Holding Adoptees and Episode 15 of This is Us
I no longer remember how many times I have moved. I think it’s about the same as my age. Fifty-two.
This may seem obvious to you, but I think this intentional ripping out of my roots is a way for me to avoid having to try to live like a “real” person. I’m moving again, and the process of writing about adoption and ripping out the roots at the same time is now a different experience. I am more aware of what I am feeling. And so, I don’t sleep all that well.
Last night I woke up after sleeping for two hours, and I tried to think of ways to self-soothe so I could fall back to sleep. My brain was awake, but my eyes hurt. My body was tired. I was afraid I was up for the night. I felt as if I had been tired forever as an adult, and so in my mind I want back to when I was small.
I imagined being a child. I thought about being held, being sung to, being rocked to sleep. I asked myself who would I most want to be held by, and I thought about being in the womb, what that would have felt like, but I realized I wanted arms, not fluid around me, so I lined up my birth mother and my mother in my imagination and I wondered which one I would want to hold me.
I have been adopted for 52 years and I think this was the first time I ever let myself think that thought, let myself wonder which mother I would rather have comfort me. Lying there in bed, in my imagination I looked at both mothers: one I had only seen in a photograph, the other had been the most important person in my life aside from my daughter, for 47 years, until she, my mother, died. (I don’t know if that changed after she died.)
My birth mother had never been warm to me in our few exchanges, and she was not warm in my imagination. I did not want her to even look at me, never mind rock me to sleep. In my imagination, I looked at my mother. She was so familiar but faded, gone from me. All my life my mother was both there and not there, distracted by her own life, her own dreams, her own lack of self-love, and in my imagination, it was the same. She wasn’t fully present, and so I didn’t want her to rock me to sleep, either. Her touch would not be enough. The childish part of myself stomped her foot. She wasn’t my real mother, anyway. I had no mother real enough to hold me and make me feel safe.
My guts felt hollow and achy. I had betrayed my mother by not choosing her. I was arrogant and spiteful and greedy, comparing both mothers like that: one who had given me away, one who had taken me in and given me all that she could and there I was saying she hadn’t been enough, that neither were enough for me.
I put my hands on my face to feel the heat of my own body on my body. How was I going to survive this life, never mind this night, when I was this alone, this inconsolable?
Why do hospitals not have protocols for parents to follow when babies go home with parents who had not created them? Why are there not holding protocols for adoptees they can use even as adults? Why isn’t there some sort of Heimlich maneuver for adoptees when they are feeling especially disconnected and alone?
How do we become real when the people who hold us have no idea what is going on in our brains?
I turned off episode 15 of This is Us near the start when Randall reassures his daughter who is anxious about her grandmother’s health. “Everything is going to be fine,” Randall says, and his face looks like he is about to crack. Your job as an adoptee is to tell the world and yourself you are fine, while inside, the pressure of all you have lost and all you have been unable to say builds up inside of you.
I am so afraid of what is going to happen to Randall, when all that grief he has held inside finally spills out. I am afraid he might die.
When you are adopted, one of the biggest fears you might have, perhaps the biggest, is that people will leave you.
Sometimes the easiest thing to do is to leave first.
Please tell me Randall is going to stay.