It’s the Memories (or Lack Thereof)

A few days ago, I posted about the holidays still being a struggle for me. At that time, I had no answers, but I did have a few friends offer some perspective that was helpful. I’d like to say that I put aside my search for answers over the last few days, but that would be untrue. It all still churned in the background.

I did, however, try to focus on the moments I’ve had with my (adopted) family so I could make memories that would last. And that’s when it all hit me. It’s the memories. Or, for me, the lack thereof with my (natural) family.

While I have been in reunion with my (natural) family for seven years, I have yet to spend an actual Christmas Day with any of them. I have spent other important days with my (natural) mom and family (e.g., birthday, Thanksgiving, New Year’s Day, Mother’s Day), and while those days used to be very challenging for me, they are easier now. And I think it’s because I have memories stored from the moments we have been together. Even when we can’t be together on those days, I have a memory bank that allows me to reminisce on times we have been together and those give me great joy.

It works with my (adopted) family too. We don’t see each other on our birthdays, but I have fond memories of birthdays that we have been together. Same with Thanksgiving, Easter, New Year’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc. So, I recall those memories on those days and it’s like being with them, and I feel happy.

Looks like I need to find a way to spend some time with my (natural) family on Christmas Day to make the memories that will sustain me when we can’t be together. Sounds like a good project for 2020.

Hope you are making memories with your loved ones and friends this holiday season!

Why Are the Holidays Still a Struggle?

A little over a year has lapsed since I last posted on this blog. I find myself writing only when something about my adoption/reunion experience catches me off guard, which is why it’s been awhile. On most days, I’m a pro at this entire experience, even the mixed thoughts/feelings that sometimes surface.

So, why am I writing today? Because seven years into this process, I still struggle during the holidays.

After I reunited with my (natural) family, I anticipated my holiday struggle would be gone, but that first Christmas brought many of the same thoughts/feelings I had in prior years. There was still a hole…an emptiness…a sense of loss. At the time, I passed it off as the inevitable carry-over from years gone past. Almost like muscle memory. Mental/emotional muscle memory if you will.

But seven years later, I still think/feel some of the same things. And it’s bugging me because I can’t figure it out. So, yeah, that’s all I know to write for the moment.

When I Least (But Probably Should Have) Expected It

As I wiped the tears falling down my cheeks, I tried to remember how I got here. On a return flight from California. Next to young college girls traveling for a weekend adventure. Crying over a movie. “That’s not me,” I told myself. And I wanted to tell the two undergrads as well. But I realized it was probably easier for them to think I’m just one of those people who cries at movies rather than try to explain WHY I was crying at this one in particular.

So, how did I get HERE?

It all starts with a simple choice – what movies to download for a business trip to California. As I sat in my recliner the Monday night before my trip, I estimated that I needed four movies (two each way), and I began the dutiful scroll through my preferred streaming options, mindlessly swiping. When I download movies, I have a pretty standard approach – get one movie I know I like, one movie that sounds intriguing, and two movies that I’ve heard good things about. So, I opted for “Friday Night Lights,” “Fences,” and “Lion” and I figured I’d find a fourth movie on the airline app.

Some of you already think you know how I ended up crying on a plane. But for those who don’t, hang with me. I swear I didn’t see it coming either.

I’ll skip the details about the trip to Cali and the business. Suffice it to say “Friday Night Lights” never disappoints, “Fences” was a bit slow, my meal at “In-n-Out” was fantastic, and I have the best job in the world! And after three days in Los Angeles, I was exhilarated, albeit a little tired.

So, I settled into my seat, popped in my earbuds, and pushed “play” on “Lion.” Let me start by saying that I knew the plot line, which is based on a true story. An impoverished young Indian boy (Saroo) is scrounging for coins and food on a train when he falls asleep and wakes up hours later and hundreds of miles away from his family. He lives on the streets of Calcutta for several weeks before being placed in an orphanage and eventually adopted by an Australian couple. More than two decades later, he reunites with his original family.

It’s an amazing story, but so significantly different from mine that I didn’t expect it to impact me. Before being reunited, I never knew my original family. I never saw them, hugged them, ate with them. I knew they existed, but in an obscure way – like you know there are billions of people in the world. I certainly didn’t have the memories that drove Saroo on his journey. So, why would I be moved beyond the typical emotions I feel when I hear a touching story?

Frankly, I didn’t expect to be. Which was why my reaction was so shocking.

