Monday, October 24, 2011

more and more Real~

I've never been one to lie to myself.
Always a bit too pragmatic, I would go so far as to say I often couldn't see the fantasy, the dreamwork, the creativity in things. And so, I'm ashamed to say I wasn't always flexible. In fact, I used to think the word "compromise" was a 'bad word'. I won't go into why I thought that, but let's just say it had a lot to do with my inflexible religious upbringing.
But the oft-used phrase "That's just how I was raised" cannot be one's lifelong excuse for lack of personal growth and evolution. No, it cannot. That's precisely how the gamut of issues we are all surrounded by to this day were passed down---because people are afraid to question the norm. And when that norm is held by everyone around you who you know and love so deeply; well, that's the hardest thing to break away from and stand up against. No one wants to be ostracized, you know? It's a powerful form of behavior modification; a powerful way to control people. But love is not control. Love is choice. Even in families---no, especially in families.
I'm telling you all this because after M and I had a couple more comfortable conversations after those initial mind-blowing ones...well, the only way I can describe it is that you come back around the bend. I feel like we weave between and betwixt reality. And it's not over yet. So we keep going, keep asking each other the difficult questions, keep getting to know each other. We have after all, 30 years to catch up on. And they weren't always easy years.
After my birthfather (Musallam---I realized I was spelling his name wrong) ditched her (well, his family made him go back to Saudi Arabia to marry a nice Muslim girl, whose purpose I suppose, was to help keep his pants on), M had me, as you know. I give her big kudos for that. She was completely disowned by her family and on the street and really could've just decided to watch out for herself---a completely understandable reaction, I might add. She could've just lied about an abortion, said she miscarried, and moved on with her life, staying close to her albeit, dysfunctional family. But she didn't do that.
When she tells me about that time in her life, how she just moved in with her party-scene friends, I kind of chuckle to myself. It's so not my scene! I was always a gal who got pretty uncomfortable around "party-ers". Too loud. Too obnoxious. Too many drunks. Too many drugs. Not enough conversation and too many people having sex without condoms, haha! Er, oh my. ;)
But she tells me about how people just hung out. How they all loved being around me. How I was a baby who rarely cried. How most of her friends were middle-eastern (ie, Khalid, would swing me and carry me around as if I were his own, singing to me in Arabic), how Musallam's uncle Hussein liked to visit and was very angry at his nephew for not 'owning up' to fathering a child. He kept denying and denying his paternity, even after friends took pictures to him, waving them in his face saying, Look at her! She looks nothing like M and completely like you! His uncle then asked if he could adopt me and take me back to Saudi Arabia. This is where I thanked M profusely for not agreeing to this. No burqas for me, please!
She goes on with the story; how I got my name.
"Oh ya, Marie! How did you pick the name Marie? It's so similar to yours, that is so interesting!" I tell her.
The phone goes silent for a moment.
That's not your name, she says.
"Huh? Well, it says right here on the social worker's document in quotes: "Marie" ".
M tells me that was my middle name. She gets very upset and thinks it has to do with prejudice against middle-easterners; that maybe it would've decreased my chances of getting adopted. I'm like, whooooaaaaa, back up the truck right there.
My first name wasn't Marie?!

She tells me my first name was an Arabic name.
I was named Reem. And it means 'little deer'. Hussein came up with it after meeting me, leaning down into my crib and saying, "she has little doe eyes".
And then she admits she's been having a hard time when we talk because sometimes it nearly slips out.
Of course it makes sense. That's who I was to her all those years. She said my nickname was "Reemer Dreamer". When I found her she called one of her oldest close friends up in Pittsburgh and yelled into the phone hysterically, "She found me, D! Reemer Dreamer found me!"

So I guess my dreams were there all these years, weren't they? Even as pragmatic as I became, as I viewed myself. Perhaps it'd become somewhat of a defense-mechanism--- I hid them under my pillow at night, only whispering them into the trees I trusted on the long walks I took in high school.
But this entire story---it all sounds so strange to me.
That was me? I ask. I admit it's been hard for me to take everything in; that it's all so surreal. Honestly, if I didn't know what I know (that she knows too much to not be) I'd have a hard time believing she's my birthmom. I'd have a hard time believing any of this.
I can tell my admitting this pangs her a bit. She tells me the next time we talk how she can understand why it might not seem very real to me, but how very real it is for her because "of course I remember you. Anytime I thought I couldn't remember your face, I just looked at your pictures I had. I know...[her voice trails off]... I knew you. So I can't help but think, maybe if you could just touch me, it might finally be real."

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside
you and a stick-out handle?"
"Real isn't how you are made", said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you..."
"Does it hurt?"
"Sometimes." For he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being
hurt".
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up or bit by bit?"
"It doesn't happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't
often happen to people who break easily, or who have sharp edges, or who have to be
carefully kept."

The Velveteen Rabbit

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

no one said it would be easy~

For years I've told people that adoptions don't happen because everybody's happy about the baby.
And for some odd reason, it results in a lot of defensiveness.

