Thursday, April 28, 2011

Aftermath

I made it through yesterday. There were some lovely parts, as in having many friends and family members take the time to wish me well.

I went to Chris' beautiful apartment overlooking the Pacific, close to the old Sutro Baths at Seal Rock. He can boast spectacular views, fresh salty air, clear and warm breezes, and shaded paths through Land's End under a carpet of green leaves. We caught up on news, having not seen each other for several months, and then made our way to the Legion of Honor. The company was wonderful, as was the art. The scholarship of the exhibitions, by contrast, was execrable. Cases of Roman coins, identified by ruler, but grouped together only by the fact that they have animals on them? Animals signifying things that I as an expert understood, but that wouldn't be clear to someone wandering through the gallery. Mosaics of animals from Syria identified only as mosaics from Syria with animals. Roman glass jars in cases with no further explanation. The main mosaic from Lod described as being from a public room in a Roman villa in Lod. How about a floor plan of the villa, curator? How about contrasting different types of mosaics? Ugh. The low level of thinking was hugely annoying. Poor Chris got an earful as I shredded the wall labels and lamented the paucity of creative thoughts. I am lucky that Chris says I am quite entertaining when I am snobby.

The Pulp Fashion exhibition was interesting and quite lovely; I mooned over the paper version of a dress by Paul Poiret. I would love to have worn a dress in that style back in the early 1900's.
But again, the conflation of costume history (which can be complex, but often is treated superficially) and contemporary art ended up being pretty thoughtless. "Here are a bunch of copies of dresses of 16th century Medici women! Here is a dress inspired by a painting by Fragonard/David/Ingres!" And your point is...? For example, there were a few works devoted to 16th/17th century English costume, including a dress modeled after one worn by Queen Elizabeth I in a miniature by Nicholas Hilliard, along with long discussion about whether the mythological features on dress in the painting were painted or embroidered in the original dress. My first thought was that there's no proof that the actual dress had anything painted or embroidered on it! Paintings aren't windows into reality, especially paintings of monarchs. Could not the mythological symbols have been added in the painting to add to the symbolic power of the queen? Argh. Why do art historians people have no common sense?

The day wore on, and we shared a delicious lunch at a tiny pizzeria close to the museum. In the late afternoon I returned home and waited. Still no word from A or C. The doubt started to eat at me. I could believe that C was still in Paris, but A? What was happening?

At seven I went to Callum's Tiger Cub meeting with Mark and Tobey, sitting and fidgeting while watching the boys perform skits and sing songs. I finally gave in to my anxiety and texted A. "I am little sad that you forgot my birthday." Shortly thereafter, I received a reply: "This is T. You will have to forgive him (again). He has been on call and it has been a horrible week. Be mad at me as I should have remembered."

The fact is, I am not mad. I am sad. Nothing can be done to fix it. I am not in their consciousness, as this proves. It doesn't mean that they don't like me, but I am not important enough to be remembered.

I wrote back: "Being on call sucks."

T responded: "Yes. We haven't seen him all week and W has been driving me crazy. I am sorry we forgot. Happy Birthday."

"Thanks," I texted.

Half an hour passed, and T texted again. "Please don't be mad. We will make it up to you, I promise."

Thing is, forgetting a birthday isn't something that can be made up. It will take a year to see if they remember next time, and by then they'll probably have forgotten again, with the horrid little waiting game starting fresh.

It has taken so much for me to try to trust them after last year; I *want* to trust them. I can tell myself that I don't care about their forgetting, that it doesn't matter. I have plenty of other friends who regularly forget my birthday, and I forgive them. But this is my FAMILY. At least *I* think of them as family and *want* them to be my family. From their point of view, though, not so much.

I thought carefully, and wrote back: "I am not mad, just sad. I wish it didn't matter to me. I know I am a stranger to you, but I really like you guys."

She jumped back in: "It's not like that...we want you in our lives."

We will see. C warned me that it's hard, horrifically hard, to make it onto A's radar. That's just who he is. But he doesn't forget other family members' birthdays, from what I understand. Again, I am not family, I suppose. It sucks.

I have since been plagued by a cloud of disappointment. It's not completely debilitating, and I haven't cried. But I feel like I am walking through treacle again and that my equilibrium is upset. I am grouchy and short tempered, probably because all this presses heavily on the part of me that feels lost and abandoned by my nfamily. They've left me more than once; they can do it again. Why does it all have to be so difficult?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Boxes

There are people who can compartmentalize their feelings and store them neatly away in little boxes. Some of the boxes seem to have labels, and some are put in dark corners without labels. In some ways I am envious of the people who can dissociate themselves from experiences and forget them. That is not one of my gifts.

