done a lot of research and function better as a friend, partner, and mother when I am told I am loved. But what if you just assume I’m right and follow step one of the simple instruction manual that I am in the process of writing? What do you have to lose? If nothing else, you told someone who didn’t really NEED to hear it that you loved him or her on a daily basis. Was that really so painful? Do you lose anything by doing it even if my whole theory is ludicrous?
Think about this:
Imagine being your most helpless, your most needy, and then work with the fact that your body and mind was created to depend on for continued life disappears. The baby was formed from and in the mother’s energy field. This creation is so personal; everything that went into the mother: food, air, sound, emotion, becomes baby. The mother’s thoughts, her breathing pattern, the things she has to drink with dinner, the dinner itself, all affect the baby. The baby and the mother are one piece of music. There is rhythm and flow to their lives for over nine months, and then the baby is born, the cord is cut, and a new cord is created when the baby locks eyes with the mother and finds itself in the mirror of what was once its self. You are out of me, the look says, but you are safe. You are separate from me now but look: we are still attached. You are outside of the field you were once in, but we are still attached. We still form a mother/child bubble. You are still safe. You are still home.
When you touch the skin of a cake before it is done cooking, your fingerprint leaves a mark, and it’s permanent. You just don’t see it later because of all the frosting. When a child is born and is not cared for by the birth mother, there is a mark left on the brain and nervous system, a gap that didn’t get sealed by mother-child contact continuity, and that gap is what unsteadies an adoptee’s sense of self and safety. It’s what connects I am here with I am safe.
Constant reassurance is the bridge that connects this gap. This is great news. This means we can change things. This means we can make a person who may not feel safe or at home at the world feel, if not completely safe or completely at home, at least better. More safe. More at home. And that is not nothing.
When I shared this essay with my friend, he wrote back: I love you. I love you. I love you.
I laughed and wrote back: Thank you. You are the quickest learner ever. I felt warm and happy and loved, and best of all, I felt myself attach to him. Not all at once, like a hungry piece of tape, but like piece of me grew a little tentacle that reached out, exploring, curious, like, maybe this will be okay. Maybe I can attach here.
(Can you see why many adoptees hesitate to talk about their deepest feelings to others and even to themselves? So often we feel like whack jobs. We have to create a new language in a world that is used to hearing about a reality that does not match our own.)
My friend wrote back: I think I am adopted. I laughed and yet another tentacle reached out. My friend is not adopted, but lack of connection and the longing to connect are part of the human condition. I replied: I love you. I love you. I love you.