There's a "sun-moon" aspect to adoption, or perhaps better put (not to get all Pink Floydy) a dark side of the moon aspect.
You see, the Adoption Triad seems perfect: there's a couple who either cannot have children or have a good home to offer to Oh! a child in need of a home! but the best part: the mother cannot provide that home herself.
Seems like the perfect solution for everyone involved!
Not so much. Well, sort of. Oh, who knows? I sound so wishy-washy because honestly each case is so different. But the important thing to remember is this: it will be complicated and different from raising your own blood children. It will be. It can be beautiful and amazing but it will still be different and complicated. Always.
Now, I'm not going to go into all the statistics of the how's and why's of what I just said. You can read some of the really great books out there---four of my faves are:
The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier
Being Adopted by David Brodzinsky
Questions Adoptees Are Asking by Sherrie Eldridge
Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew by Sherrie Eldridge

But trust me, it's complicated. Anytime you take a baby away from its mother or the mother chooses to give her baby away, it's complicated. And it leaves wounds, deep ones. Oh, you think I'm just talking about the baby?
I'm talking about birthmothers who question their decision every day for the rest of their life, even when they know things about themselves--- like their inability to hold down a job, their deep seated addictions, or tendency to be attracted to violent men.
I'm talking about infertile couples who don't let themselves grieve their own losses long enough before they jump into parenting someone else's baby. Because you know, it's ok to grieve the loss of that little family of your own you planned and worked so hard to have and couldn't.
And then of course, there's the child. Sigh. The person who ends up feeling manipulated the most. Yes, I said manipulated.
Because even in the best of adoption circumstances (hey, kind of like mine: it's not like I found M and she's a struggling addict, married to some bozo who beats her, and can't hold down a job long enough to pay rent for her shitty apartment) it's complicated and the adoptee feels like they never had a voice or a choice. That's why everybody's hoping (well, should be) in the end, that the choices---considering the circumstances---will be the best for the child. I always liked the line in Verrier's book:
Adoption shouldn't be about finding babies for infertile couples but finding homes for children who need them.

So back to M and I's story because I know all of you who have been reading want to know as some of you say "what happens next" (ha!) like we're all in this book club together now (double ha!)
And so, as you know now, things ultimately turned out well. We're both relatively happy and whole individuals at this point in our lives. However, things weren't always this way, and like I said, adoptions don't happen because everyone's happy about the baby.
Because before we're babies we're even more helpless---we're in someone else's body who is technically called 'pregnant' and that person may or may not be going through a lot.
[Insert everyone reading this screaming their two cents about the abortion debate here.]
At the end of the day, we're all at the mercy of our mothers. It doesn't matter how many creepy old men stand outside of abortion clinics with signs displaying their disapproval---you are at the mercy of your mother when she becomes pregnant with you.
When M found out she was pregnant, little did she know that my birthfather, a very conservative (indeed!) muslim had gotten 2 other gals pregnant at about the same time (where were condoms being sold in Pittsburgh?! hello young people!)
At the time, she also didn't know that he had diplomatic immunity. For M, there would be no legal outlet for her to get child support from him. Being the very conservative religious man that he was, he was just so terribly concerned about well, appearances. She would shame him and his family, he told her. She could ruin his education opportunities. And oh, by the way, I could never be with you, he said. She was a westerner, no.can.do. You only party and sleep with westerners, you don't have babies with them.
So he told her she absolutely had to have an abortion.
M said no.
So he told her he'd pay for the abortion and give her $10,000 on top of it.
M said no.
So he pushed her down the stairs.
(At least, this is what she says.)

Well now, that was certainly one way to solve the problem.
[Pardon me, but I simply have to interject here: you just can't even make this stuff up!]

