Monday, November 29, 2010

Que reste-t-il

I am sitting in my room, surrounded by papers and books and newspapers and magazines. Old tickets, pictures, letters. In some ways they say something about my life; in others, they only provide the slightest of clues. Detritus of a life. A collage of memories and emotions, good and painful.

The emotional impact of going through things that have sentimental meaning is powerful. Take, for example, a letter written to me by a long-ago lover, a charming Englishman who was working on his Ph.D. at Cambridge when we met and shared weekend trysts in London. Coming from different parts of the country, we would always find each in British Museum, in the gallery with the Neo-Assyrian wall reliefs, and usually in front of my dear, dying lioness.

In any case, Andrew's words can still conjure up feelings of great happiness in me:


It was so sad to leave you in such an unceremonious way today. There was something deeply inappropriate about your just having to step off a Tube and disappear after after such a beautiful happy (for my part, at least) two days. Thanks for everything, baby; for fixing up the den of trysting, for being  so beautiful and so much fun, for sharing in such a delicious adventure.

I'm really sorry for marring this by a couple of pillocky outbursts. What I want is what we've got--it fulfills all my dreams just now, and I've not reason to construct straw men. I do trust you and believe you, my love, and I want us to enjoy just being together in our friendship--nothing must spoil it. I start behaving like a rational man from NOW.

I smile when I think of the 22-year-old I was, making my way around England and Ireland, learning, reading, and writing poetry. Absorbing the landscape and searching for myself, although I didn't know it at the time. Thinking about his courageous knowledge of self and acceptance of criticism, and a love for me that meant a willingness to change. Haven't seen that in anyone for quite a while.

One of my favorite songs about nostalgia is Charles Trenet's "Que reste-t-il de nos amours" as he asks what is left at the end of a life: une photo, vieille photo, de ma jeunesse, Que reste-t-il des billets doux, des mois d'avril, des rendezvous, un souvenir qui me poursuit sans cesse.

I am trying to find the happy amidst the sad, but it's hard going. Talked to my brother today, which made it all the much harder. Apparently everything depends on C being willing to have a relationship with me, which will be a cold day in hell; I just cannot understand how a family lets her control so much. What a nightmare. More to follow on that when I am not beside myself in tears. Why does it all have to be so hard, so guarded, so awful?

Saturday, November 27, 2010


I have a wonderful friend whom I had the great pleasure to meet through adoption activism. He is creative, supportive, and very intelligent, although he would blush if I said this to his face or mentioned his name here.

He has been working enthusiastically and tirelessly to put together my Newman family tree. I have ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War, and in the Civil War. They have lived in the same area of Indiana for close to 200 years. Talk about stability! I've learned about relatives who have committed suicide in various ways. I have seen some of myself in the stories of various lives of my relatives.

Then last night, my friend sent me a picture he'd found of C, her Senior Picture in 1969 that was taken for her university's yearbook. There she was. Pregnant with me. It was the first time I'd seen a picture of her and thought, "Yes, I do look like her." We have the same face shape, eyes, and eyebrows. I still look a lot more like my grandfather, I think, but there was no denying this time that I come from C.

The pain shot through me like an arrow, leaving burning, poisonous residue in the wound. Yes, I look like her. I already know that I share some of her gestures. What others take for granted, I can't. It's not even just that I can't: she doesn't want me to come near her, or ever to know her.

The more that time goes by, I become convinced that she either didn't tell my brother that she doesn't mind our having a relationship, or that she put a different kind of pressure on him. His silence speaks volumes. I cannot even begin to understand how people can treat family this way. He claims that he's upholding the honor of his parents; I think he's taking the path of least resistance and losing out in the process.

To compound my pain, I read some first parent blogs this week, and I noticed that in more than a few of them, their placed kids are all but absent. It's immensely triggering. How can these parents say that they love their children, and then keep them at arm's length, waffle about setting dates to meet with them, or refuse to tell their families about their placed child at all? How can married people with two kids already think it's a great idea to place kids number three and four in order to do "God's will" and provide children to those who don't already have them? I imagine the placed kids feeling betrayed by their first parents, and the kept kids wondering anxiously if and when they might be placed, as well. None of this makes sense to me. It seems so much like adoption double-speak in which the adoptees, as ever, are damned.

I've also been thinking a great deal lately about the burdens that some adoptees bear (which isn't to say that adoptive parents and first parents don't also have burdens, but my concern here and now is for adoptees). How do we get to such a place that our very foundations begin to corrode? Why are we told again and again that our mothers loved us so much they gave us away? It doesn't make sense in any logical way, and then for those of us who find mothers who really don't love us at all, it's a very cruel joke.

I ask, too, how I have descended to a place where death is preferable to almost all other options. I was reading an essay by Howard Kushner about American attitudes vis a vis suicide in the nineteenth century, "Meriwether Lewis and Abraham Lincoln," and was struck by what he wrote about Freud's conception of melancholia and suicide as ineffective, incomplete mourning for traumatic events. For mourners, the world is empty, but for a transitory period--they learn to cope; for melacholics, the world becomes a painful cypher because they have no ego, and thus their defenses to trauma are limited. They are marginalized because they don't have a stable sense of who they are or a way to filter what happens in the world. The unresolved grief felt by melacholics results in chipping away at the will to live, and increased self-hatred and anger at the deserting love object.