I have been reading lots of short stories recently, and the best short stories, in my opinion, are those that open up windows into the ambiguities of life. As I have mentioned before, I love India and history, and one of my favorite colonial writers is Kipling. Yes, he was a racist, yes, his politics were suspect, and yet his perceptiveness about human nature is powerful. I recently bought a compilation of his stories of the supernatural--he wrote fabulous ghost stories--and was struck by something Neil Gaiman said in the introduction about "The Gardener": "It was a tour de force. It's a story about loss, and lies, and what it means to be human and to have secrets, and it can and does and should break your heart." Yep, it's about adoption and a natural mother keeping her secret until after her son's death. Of course it is. Only adoption can pack the punch of all those secrets and lies and heartbreak. It was published in 1925. Plus ├ža change.

On this day before my birthday anniversary of the day I made my debut in the world (borrowing from my friend Krista), I am wondering what tomorrow will bring. Will C and A remember? Will they not? How will I feel? I am glad to have made plans with my friend Chris to go to a museum to see exhibitions that will take my mind off things: one with a beautiful Roman mosaic excavated in Israel, and one of elaborate clothes made of paper, called "Pulp Fashion." One of the dresses that Isabelle de Borchgrave, the artist, has recreated is that of Eleonora of Toledo, from Bronzino's portrait of her with her son.


I am a sucker for 16th century portraits, and particularly for those by Bronzino. The smooth surfaces and veneer of artificiality and exquisite masks speak directly to the adoptee in me who is so adept at wearing them and seeing behind those of others. At the very least I think tomorrow should be about having fun and escaping into the art historian side of myself, where I am at my most cool and collected. A stiff drink might also help.

It really is sad that my birthdays were, or could be, happy occasions for me until last year. Being confronted with the realities of my role as the problematic infant makes it difficult to return to those days of sunny ignorance. Again, not that I'd trade knowing for not knowing, but knowledge sometimes brings pain, and pain can be a rather annoying companion at times.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Memory

I spoke with C again today, to wish her fun on her trip to Paris. We had another one of those enjoyable, easy conversations, and she asked me about my religious upbringing, about the kids, and...

"What day is your birthday?"

Ouch.

I understand that she put incredible amounts of energy into forgetting what happened. I understand that for her, my birth was not a happy event. She did not agonize about placing me. She didn't have a choice, but her coping mechanism was to block it all off and bury it. Deep. She was excellent at that, although she would admit that it came a very high price.

So when I read about natural moms remembering, crying, celebrating with cake on their placed children's birthdays, marking all those lost years, it stings. There was no remembering in my case. She still didn't remember, and had to ask me! I am not angry or upset; I am a little sad, certainly, but I have to take the uncomfortable with the good. What happened before won't change, but what comes ahead is within my control (at least in part).

A while ago, I asked C about my birth story, whether she saw and held me, etc. She said that she couldn't remember. Any of it. At first that didn't make sense, but I told some of the senior nurses at work about this, and they said that C probably received conscious sedation while in labor.

The pieces fell into place. She was anesthetized and given a drug to prevent her from forming memories, something from the benzodiazepine family.

The RNs at work told me that in the 50s and 60s and even the early 70s, some women would get this "twilight sleep" cocktail and be strapped to gurneys (imagine being in terrible pain, out of your mind, and unable to fully understand what was happening and where you were--AWFUL). The mothers would follow the RNs' and MDs' directions for pushing, and then would wake up from the sedation with a clean, wrapped infant in their arms. The experience of birth was not in their control. It doesn't sound pleasant at all. I am glad that the L&D unit where I work bears no resemblance to such a place of fear and forgetting.

When C woke up late in the morning on April 27, 1969, her ordeal of secrecy was over (or just beginning, in reality), she was clean and resting, and I was GONE. It was as though I had never existed, and she had her "clean slate," as far as my grandparents were concerned. Since she wasn't supposed to remember me, why would she remember my birthday each year, or at all?

I get it. But my birthday--and my connection to C--has always loomed large in my mind. It was the last day that I was with her, and until now, the only time. Each birthday, I would ask myself, and friends, and family, "Do you think she is thinking about me today?" Apparently not. For C, it was the day that she was told to forget, and the dutiful daughter she is, she says she managed very well.

She will remember my birthday now, I have little doubt. She is slowly investing in our relationship. Reunion complicates things, to be sure. I had always been able to approach my birthday with relative positivity, but last year, having my nfamily forget (or ignore it entirely) was brutal. It was as though half of me was quite literally in the dark. I am hoping this year will be different, but I also remember that it's best to have low expectations and be surprised.