After M's voice stopped shaking on the phone after telling me that (she was afraid to and I had to basically pull it out of her; I mean, let's tell the whole truth and nothing but while we're just starting, right?) she goes, "I worried and worried that something might be wrong with you after that." I assured her that I graduated top of my college class and that she had nothing to worry about. ;)
She then went home to tell her parents that she was pregnant and things there didn't go so well. Being raised a conservative Irish Catholic, she'd stood her ground and refused the (I'm sure) tantalizing abortion-pay-out, but upon announcing the situation she'd found herself in, her mother kicked her out of the house.
Funny how Catholics can work that way.
(Nobody get abortions! Get your slutty ass outta the house! How dare you use food stamps to pay for your fatherless child!) And the vicious social service cycle of America continues.
She then literally, found herself pregnant, with a bag of clothes on the streets of Pittsburgh. These are her words, not mine.
So she started living with a couple of friends from her party scene, basically. How this could've possibly turned out any better, I'm not sure. But she was taken in, had me at the hospital and nearly hemorrhaged to death in doing so because of a too-late-discovered blood clot disorder. She and I were separated for nearly a week (the Attachment Parent in me is screeching here) because of it; which didn't help that oh-so-important initial bonding, to be sure. And it's not like back then they were pushing breastfeeding and in-room nurseries at the hospitals. They thought it helped the mothers to sleep better if you were separated from each other. Nice job there, guys.
In the end, she took me 'home' (home being her party-scene friends' house) and I'm honestly still getting the full story on what happened next. I think she's embarrassed about that time in her life and she only gives me little details here and there. She's very open, but the story's hard to get out, understandably. It's hard to talk about some of your biggest mistakes 30 years after you've made them without thinking somebody's going to look at you like you've got three heads. Especially when that someone is your birthdaughter.
So I tell her things like, "It sounds like you didn't know then what you know now." I'm not sure if that's ok; hell, I have no idea what's appropriate and inappropriate half the time we're talking. All I know is that I don't want her to sugarcoat things for me, and I don't want to just get into this habit of smoothing all the uncomfortable parts of the story over for either of us in order to be better able to handle the ensuing awkwardness. If that made any sense at all, please press option 1.
I'm in unchartered territory here. In a way I've never been. I used to live so safely! I was a goody-two shoes who lived in a lot of fear. So I practiced my Catholicism to a T and never let up; I never complained, was never disagreeable, and always complied. Then I realized I was going to lead the most pathetic life if I just did what I was told and never lived my life to the fullest. So I joined the military after highschool and became a medic. Then 9/11 happened and I realized how wars happen because of greed. Then I went to college and fell in love with the world again and met the man who understands and loves me the most. Then I decided to have a baby and that baby is a tiny man who deserves to know his heritage.
In a nutshell, that's how I ended up here in this unchartered territory. This land that knows no bounds, where my emotions run freely and I have no idea whether to escape or embrace the rage and the joy and the fear and excitement and confusion and disappointment with each recurring phone call I have with this woman. This woman who birthed me, breathed life into me, brought my face into the light.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Wait, no weight~

A lot of people have been asking me about my feelings.
How are you feeling?
What are your feelings about finding her?
I can't imagine what kind of feelings you must be having!
So what better way than to blog about this really weird, obtuse thing called Feelings About My Birthmom.
Let's start by being honest and all admitting that it's not that you can't imagine it. You can imagine it. I know you can. And I know you have. It's just difficult to picture someone's mom giving them away to someone else and then talking with each other about it finally--- 30 years later. That's what your problem is.
That's what my problem is.
And that's why it's so flippin' difficult to talk about it.
But that's why I'm writing this blog. Because everyone seems to be so polite about the most nitty-gritty, raw experiences, don't they? Especially these days. Everything from getting dumped, being diagnosed with a chronic disease, losing your job and having no money...we're all staying a little bit too polite.
Oh, and please stop telling your friends "Call me if you need anything." When you say that, it decreases your chances of that person ever even wanting to call you again by 100. NEWSFLASH: if you want to be there for someone, call them yourself. I call this "Showing Up To Life". Telling them to call you in their greatest time of need is a cop-out and you know it. That's why you're saying that; so you don't have to deal with the awkwardness of oh wait...an already awkward situation! Yaya, I know people say it's because they don't want to step on toes, don't want to seem too nosy, too pushy. I don't think that's why.
Why am I talking about all of this? Not because I'm trying to get phone calls from people. ;)
Because I've experienced a deep wound in my life. You have too, I just don't know about yours. But you know about mine now.
So when people ask me OhmygoshIjustcan'timaginewhatyou'refeeling, I'm like YES YOU CAN, THAT'S WHY YOU'RE READING MY STORY!
No one reads stories they can't or don't want to relate to, or even just have sympathetic curiosity about. That's the stuff we run from. It either bores the hell out of us or freaks us out too much.
Now that you know about my wound, I'm going to tell you it festered a long, long time. A long time. So long, it was entangled and wrapped around my life in such a way I didn't even notice it there.
It was a weight, really.
I'd been carrying that weight on my shoulders for so many years it was just part of who I am. This weight centered itself perfectly between my shoulder blades, it only felt heavy on the days I went out and tried something new. New things that challenged me, made me swerve, lift my head up. But knowing there was this weight on me, always reminding me I couldn't lift my head up enough to see what was often, right in front of me made it more than difficult. To see things like trust: enough to fall in love, enough to know I mattered to others, enough to know the work I choose to do in the world can and will make a difference. I always blamed myself. I thought I was some sort of problem, someone crashing everyone else's party. Well, because I did crash somebody's party at some point. At least it felt like that.
But it's easy to get self-centered when you're hurting---that's why you've gotta stop licking your wounds, get outside in the fresh air, let it heal. It's hard to believe focusing on something outside yourself for a time will do this, but it does, trust me. The best way to do this is go help somebody else. Literally---get outside yourself and you, ironically, will heal.
Eventually though, you'll come back around to yourself. You'll go, "Oh, that scab is still so itchy". You'll scratch at it again and it'll peel off and all that will be left is a scar. But yes, there will still be a scar.
Now some of us have bigger scars than others; our wounds cut us so deep. Sometimes our hearts even broke.
But it's my blood pumping through my heart, and I'll be damned if somebody's gonna break my heart and run off with it like that's the end of me.
Even if it's my mother.
Hell, even if it's both my mothers.