Sounds familiar to me. Here I am, mourning what I've lost, being told that I should be grateful and have nothing to mourn, and having my own mother tell me that she wished I had never existed. I am trying to pick up the pieces of me and put them together in a meaningful way, but it's incredibly difficult to forge new coping mechanisms from the ruins of a self that was thoroughly burned to the ground. It is a wearying task, after a lifetime of being bullied, devalued, called ugly and many other things, to find the strength to stand up to C, and everyone else who has tormented me, and yell, "ENOUGH!"

I am angry that I lacked the strength to stop this travesty long ago, and I don't want to let it continue. But it is a struggle, every day, not to give in and find my own peace. Seriously. I have my medication, friends, support, a loving adoptive family, and one ncousin who sees all that is good in me--but it is a tiring uphill battle in a world that sucks.

I have to keep reminding myself not to ask "Why?" and instead ask "How can I get through this?" One minute at a time. One freaking minute.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


I have emotional pain related to all my adoption fun and games, and physical pain, which is tangentially related to my adoption because the source of my problems is hereditary.

I spent most of Thursday in the ER at the hospital at UC San Francisco. It is a friendly, efficient ER; I got into a room within an hour and a half, was seen by an intern and got some much-needed IV pain medication. I was in terrible pain, the kind that makes you want to die if it won't go away. My abdominal pain has been chronic for about two years, with good moments and bad moments, but mostly bad moments since last March. You see, I got a new clot in the vein that feeds blood to the liver from the intestines and stomach. Clot = decreased blood flow = lack of oxygen to tissues = pain. On Wednesday I had taken 80mg of my long-acting narcotic instead of my usual 30mg, along with 80mg of my narcotic for breakthrough pain, and the meds hadn't touched the pain at all. I was lucid and writhing and screaming. I felt my body was like a prison, and I was being tortured.

I didn't want to go to the hospital because I knew what would happen. I would get IV pain meds; the MDs would order labs; I would have either a CT scan or an MRI of my abdomen: and then the MDs would say, "You have two clots, and there's nothing we can do. Stay anticoagulated. Come back if you get a fever and start vomiting." My wonderful primary care physician insisted, however, because she worried that the drastic increase in pain might be an indication that my intestines were not getting enough oxygen and were infarcting. Necrotic bowels are something I'd rather like to avoid, thanks all the same, so I grudgingly agreed to go to the ER.

I had to go alone because Mark was working and my closest friends were wither ill themselves or had small kids to take care of. I ended up not minding being alone too much, though, as I was placed in a quiet corner room and was able to read for most of the day. The IV pain meds (ah, Dilaudid) precluded me from thinking too intensely about anything, although it struck me that once again, I was facing my demons with no help beside me. I was in the hospital because of who I am genetically (a Newman), not because of who I was raised to be (an Olsen). My body is part of a web of attachments from which I have been torn and exiled. It would be nice one day to be able to fill out a family medical history form completely. Well, I can now do my maternal side, which is an improvement on a few years ago, but my paternal side is a big blank, guarded by C's nasty, insistent, "I don't KNOW." Like hell she doesn't know. She just doesn't want ME to know. And if I die as a result, that's my fault, not hers. Sigh.

A very tired intern came in to take my history and do an perfunctory exam. She sat down on my pile of clothes and didn't introduce herself, diving right into questions. My case is pretty complicated, and after about 15 minutes of half-dozing off and backtracking, she threw up her hands and ran to the attending. I didn't mind. I wasn't exactly a dragon, but I wasn't in the mood to play nicely, either. I am sure the intern went home and reread all about hereditary spherocytosis, portal vein thrombosis, and Factor V Leiden. I was a teaching opportunity! I just didn't feel like teaching her myself. She did kindly order the Dilaudid and Zofran before giving up on me, and for that I am thankful.

I have found it rather difficult to be alone with myself over the past few months, but it was a bit better that day I spent in the ER. Was it the addition of Wellbutrin to my anti-depressant cocktail? Was it that I am coming to some preliminary level of acceptance about my health and the lack of support from C and A? Was I finally finding a place within myself that seemed less restrictive and lonely than the island that I occasionally try to escape? I don't know.

So perhaps drugs, friends, and a good book can keep me going. If the clot doesn't do away with me.

And speaking of Harry Potter, I went to the midnight show after I was released from the hospital. One particular line chilled me, although it wasn't in the book. Harry is in the village where his parents lived before they were killed; Hermione asks if he wants to adopt the disguise of Muggles. He says, "This is the village where I was born. I don't want to return as someone else." I have been to the small town where my roots are, and where I was conceived. But I did have to return in disguise as someone else. How very, very sad.                                                                                                                                                          

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Je ne regrette rien

I was listening to Edith Piaf today in the car as my son, dog, and I were driving around and running errands. Many years ago Thomenon gave me CD of Piaf's greatest hits; he is a big fan of French music from the 30's and 40's, probably because his own parents loved it and listened to it during his childhood.

I have always felt drawn to Piaf, although my own parents didn't listen to her. When I would catch snatches of her voice on the radio, on television, or in French classes, she sounded both familiar and comfortable.

Today it hit me that the Little Sparrow is like a body memory within me. She is woven into my cells. I feel quite certain that C listened to Piaf while pregnant with me, and probably still does. I think C cried while listening to "La vie en rose." I think my East Coast educated father seduced her in French and hung her out to dry. I will add that to my list of questions to ask C, if and when I ever speak with her again.