It started as a strange tightness in my chest. That sensation occurred at the point in the movie that Saroo started to distance himself from his loved ones. Then, I found myself feeling a full-body tension when Saroo began staying awake all hours of the night searching Google Earth for any feature that aligned with his memories. And as he became more and more desperate, I was anxious – like the kind of anxious that causes your insides to shake.

And THAT’S when I started to cry. Not what you expected, right? Yeah, me either.

Because I expected to feel moved when Saroo’s parents supported his search and I expected to be moved when Saroo found his original family. And I did feel something at those points.

But the depth of my emotion came in the midst of the struggle, the chaos, the desperation, the lack of control, the disconnectedness. And I swear that for those moments, I was back in the place where I lived off and on for more than 20 years prior to my search and reunion. I was there. And it all felt just like it did all those years.

And despite my skill in compartmentalizing and subduing my emotions and practicing mind over matter and all that, I was paralyzed in the moment. And the tears came against my will and I desperately wanted to tell those girls that “I don’t cry at movies” and I realized it would be even more difficult to explain, “But apparently I am still traumatized over being adopted despite the fact that I grew up in an amazing family and have a great reunion with my original/natural family.”

Because it seems like people can understand that other people cry at movies. What it is (apparently) difficult for some to understand is that adoption, despite being a necessary and oftentimes wonderful thing, always starts with loss (with trauma, if you will) and that a good adoptive family and even a good reunion with original/natural family doesn’t make that go away.

Love Through My Eyes

I was recently asked to serve as a guest blogger for Michelle Madrid-Branch, a life coach, author, speaker and global advocate for women and children. I had been mulling over a post about love for quite some time, and decided to use it for my guest blog appearance. For those who normally read my posts, you can find the lastest one here:

http://michellemadridbranch.com/love-through-the-eyes-of-an-adoptee/

Best Adoptee Blogs for 2016

Healthline.com recently released their Best Adoptee Blogs for 2016, and I’m honored this blog was included on the list along with several adoptee bloggers that I follow. Thank you, Healthline for the mention. 

If you want to read Healthline’s preview of my blog, follow the link below and scroll down to the 4th blog mentioned. 

http://www.healthline.com/health/best-adoptee-blogs#1

Moments in Time You Never Think You’ll Have

It all started with a simple observation. While my (natural) dad and I were hanging out a year or so ago, he casually said, “It would be good to see Carol again.” I registered the comment and said I would ask my (natural) mom what she thought and if we could make it happen, we would. Given the way their relationship ended, I wasn’t sure my mom would want to see my dad again, but when I mentioned it, she said she would. The remaining time in that visit came and went without a meeting, and our next opportunity didn’t work out either. But last Monday, everything came together and I sat in a room with both of my (natural) parents for a little while. 

For those who’ve followed my blog, you know that my (natural) mom has already met my (adoptive) parents. The meeting took place almost four years ago, and was very cool. It had moments of laughter and tears, and sharing stories and photos, and went about as well as I could have hoped. It was an important moment in time to me. 

Something about Monday felt different. I think there was more riding on it. I mean, my mom and my parents had no history together, so there was nothing bringing them together except me. That wasn’t true on Monday. My (natural) mom and dad do share a history, and its last moments were not pleasant, so Monday wasn’t just about bringing together people I love, it also involved bringing together two people who used to love each other. That’s pretty deep even when it doesn’t involve a child they gave for adoption. 

So, when my parents approached each other in the parking lot, I said, “I think you guys know each other” and stepped back to let that moment happen. It did, and it was fine. Much like I envision old friends meeting up at a high school reunion. They said hello, gave each other a quick hug (my dad asked if it was okay, which I thought was polite), and we went into a restaurant to grab coffee (dad), hot chocolate (mom), and tea (me). 

I’m not sure what I thought we’d discuss, but mostly it was catching up on the important people in our lives and a recap of what my mom and I had done on our visit. In the midst of that small talk, I was able to look back and forth between my parents and clearly see how I came from them. And in that moment, the final pieces of my history converged. 

I’ve told people that being adopted is similar to reading a book that doesn’t include the first chapter, so you’re missing the back-story on the main character. Until I met my (natural) family, that’s how I felt. I knew how my (adoptive) family shaped all the chapters that followed, but I also knew there was a first chapter and that was important too. Even when I got to read my first chapter, it was written in two distinct parts – one that featured my mom and one that featured my dad – and it felt like those stories somehow didn’t really connect. Obviously, they did because that connection created me, but that almost seemed more like a sterile fact than a real connection. 

