Starting a blog is a little like writing to your Birth Mother for the first time. What do you say? What photograph should you include, if any? Will you find recognition and acceptance or rejection and misunderstanding? You don’t want to risk exposing too much. And yet…and yet?
Almost 25 years ago I used a special fill-in-the-blank template especially for writing to birth mothers. Here’s the photo I enclosed in the envelope- me and my one year old daughter Dominique. The agency whose job it was to open sealed records and gather names and addresses gave it to me, along with the request that I never, under any circumstances, tell her or any one else how I got her name. What they were doing was illegal and required bribery and stealth. Who knows how they did it. At first, I resisted using the template- I mean, this was going to be one of the most important, pivotal moments of my life, right? I was writing to my birth mother, for goodness sake, the woman I had fantasized about since I was three and half. I would use my own words, thank you very much.
But when I sat down at the kitchen table, pen in hand, my resolve and ability dissolved. The task was too huge. What could I say?… There were no words. So I opted for the template. It was brilliant, like a secret code. All I had to do was fill in the blanks.
Dear _____, (birth mother’s name)
You may not remember me. The last time we saw each other was _______(date of your birth) in _______(city/town you were born in). My name then was ______ (birth mother’s name) but now it is ________(your name). I hope this finds you well and it is not too much of a shock. I now live in _______ (your town/city). I am planning to be in ________(place where birth mother lives) next week. (make a date a soon as possible so she has to contact you immediately, either out of joy or fear, it doesn’t matter, she needs to contact you). I would love to take you out to lunch and catch up….
The idea was that no one but the Birth Mother would know who wrote the letter. No husband or child happening upon the letter would have a clue. For she could have kept it a secret all these years, you just didn’t know.
Yes, there was a reunion. It was successful, even easy, with both Birth Mother and Birth Father, I will tell you more about that later. I’ve been telling the story for almost 25 years now. How I Found My Birth Parents has become in itself a kind of template. I seem to use it as a calling card, it is my introduction. Hello, my name is Emily, I was adopted, and this is How I Found My Birth Parents. It always elicits oohs and aaahs and goose bumps from listeners, filled as it is with miracles and coincidences. They inevitably say, Oh you should write about it! I say, I know. I should.
Instead, I’ve continued to just tell people, over and over and over again, my happy story about How I Found My Birth Parents.
But after all these years of telling the story and living in the reunion, wasn’t “I” supposed to feel better inside? I mean, where was the closure? Isn’t there supposed to be closure once you find your Birth Parents? I mean once those nagging questions about your identity and the circumstances surrounding your birth are answered, all the blanks neatly filled in, aren’t you supposed to feel better? Aren’t you supposed to be able to function more successfully? Or at all? Isn’t your sense of self supposed to be more solid and reliable? Aren’t the feelings of despair, rage, grief, emptiness, sorrow, existential loneliness and thoughts of suicide supposed to go away?
That is what they tell us. That is what I believed. But I have found the opposite to be true. The reunion with my BP’s was on the outside very successful, but on the inside a ship wreck. All these feelings bobbing around inside me, no way to grasp them, no words to express them, no way to tolerate them. Inside the happy reunion crouched the fury of the outcast. Even as I sat at her Christmas table the first time with friends, hers and mine, next to her son, my half-brother, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, all our words flocking together in celebration, part of me fled further into exile. The part of me that needed most to be included was more profoundly abandoned.
The dark side of Adoption has always been banished from the proverbial table. The baby has continued to howl as if locked away in some inaccessible room. Yes, something was missing from the How I Found My Birth Parents story but I couldn’t find it. I got married, had children, went to graduate school, got divorced, moved, took workshops. joined therapy groups, women’s groups, private therapy. Searching, searching. Inside: numb. Outside: smiling. Inside: terrified. Outside: courageous.
The true story does not have a happy ending. It has no ending. There is no getting rid of it. The story is messy, confusing, and repetitive. It is also, full of joy and despair, flashes of insight and dense fog. It just is. And it is me. And all of it deserves to be accepted.
This blog, I hope will be a place where I can express the complexity of being adopted and share stories with others. I think the fluidity of the venue, the give and take, the potential for dialogue will match my need to be in relationship through story. I think healing comes in the creating, no matter what form it takes, not necessarily the outcome, anything where the muscles of the self can be flexed. Making art is making self. I have found theatre, improvisation in particular, writing, yoga, dance, anything that involves embodiment helpful. It has been and continues to be a long, long circular road. Soul collage, painting, dance, pottery. What else? How do you heal?
Love After Love
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.