Until then I remain une ombre de la rue.

Friday, November 19, 2010


Adoptees sometimes talk about "coming out of the fog," which I take to mean that there's a sense of dissonance about what we're told and what we feel. Some feel no dissonance. Some of us deny this dissonance all together, some of us keep our mouths shut, and some of us have always decried what isn't true.

It is controversial for adoptees to say, and believe, that it would have been preferable for their nparents to choose abortion. I know there are plenty of people who oppose abortion, and that is their right. I feel, however, that what C said to me, "I wish I'd aborted you!" was her *truth*, and a truth I could live with. No, I wouldn't have existed or had this life or have known my friends or had my children. But I would have also been spared the pain of knowing that the person who brought me into this world regrets every minute of my being here. I truly think C was shocked that I *wasn't* distraught when she said she wished she'd aborted me. I wish I had found an nmom who welcomed me with open arms and was willing to get to know me as a person. And in the absence of that, I wonder why she bothered to carry me to term in the first place. I think she hides behind the shroud of religion: "That is against my religion." She would have had an abortion, I am sure, if she'd had the courage to face her situation sooner and function outside the law. She let the pregnancy ride, had me, and never looked back. Such a Slytherin.

I think it would have been easier on both C and me if she had aborted me. Well, she didn't abort me, so here I am. I don't have to be grateful to be here.

In another case a fellow blogger asked, hypothetically, if it would have been easier for me to search and find out that C was dead. I think it would have been less catastrophic for me on several levels. First, she couldn't have interfered with my relationship with my brother. Second, I would have missed out on speaking with her and knowing exactly how she felt about me--but in my particular case, ignorance would have been bliss. This isn't to say that I hate C or wish her dead. Just that the end of my journey left me with a stinging rejection, and continued rejection, that I wouldn't wish on most people.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Being adopted for me has meant living on the outside. My relationship with my nfamily is fractured because of the trauma surrounding my birth and placement; there are dynamics way beyond my control, and it hurts. Yet in some ways, I can brush it off and say, "Well, they don't know me. It's about them, not me." I don't have history with them, which saddens me, but again, that was beyond my control.

Adoptees hear over and over and over that "All families have problems," and "We all have our crosses to bear." These are true statements, but it is highly annoying that people automatically assume that adoptees don't know this. When we talk about our problems, they're dismissed as being irritating and "less than" because we should shut up and be happy; any other narrative is disturbing, and why don't we know our place? My friend Joy wrote a brilliant rebuttal of this insanity in a blog post here.

To demonstrate that I am aware of other people's problems, I want to share something that my husband is going through. I hate seeing him suffer, and it sickens me that his family feels free to treat him as cavalierly as most of my nfamily treats me. Mark was born in 1970 to German parents who were then living in New York City; he is a dual citizen. His father worked for the Deutsche Bundesbahn [German railroad] and managed its ticket sales office in Manhattan for six years. When Mark was an infant, his family moved back to Hamburg. He comes from a very small, highly buergerlich [bourgeois is a close translation, but not quite spot on] Prussian family to whom appearances mean everything. Clothing, manners, language, social functions, house, garden, everything is tightly managed (if you've read anything by Thomas Mann, that's the culture). Mark says that there's a word for this properness, Spiessigkeit, that is difficult to translate into English, but combines elements of complacency, smugness, and arrogance. The only thing Mark's mom liked about me was that I had a Ph.D., because that is a title. Buergerlich people are way big on titles. But then my being foreign canceled it out, and I was back to zero. 

Although I am slagging off Germans here, there are regional differences that have everything to do with culture. The Northerners (Prussians) are cold, cold, cold. I have heard from many different people that they have hated Hamburg because of the demeanor of the people. Bavarians are different, and my friend Dirk is from Saxony, which has a great history and, I must say, friendlier people than I encountered in Hamburg. Mark says Saxony is Russian, but he's a Prussian and we're back to square one with the regional snootiness. When I say, "Deine Leute," or "YOUR people," to Mark, I generally mean Prussians.

Mark chafed under the strictures of his village's Aryan culture, wore torn jeans, asked his mother not to iron his underwear, tee shirts, and jeans, and had yearly arguments with her about how terrible it was that he wasn't working in a job that required a suit. He hates suits. Always has, always will. And yet the arguments ensued, without fail. I witnessed one of these arguments a couple of years into our marriage, and had to hide my face in a pillow to avoid her seeing that I was laughing when she called him schlampig, which translates both as messy/sloppy and slutty in English.

Anyway, at a point in his 20's, Mark decided to emigrate and move to the United States. In retrospect he feels this is because he wanted to escape the strictures of his family. Since he left, he has been nearly completely ostracized. He is as much an outsider from his family of origin as I am from my nfamily. It's terribly sad. I mentioned in an earlier post that his family boycotted our wedding in California, and other than a visit from his father after his mother died, we have seen nothing of them on this side of the Atlantic. Mark has to do all the work, make all the phone calls, do all the bridging and traveling. And when he's there, they treat him badly. It's wrong. It infuriates me to see someone I love demeaned this way. It's about *them* and not about him and his needs. Hmm, have I heard this before? Is it so hard to support someone in following their heart and dreams? I guess it is, for some people. He is basically alone, except for me, my parents, and our children.