She and I--we're redeeming each other, I tell you. (That's different than saving, by the way.)
I've gone about my life competing with myself, excelling at everything I put my mind to. But it still wasn't enough. Why be cut-throat and competitive with everyone else when your worst critic and competitor is well, you? I could forever count on that voice in the back of my head to push me further every time because it was always telling me I wasn't worth anything, I wasn't trying hard enough, I wasn't lovable, I was a failure, I was stupid, I was ugly, I was a joke of a human being, I actually thought, good god: I must've been one hell of a bad baby.
People love to say this to adoptees:
She loved you so much she gave you to someone else so you could have a better life.
Let me tell you how I feel about that statement:
Please stop saying it, just stop. Love does not equal abandonment. Ever. Don't even bring love into it. She loved me, let's leave it at that. Let's not try to rationalize the god awful situation she or any other birthmother found themselves in and had to get out of or was told to get out of and call it love. Let's just call it the craptastic situation that it is and how everybody involved was simply trying to make the best of it.


So how am I feeling, you ask?
I feel alive.
More alive than I ever have. My wound is old. My wound is fresh. My wound is hidden. But my scar is here to stay.
That weight on my back, that god awful weight, it's gone. I'm not joking. The huge scab criss-crossed into my heart is peeling and that scar is there forever, but I can only describe all of this--all of these feelings---they make me feel more alive than I've ever felt. I have some strange newfound energy and meaning and drive. A new sense of worth and power and beauty and light surround me.
Today M told me she never stopped thinking about me. That's important for a birthmother---nay, a mother to tell her child:
You matter to me no matter what. Don't ever stop saying that to your kids.
No matter the situation. No matter the time. No matter what.


Friday, October 14, 2011

believe it or not, i'm named after a folk song~

Seriously, me.
No one believes me because my adoptive parents are so...well, conservative. Shouldn't I be named something like Sister Mary Agnes Joan of Arc Berthold?
But just to prove the utter gorgeous cheesiness of it all I, Emily Suzanne, have finally researched and found the guy who wrote the song that led to my name. His name's Mac Davis, he apparently wrote a lot of Elvis' songs. I remember holding onto that vinyl and dancing to this song when I was a wee tot, playing it over and over and over again; my poor dad getting worried I was gonna ruin the needle on his record player.

The lyrics really are kinda sweet. Ok, a little weird, but sweet.

(Oh dear god, what I have just done?!)


Thursday, October 13, 2011

where we fit everything in between~

I have this problem when I want to stop eating a meal because I change my mind about what's on my plate or feel sick to my stomach or am just plain upset.
Because I have type 1 diabetes, when I take a dose of insulin I absolutely must ingest the same amount of carbohydrate for that dose of insulin or else I will have dangerously low blood sugar and then most likely pass out.
Many people who know me know that I have a pretty strong stomach. I don't get nauseated when I see or smell gross things. I don't pass out from 'feeling woozy' or freaked out easily. The first time I passed out was this past summer when I was about to um, have a seizure. But that's a different story for a different day.
The story I'm trying to tell you is one in which I'd just made dinner and was about to sit down with Matthew to discuss with him about how Kathy the Social Worker had just called me that day telling me that my birthmother and I were now officially "reunited", as they say. We had each other's phone numbers and it was all just a matter of who was going to call who first.
As I made dinner, the phone rang but I didn't hear it. As I began to set the table, the woman who gave birth to me was leaving a message. As I turned the music down that we play while making dinner, that message started to beep on my phone.
But I had already taken my insulin.
I felt like a lunatic, grasping my phone tight to my ear to hear that message. It was the first time in 3o years that I'd heard her, after all.
"You already bolused for your dinner, Em" Matthew says. I can feel myself freaking out on the inside. In some small way (you may think this is cheesy) it felt like maybe in missing her call, we might've missed each other like two ships passing in the night. Like we only had one chance. Ridiculous, I know. But it's the truth.
So I sit down, planning on scarfing my food down like an angry, interrupted toddler.
We begin to talk about the phone call, the message. How bad the reception sounded. How smoky her voice sounded. And how bad her voice was shaking.
It suddenly hits me that I have absolutely no idea what to say to her. My mind is blank.
He tells me we have a lot to talk about. (Really? Where do we begin?) He says so compassionately: Emily, that was the hardest phone call she ever made.
And that's when I look at my dinner plate and realize I have absolutely no appetite. The wave of nausea that comes over me is so big and so strong, I think I'm going to just skip vomiting and go straight to passing out.
So I put my head between my knees and breathe in through my nose, out through my mouth like the good little former military medic I am. The stars stop circling, my heart stops pounding, and I come up for air. Then I was force-fed the carbs on my plate.
I go to the bedroom, shut the door, dial the Louisiana phone number I've been given, close my eyes, take a deep breath and hit "send".
Hi, is M there? A man answers.
Yes, yes she is! Let me go get her! Hold on! M! The phone! The phone!
[Sounds of doors slamming and squeaking and footsteps and coughing and whispering and I swear, even multiple dogs barking managed to squeeze into all this.]

