I was at Peet’s Coffee the other day and a baby in a carriage was crying. “How old is she?” one man asked the man behind the stroller. “Nine days,” the new father said as he bent over to pull the unhappy potato out of her nest. The baby stopped crying and heads bent to admire her. I thought, “Well, okay, maybe no one was there to pick me up much when I cried as a newborn, but at least I was only ten days old when I went to the parents who adopted me.” My next thought was, “What the heck are you doing in a public space with a nine-day old baby?” My third thought was, “Crap. I wasn’t ten days old, I was ten weeks.”
The next day I developed a stye in my lower eyelid. It felt as if someone had punched me in the eye from inside my brain. The pain made it difficult to bend over, difficult to sleep. I worried about my eye.
I have realized lately that as an adopted person my cup of what I am able to tolerate is basically full all the time from dealing with stressors I’m not usually consciously aware of: Why did she give me up? What’s wrong with me? Will she ever come back? Am I going to die because no one is here for me? (My baby brain still thinks I’m a baby and has no idea I can take care of myself.) What this means is that things a “normal” person would have room to tolerate: poison ivy, the flu, breaking up with someone, money worries, often send me into a tailspin. These things are going to go on forever. These things are going to kill me.
Thinking of what it might have been like for me as a baby with no one regularly there to hold me sent me into one of those tailspins. My eye got worse. I couldn’t sleep. All my joints started to hurt. I had a headache. I had a fever. My stomach hurt. These pains tunneled my brain into the thought: You are in so much trouble. Escape.
If I were another person, this is where adoptee suicide becomes an issue. Another person might figure she’d help the progression of events along and get to the finish line faster because the race itself was becoming unbearable. If you aren’t going to survive your life, why not take the only control you feel you have and end it?
Luckily, I believe in tomorrow. Luckily, I know my brain is a little crazy and if I let it run the show I’m in big trouble. Luckily, I have friends I can call and a yoga and meditation practice I can utilize. Luckily, I don’t love alcohol or drugs. Luckily, I have seen the power writing has to transform my thoughts and my life. Luckily, I have a daughter I would never leave.
I want to know the facts of what happened to babies in the 1960s (and now!) when there wasn’t a parent around to hold them when they cried. Who fed these babies? Were they held at all? For how long? I want to know because then my brain can stop scrolling through possible scenarios. I never rip out the first chapter of a book and start reading because, well, duh. Can you imagine taking the time to read War and Peace after skipping the first chapter. Be honest, wouldn’t you lie in bed sometimes feeling that skipping that first chapter had been a bad idea? What if something really important had happened? What if the characters of War and Peace had missed the first chapter. How could they live a fully developed chapter ten if chapter one was held back from them?
What is the expectation of a baby when it cries? He has a need for comfort, I assume, and so what happens when no one is there to comfort him?
If I look at my own life, I think the baby-child-adult has trouble believing anyone, truly, can be depended on. The baby-child-adult grows up to be either over-the-top needy, giving the world chance after chance to try to repair preverbal wounds that can never be repaired in this way, or perhaps the baby-child-adult grows up fiercely independent. I got this. I don’t need anyone. That’s sounds great, but we the people exist in relationship and so it’s not balanced, not healthy. I think I’m a combination of both. Overly needy and extremely independent. I have been asked more than once if I am bipolar (all by people who were diagnosed thusly), but I know now the answer is, No. I’m adopted.
Ten weeks is too long to go without being regularly held. It’s not just about the children who are relinquished. I think of the babies in the I.C.U. and it is not good. They are both being taken care of--attached to tubes, held in plastic boxes--and they are being starved. Skin contact is necessary to our development as human beings. It just is. And it starts at birth. I understand that underdeveloped or sick babies need intensive care, and so I’m not saying that skin contact cures everything. I am saying it is essential to our health as a human being. So there are things we have to figure out. How can a child be relinquished and still have the skin contact he needs for his best well-being? How can an infant be in an incubator and be held at the same time?
We’ve made it to the moon. I have faith in us as a people we can find a way to make sure we take care of the babies.