His mother has two sisters, one of whom passed away in 2002, and one of whom is still living. His elder aunt was someone I adored. She was the only person in the family to welcome me with open arms, even though her English was minimal and my German is pretty rotten. She enjoyed that I was different, in as much as Mark's mother didn't. I loved her, and when she died, I lost my only ally. She would take Mark's mother on and call her out on all the garbage she said to me, which is, sadly, more than I can say for Mark. [An aside about that: when I was newly engaged to Mark, his mother made me a calendar with pictures of Mark. Some of those pictures involved him kissing an ex of his whom his mother *wished* he had married. I was horrified to open this object of torture gift and be slapped in the face by her disapproval. At the time, and for some 11 years later, Mark said that there was no malintent. Q.E.D. Germans are sadists. Seriously, I can laugh now, but it was terrible to have her do this and to have my husband say that she loved me. It's almost as bad as "Your mother loved you so much she gave you up for adoption." Really?] [Another aside--how I am on asides today--Thomenon hadn't heard about this rainbow-farting nonsense, and when I told him about it yesterday, he said, "No one actually believes that bullshit, do they?"]

So back to my story. Mark's younger aunt is a widow now, and Mark has always loved her very much. Since the death of his own mother in 2007, he has drawn closer to her and they speak far more. But twice recently she has been hospitalized and his family *completely* neglected to tell him. Twice. Once with a stroke and once with a hip replacement. He doesn't exist to them because he left the Heimat [homeland].

I would argue that the only difference between us is how we got to our place of exile: he chose to leave, and I was involuntarily sent away. Either way, it sucks. Yes, I know, other people have problems with their biological families. And I can love them and support them.

Monday, November 15, 2010


I found a great new magazine in a store when I was visiting my friend this weekend in Santa Cruz. It's called "Whore!: Fast, Feminist, and Feminine." I love this on so many levels I cannot even begin to explain. It had quite a few thoughtful essays, and is definitely worth a read.

What caught my eye immediately, however, was a quote from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. I tend not to like my husband's people all that much, with notable exceptions, of course. Goethe being an important one of those, along with a lovely group of German friends--all of whom except three live in the US or the UK. Enough said. Goethe wrote, "There is no art in turning a goddess into a witch, a virgin into a whore, but the opposite operation, to give dignity to what has been scorned, to make the degraded desirable, that calls for art or character." That's what's lacking in so much of adoption communication. Dignity and respect. There is not enough love, too much judgment, way too much sniping, and not enough acknowledgment of pain. I was thinking that so little has changed since Goethe wrote this, and it's shameful. Truly shameful.

My time with my friend Thomenon this weekend was wonderful. It is such a relief to be with someone who has known me inside out for 18 years. Who has been with me through thick and thin, who is loyal as hell, and who would take anyone on for me. Who speaks the same academic language that I do, and to whom I don't have to explain all my references. To laugh about our uplifting New Year's Eve in 2000 in which we watched both "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane" and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." He thinks I am Maggie the cat, which I take as a compliment. She suffered with dignity. He gave me a knowing nod, and said, "Yep, you're still driven by the literary," when he saw that I keep my subscription to the Times Literary Supplement current. We are both nerds and very proud of it. He prefers the term "intellectual," but I am happy with "nerd."

When I told him about how I have felt therapy wasn't helping me, and that I left each session feeling slightly discouraged, he gave a brilliant excursis on the limitations of empiricism in dealing with trauma, drawing both on Descartes and Stuart Smalley. You can't will yourself to feel differently inside. You learn to accept how you feel and integrate that into your life. Not that it's easy to do, by any means. He also pointed out that all my denial that I want the love of C is self-protection: I may say that all I need and want is my brother, but Thomenon is right. I *do* wish that C loved me. It's a huge wound to have your mother deny you and hate you. And yet that's my reality. I cannot change it. What I can do is try other routes and take care of myself as best I can. Although it's hellish right now, I feel more whole knowing about who I was born to be. While I argue with my brother's statement, "It just wasn't meant to be," because it's a choice, not destiny, I can't argue with how my brother and mother feel toward me. It simply is.

Thomenon and I also had a thoughtful discussion about therapy and how it can create a skewed power dynamic. The therapist is trained, has credentials, and should be there to guide the client through things, but too often they can abuse their position as a pulpit, offer useless advice, or just don't listen. I have friends who I know are great therapists, but there are plenty of them I've seen who became therapists to deal with their own issues, and are driven by insecurity.

I don't dislike my therapist, but I have left nearly every session wondering why I was there. I have seen seven or eight therapists in my life, and the "talking cure" hasn't worked for me at any juncture. I think my problem is that I need to have enough money to see a psychiatrist who is smarter than I am, but I can't afford such a luminary. So I am opting for peer therapy, medication, and retail therapy right now. Not necessarily in that order.

