The girl is too little to know how profound it is to feel nowhere to belong; maybe no one at any age understands feeling grief for what can’t be remembered. But though she barely remembers anymore the world she came from, half of her brief lifetime ago, she knows she never wanted to leave it, that she left part of herself there, so her grief is a secret from herself and until she learns the word for this secret then it’s not a grieving that heals anything. –Steve Erickson, author of These Dreams of You
As a result of a Huffington Post article I wrote entitled, “Birth Mother Pain–the only way out is through” that received more controversy than I had thought possible (upon my request, the article was quickly removed) I do not know how to express the intensity that floats through my blood these days, for fear of offending those who wish I would keep myself shut up tight.
But sometimes in a writer there is an almost desperate need to let out the creepy crawlies that weave their way through a banished section of a moment in time. As indicated by the quote at the start of this piece, one must deduce that this particular topic has to do with the hidden grief that a small adopted child feels once the reality of who she is emerges from her very own private darkness. And, as indicated by the eloquence of the author, a complicated mix of emotions experienced by the parent joins the child in this braided mess of lives that found themselves entwined and subsequently tangled up in a complicated twist of fates.
My daughter had a grow-ing up kind of past ten days. She “graduated” preschool; received her last two vaccinations in order to register for kindergarten in Northern Virginia; visited the dentist for a cleaning and check-up, and was told by the doctor: “That binky is ruining your mouth. You’re a big girl now, you need to stop using the binky.”; and three days after that, she had two cavities filled, which brings us up to last night, the fourth night sans binky. Which brings me back to that first night of her life (as far as my husband and I know) that she fell asleep without a binky in her mouth.
As my big girl/little girl looked me in the eyes that first binky-less night with a fear and longing I recognized from a deep place within myself, and I saw her holding the one binky she had not thrown in the garbage, struggling not to put it in her mouth, the clock ticking on, and her eyes fluttering to stay open for fear of what only she could know, she kept repeating, “Mama,” and then, “Mama,” and I rubbed her back and repeated, “Daughter,” and then, “Daughter, I love you. I am here for you.”
It was then, in the struggle that I witnessed going on inside of her, that I felt a breath blow through my being. I felt a shock of relief, as I realized I could tell her these words: “Daughter, this is your decision. Never let anybody tell you what to do with your body. This is your body, and your decision. Not the dentist’s, not Mommy’s, not Daddy’s, but yours. You must never let anybody tell you what to do with your body. And that includes right now. It is your decision to make.”
She looked at me and I her, and in the dark of the night, and a clinging of her arm around me and mine around her, she said, “Mama, I love you.” Soon, very soon then, she set the hand that held the binky beside her, closed her eyes, and slipped into a peaceful sleep.
After three nights without binky, however, on that fourth day filled with an at-times manic expression of staying awake and away from that binky, added with a morning filled with dentistry, she was wiped the heck out. So was I. My husband and I had planned a few hours out to attend a friend’s birthday party, but by 3pm, with Daughter clinging to me so tight and whining, “I don’t want to you go out,” and other such emotionally challenging sayings, and by simply knowing her so well, I knew that if she did not nap, I would feel like the worst mother in the world walking out the door at 6pm with a crying child begging me not to go. So I let her sleep in the afternoon. I let myself sleep too. The stupid part is that I let this non-napping almost five-year old sleep for more than an hour.
Are you still with me?
That night, we arrived home to a dancing girl who had made cookies with the babysitter, watched a movie or two, and was up up up for the long haul. At 10pm, she moaned beside me as she lay restless in her bed: “I caaaan’t sleep!” I felt her panic as she gave a sort of wide-eyed expression that seemed to be begging me for all sorts of answers I could not at this hour, with this child of mine, give. I put her in a warm bath, and I talked–about love and God and how safe she was in this world–and she repeated, “Mama, Mama, Mama,” like a baby bird pleading for her mother not to leave the nest to go hunt for food.
I held this child with reassuring arms, a life-line for us both I could not remove. In a magic world we would stay like this forever, making good on the promise I offer whenever she tells me she does not want me to leave–Ever! By the time I left this precious one’s side, it was near midnight. I did not know I would be up with her again shortly after daybreak.
This story of one small person choosing to let go of the one constant source of comfort she has known throughout her short but intense life, exemplifies for me so perfectly the human struggle to remain whole, to not fall apart at the slightest nudge to crumble.
This is suffering, as the Buddha called it, and is to be recognized and honored, but not clung to. I am a woman who perhaps too often falls emotional prey to the surroundings in which I find myself. Perhaps this is why, as a young woman and into mid-life, I respected my intuition to keep myself distant from motherhood.
Yet here I am, a nearly 50 year old mother to a deeply feeling human being who needs to know that the world is good and safe, kind and loving. A world in which pain exists, but one that will support her through all that is to come.
All that is to come.