Being Adopted and Surrounded by Love
I was reading Brené Brown’s book Braving the Wilderness and thinking about my fear of stepping into a church. Any church. Any mosque. Any temple. Any place marked holy and sacred.
When I was a young girl, my parents took me to see the movie Alice’s Restaurant, and part of my brain flew into the screen and lived in a church with those crazy hippies. I felt like it’s where I belonged. Years and years later I even sent for an application to Newton Theological Institution because I had this idea I could be…I could be…I could be me, but in a church.
The only problem (well, one problem) is that I don’t exactly believe in God. I love all religions and yet have issue with bloodshed in the name of belief or with trying to convince others that it’s my way or the highway (or somewhere even darker and scarier).
I believe in my body, in community, and in love.
I have heard from a lot of adopted people this year. Some parents who have adopted. Some women who had relinquished their child or children for a variety of reasons. The grief in their stories is the choking kind. Along with the stories come a list of physical maladies ranging from depression to fibromyalgia to IBS to shingles. These are the people who ring up your groceries, who do your financial planning, who teach your children, who cut you off in traffic. More often than not these people do not wear their stories in a way that make them stand out. These people look like everyone else. Like, people.
When you are in a wheelchair, when you walk with a limp, when your arm is in a sling or when your head is bandaged, you get extra attention. Strangers (I hope) hold the door for you, carry your groceries, are patient as you struggle through a simple task. When you carry a story that tears you apart, you are in your own private Idaho, and you don’t have a handicapped tag or the ease of a shared experience because no one knows that inside you are raging or crying or dying.
So here’s my idea. I want to do sort of a Woodstock for the adoptee community. I want my idea to happen in a huge field. I want the field to be really, really muddy. I want all adopted people to gather together, and I want them to hold hands. (Funds will have to be set aside from the profits adoption agencies make to get all adoptees to this field.)
I want there to be another circle of birth/first mothers outside of the first circle—it may almost be the same number of people so the two circles might touch each other, the adopted people’s circle outside of the birth/first mother’s circle. (If there are any birth/first fathers with strong feelings they, too, of course, will be included.)
Then I want there to be another circle encircling the other two, and this circle will be made of people who have adopted the people in the first circle.
I want everyone to be knee deep in mud. I want it to be the kind of mud that is thick and scary in its ability to pull you down. I want everyone in that field to feel stuck and held at the same time, terrified and joyful.
When you hold a person’s hand, you are intimately connected. When my daughter was born and first grabbed hold of my finger, my heart was one million percent hers. She could have told me with her eyes that she was going to grow up to be a serial killer and I still would have given her my heart, complete. It’s also harder to hold back your feelings when someone takes your hand. You are reminded you are not alone, or, more painfully, you are reminded of the boundaries of your skin and of the fact that you are, in fact, alone.
We are both alone and not alone always.
We forget. Sometimes we think we have to be one or the other.
This muddy, muddy place will be the church my body has been looking for since the day I was born, and maybe even earlier.
When I step into a church, into any place labelled holy, I start to cry. My heart gets so big it presses against my tear ducts and I get weak in the joints. I want to sit down. Bow my head. Pray for spiritual guidance. And so I skip church. I walk instead, go to Whole Foods and cruise the aisles. I am afraid to lose control of myself like that in a public space. It’s like an emotional equivalent to childbirth, and I am afraid of all that feeling. I am so afraid of what is inside of me. How can this single body hold an ocean? It makes no sense, and I don’t know how the ocean will come out of me in a way where I will survive or not horribly embarrass myself.
There is so much grief associated with adoption. There is the grief of loss, of relinquishment (a polite way of saying giving away), of infertility. There is the grief of not knowing. Of not talking. Of not understanding. So I want these circles to, together, weep for all they have lost.
Even while I was sobbing, if I held hands with every adopted person in the world, I think it would be like plugging myself into the socket of hell ya. I think it would be like this for the first parents, for the adoptive parents. We are not alone. Yes, we carry sadness, deep, deep sadness. We can feel it as we hold hands because the mud we are stuck in is trying to swallow us whole; we can feel it because we hear ourselves and everyone around us sobbing, but hell ya, can you feel the strength of connection? When you stand in the field of mud and hold hands with everyone who suffers in ways similar to the ways you suffer, you are the opposite of alone. You are connected and surrounded by love.
I know there would be a significant people standing there in the mud, people who have adopted primarily, who would have no idea what they were doing there, for they live in the world of fine. Everything's fine. Better than fine. We are a family. End of discussion. Adoption has never been an issue for me, for us, for him, for her.
Please have faith. Adoption is a problem. If everything has gone perfectly in your world as an adopted person, as a birth parent, as an adoptive parent, I truly could not be more thrilled for you. But know you are not the norm. and that, more likely than not, someone in your tribe has thoughts he or she does not share. You do not serve the larger cause by saying adoption can be painless. The most helpful thing you could do would be to partake in this ceremony. It's more than fine if you don't cry. Just hold the hand of your neighbor in support.
We are born to die, and that is the tragedy of being a human. It’s so strange—that we come to this world just so we can leave it. People in the adoption triad don’t have the corner on the grief market. But they do have a significant corner, and if the grief associated with adoption was recognized for what it is: universal, unavoidable, deep, true, then the world as a whole could better understand how to deal with the grief of living: feel it, share it, let it out so, after the last tears have fallen, the laughter can start, because I don’t believe you can have three huge circles of people in a field full of mud without some wild party starting.
We are human, after all. We are here to do so much more than grieve. We are here to cause some serious trouble. Some can you believe what she just did, did you get a picture of that? trouble. People will hook up. By the end of the day, there will be newly formed couple making out in the mud, about to start the business that got these three circles in creation in the first place.
Once in a massage class, we were given small cups of water, and we were asked to slowly lower one finger to the surface of the water, slowly, more slowly even than that. What we saw was that before we touched the water, the water reached up to touch our finger.
I think adoptee and birth parent grief is the water reaching for a finger that isn’t there. It’s a skin grief, and so it is private and beyond words. Parents who adopt may have their own grief, but it probably isn’t skin grief and so sometimes it is hard for there to be empathy. That is something we can work on by clearly communicating to each other our feelings, and by really listening to each other. Communicating and listening are like prayer. It’s holy work, and we can do it for each other.
See you in the mud. In the church of this just got real.