A friend of mine is going to take me to the Legion of Honor in San Francisco that day, to celebrate both his birthday (the 29th) and mine. I won't be alone and in bed, crying and worried that my nfamily would throw me to the winds. They might. But I am stronger now, and I have a will to live that I didn't have a year ago.

Memories are odd things, how deeply an event will touch one person and leave the other cold.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Nerves

I must have hit another nerve!

A psychologist who is not truly open to dialogue, and who will not allow me to comment on her blog, has linked to my earlier post about lost subtleties. I am not going to get into another non-discussion with her about what infants go through when they are separated from their mothers. She believes that the evidence we have today is all the evidence we need that infants do not miss their mothers if they are separated from them before six months of age. I can see intellectually how this argument is fortified, but I think, as I said in my post, that it can be valid (attachment to a caregiver is not scientifically observable on the infant's side before six months of age) without negating infants having a emotional life and experiencing stress at separation from their mothers.

There is ongoing research to understand how infant development is shaped during the six months before attachment and stranger anxiety is observable through reproducible infant behaviors. It is disingenuous to say that scientists fully understand neonatal infants and their relationships to stress (e.g., separating infants from their natural mothers before six months of age is a non-issue), and it's also unkind to label adoptees who talk about this separation as unthinking, Gnostic, mystical witchdoctors (and I am not even arguing for the existence of "the primal wound" here). To shred and critique research is admirable and thoughtful; research must stand up to close scrutiny. But to say that adopted people's experiences and questions about early infant development should be written off (when clearly there is much research going on, by scientists, including medical doctors at major research institutions such as Johns Hopkins) is misguided at best, and clearly as ideologically driven as this woman claims my own interests to be. You can wear a scientist's hat and say that you are objective and above all the fray, but no one, absolutely no one, is a machine. We are driven to study and think what we do by our interests. There is no such thing as pure human objectivity. Some self-reflection is warranted.

And yes, scientists have long conducted research on rodents and non-human primates to extrapolate, where possible to human physiology. To say, "Oh, research conducted on rats means nothing to humans" is truly disingenuous. Are we ready to stress out human infants and then decapitate them to study their brain structures and chemistries after the stressful event? No. So no, we don't have research on human infants, but we do the best we can to figure out ways to study things that might give us insight. Note that much of this research is carried out on mammals, and specific types of mammals. If the research done was only applicable to rats/monkeys/etc., then it would only be of interest to veterinarians and ethologists. This is not the case.

I have plenty of non-adopted friends who readily admit that there are other possible variables at work in an infant's life before six months of age when they demonstrate attachment to a primary caregiver. I know that something other than correcting misguided adoptees drives people to be so adamant about the status quo of infant development. Someone who was not invested would not feel the need to be so condescending, handing dictates down from on high. And no, protecting potentially poor, beleaguered APs who might be depressed by their infant's stress is not a good answer or reason to tell adult adoptees to shut up about their experiences for fear of "scaring" APs. Nor is it "scientific" to say that the lack of evidence for harm to practice babies means that there was no harm. All it means is that there is no evidence, either way.

I am not going to waste more of my personal time or emotional energy on this. I know who I am, I know my credentials and my brain, and I feel secure about my beliefs and my ability to critique research, as well. I have been called hysterical. I don't believe any of this language, or my arguments, are hysterical. And there it rests.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

What does "family" mean?

In theory, "family" would mean an extended group of people, open and welcoming and loving to the adoptee that includes both the natural and adoptive families.

My maternal nfamily, now that we've turned a corner, is proving itself pretty wonderful. At least as far as C, A, and T go. We're still in a space where we sometimes dance around each other, sizing each other up, making occasional attempts at sharing information that we keep close to our chests. Only time can make things more comfortable, I think.

I am not dissatisfied, exactly, but on the phone today T told me that the entire extended family is getting together to celebrate C's mother's (Mimi's) 90th birthday. I am, of course, not invited to this event for a plethora of reasons, the top two of which are Mimi's not knowing that I've "returned" and C's husband not being happy about me being in the picture. It's not a direct insult to be left out, and rationally I understand why I cannot be there. It's not about me, it's about Mimi. And yet it hurts. I am glad to know about the party, and I am certainly relieved that it's not been kept a secret from me.

It's a razor's edge, this negotiation within myself about what I feel. It requires careful balance and relying strongly knowing this is just the way it has to be, for now. The cries of the child who deserves to be known and the adult that knows it's a long road ahead to that goal. For now, the adult is winning.

