Last night I woke up at 3 a.m., the hour that I’ve become familiar with in the past year, and I searched for ways to make the alert part of my brain sleepy because the tired part was exhausted.
When I was a kid, my friend’s dad used to love to scare me. He’d pop out from behind a door and I’d scream. We both thought this was funny because I’d freak out. I’d scream. I’m still like this, but no one around me thinks to jump out and yell “boo!” Almost no one. It did happen last week, and I did scream, and as my heart pounded, we—the booer and I the reactor—laughed.
At the time, when I was a kid, I never thought that maybe I was jumpy because I was adopted. That would have been like thinking that maybe I was hungry because birds fly.
Last night at 3 a.m. I looked for the word to describe how I felt, and I came up with upset. I wondered what the opposite of upset was.
This morning, I googled it. Upset is a noun (the act of disturbing the mind or body; the act of upsetting something; an unhappy and worried mental state), a verb (disturb the balance or stability of: move deeply; cause to lose one's composure), and an adjective (thrown into a state of disarray or confusion; afflicted with or marked by anxious uneasiness or trouble or grief; an unhappy and worried mental state; having been turned so that the bottom is no longer the bottom.)
Antonyms of upset are calm, organized, expected, untroubled, unturned. These are not words generally used to describe an adoptee. But the definitions of upset could just as easily be the definitions of adopt/adopted/adoptee.
Adoption upsets the nervous system and therefor the life of the adoptee, and, in all likelihood, the lives of those close to him or her. So what calms it?
I was first most likely upset in the birth mother sphere (as a fetus, living on the mother’s anxiety about being pregnant and single and a young student and possibly her hatred of me) (as a baby, looking for the mother breast but getting the bottle held by…whom?...for the first ten weeks, and then by a woman who loved me, she said, at first sight and whom I learned to love, but who did not smell or sound or move like home until repetition and language grooved its way into my brain. “I am your mommy. This is your daddy. You are our daughter.”).
What if hospitals had protocols in place for babies that were going from the first mother to new parents or to foster homes? What if there was some neurological work that could be done to help shift the child’s nervous system from sympathetic (flight or fright) to parasympathetic (rest and digest)? Come on, Stanford. You guys are so smart. I know you can do it.
Last night I asked my brain and body what it needed, and much to my surprise and embarrassment, it wanted the mother’s breast. It wanted the warm skin of home against my lips, the food of my universe in my mouth and guts. Part of me wanted to scold myself for being so weird and needy. So…gross. If you are a 52-year-old woman craving your mother’s breast clearly there is a problem.
This all made me…upset.
So I lay on my side, put my hand against my bare belly to soothe the skin hunger, and I let myself imagine what it would have felt like if my first mother had fed me. It was so hard to stay with that thought, but I’m a determined person, and if I have to imagine things that make me uncomfortable for future health, I’m in.
The thing is, I live in the gap between mothers, neither one is fully, 100%, mine (for one relinquished me and the other, many people claimed, wasn’t my real mother) and so I didn’t want to nurse from either. Neither one was home. Neither one was right.
My mother used to make fun of how quickly I’d drain a bottle when I was a baby. I still eat as if I’m afraid the food is going to disappear. I had a neighbor once who had adopted a small girl from Africa. The man and woman put locks on their refrigerator and cabinets because the girl was hoarding food. I fell asleep thinking about what I would have done if that girl was in my care. I fell asleep thinking of the refrigerator I’d put in her bedroom, the food I’d put in it. I fell asleep thinking about this small girl sleeping in a comforter made of all her favorite foods. I fell asleep hoping she was well.