Emily?

And just like that, after 3o years, we start talking.

It's not like it was just yesterday because I don't remember her. But there are things about her that are consolingly familiar. Things like her Pittsburgh accent. Things like knowing how to picture, at least, which part of Pittsburgh she grew up in (Shadyside). Things like, when I ask a question, she fills in the part of the story I don't yet have. But I know she's my birthmom because she knows things absolutely no one else could know. It's comforting.
One of the first things she says to me is that she thought I hated her.
This depresses me. I admit that while my feelings have been complicated and birthdays were always hard, I never hated her. She tells me she's always had bad timing and apologizes for missing my birthday.
I promise myself that I'm not however going to say things like "it's ok" just to smooth the awkward parts of the conversation over. So when we get to the part where she admits how bad she's felt all these years, how much guilt and regret she's carried around in her heart; this big hole in her chest that nothing and no one could fill, I tell her that we can't change the past. That was over 30 years ago now. That she was a teenager then and she's 50 now. And I'm grown with a family of my own now, I'm not a baby anymore. We can try to start anew.
I figure out halfway through the conversation, just as the room is beginning to dim in the sunset, that she coughs when she's trying to keep herself from crying. She does this for the next three conversations we have.
She tells me she loves animals because they don't bullshit you and that she has 2 horses. She smokes a lot of cigarettes, drinks beer as she roots for the Steelers, follows horse-racing and hockey, and has high blood pressure from stress. Her doctor told her not to quit smoking though because he was more afraid of what her stress would do to her blood pressure than the cigarettes to her lungs. She works as an accounting clerk at the local hospital. She asks me what I did with my life and tells me I've got some balls joining the military after highschool (um, thanks! ;)
Then she tells me she's dying to know what I look like. I tell her I'm dying to know what she looks like because the papers only described her as thin and having short, curly brown hair with brown eyes. She corrects me, My eyes are blue.
Wow, so that's where my recessive blue gene came from to help give my son his blue eyes.
We both carry the conversation along with this sense of desperation and awkwardness and nervousness and excitement. We keep accidentally interrupting each other, and then apologize and start talking again. I grab an index card to take notes, she's talking so fast I can't keep up with all the juicy details. I ask her if she had any more children. She says, Nope. You're my only ch...you're the only one. She gasps and tries to suppress her joy when I tell her I just had my first child.
She tells me I'm half Scotch-Irish; nearly flipping out when I tell her my son (whose nickname is Bird) has an Irish name. My birthfather was from Ryad (the capital of Saudi Arabia). She felt it was important for me to know it was not a one-night stand, even though they only had sex once (well, hey, all it takes is once, right? and voila: Here.I.am).
My heart skipped when she told me how her younger brother always gave her a hard time for not trying to find me. Over the years he'd say I don't know, but I just have a feeling about her, M. You need to find her. She admits she just got off the phone with him right before she called me to get the courage to make the call.
Just as the sun sets (we've been on the phone nearly 2 hours now) she tells me that she wants to meet me someday soon. As long as that's ok with you.
But don't you know M, we already have?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

breakingcuttingthrashing through~

I was cleaning or brushing my teeth on a Thursday morning in late September, something so banal it's not even worth mentioning.
My phone rings and it's a 412 area code.
Pittsburgh, I thought.
I tend to only get calls from this area code when there's bad news. No one calls me anymore and when they do, it's usually because someone is dead. That's not a joke, by the way.
I pick up the phone and immediately realize it's Kathy the Social Worker.
Emily? It's Kathy. Well, I got so fed up with the way things were going I just took a chance and said it.
She tells me everything and I make her repeat it again as I lean against my refrigerator, sliding down onto the floor into a pile, thinking to myself, I am so glad my son is napping right now.
Kathy explains how she always had the feeling the case wasn't what it seemed like to me, so far away: an evasive birthmother, desperate to keep her past far in the past. She kept trying to get ahold of M but the phone would cut out or one of them wasn't home, and M always called her back, a good sign. So Kathy decided to completely break protocol and just say it---to her husband, who'd been taking most of the messages:

Hi, this is Kathy Leahy from the Pittsburgh Orphan's Court. I'm a court appointed adoption investigator. Your wife had a baby girl in 1980 and she's been looking for her and would really like to talk to her.