It's sad that I probably will never meet or know Mimi. She was the one who was so adamant about my having to go, 42 years ago. It's sad that it will probably take her death, and J's, before I can be part of C's family in a more real way. I keep telling myself that what matters is that C is expressing interest in a relationship with me; that is definitely important on many levels. And yet it is more than a little knock to know that I will be the ghost at that party in June, even though I am no longer a secret among most people who will be there. It's sad that I cannot wish my grandmother "Happy Birthday" in person. Or by card. I just cannot entertain going head to head with Mimi, especially since C has asked me not to.

I wish I could be welcomed completely into the family I lost so long ago. Then again, they don't consider me family at all. Sigh.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Forever a child in Missouri

I am not considered a fully functioning adult under Missouri law. As it stands, I need to have my aparents send notified consent, and both my natural parents send notified consent, before I am allowed to have any information about who my natural parents are. This information is brokered by a Confidential Intermediary, appointed by the court and whom the adoptee must pay. It's not cheap, either. Three years ago I paid $450 plus additional expenses for searching to a woman who was extremely rude to me and told me "it's time to give up all attempts at finding your birth mother." Seriously. She said that, when she wasn't bright enough to see that C's name was misspelled. Yes, C had moved. Big deal! If you're a searcher, isn't that your job? Oh yeah, and let's not forget that this same idiot told me that C moved from one state to another in an attempt to hide from me. Yep, she did. And she was LYING to me. Moreover, this same CI told me she prided herself on how caring she is towards adoptees. Well, if that's caring, she is one f'd up psycho cookie.

Rather than proposing bills that would allow unfettered adult adoptee access to original birth certificates, current lawmakers in the Do Not Show Me State are trying to make things "easier" for adult adoptees to search by saying that consent of the aparents is no longer necessary, and that once the natural parents are dead, the adoptee can know who they are. Wow, what a gift. I allowed to know my family once they're dead. Nice.

People: it's not about SEARCHING. You know what, Missouri Senators, Representatives, and CIs? I found my mother WITHOUT YOU. I want my original birth certificate, the same as everyone else gets. It shouldn't be a state secret. It shouldn't be in lockdown. It's an official document about ME, with my name on it and information about me. Yes, I have an amended birth certificate, but it is in addition, not instead of. You do NOT have the right to keep my OBC from me. NO RIGHT AT ALL. Nor is it okay to give my natural parents the right to veto my access to MY record. I am a grown adult, not an infant.

Read a summary of the pathetic excuses for Adoptee Denied Rights bills in Missouri here and here.

Ugh. Makes me sick and angry.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Oh, the lost subtleties

Irritation. It's one of those annoying, chafing, totally distracting things. It's hard to put off, although I wish to heaven I could.

Why do people persist in being so willfully tone deaf? I have seen my friend Joy go through the emotional wringer this past week, and we've had conversations about how the opinions of some adoptees, no matter how they're couched, get swatted away like flies. And other people just don't get it when we speak out in defense of ourselves. They don't. I wonder if they don't care (probably), if they get thrills from being nasty (probably), or if they're just plain unable to understand what we say in plain English (probably).

First, there was a post on another blog. A young first mother is dealing with having placed her son. I feel for her. It must be devastating. I am glad that she wants dialogue with all kinds of adoptees, even the ones who aren't happy-go-lucky and prosaic about it all. I applaud her for taking a broad view. And yet there are commenters who are quick to tell her not to listen to "angsty" female adoptees, who skew the narrative and aren't as well adjusted as the males. Whatever that means.

Joy pointed out to me the different between Angst, a Germanic word that translates into English as "fear" among other things, and "angsty," which is an English derivative word that has the following, more insidious meaning in slang:

"What a lot of teenagers tend to be at times. Generally it involves the feeling of not being understood by anyone and that the person is alone in the world. When in reality about a million other people are feeling the same thing." (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=angsty)


There is clearly a huge difference between straight up "fear" and the immature, self-involved navel-gazing suggested by "angsty." The former suggests an acknowedged emotion, the other is a put-down. The person who wrote "angsty" in relation to female adult adoptees, given the benefit of the doubt, probably didn't mean it as a put-down. I feel, however, that it merits mentioning because there are so many throwaway things said that do hurt. I, for one, like to be told when I hurt someone. I don't see why it's wrong to point out when I, or others, are hurt. 