I did feel free to give feedback when I "broke up" with my therapist today, most of which was taken in good spirit. The only thing that truly annoyed me was that my therapist, although I corrected him numerous times over the months, persisted in calling me "Kare-ah." That is not how I pronounce my name, although I recognize that it's the more common pronunciation. I have stopped correcting people who mean nothing to me, because there is no point. When I am polite and redirect people, the majority don't take it in and compute it. It usually comes down to my friends fighting the battle for me, especially in classrooms, because they care more about defending my identity in public than I do. But in a therapist-client relationship, it should be about respect. Seriously. His excuse for messing up, week after week, was that he has a daughter whose name is pronounced "Lare-ah." Umm, okay. But that's not my problem. I recognize that humans make mistakes, but if you have a relationship with me and say my name incorrectly, I will note it if you don't take my correction and apply it. It means you don't give a shit. Yep. I notice, really notice. I used to want to jettison my name, not that I think it's terrible or anything--I like that my father chose it for me--in favor of my middle name, "Jane," which is hard to screw up. And yet I wonder if "Jane" were my given name, would people still eff it up? Probably. I have that vibe.

I have also been thinking about how, inevitably, when people are going through their shit, they tend to make proclamations about what everyone else should/shouldn't do in light of their shit; in other words, they are masking their own shit in pretty demeaning rhetoric. I read blogs and can tell what kind of crises people are having by their blanket proclamations. "Adoptees feel no trauma," yep, you got some. "Adoptees shouldn't say they love their aparents to fparents," umm, does your kid not love you the way you want to be loved? In competition with their aparents, much? "People shouldn't self-diagnose with PTSD, and if they are truly mentally ill, they are 'prohibited' from hurting others." Did someone tell you to move on, so everyone else has to?

That's why I admire people who live their lives with dignity, don't put their baggage on others, and support people where they are, without offering prescriptions or proscriptions. My friend Thomenon is one. My friend Lori is another. She has always taken responsibility for her actions, told everyone about the son who was *taken* from her, wanted him back with a vengeance, and has built a wonderful relationship with him. She told any man she dated that he had another son out there, and they came as a package. THAT is dignity. No excuses, lots of love.

Can't wait to see Harry Potter 7 at 12:02 Friday morning.

Friday, November 12, 2010

It's like I never existed.

I had a great conversation with my friend Joy today. She is a wise, generous soul. She listens and having walked in my shoes, she provides wonderful support.

She was reminding me that when humans are in the middle of pain, there seems like little else we can trust. It's familiar. We've been rejected before. Some adoptees have a visceral reaction to being rejected because of what happened to us as babies. I know what this pain is, but it is overcoming me right now. I can rationalize it away with consummate rhetorical skill, but it doesn't change the way it possesses the innermost part of me. I was thinking about what David told me to do: to write it until I mean it, but right now it seems like one of the punishments meted out by Dolores Umbridge, in which writing on the paper cuts the message into the skin.

I know many people who love me and need me. I love and need people, too. Problem is, the people I love the most fiercely usually don't love me back. And what's even shittier is that these people don't reject me in kind ways, using words. They turn their backs and walk away as though I never existed to them. We never sat together and talked, never touched, never connected. WTF?

Whether these people in my life don't have the courage to speak to me, or they don't value me, I can't say. There are many more possibilities, I am sure. But their leaving without a trace, and showing me such immense lack of respect, triggers me in a monumental way. Joy pointed out that when I said, "It's like I never existed," I could have been talking about the me that was left behind in the hospital--along with all the rest of C's sparse love and emotional baggage--41 years ago. It's like I am trying to speak to people but have no voice; my words are lost in the wind; I cry and no one hears. I am alone and defenseless, no matter what anyone says to me. I know it's my job to take care of myself, to pick up that baby and love her unconditionally, but I don't have the strength to do it right now.

Being in that place leaves me on the edge of madness, both of anger and insanity.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


I am going through a very difficult time. My pain links back to my being adopted more than it would seem at first glance. In all honesty, I have been plagued by suicidal ideation for about a year, and I unsuccessfully tried to take my life two and a half weeks ago. I am able to be darkly humorous about it now and acknowledge that my first mother's iron-clad liver saved me, despite everything. I am in intensive therapy and on more medication than I wish I were. A good friend doing genealogy for me discovered that a second cousin of mine committed suicide in 1970, a year after I was born. From what I know of my first family, it seems very likely that there is a pretty involved family history of depression.

There are emotional and behavioral triggers that push me over the edge, and have done so in the past. As I mentioned in my last post, being invalidated or ignored is a huge trigger. I become extremely anxious and pretty much lose my hard-won ability to stand up for myself. Case in point: last week I wanted to make an appointment to see my primary care physician about a headache I've had for three weeks. The call center scheduled me with a nurse practitioner who works with my MD. I called back, asking for an appointment with my physician because I feared giving all the backstory for my complicated illnesses in 15 minutes or less. I was told it was the NP or nothing. While I have the utmost respect for NPs, I was also concerned that she wouldn't have the time to review my case and see what factors might have contributed to my headache. I know that providers are busy, and she would probably only read the last note my MD had written, not the entire, knotted, complicated stack of information that has been gathered when mistake after mistake was made with my care. I worried that the NP wouldn't listen to me, and would fob me off with meds for a migraine. I got to my doctor's office, checked in, and was taken to the NP's exam room. I then proceeded to have a panic attack, with my blood pressure through the roof. The intake RN was rightly freaked out and told me to take deep breaths. My BP was so high she was concerned I was going to stroke out. I knew, though, it was transient panic. Thankfully, my MD switched patients with the NP and was able to see me. I felt enormous relief to be with a physician who knows me well, believes me, and who doesn't have to study up on my messy case. She and I came up with a plan for the future to avoid a repeat of what happened. In retrospect, I realized that I was petrified that I wouldn't be heard or believed. That is a HUGE trigger for me. She is concerned that I have a slow bleed in my brain from the Lovenox I am taking to avoid more clots. What a nightmare my blood is proving to be.