Apparently J (M's husband) was so stunned it seemed the line went dead for a minute. What happened next literally completely floored me.
His voice cracked, and he had to hold himself together from crying.
He told Kathy how happy M would be. How she had thought that was what all the calls and letters were about, how scared and excited she'd been, not knowing for sure. He told Kathy he'd call her at work right away to let her know.
Then Kathy hung up and waited on their call back.
Meanwhile, I lay down on my green kitchen floor, in total shock. She finally knows, I thought. I felt the hardness of the tile against my head, phone in hand. I scratched a deep mark into my left arm, the welt it left reminding me I surely woke up that morning.
So I call Matthew, he nearly starts crying on the phone. I wish I could cry too, like all these normal-emotionally-reactive people, but I've got that sad crying problem I mentioned. I find myself feeling hypervigilant, waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under me. I make some tea, check my blood sugar to make sure I'm not about to pass out and suddenly, my phone rings.
Ok, Emily. They are so ecstatic! I've got permission from them to give you their names and information. J wanted to be sure you also had their number so I'm giving you that, too. Let me know how it goes.

As I write her name down, I am struck by how normal it is. How normal this whole thing feels. For god's sake, did I think she was going to say her name was Mary, Mother of Jesus Christ?!
I already had plans to take a refugee I assist to an appointment that day. My heart raced with excitement. I was half-tempted in my broken Swahili to tell him what happened, but realized it may not be the best idea. He did, after all, look at me in complete shock saying What? I do not understand you! over and over when I responded to him No, my mother will not come when I was taking a break to have my baby and he asked me when she would be coming. Trying to explain this whole new level of my complicated maternal situation; to understand that I have both a birth mother and an adoptive mother, neither of whom speak to me---I felt it was too much to ask of him. Family being so unconditionally committed in Africa, I feared his head might explode. And he had enough of his own problems to deal with already; the least of which not being that he'd seen his entire family killed in the Hutu/Tutsi violence in his country. Our friendship was important and ever-evolving, things were always shared in due time.
When Matthew gets home that evening, I wonder if I should wait to call her on the weekend, would it be more polite? I realize I'm actually pathetically analyzing the situation so that I don't appear too desperate. Too desperate? What else could she think after Kathy and I had been after her all summer?
Suddenly, it hits me I'm about to talk to my birthmother for the first time in my life.
Her husband told Kathy how happy M was to hear the news.
I found her. And she was happy.

Friday, October 7, 2011

just in case i need to apologize~

One morning, it hit me that I hadn't thought about the search in a few days. It had become this strange in-between place I'd visit in my mind, random at times, only lasting a fleeting moment. It was someone else's life, someone else's story.
But I could feel myself building this protective chain mail around me, you know, just in case.
In case of what? I felt like I'd spent my life living the just in case philosophy. Never one without an exit strategy, I am always onto Plan B. Some people call it organized, some people call it being a worrier, some people call it neurotic. Oh hell, who am I kidding? I am Plan B.
So just in case my birthmom did what I, for some dramatically pathetic reason pictured her doing (calling Kathy the Social Worker back and saying, "I want you to stop calling me. I know what you're calling about and I want nothing to do with it"), I was preparing myself for it. Well, I'm not being that dramatic. Kathy told me that anything beyond the initial letter and 2 certified letters could technically be constituted as harassment by the birthparent. Nice. I was picturing her, phone clenched in hand, red-faced and angry, thinking she'd moved on in her life and how here she was, 50 years old, this great life finally and who is this girl to come barging in on it....Again?
I wrote a story in my creative writing class in college entitled My Apologies. In it, I explored my penchant for apologizing, something I struggle with even now, although not quite as badly. At least now I know when to say "pardon". But I distinctly remember the section of the piece devoted to how my carefully honed skills may have come about:

Where did all my apologizing come from? As far as I can remember, I've been apologizing since I was born. No, it could have been before then. I imagine myself in utero, the chosen oogonia, apologizing for being the lucky egg for fertilization. I am that egg with the hardened shell of mucus around it, beating back the streamlined version of my father with my acidic bows and arrows. Only it didn't work, and now I'm here. I'm sorry for that, I kept saying to my mother. I tried to stop the current from carrying me any further by leaning against the wall, crying into my cytoplasm pool. But instead I got swept along, settling into the soft cushion of her body, somehow becoming only a noticeably bigger problem.
Perhaps I apologize to every person every chance I get because I'm actually tallying up a lifetime of apologies to the woman who bore me but couldn't bring herself to raise me. Perhaps we are more deeply aware of our beginnings than we give our 6 lb-odd-ounce selves credit for. I know nothing about my birth mother except that she named me Marie, skipped one of my doctor's appointments, and gave me a nightlight in the shape of an ocean wave because I was afraid of the dark. Apparently motherhood came at the wrong time, because she left me at an adoption agency when I was 4 months old and didn't return. Perhaps it was in that moment something unlocked inside me: I did something wrong to deserve this. So I started down a path of perpetual apologizing: a preliminary remark, an introduction to all discourse, nay; an uncontrollable, subconscious verbal tic to be identified by.

