Adoptee Conference Hangover
I’m lying in bed thinking about peanut butter cookies, chocolate, ice cream. Beer. Tacos. A burrito the size of my arm. I want something to make this pain in my stomach better, and historically food has been my go-to medicine cabinet. What better way to kill the fire in the belly than to muffle it with sugar and flour and alcohol? (Writing might be a better way, I’ve been learning, and so here I go.)
Yesterday morning my lower abdomen felt as if someone had not only punched it, but had screwed his or her fist around to make a point. I blamed it on my decaf iced Americano. I figured the barista had picked the wrong roast and I was officially caffeinated. I felt strung out and wanted to do anything I could to get away from the pain in my abdomen, and so I got in my car and tried to run from myself, an activity that has been my full time job since I can remember.
I went and hiked and listened to podcasts until some of the edge wore off, and then I went to write. I wrote around the edges of the pain, just as you might circle the edges of a difficult conversation, never getting to the point.
Today the pain in my abdomen is just as bad, and my head is making up stories. Maybe I am upset about…maybe it was…maybe I’m not as okay about things as I thought I was. Maybe I am in trouble.
This is what it is like to be adopted, I think. The body sometimes (really I mean almost always) sends out feelings that aren’t attached to anything going on in real time, and so our brains have to make up stories. Maybe I’m upset about the fact that I didn’t have work today (when it was an amazing day I had all to myself, but SOMETHING real must be causing this very real pain). Maybe I don’t know my own thoughts, my own feelings. Maybe this wonderful day was really a traffic accident because clearly my stomach is upset about something!
It’s hard to trust yourself when your physical feelings don’t match your mental interpretations of the world. I don’t even want to write all of this. I want to quit right here because it’s so frustrating. It’s like finding out you are miswired and the body shop that can fix you hasn’t even been built yet because no one believes your problems are real. You were adopted by nice people, right? You love them, right? You’re an adult now and this all happened when you were an infant, right?
And still my stomach hurts.
This is what I didn’t write about in my last blog post. When I was at the Indiana Adoptee Network conference last week, I heard Lynn Johansenn talk about her organization S.O.S. Saving Our Sisters. She spoke about the tricky footplay (read: illegal) different adoption agencies perform in order to insure that parents who want to adopt get children from mothers who feel they can’t keep their children. Lynn lost a child to adoption and has made it her life’s work to help mothers who need temporary help in order to keep their children.
I would rather turn a blind eye to this. My parents, whom I adore, adopted me from an agency, and my birth mother gave me up because she was a young college student and believed a couple could do a better job raising me that she could. (My stomach right now is telling me: get in the car; go eat a dozen donuts; go punch a wall.) I don’t know how much the agency profited from the adoption. But there is profit, and it does not, generally, go to the mother who created the child. The agency, then, wants the mother to give up the child. Are you following this?
Here’s the thing: when you separate a child from its mother, you do damage, and, in my experience, the damage is deep and permanent. It doesn’t matter how many designer cribs or expensive college educations you give a damaged brain. Money doesn’t fix hurt. Being raised by a mother who is struggling financially is not worse than being raised with a couple who has cash as long as the basic needs of food and shelter are met. But that’s for another day. What I am trying to say here is that at the conference I came face to face with the fact that the way adoption is practiced in the United States is not for the benefit of the child. It is for the benefit of the agency.
And that made me sick.
I talked to my friend HBL about this, and the next day he called to say he had found the pictures of his two boys with their birth (first) moms. He said he found a whole box of pictures and that he’d been crying in his garage because he’d never noticed before that in all the pictures of his older son as an infant, his son was either crying or had a face screwed up in pain. HBL loves his boys. It wasn’t until he met me that he thought to associate the significant challenges his boys have in school and in their lives with adoption. And now HBL has to wonder whether he and his wife took these children from their mothers.
This morning when I was talking to HBL on the phone about an adoptee who’d called me to talk about her suicidal ideations and her wish that she didn’t exist sometimes, he said, “But clearly adoption is better than abortion.” I stopped and stood in the middle of the sidewalk. I decided to be perfectly honest because the other way hadn’t gotten me where I wanted to be in life. “I’m not sure about that,” I said. “If I’d been aborted, I wouldn’t have caused all the pain I did to my parents, to people involved in my life. I wouldn’t have suffered so much.” This last line was particularly hard to say. I grew up a good adoptee and that means to think of others instead of yourself.
“How can you say that?” he asked. “You’ve had such an amazing life. So many people love you. You have your daughter.”
I wanted to lie down on the sidewalk and wave a white flag. Okay. Okay. You’re right. I’m lucky. But I decided to stay standing and see this thing out. I love my daughter more than anything and so of course I have to say I want to be here because of her, but what if I think beyond the bubble of me, what if I look at the overall quality of life of an adoptee? I don’t know. I think it stinks. I think the world asks adoptees to go to Camp Suck It Up every day of their lives, and so I think the world doesn’t deserve adoptees.
“Wow,” HBL said. “We have so much to learn.”
Okay. I did it. I wrote about my feelings. My stomach does feel better. It’s a drag to write about something where you don’t come out like a hero. It’s a drag to write and talk about pain. But on the other side of this is a burrito the size of my arm. And the taco joint is right down the street. And tomorrow I get to see my daughter.