Then today, I had an interesting, raw session in therapy. My therapist is Dr. David Brodzinsky, who has done research, written, and specialized in adoption for his entire career. He was a powerful eminence at Rutgers, but thankfully retired to a town very close to where I live. While I don't like that he uses Positive Adoption Language, he really does get what adoptees go through and is patient and kind. I respect him, and I feel that respect is reciprocated. He has allowed me to be angry with him when I felt dismissed, and to redirect conversations when I felt he was off-track. In my short, unhappy life, I have seen a stable of really insecure therapists who, when I criticized them, oddly took it personally, rather than as part of a business relationship, and attacked back. David doesn't do that. It is a heartening revelation to know that there are therapists out there who do act like professionals.

Anyway, today I described how I am at a very low point and was talking about how I feel that I am, in my core, a good person. I care about others and give as much to relationships as I am able. And yet I am used as a whipping girl by many people for reasons that escape me. I wish that I could be strong like my friends Linda and Joy, and avoid letting other people's garbage poison me. I wish I could call people out on their nastiness; I am slowly improving at this, but it is a very slow work in progress. David suggested today that I am unable to value myself because I care so deeply about being rejected by C. He pointed out that my beloved cousin told me that it's really C, not me, and that she isn't warm and loving with ANYONE. But it still sucks to know that she hated me when I was in utero, that she starved herself and didn't care about taking care of me even prenatally, and that she could so easily shut the door and never look back. That she treated me as an unwelcome intruder without right to know who I was born to be, and that she doesn't care enough to help me find out medical history that could improve my quality of life. That she poisoned my brother against me. I just don't matter to her. I am a threat she cannot handle. And if another first mom makes excuses for C, I will be triggered again, and probably not very nice. There is no excuse for cruelty. None.

My parents love me. My family loves me. My friends love me. There are many people out there to whom I've made a difference. And yet I feel that people only value me for what I can do for them, not because I am a person worth loving. People give me what they're able, but I am generally abandoned or left behind. I don't matter enough. I don't want to stay alive to avoid hurting others. I don't want to stay alive because I feel I deserve it. I know that I do. I seem, however, to be doomed to suffer in this life. I can love myself until the cows come home, but it's not enough. I always end up getting the shaft. I live on an island that C put me on. I try to get off the island, but the boat sinks, or the help offered never comes. I guess I can accept that this island is my home for whatever life I have left, but it isn't all that positive to live feeling so alone.

My triggers are so close to the surface that I have pulled away from people because I can't risk hurting any more than I do right now. My resources are spare; I have nothing left to give to others or to myself.

Where I stand right now, I feel like cursing C. She avoided acknowledging her pregnancy with me because she couldn't deal with it. She told me that she wished she'd aborted me, but it appears she didn't have the courage. In a sick way, I want to write a suicide note that says, "Dear C, Do I have to do everything myself?"

David told me to write about my sadness and anger and to engage with the cognitive aspect of my knowledge that I am a person with value, despite my first mother wanting me dead. He claims the emotional acceptance will come later. I do see that I have value, despite all the horrendous people I have had the misfortune to cross paths with. I am smart and loving. But I have never been happy, despite my excellent acting skills. 41 years is a long time never to have been happy, settling for crumbs, being kicked around. I see things that I can change, but unfortunately the most comforting bits involve homicide. Just kidding. Sort of.

I can't imagine living another 40 years that are like the first 41. I just can't. I can't live in this cage, rejected over and over and over. Shakyamuni Buddha was right: Life is suffering.

Monday, November 08, 2010


I don't particularly think of myself as courageous. I live in uneasy relationships with both fear and anxiety. I have learned to denigrate myself and be silent, often to my own detriment.

I have been experimenting in therapy and real life with the idea that my thoughts, concerns, and feelings are valid and worthy of expression. This might seem obvious to most people, but for me, and other adoptees I know, it's not quite that simple.

In the past when I dared speak my mind about my feelings, I was cut off ("Oh, but look at your wonderful parents/life/brain/experiences...!") or even worse, ignored. A lifetime of silence and lack of validation did a number on me. I internalized not being important, and not having worthwhile thoughts, except in the realm of academia, although I suffered even there from an adviser who sabotaged my career.

I intuited a pattern from the repeated denigration: if I am ignored, it must be that I am wrong/unworthy/inconsequential. This conclusion was clearly faulty, but it didn't help that it was set in my youth when I didn't have the acuity to see the big picture, and when I lived in a place of clannish mediocrity where teachers accused me of LYING when I said I'd lived in England and visited Paris. I hoped, but wasn't sure, that there was a world in which I would be welcomed and loved.

In retrospect, I see that the problem wasn't ME, it was the people around me who weren't listening, and who dismissed me due to their own baggage. This may sound narcissistic, and I certainly don't mean it that way, but it is true. The result of my negative experiences was that I developed an intense emotional trigger when I am invalidated or dismissed. When I feel that I am being brushed off, I quickly become madly anxious or rabidly angry; a person can only handle being silenced for so long.