Always afraid of having bad timing (for um, obvious reasons) I feared that maybe M's 50th year was as big as it is for most. Maybe she'd just had this huge party, celebrating her mid-life and accomplishments. Maybe she had other kids now. Maybe they didn't know. Maybe I'd make them feel threatened. Maybe I'd been reduced to "the situation M got herself into a long time ago." Most people aren't as frank and open as me. So maybe, neurotic apologizing wasn't going to make it all ok. Come to think of it, when did it ever?
Maybemaybemaybe.
Just in case.
What if?
I think that's why I always despised that line "que sera, sera". Not one to live with the "whatever will be, will be" attitude, I tend to take things into my own hands when I can.
When I can.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

peeling away at the truth~

I told Kathy the Social Worker I was anxious. I told her I was antsy. She tells me, "That's good. I'd be worried about you if you weren't."
But I was so much more than that.
I admitted to Matthew (my partner) that I wanted to call the search off. I was thisclose.
Why? Because it felt like a dead end? Because it'd taken too long? Because I was finally getting impatient?
No, because, deep down, it finally became too painful.
I'd gotten caught up. I finally had an emotional meltdown in the kitchen one night after dinner when Matthew observed the most basic thing in me:
You've kept your cool so long. It's actually surprised me because I'm not sure how most people deal with something like this...but I can't tell what's going on inside your head at this point.
I just fell apart.
All my pent up anxiousness, fear of a double rejection, disillusionment, abandonment issues, no current family outlet to turn to for support...it all came crushing over me like this massive swell that swallowed me whole, its salt water pouring down my face in waves.

It can be hard for me to cry, an expression I don't take lightly. I don't know when or how I got to the point in my life where it became so difficult. Somewhere between impossible attempts at talking about feelings in my family, losing one of my adoptive brothers to an overdose, and realizing in east Africa that my tears did nothing for the dying person I was helping in a grimy AIDS unit, eventually I found myself unable to squeeze those oft misunderstood watery drops from my eyes. So I became that person everyone applauded for being "a pillar of strength" and "holding it together" so well in the worst of circumstances. The worst.
Ya, I'm the person who hides in bathroom stalls and sobs.
Is it a protective shell? Maybe. I'm not sure, I'm still working that one out. Deep down I have this idea that I'm somehow protecting the other person from having to take the time (I kid you not, literally the time) in having to deal with the added conversational complication of well, my tears. The kind that cause awkward silences, confusion, darting eyes, a running nose.
The funny thing is I can handle everyone else's tears just fine. I always have kleenex on me, never feel awkward about wiping teary eyes and putting a hand on the shaking shoulder of someone with their head down, sobbing. Meanwhile, everyone else in the room is shifting their weight from one foot to the other, coughing.
In reading this, I'm sure I sound self-righteous, tooting my own horn, patting myself on the back. But what I'm really trying to say is What the hell is wrong with me?
Did all my tears run dry after being left alone when I needed her? My adoptive mom once told me my head was so flat from laying in the foster home crib all day that when they brought me home she spent a good amount of time rubbing it to round it out.
So I start to get nervous. I've been so focused on the fact that we haven't connected yet, I haven't put much thought into the issue of how to actually talk with my birthmom if we do. About things like her decision to give me up--the circumstances of my birth; the missing pieces of the puzzle outside of the 5 page document I have. And I hate to hurt people's feelings---even come close to riding the line of insulting them, no matter who they are. How on earth will I ask such personal questions, so intimate? I'm a pretty frank person; something I pride myself on. But can I do that with her?
In the end, Kathy the Social Worker tells me she finally got a callback from M on her own home phone. She tells me she's been "thinking of new strategies" to finally make a real conversation happen between them, rather than the seemingly endless game of phone tag occurring all summer. She still hasn't revealed the reason for her phonecalls and letters.
Suddenly, it's mid-September, the desert is cooling off. My birthday has passed and I wonder if my birthmom even remembered it. To cover up my disappointment and pain, we throw a birthday bash, complete with cupcakes in four different flavors, and party favors for the children who attend.
A week after the party, someone randomly tells me I'm a breath of fresh air, another new friend tells me she's glad I'm in the world; two people who barely know anything about me. They make me feel like maybe I do matter, that my presence makes a difference. Pathetic as all this may sound, I needed to hear their words. For some reason, turning 31 was bigger for me than turning 30: I'd given birth to my son and my relationship with Matthew had changed and blossomed into something even more beautiful and complex, much like my favorite flower, the heavily petaled ranunculus. But just like the ranunculus, you have to peel and peel to get to the weighty heart of the matter.
I start wondering what the 'heart of the matter' is with the search. Was I really doing it for my son; just so he could know his heritage? Was I prepared to be burned really badly? Much of the pain I've dealt with in my life I've been able to emotionally detach from quite well, not something I'm proud of. This skill is useful when say, teaching a bunch of African medical students how to draw blood from an AIDS patient. But I'll just say that afterwards, I snuck in a lot of little backrubs on the dying bodies of those patients to comfort them. They were so helpless.
We feel rage from our helplessness. I hadn't felt helpless in a long time. I owned my life since I was 18, I made sure of that.
But now, all my wounds were slowly tearing apart; old scars I'd hidden even from myself. I lay in bed at night cuddling with my newborn, sometimes tearing up, promising him I'd never abandon him, no matter the circumstances, no matter the person he became. No one could take him away from me, no one could take me away from him.
But I still felt the rage from the helplessness; a side effect of the search. The rage from the helplessness; the helplessness from the rage.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

