In my last post, I wrote about what it feels like to be adopted. I felt a little embarrassed writing it, like, Uh, how long can you stand in front of this mirror and look at yourself and touch your hair? I mean, this is getting pathetic. You should be embarrassed to be so focused on yourself and your feelings. About something that happened before you can ever remember. Before there were smart phones, or Teslas. Or, let’s be closer to the correct decade: AstroTurf. You’ve talked about adoption pretty much non-stop since you started writing your (stupid) memoir back in March.
The voice in my head was having a field day, as it had my entire life. It liked to remind me who was boss. I kept typing my blog post even though the voice was picking up steam. Grow up, Cupcake. Think about your family that raised you. Think about how this is going to make them feel. You’re not an animal. You know the rules: closed adoptions stay closed for the sake of the birth parents and the parents who adopt. Both want privacy and etc. etc. You got your essential needs met. What child on this planet could possibly need more than one set of mothers and fathers? That’s just selfish. There is something seriously wrong with you.
And it’s true: there was something seriously wrong with me: I wasn’t happy in my life, and it was why I kept typing even though my brain ached and my abdomen was in a dark wait of dread.
And here is what was also true: somewhere in my journey of writing You Don’t Look Adopted I discovered the thing inside of me that was afraid it would die if I talked openly about adoption wasn’t about my fear of adoption. It was about other people’s fear, my mother’s in particular, my mother who’d made it clear to me as a young child that while it was okay to say I was adopted, it was not okay to talk about my past before my parents had gotten me from the agency. If I mentioned my birth mother, my mother ran from me, and when you are young and your mother runs from you, your well-being and safety feel at risk and so you learn to keep the peace by putting a lid on your most pressing questions: Who am I? Where do I come from? Who do I look like? What skills do I have? Is it in my genes to murder people or to make clay bowls?
I now felt like a train that had only one direction and one track. I had to keep going. I’d set out to investigate what it meant to be adopted and to pay close attention to how my adoption had affected my body and mind, and so I was strapped in for the ride. It wasn’t like suddenly I could switch to the topic of grass-fed beef because, truth be told, I wasn’t even looking out the window at the fields. I was looking at my life and at the lives of adoptees and others touched by adopted. I was listening to their stories. Taking notes. Comparing. And finding more similarities than differences.
If I had to boil the whole adoption process down to two words (and I’m not talking about the dark side of adoption: baby stealing and selling and horror after horror. I’m talking about the adoption process many others and I had—where the birth mother and her family actively did not want the baby, and the birth father retained his right to disappear) they would be fear and love.
For as fiercely as my mother loved us, her children, she was terrified that one day she would lose us. And if I had asked to meet my birth mother, that would have caused my mother awful fear. I don’t know if her brain was able to live in that place of negative capability where she could rest assured she was my parent, my mom, while the woman who had brought me into the world was a different kind of mother. And what that means is that for as long as my mother was alive, I couldn’t be, not entirely. For to deny my roots was to deny part of myself. And my mother didn’t have the support or the training to let her child be…me. Anne.
So, at 52, five years after my mother died, I’d say I was now at the growth stage of about an 18 year old. I’m just about ready to fully claim my independence and (metaphorically) leave home. It is strange, to be a teenaged middle-aged woman. I don’t even know how to dress, really, I mean, what clothes does Anne even like?
All of this is to get to a point: my father is reading my blog posts.
For the longest time, until less than a year ago, I regularly bought journals and notebooks and then put them up on my bookcase, blank. Or if I did write in them, I would tear out the pages. I was so afraid of being exposed. The problem was the thing I was hiding was me. I’d been doing it for so long I didn’t know. I thought I was private. I didn't realize how not letting myself exist on the page was a way of keeping myself from existing on the world. Writing grows us. It teaches us who we are.
But God forbid if anyone had seen the list of things I had bought on my trip to New York or had read what I had eaten at Friendly’s. What would happen if people saw me?
I would die.
Some adoptees read my blog post about feelings yesterday, and they wrote to me that they had similar feelings, and although they wished they had the ability to share the post with friends or family members, they were too afraid of whom they might hurt.
From my vantage point I can now see the ones they are hurting the most are themselves, but the fact that my mother is dead might make it easier for me to say. I wonder if I would be so brave if she were alive.
Probably not. To hurt your mother is a terrible thing.
The cool thing about my father is that he never seemed afraid or hesitant to talk about adoption. My father doesn’t have a historically long attention span for topics of the heart, but he made me feel it was fine that I talked about adoption as long as I kept it under a couple of minutes. My dad felt safe. He still does.
I mean, he read a book where I, his daughter, wrote about having sex, stealing, lying, getting in debt, and wearing dirty underwear. All the stuff I historically had tried to hide from my mother and father in my need to be their “good girl” was out there on the page for my father to read at his own pace.
And I let him read it. I let him in. And he had the grace and the courage to go there.
And then, if I’m truly honest, I shut him out for a few months. It was too much intimacy for me. In my warped, adopted brain, too much closeness is as dangerous, maybe more so, than too much distance. It’s so real. So dirty. One breath away from disappearance. I grew in the liminal space between lives, Anne who was born Sara, and so really I grew up nowhere. I had as little real relationship as I could manage so I could never be left again the way my birth mother had left me.
And I almost died of loneliness.
So I changed.
I wrote a journal and let the world, and my father, read it.
And I lived.
Now, when my father and I speak on the phone, the talk is easy. We tell each other stories of our days. We laugh. It is good.