For example, a therapist I was seeing last spring told me that I was making a mountain out of a molehill when my brother ended our relationship via e-mail, because, after all, I'd only met my brother once. I should put it all into perspective and see that it was just like a one-night-stand. When she said that to me, I became livid. Where had she been in all the months previously, when I discussed phone calls and letters and that my brother welcomed me as family? What else did she sleep through? Why was I paying her money to be an idiot? She was taken aback by the intensity of my anger, but to me, it was justified. She had gouged her pointed assumptions into an open wound in my heart, and I had to protect myself with all I had. She apologized, but it took me months to be able even to begin to forgive her.

I don't see myself as strong or courageous, although courage is perhaps exactly what I am drawing on, despite being thickly enmeshed in self-doubt. I do put myself way out on a limb and extend myself to my first family, although the results have been quite painful. And yet I keep trying, with them and other people I love. The alternative--being a skeleton or secret--isn't an option anymore.

Perhaps the most courageous thing I have done in the past two years is to learn to value myself, although that is certainly a work in progress.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Better to know?

Many people have asked me over the past year and a half if I regret searching and finding my first family, especially because of the cold reception and the painful repeated rejections I have suffered.


I cannot regret seeing myself in the faces of others for the first time. Learning about my family's history, where I came from, and getting additional medical history. Seeing that I have gestures just like my first mom's. Hearing her voice for the first time. Meeting my brother and his family. Feeling that the child inside me finally had found her long-lost place of refuge and recognition from the people she was connected to.


I have sunk to some of the darkest depths emotionally that I've ever experienced. I opened myself up to pain and emotional distress in ways I'd never thought possible. I didn't think any living people could hurt me as badly as my first family did, and I've been through some really ugly breakups in my life. The rejections were visceral and bloody, and took me to places inside myself I hope never to see again.

I don't think that anyone should have to go through what I did. I think that people in reunions, even though said reunions might have taken a while to come about, cannot understand how horribly scarring it is to be treated as a personal belonging. There is a pain in being told that your mother wished she'd aborted you that I wish existed only in a Lifetime movie.

And yet I have hope. I am stubborn. I don't give up easily. I want so very much to believe that the goodness in me comes from somewhere in my first mom's family. I don't want always to be the afterthought, the exile, the rejected one.

I kept going, and have formed a new connection with someone else in my first family, who--beyond my wildest dreams--treats me with love and respect. I don't want to jinx anything, but I am impressed and filled with pride to be related to this person. I see the goodness of myself in him. I am cautious and not one to abandon my fear easily, but the past few weeks have shown me that there are people who do not choose to be blind or judgmental.

I am a loyal friend and family member, and I feel in my heart that I have met my match.

I read several blogs of adoptees who are issue free and happy, without reservation, about their life and situations. Sometimes I am envious. I ask myself if I would rather have their certainty and security than my darkness and turmoil. It's tempting sometimes, but I have decided I wouldn't. Part of my pain comes from my intelligence and willingness to probe deeply into myself; in my life, I would have to be pretty superficial to claim that all was well. I wouldn't trade my mental illness and emotional intensity for a life lived in Stepford pastels. Unless I had enough Valium, that is. And even then, probably not. I would always take the red pill of knowledge. I can't imagine being blind. I am not my first mother.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Medical history? Why? You have a loving, adoptive family.

This past week has been incredibly hard. I fell off the edge of sanity, and can't quite say that I've found my way back to firm footing. It is hard to have faith in myself, no matter what anyone says to me. I know that I am a good friend, a good nurse, a good scholar, a good mom. But none of it reaches deep enough to touch that black hole in my heart that wonders why I am never exactly good enough to be loved the way I want to be.

It is Adoption Awareness Month. I have many friends who are blogging daily, and brilliantly so, about issues that plague adoptees (check out Amanda and Linda) . Because of course, most of Adoption Awareness Month is about singing the praises of "giving the gift of a child" to a loving family that wants him or her, and not so much about what adoptees feel and need and want.

What's been haunting me particularly is the issue of medical history. Most of us infant adoptees come with a medical history that was taken at the time of our births. Some histories are skeletal, some are meatier. The information, however, only represents what was known at the time of our births. People get older, things change, new diseases appear in families over time: for example, cancer, cardiomyopathy, Type II diabetes, etc. What was true of my nfamily 40 years ago isn't what's known in 2010 or going forward.

For years and years--actually, until last year--the only thing I could say was that I have a family history of hereditary spherocytosis. When doctors would ask me how this blood disorder had played out in my immediate family, I couldn't answer. I didn't think much of the blank pages, however, until I was older and had kids.

When I gave birth to a son with spherocytosis, all we had to go on was the trajectory my own health had followed. It turned out that my son is affected far more severely than I have been. I felt so frustrated and hamstrung, not being able to offer more than a shrug of my shoulders and "I don't know," when the neonatologist asked for more detailed family medical history.

Everything on family medical history forms other than blood disorders had to be crossed out with a big X and the words, "Don't know, adopted." That doesn't give doctors a lot to go on. From the position of someone who works in the medical arena, I know that it sucks. It's a good thing I didn't have any trouble with my pregnancies because I knew nothing that might have shed light on the situation. I did develop borderline gestational diabetes with my second pregnancy and guess what: when I found my maternal nfamily, it turned out that my maternal grandfather had Type II diabetes. Not surprising, then, that I had gestational diabetes although at the time there were no dots to connect.