jumbalaya jibberish~

After my birthmom told Kathy the Social Worker that she didn't know what the letter was about and I followed with near-sudden combustion, I started to feel myself slowly detaching from the search.
I mean, what else could I do?
This is how I am as a person though. If I sense that a person is doing everything to avoid me, doing everything and nothing in order not to speak with me, I figure it's best to take a hint and just...stop. I've actually had people in my life who were not talking or responding to me tell me they were really hurt that I er, stopped talking to them. Confusing, right? And so it goes. I just let go, move on, cut my losses. Because sometimes, it's not worth it, folks. It's like you're a hazard to yourself---you're no longer getting burned by them because you're too busy burning yourself.
However, this doesn't mean if that person decides to pull their head out of their ass and actually respond to me, talk to me, and make it a regular thing, that I'd rub it in their face for all of eternity and dangle the relationship before their eyes. If anything, I'm so relieved and just so "Ya! let's do this, finally!" that I think everyone feels better in the end.
I just wish things always worked liked this.
When Kathy the Social Worker first contacted me about doing the search, she sent this huge packet for me to fill out with all these questions. One of the questions really stuck with me:
What is your greatest fantasy about finding your birthparent(s)?
I was able to answer that one very quickly.
I just wanted someone that actually wanted to talk to me. Someone willing to tell me the story.
I'm not looking for "my mommy". I was fully aware that if I found her, the relationship would be messy to navigate, and complicated at best. But as I answered that question in the packet, I told Kathy that I'd dealt with so much family rejection in my life already that I just wanted to connect with her on a basic level; that she just wouldn't be a mean person. She didn't have to be successful or perfect, but she did have to be tolerant and stable. Does that sound weird? Well, if you knew the background I was coming from and how tired I was of dealing with petty, insensitive judgment; you'd know why I just wanted something so seemingly basic. I knew, deep down, that we very well might have little in common---but that's not a reason not to talk with someone.
So all summer long, it went something like this:
Kathy calls my birthmom, no response.
Kathy calls my birthmom, my birthmom calls back, phone keeps cutting out.
Kathy calls my birthmom asking what time to call, my birthmom calls back saying the weekend.
Kathy calls on the weekend, my birthmom doesn't answer, then calls Kathy on Monday and Kathy misses her call because she's busy doing other court-appointed things Social Workers do...

It's important to note that the entire time, Kathy had to continue to be cryptic. She only has information about M (my birthmom). She only knows that she's married but not if she has other children, who else might live in the home with her, etc. The question becomes, what if she hasn't told her husband? What if she has other children and they don't know?
At one point in our discourse, Kathy told me the reason she has to be so cryptic specifically with spouses is because "to suddenly disclose a secret of this magnitude would completely undermine the trust in the marriage." Whoa.
To a certain extent, this is all very annoying. I mean, if someone's going to live a lie like that, the 'just' part of me wants to bust it up; barge right in and chant LIAR! I EXIST AND YOU CAN'T JUST MAKE ME...well, not.
However, when I was 18 I wasn't pregnant and then abandoned by the guy and then kicked out of my house (Oh, did I forget to tell you that part?!)
Sometimes, people just want to move on and find themselves...not mentioning certain things. We've all done this, maybe not with things as big as having a baby and failing to um, mention it, but you get my point.
So it became very frustrating (for both Kathy the Social Worker and myself!) to have Kathy leaving these weird, vague, but persistent messages on M's phone ("Hi M, it's Kathy again. Just trying to reach you; have something important to talk about, please call me back") all to no response. Over. And over. And over. Again. The entire summer.
Finally, one day, M's husband answered the phone and said that she has a long commute to and from work and works long hours at that.
Things made a little more sense now.
So Kathy told me still not to lose hope. The fact there was always a response, as weird or vague or late it might've been, it was still a response. She told me she had a good feeling about this case. She told me she'd keep trying and decided to give M her own home phone number, just to make sure she didn't miss an opportunity to catch her. After all, Louisiana's only an hour behind Pittsburgh.
I looked on a map and was reminded that Louisiana is only 2 states away from New Mexico. Well, Texas is huge and god knows where she actually lives in Louisiana, but it still felt good to know she was closer than Pittsburgh, for some reason. I imagined her newly-turned 50 year old self, short curly brown hair, eating Gumbo. I hoped she wasn't repressing memories. I hoped she'd held onto some semblance of a memory that wasn't all too painful. I hoped she was just taking time to let it sink in, gathering herself; trying to figure out how to talk to me.
I couldn't blame her for that, who could blame her for that.