I’ve been trying to be intentional about writing again, but it’s slow going. I find it difficult to return to the writing I started last winter — in part because of the disruptions of the past six months, but also because I have a block. I need to take a step that I’m resisting, but I’m not sure I can take it without understanding my resistance. I’m starting to make some progress, but have yet to move.
It doesn’t help that today is the one-year anniversary of learning my birthmother’s identity — and of her death two months before.
Peter K emailed me today and sent along a piece of writing I did before all that unfolded (although I can’t exactly remember when I wrote it), as well some news of how he passed it onto friends wrestling with adoption issues. It’s an odd synchronicity, to be sure, but welcome. I’m glad to return to this piece and think I might integrate parts of it into the book.
Last night I watched a documentary on PBS. I think I often fool myself into thinking that I’ve “done the work” around adoption, but it really takes very little to tear the wound. I cried several times during the broadcast.
I’ve come to realize that it takes an extraordinary amount of empathy for the non-adopted to even begin to understand what it’s like to be adopted — wherein lies the tragedy. Policy around adoption is crafted by the non-adopted and is in service to maintaining a specific kind of cultural power and place in the world. It fulfills a fiction that “normal” families can be engineered — and that “normalcy,” as defined by a particular kind of moralism, is a worthy goal. Unfortunately, the experience of being taken from my biological family didn’t create the intended policy outcome and I carry a needless sense of loss that will never dissipate or heal.
I know all the counter arguments and anticipate, like usually happens, I’ll get some of them in response to this post. All I can say is that I challenge you to take on the experience of adoption before you provide commentary to the critiques that adoptees offer. Namely, I challenge you to give up your name and have a stranger assign a new one; stop speaking with surety about your race or ethnicity (or emphasizing the importance of race and ethnicity — because heaven knows that you might be biased against yourself); tell your doctor that you have no idea of your family history and “feel okay” about not knowing if your genes carry any likelihood for illness; forget your mother and father, siblings, grandparents — and accept that they aren’t important to who you are. Accept that any caring adult — arbitrarily assigned to you — can be your family and provide you with the same sense of place in the world as you now have. Imagine, now, that even at 45-years old (or 100-years old) you will be told that the government can know the truth about your origin, but you have no “right” to know where you came from, to whom you are biologically related, or the circumstances of your birth and adoption. Consider how this will change your sense of identity.
Even if you only try this as a thought exercise, please realize that if it happened to me, it can happen to you, your children or your grandchildren. Yes, the government and religion are that powerful. And they are that thoughtless about the consequences of their “beliefs” and actions.
This morning I’m aware that being adopted is an existential condition — perhaps the most truly formative existential experience of my life. It also remains a strange, silent facet of who I am. Time to start talking again. This might be my work.
One thought on “returning | a cycle”
I can’t imagine your situation. I have friends (other than you) who have been adopted and it seems to me the experience varies from person to person. It also seems that health and children bring to the surface what might not otherwise be looked at by less introspective people. My grandmother had a child at 15, and with no viable choices, she gave her up for adoption. My aunt began to look for her birth family at 75, only after her daughter had been diagnosed with cancer, and she was curious about genetic health issues. Of course, she wasn’t told she was adopted until her mother’s death when she was in her mid-60’s. I think it was a different world in many ways. She knew her birth mother’s name and the place of her birth- this was an adoption arranged between two Catholic priests with families in their respective parishes. While it was legal in 1929- it was not cloaked with layers of bureaucracy and secrecy.
I also think that how one fits or doesn’t feel like he fits into his or her nuclear family can make the questions that much deeper. My occasional feelings of alienation and a sense of not being like the others in my family might have been overwhelming, had I been adopted.
Growing up in a large Irish Catholic family is somewhat like being an ethnic Jew- strong identity with culture. So I cannot pretend to put myself in your shoes. But I am intensely fascinated with your journey. Write on, Pete!