Now the first chapter is interwoven. And not just that chapter. The chapter of my life that is currently being written features them both – in the same room, at the same time – and so my history fully converged into my present. That’s a gift I never thought I’d receive. I feel tremendously blessed to have the past chapters in my story aligned and full, and to have the current (and future) chapters reflect all of who I am and the people who make me who I am. 

But I mourn for other adoptees who don’t. Those who never meet their (natural) parents or who never get to introduce their (natural) parents to their (adoptive) parents or who never get to see their (natural) parents in the same room. And I pray that those who need those moments to happen in their lives will get those opportunities. Because while not every adoptee needs that, I know I did, and I’m sure others do too. 

While I don’t know how Monday’s meeting impacted my (natural) mom and dad, I hope they can embrace the part they have played in shaping me – not just because of their genetics, but because of the past 5 years we’ve shared – and that they can be proud of the chapters that are written now and in the future because they are a critical part of those too.

I like the book of my life so far, and I’m excited to write the remaining chapters with all the main characters present. 

Celebrating (Navigating) a 5th Reunion Anniversary

Today marks the 5th anniversary of the first time I spoke with my natural mom. I’ve known this 5th Momiversary (aptly named by my friend Sarah) was approaching, but I really failed to connect with its significance until a recent vacation. 

For those who are struck by my insensitivity, let me say in my defense, it’s because I just get used to my circumstances fairly quickly. Life is what life is. So, the longer my family reunion has gone, the more it’s just normal to me. And I’m this way about everything; not that it justifies it, but it’s true. And I think it’s because when I found out I was adopted, there was little room for playing out some big scene about it. I was adopted, I still had a family, and I probably would never meet my first one. So, that’s that. Stuff happens, you adjust. And that’s even true when the stuff that happens is you reunite with your natural family. 

But, I digress, because my point is that while on vacation I re-visited all of the texts, emails, and Facebook messages my mom (and other family members) and dad and I exchanged in those first few months of getting to know each other. And, it turns out, this is kinda a big deal. So, today, I celebrate, and I think about how I’ve navigated this whole experience, and why it’s gone so well by most standards. And I want to share those thoughts with you. 

First, I made a commitment to myself that I would enter the reunion process prepared to submit to whatever level of relationship my family members wanted. Mostly I was thinking about my mom and dad, but my commitment has played out with all of my natural family. This commitment means I have some closer relationships than I ever anticipated, and some that are more laid back, and others that are very limited or non-existent. And all of that is okay. For a relationship to work, it has to be on mutually agreeable terms. That means I couldn’t go into this dictating those terms, and I’ve been blessed by maintaining that commitment to let my family members lead the way. 

Second, I think communication has been key. I recently read a blog post that suggested adoptees carry too much responsibility for their adopted parents’ happiness (e.g. “you completed our family” or “you are God’s gift to us”), so in a reunion it’s important for a natural family (especially a mom) NOT to provide too much detail about how difficult life was without the adoptee because that adds too much responsibility for another parent’s happiness. I intellectually understand the author’s point, but I’m glad my family (especially my mom and dad) and I didn’t/don’t avoid the difficult topics. My mom’s choice was agonizing for her and carried significant consequences for her life, and I needed to hear that to understand her. And my dad was basically advised to step back from the whole process because he wasn’t ready to be a dad and a husband, and to let me and my mom go, and I needed to hear that too. And, my mom and dad have heard both the good and the bad of my life after adoption (the good tied to my adoptive family experience, the bad tied to the mental/emotional side effects), and they needed to hear that to know me. For every piece of information that we’ve shared that has been painful, I like to think that communication has also been healing, and has allowed us to get to a 5th Momiversary and an upcoming 5th Popiversary in April.

Finally, I think it’s been helpful to acknowledge that blood (genetics) does matter. As an adoptee, my entire life has been flooded with messages that are adoption-centric (e.g. family is who you choose). I have been blessed to live out those messages with an adoptive family that loved me. And I believe those messages are designed to help adoptees feel legitimate in their families, so I’m cool with them. But, those messages ever so subtly suggest to adoptees that blood (genetics) doesn’t matter. I’ve done enough research to know that’s not true, so I entered the reunion process ready to embrace my natural family as legitimate too. And, as odd as it sounds, the first weekend I spent with my natural mom’s family felt right because I was with people with whom I shared blood and genetic stamping. And I felt like that when I met my natural dad for the first time too. So, knowing that it was okay for both of my families to be legitimate has made the process easier. 

I don’t suggest any other adoptee in reunion or anticipating reunion should embrace these concepts because all of our experiences will be different. But, these things helped me, and if they sound good to you, I hope they help. 

Happy Momiversary to me, my mom, and all of the Payne family!

Becky