When Your Birth Father Says Yes
I hope I get this right. It feels important to me.
The day before I met my birth father, it was like my nervous system was made of pieces of stars. I felt bright and jagged and dangerously alive. I had entered the land of no language. Granted, as an adoptee, I live in that world, but I was entering it in a new way, going into some part of the land that I hadn’t thought I’d ever get to explore, a land where I couldn’t identity feelings as well as the edges of myself--a variation on how I felt all my life times a hundred. I either felt really, really good or awful. It was hard to tell. Trying to name my feelings would be like asking margarita mix how it was enjoying the ride as the blender spun on high.
I’m a creature of habit, so while exploring sounds wonderful, there’s also the fact that I like to have the same thing for breakfast, do the same activities every day, and go to bed at the same time. This routine does bore me and then I throw all the cards into the air and start over, but I do it on my time. Control is important to me. Adventure is also important, but the truth is I like adventure with one foot on the brake.
Meeting my birth father felt like I’d be throwing myself into a molecular wood chipper. My whole self was rearranging itself. Change is good, right? Change is growth, right? I kept asking myself, telling myself, really, these things as I went through the day before I met my birth father, waiting for it to be the day so I’d no longer be the person who had never met a DNA parent.
I picked him up at the airport outside baggage claim, and when I got out of the car and he hugged me, I was in shock. He hugged me just the way my dad did. Tight grip, thumps on the back. I felt I had gone a long, long journey just to arrive right back where I started. I had imagined he’d smell familiar, that something in my body would recognize the new/old father and my self would shift, change, but what happened was I was brought right back to what I knew.
The day was like that. He was more familiar than new, but not in a familiar, oh, this is what I have been missing way. Familiar in a I’ve had this all along way. Had it in myself, in my parents, in my friends, in my world. There was no bright, sparkly, you have been absolved of your sins and now you can be yourself and your life is going to be easy feeling for me that apparently I’d been secretly hoping for. There was here you are with your birth father. We had lunch together and when he asked if I wanted to split something, I said that not only did I not want to do that, I didn’t want him to touch my plate, that I was territorial about my food and a terrible sharer. He laughed, ordered his own sandwich. At dinner, we got each other’s meals by mistake and ended up eating off each other’s plates before switching. He knew what a big thing this was and he smiled. And then I split my cookie with him and he laughed.
In the morning I went to the hotel to have breakfast with him before driving to the airport, and I found him sitting in the lobby, flushed. He smiled at me. “I’m at peace,” he said. “I woke up once in the middle of the night and fell back asleep, smiling. My teeth were showing. How did you sleep?”
I had a full day. I dropped him off and he hugged me goodbye and I did a massage and taught Write or Die. I didn’t know how I felt.
The next morning I went to CVS and bought Tylenol, band aids, and yeast infection medicine. There is no part of the body, apparently, adoption does not touch. I had spent the morning pooping my brains out. My stomach hurt and I so went for a walk to try to smooth out my guts. I paid attention, and I realized I felt I’d swallowed a shoe or kicked in the navel. I tried to remember what it felt like when I was first pregnant. I thought about what it might have been like when I was born and taken, not to my mother, but somewhere else. I imagined that I might have curled around myself at the shock and that that feeling, that this is wrong and I am going to die because the thing I need most is not here feeling has been riding alongside my navel my whole life. And just as I didn’t know the story of that skin knot: Who was on the other end of me? Whose flesh is this? I didn’t know the story behind the pain in the guts. It was something I always had, something I assumed was part of being human.
I didn’t start crying until I got back from my walk and googled “left of navel” and read this: In almost half of pediatric pancreatitis cases, no cause is identified. The most common sign of pancreatitis is severe abdominal pain, which usually occurs rapidly and is located above the belly button and on the left side of the abdomen. Sometimes the pain is felt in the middle of the back.
When my mother’s stomach hurt, she went to the doctor and he made her feel silly for taking up his time for a stomach ache. Months later, she turned yellow. A few years later, she died. In traditional Chinese medicine, the pancreas is related to the spleen, and these organs help with digestion. To maintain a healthy pancreas, accordingly, one should relate to others in a harmonious way so we can smoothly assimilate experiences. My mother could not talk about my birth parents with me because she saw them as a threat to her place in the world. Even now, even now that she is gone, this still makes me sad. My mother didn’t accept me for who I was. She died without fully knowing me, loving me. She would argue the opposite was true. But now here I am, the left of my abdomen aching, and I am sick with longing.
I called my father this morning to tell him I had met my birth father. I told him that I was glad he was my dad, and that he was my father. I think part of me had hoped that I was going to find a key hole of escape when I met my birth father, a gap for me to slip through and suddenly become me. That, obviously, did not happen. I’m already on the other side of the door, already me. The only thing missing is the unwound guts freedom of acceptance.
I think about how my guts feel, how they hurts, and I have a dream that when children don’t go to their mothers, a person cradles this child, putting one hand on top of the child’s abdomen, one on his back, sandwiching his guts between warm palms. I imagine the caretaker rocks the child, soothing the baby’s navel, the baby’s self, with the message of you are safe, someone is here for you, you can relax, you can let go. I would like that kind of care to be available, like Door Dash, for adopted people all their lives, 24/7. I would call for an order right now. I’d like to be rocked, my guts cradled. I want to be told everything is going to be okay. That I am safe. That she is coming to get me any second.
At one point in our talks, my birth father asked why adopted people feel they have the right to intrude on the lives of their family of origins. A year ago I might have told him to fuck off and walked away, but I have learned to be less reactive and to focus on logic rather than emotion. I also have learned to be brave. I told him that a man didn’t have to stick his penis in a woman and a woman could get an abortion, and that once you create a person, that person has the right, I believe with all my heart, to seek out his or her origins. I also believe that those origins, and not just the mother and the father but all relations, have the moral obligation to let that person in the door. It doesn’t have to be for an extended stay or even for lunch, but I do believe it needs to be for a handshake or a hug, some sort of acknowledgement that you exist. You matter. I told my birth father about my brain, about what it was like to be adopted. He listened. He said he understood.
I think it should be a law that all adoptees have the right to contact families of origin. People who aren’t adopted have no idea what happens to a person’s brain when this contact is refused. It’s like the self refusing the self and it is a very hard, if not impossible, thing to recover from. I’m not saying you have to have a relationship with the person who shows up at your door with DNA results showing your mother had a wild story she forgot to mention twenty years ago, but I do mean that you shake that person’s hand and let him or her know you are glad he is alive, even if your life is too full for one more person at the table. Baby steps.
I think my birth father is a hero for flying here to meet me. He owned his part in the dance. He hugged me. He is the one talking about future Thanksgivings, not me. That stuff will work itself out. But we did it. We connected the dots. And I am proud of both of us. It’s what should have happened. We are not born to be alone in the world. We are born to connect. It’s what keeps us alive.