There is, moreover, the strange component of being told that male adoptees just don't have the same issues as females (Gott Sei Dank, I suppose, for that blogger with the placed male infant). I think this is a simplistic statement based largely in gender stereotypes and the way that males are raised. I am sure that there are many men who are just fine with being adopted. Really, I believe it. But to say that most men have no issues is to pathologize those men who do have issues, and not to look closely at our culture which largely does not encourage men to speak out about their emotional experiences. In another place I spoke with adult male adoptees about this, who said that they are labled "gay" or "weak" when they do express anger, sadness, or what-have-you in relationship to being adopted. It's awful for them. See this


Another thing: I am sick of the adoption police saying that adoption is a one-time event. They want me to say that I "was" adopted, not that I "am" adopted. No. I was, and continue to be adopted. It's a legal process. Just like on June 26, 1999, I was married, but I am still married today. What hokum to say that such a transformative process has no lasting influence. Adoption is not a party that you go home from. It's something that is lived. And some people may not give it a second thought, but some of us do, and to tell us that we shouldn't--well, you don't have that right. Live your own life, and don't insist that your adoptee say anything except what she or he wants to about her/his experiences.


Finally, what is it with the knickers in a twist about adult adoptees wanting to be called adults, when we are? I am no longer the 10 week old that my aparents took home from the agency. I reached my majority a long ass time ago. I am not a child, and I don't want to be called a child or treated like a child. No infantilizing, no head patting, no speaking for me. Just stop. 


I shouldn't fall down this particular rabbit hole AGAIN, but I find the magnetic pull too hard. I cannot believe when people say, definitively, that separation from a caregiver is meaningless to infants who were adopted before six months of age. I argue that yes, there isn't any scientific evidence to prove that a child can communicate distress at separation before six months of age because they're not developmentally able to do so. It isn't observable, although anecdotally from my job, I would argue otherwise. I have to take infants away from their mother's breasts to get their baths, take vitals, and get their vaccinations. I am fairly universally shrieked at by the neonates when this happens. Maybe it's the cold, you say. Maybe it's the smell in the room. Maybe it's this, that, or the other: but no, it could NEVER be that the infant is put into a stressful position by being taken from his or her mother. Nope, just not possible. This seems stubbornly blind. Then do studies of neonates and find a way to eliminate variables to your pleasure! But don't say that babies don't feel anything until six months of age. They don't COMMUNICATE stress at separation in a scientifically observable way until they're six months, but it doesn't mean they don't FEEL anything. Find a more subtle way of measuring things. At least some scientists are looking at markers such as cortisol, a stress hormone, to be able to study younger infants. Why throw the baby, for real, out with the bathwater and say that such studies are meaningless? Oh yeah, behaviorists only care about behavior, not feelings. Argh. 


I agree that there is a ton of pseudoscience out there, but that doesn't mean that the way things stand, TODAY, in developmental psychology, is the way things will be forever. There is no Bible for neonatal experience, and to sit there and judge people for voicing their pain and their hypotheses is just plain cruel. What people say about neonatal separation isn't even anti-establishment. The party line states that  babies are developmentally mature enough to communicate, with words and behavior, that they are stressed about caregiver absence, at about six months of age. I know that I bonded to my aparents and did express stranger anxiety, per the protocol, at six months of age. That doesn't mean, however, that I didn't have a completely different emotional experience when I was alone in the hospital for 10 weeks without a primary caregiver. It's apples and oranges. We need to find a way to study neonatal stress in a way that even the most left-brained can buy into. Maybe this is my new calling, so that I can say BOOYAH to all the non-adopted people invested in telling me I am full of shit because science says so, or because their placed or adopted kids are JUST FINE. Please stop pathologizing me and treating me like I belong in the Salem Witch Trials or in a cave in the Negev. I am neither an infant nor an idiot.


And if these subtleties, which really aren't all that subtle, don't compute for you, then maybe YOU aren't thinking hard enough about being respectful of adoptees. And yes, we deserve respect just as much as real kids do. And I mean real kids both in terms of kept kids and in terms of us not being fairy children or changelings. Or aliens. 


Edited to Add: I was looking at research papers available online that discuss neonatal stress and its measurement. Of course the most thorough studies were conducted on rats and nonhuman primates because we can't (or shouldn't) use humans for experimentation that might lead to pathology. Most of the articles included maternal separation as a variable for stress, which is interesting, given that (supposedly) the Powers That Be don't believe in maternal separation as a neonatal stressor. Why study it if we absolutely know it cannot be problematic? Hmmm. 


This particular article dicusses how maternal separation caused chemical pathology in the brains of rats and nonhuman primates that mirrors that of depression and anxiety in human adults. Worth a read. http://www.psychology.emory.edu/clinical/goodman/grahamheim1999.pdf