All my patients in Labor and Delivery have to fill out an anesthesia questionnaire about family history of all kinds of things, and family reactions to anesthesia. I had to fill out the same questionnaire when I had surgery to remove my spleen, the only treatment available to ameliorate the symptoms of spherocytosis (enlarged spleen and chronic anemia). I had the surgery. All went well. It was my first surgery; I hadn't been hospitalized since my birth. The drains and catheters were a pain in the ass, but all things being equal, I did well and was discharged on the fifth day.

I went home, but the pain never subsided. I was supposed to be tapering down on the Vicodin, but something still wasn't right. I couldn't eat much and vomited much of what I did manage to eat. I had a persistent fever that was masked by the Vicodin. Still, I guessed that what I was going through was normal. It would have helped to have my natural family around to tell me that my recovery from splenectomy was atypical. I soldiered on because I had nursing school to finish.

Then on the first day of the fall semester, I woke up in excruciating pain. My parents had left in the wee hours that morning after helping me for three weeks. My husband drove off with the kids for school and for work, and I lay in bed trying to be strong. I took pain pills, tried to watch movies, and tried to poop, thinking that perhaps the pain was related to constipation from the narcotics. The pain worsened and worsened. I began to sweat. I wanted to die; it would have offered relief. I called the surgeon's office and spoke with the physician's assistant. He advised me to walk around the block to get my bowels moving. All that walking around the block achieved was having my neighbors' gardens decorated with bile. I called the surgeon's office back and was told to go to the ER.

My friend Chris drove me to the hospital, and I sat miserably for eight hours in the ER's waiting room. Abdominal pain is not high on the triage list. I was finally taken back and given merciful doses of morphine. I drank vile cups of radioactive contrast and was rolled back for x-rays and a CT scan. You know when the doctor comes right into the room after the CT scan that the results probably aren't good. It turned out that I had a large clot in my portal vein, which takes the blood from the GI into the liver so that it can be cleaned and sent into the inferior vena cava on its was back to the heart. There was basically little or no blood flow into my liver from the portal vein. My bowels were leaking with backed up blood. I couldn't eat or drink because the pain was mortifying. I had two IVs: one for heparin to thin my blood, and another for IV fluids and antibiotics.

I was given a pump with the pain medication Dilaudid, and I would have to take a hit before I could even choke down a sip of water. I ate and drank basically nothing for a week, and then was put on total parenteral nutrition because my body needed protein and calories. I was fed directly into my bloodstream, but in order not to clog my veins with the liquid food, they had to put in a central line to my heart. For the insertion I asked for an IV anti-anxiety medication and for my friend Chris to hold my hand. I lost consciousness and thankfully don't remember any of it.

The doctors decided that the clot was related to my surgery, during which my spleen had been macerated and had released far too many platelets and the splenic vein, which leads directly to the portal vein, had been severed and tied off. At the time of my admission with the clot, my platelet levels were four times above normal, which is very dangerous. I am lucky in a sense that I didn't get a clot in my brain, heart, or lungs. But it still sucked to have my GI in lockdown.

I was in the hospital for two weeks and lost almost 20 pounds. I went home with oral anticoagulants and was told I should be fine in about six months. 10 days later I was back in the hospital with horrific pain once more, and it turned out that despite my being an extremely compliant patient, my anticoagulant levels were too low. Five more days in the hospital, and I was discharged with TWO anticoagulants: one oral and one daily injection.

It was a nightmare for me to maintain therapeutic anticoagulation; I was taking doses of warfarin that would give an intern a heart attack just to get into the therapeutic zone. My genetic makeup is such that I chew through warfarin, the most commonly prescribed anticoagulant. That would have been nice to know before. As it would have been to know that there is a family history of clotting.

And as I have blogged about before, this summer I found out that I have a genetic mutation that makes it even MORE likely that I will clot. I should have had blood thinners during pregnancy and NEVER been on birth control pills. I seem obliged to live, despite omissions of information and errors made along the way.

Knowledge is power. A person should have power over her life, including making the best possible decisions about health. How in the hell can I make an educated decision without enough information? Why did/does my nmom think it appropriate to prevent me from knowing things that might save my life? How can she justify it to herself?

Moreover, how does the state justify protecting the privacy of natural families by sealing records and not collecting updated medical information at regular intervals? Not that it would have made any difference for me, because my nmom was not forthcoming about such things even when asked, but I would like to believe that most people are invested in knowing that their placed children are safe and healthy. Key words being "like to believe." Sadly, contact between adoptees and their natural families is threatening to many adoptive parents and agencies who make money off said adoptive parents. Secrecy is selfish and NOT child centered. It's not about what it should be about. Then again, it's made abundantly clear, day after day, how very little of adoption is really about the children, and their wants, needs, and desires.

The other thing that bothers me about health and adoption is the pervasive idea that babies need to be healthy to be lovable adoptable. What if a baby isn't well? It's not adoptable. Whether it ends up institutionalized or stuck forever in the foster system is another question, but there is, in my mind, nothing intrinsically wrong with an infant who isn't "perfect," and to suggest so is to acknowledge again that ugly truth that adoption often isn't about finding a child a home, but rather fulfilling potential adoptive parents' wishes to find a baby to fit their needs. That's baby shopping, and it's disgusting.

My nonidentifying information says that after I had spent six weeks in the NICU, I was deemed to be "healthy and adoptable." I shudder to think about the path I was spared.