I have felt very low the past week. I lost the momentum that I had in telling my story, probably because I am approaching the part in which I actually spoke to C. I want to tell this episode properly because it's so incredibly important to me, but I have to dig deep and face things that aren't too easy. I will do it. Maybe tomorrow.
Instead of committing to telling my own story, I got embroiled in several simultaneous blog discussions about whether adoption is traumatic for infants. There are different theories, but two main ones. The first says that all infants feel trauma in being separated from their first mother, the only mother they've ever known, the person whose smell and voice are familiar. Some adoptees never get over this loss, and some do. The second theory says that we don't have access into infants' brains to know what they feel, and can only judge bonding by their behavior. This theory states that infants are adaptive and one caretaker is just as good as another because infants will attach to anyone who holds them. Any emotional problems that adoptees feel come from the later discovery that they do not share genetic heritage with their adoptive family and the knowledge that they were surrendered by their first family.
In the discussions, it was interesting that most (not all) people arguing that infants feel no lasting effects from the separation and suffer no trauma were NOT adoptees. First mothers and adoptive parents, primarily. Both having a vested interest in infants feeling no loss. There was one adoptee around who argued that she feels no loss and doesn't want to be pathologized for feeling no loss. I get this, and she's entitled to her feelings. It just sucks for those of us who do feel that our separation and hot-potato handling through NICUs and foster care can't have been all that pleasant for the babies we were; our view, being unpopular with those who were adults in the triad and with society in general, is generally thrown out as being tainted by its unscientific nature and our "angry and bitter" take on things.
I am not angry and bitter. Well, maybe I am. But not because I was adopted, or because my aparents were awful. They did a tremendous job in raising me, and they love me unconditionally. I am angry with a system that let me rot in a NICU with no primary caregiver for six weeks and gave me phenobarbitol to shut me up. I am angry that I was placed in foster care for a month when my aparents could have taken me home from the hospital, or even visited me in the hospital so that my tender little neonatal self could have attached to them. I am angry to be dismissed and unheard as an adult adoptee; to be categorized and judged. To express an opinion and be told that I am unintelligent, unversed in adoption, and unscientific. I am very well educated and work in a very scientifically based field that has EVERYTHING to do with mothers and babies. I care what neonates go through. Advocating for babies is part of my job. I don't think anyone should have to go through what I did as an infant. I can't say for sure that it scarred me, but what if it did? I feel like it did. Anyone who knows me well and has known me from childhood can attest that I am, and have always been, very anxious. It took me years, into my thirties, to think that I was entitled to speak up and have an opinion. To insist on being heard. To feel that my needs were as important as anyone else's.
On Thursday I went with one of my closest and most beloved friends to see "Never Let Me Go," the film adaptation of Ishiguro's elegant but raw book about clones being raised for organ donation. I sat through it and was struck on two levels. The first was nostalgic, in that it followed the lives of clones as children, going to a school in England in the 1970's. I lived in England as a child during the 70's, and so much of the landscape, uniforms, school routines such as hymn practice, etc., were intensely familiar to me. I knew what things would smell like and feel like. Then there was the emotional complexity of what the clones felt, knowing they were different but not knowing. Suppressing things to make it easier to live. Wondering where they came from; looking obsessively for their "originals" in an attempt to find roots. Living in a painful state of in-between, and having society label them and control them. Where is the sense of self if your life is shaped so much by others that you have little to claim? Are you entitled to claim it? How can you? I haven't been able to stop thinking about these questions, or the film.
Sorry to spoil the plot for any of you who want to see the film, but there's a critical moment in which two of the clones go to see a woman who used to display art from their school. They hope to defer their "donations" so that they can spend time together; they are in love, and they believe that the art they made will prove to the powers-that-be that their love is true. They learn, sadly, that there are no deferrals, and that their art was exhibited to the public to prove they had souls at all.
Horrible thing, to be considered soulless. And yet this is how I feel some people, in those discussions earlier in the week about neonatal bonding, saw me. Funny how there's one standard for biological children, and one for adoptees. What a slippery slope.
And for all of my adoptee friends out there, does this resonate with you?
Thinking back now, I can see we were just at that age when we knew a few things about ourselves--about who we were, how we were different from our guardians, from the people outside--but hadn't yet understood what any of it meant. I'm sure somewhere in your childhood, you too had an experience like ours that day; similar if not in the actual details, then inside, in the feelings. Because it doesn't really matter how well your guardians try to prepare you: all the talks, videos, discussions, warnings, none of that can really bring it home.