Monday, February 25, 2013

In the black box

Today's my birthday, and now I'm 33.  The Jesus age.  Still young enough on an absolute scale, but old enough that I should have things somewhat together.  I think this is about where I am.

Oddly enough, yesterday the New York Times featured a Motherlode blog entry entitled "A Birth Mother With the Right Regrets."  Part of it included this:
I remember exactly what I was typing the day my birth-mother lenses fell off my face and shattered. It was the same thing I’d said again and again in describing my experience, except this time, I said it to my friends who had been adopted: “The adoption of my son was the hardest decision I had ever made, but I don’t regret it.”
It was their collective response that changed it all: “Promise us that if you ever do meet your son that you won’t say that. Don’t say that you don’t regret giving him up. For an adoptee, that means that you didn’t miss him. That it was O.K. not seeing his first step or knowing who he is. Don’t say that. It will hurt him.”
The post generated a lot of angry comments about the ills of the "adoption industry."  People talked about the exploitation of "first mothers," a phrase I was unfamiliar with, and the inherent pain and damage caused by adoption.  "Babies belong with their mothers."  Adoption was presented as a wholly unnatural, horrible thing.  The woman who wrote this piece eventually found her 19 year-old son through the internet, made contact via MySpace, and waited three years until her child was "ready" (the author's quotes) to meet in person.  And then at some later date the writer was able to create family photos including all of her biological children, not just the ones she had raised. 

When I take an inventory of my life and think about these things -- especially on days like this -- I think I'm ok with the idea of my biological mother not regretting putting me up for adoption.  I don't regret being adopted.  I can't imagine a happier, more fortunate life or a more loving set of parents.  Yet the whole concept of adoption involves a great deal of pain and sacrifice on all sides, and an almost unbearable set of questions that may never be answered.

As a child one might fantasize about biological parents (perhaps she's Princess Diana!) as a set of fairy tale and escapist scenarios.  But time passes, though, and one becomes more comfortable with ambiguity.  The dawn of sex during the teenage years makes one aware of the fear/horror of the idea of unintended pregnancy.  The choices we face as adults -- in love, in family, in education and career -- makes one appreciate the gravity of that fundamental, life-changing decision.  The anticipation and joy of an expectant father opens up new depths of love and devotion, emotions so difficult to channel into this kind of sacrifice.

And ultimately, as an adult, one learns to accept the fact that not all questions have answers.  The fact of adoption is not Chekhov's gun -- there is no guarantee or promise that the mysteries established at the beginning of one's life will be revealed or explained later.  It's all right to leave room for ambiguity, for grace, for gratitude to a stranger.  There is pain in this, of course, but also an unexpected wellspring of love -- for the ones who chose for you rather than for themselves, for the ones who fought for you.

Who knows how my thoughts about this may change with time, but right now this is where things are.  Inside a black box, with no need to seek an exit.

Before my children were born I thought that having a biological relative would change everything.  At times I longed to see someone who looked and acted just like me.  And now my daughter is a lot like me, physically and temperamentally.  When strangers note our similarities it makes my heart ache in a beautiful way.  But ultimately, it doesn't matter very much, and I know that.  She is her own person, as mysterious and inscrutable (at first I wrote "unscrupulous" - heh) as any man or woman on the street.  This is true even if she has a face like mine, eyes like mine, that certain curve in her cheek and jaw like mine. 

If there has been one lesson in my life, it's that biological ties don't matter very much.  I was thirty years old before I had a blood relative.  Reading this article, and its attendant comments that provoked such bile about about the very idea of adoption, really bothered me.  This is the institution that gave me my life, my family, my identity.  I could never ask for anything more, and that's why I'm content to leave these questions unanswered.  There is a balance in my life that doesn't need to be upset. 

The best part of my birthday happened this afternoon, when I was walking to lunch with colleagues.  I happened to see my children and our nanny walking up the sidewalk towards us, over near 113th Street on the east side of Broadway.  I saw them before they saw me.  My daughter was holding the nanny's hand with her other hand in the pocket of her stiff red jacket, and she was looking at all the shops and the people along the sidewalk.  Her hair was in a ponytail and she looked like any young woman you might see on the city streets.  My girl, strolling up Broadway.  I moved to stand in her line of vision and a few seconds later she saw me.  She turned to look at me and her eyes brightened and she said, "Daddy! Daddy!" She let go of the nanny's hand and ran towards me, hurrying up the sidewalk to find me, running up and into her daddy's arms.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

To say that I love this doesn't really cut it. Honored to read your words shared here with the rest of us.