"May you always know you are loved," I whispered.
April 20, 2015 8:06 AM   Subscribe

"It's completely alone," I said. That baby, that poor baby. What had it done? "Nobody is coming for it."

Softly she asked, "Would it be OK if we called it 'her'?"

It was then as though my therapist's finger grew very long. It arced through the air, crossing the space between us, and touched my chest, the tip of it pressing into my heart, and my body collapsed around it, folded in on itself from pain, the worst pain I had ever felt because it had no source. I was the pain. I saw that baby on her back, alone, and I understood that she was me. In that moment I was flooded—intellectually, emotionally, physically—by the very knowledge I had so long barricaded myself against: that someone had given birth to me. And worse: that I had not been fit to keep.
A meditation on adoption, heartbreak, and healing, by Sarah Church Baldwin for The Rumpus: Build-A-Bear.
posted by divined by radio (29 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
That's pretty heart-breaking. And very vivid, from Baldwin sitting on her office floor to look at the papers, to watching the rabbit get filled with stuffing.
posted by suelac at 8:26 AM on April 20, 2015

There was a lot I liked about this, but one thing in particular jumped out — it's one of the best written descriptions I've read of what therapy is actually like, where it's less about finding facts or getting answers and more about putting yourself in a position where the emotional reality of something you've been avoiding can smack you in the face. Really well written.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:28 AM on April 20, 2015 [7 favorites]

Oh Jesus Christ I am sitting at my desk in work and fighting back tears with all my might. So beautifully written and so heartbreaking.
posted by billiebee at 8:33 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

"You're aopted? Really? What's it like?"

It's a question that can't be answered - how can you compare it to not being adopted, but what other context even begins to make sense - except through stories like this.

Because you don't know, until - perhaps - one day, someone wiser than you quietly points out a connection you never knew was there, and you utterly dissolve in an emotion that doesn't even begin to have a name.

And that's a start.
posted by Devonian at 8:52 AM on April 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

I still remember the moment, sitting in my front yard under moonlight, not long after my first phone-call with my birthmother, when it hit me; somebody gave birth to me! Not as a fact, but as an embedded reality. But it was only later, in sessions with a caring therapist, when the harder reality of 7 months without a mother and that first moment of being given up became real. I've made a lot more sense to myself since then.
The author nailed it, though. Thank you, dbr, for posting this!
posted by pt68 at 9:14 AM on April 20, 2015 [8 favorites]

Yeah, "wow" is my only response.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:45 AM on April 20, 2015

That's the last time I read a link at work.

I look forward to more anythings written by Sarah C. Baldwin, which convey such a complex fractal of thoughts with the elegant simplicity and impact of that piece.
posted by datawrangler at 9:47 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

This was lovely. Thanks.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 11:19 AM on April 20, 2015

This is powerful. Thanks.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:20 AM on April 20, 2015

Thanks for this - I'll read it later in full.

I can really relate to the notion of holding very naive assumptions about your adoption - about not having entertained the notions of being born, etc. For me, it's because I've held assumptions since as long as I can remember and to think critically about those realities is not something that's easy to do. There are layers of emotion to peel back as a more jaded adult and each one is filled with unknown amounts of pain. Lately it has been replaced with anger, at religion and the things people do out of shame in its name.

I don't have photos of me in the delivery room, or of being a newborn. I too was over a month before I was 'taken home'. I have also figured out that any birth name I was given was a lie. It was all lies. I can't imagine how hard that was for my birth mother, 18 at the time. I think we could have done a lot of healing together. At the same time, I'm happy to just have one set of parents.

I make amends by having a really happy loving life with my own family. My whole life is a bonus, in a way, and I have two beautiful daughters with whom I've been able to see myself in someone else for the first time in my life. When I looked at our own newborn daughter, I felt complete for the first time in my life.
posted by jimmythefish at 11:38 AM on April 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

That was gorgeous and heartbreaking and I am now a sobbing wreck. Thank you.
posted by thivaia at 11:47 AM on April 20, 2015

I was so surprised to read that she had been fed Carnation evaporated milk mixed with water and dark Karo syrup as a baby -- I was too, and I always thought it was because my parents were terrible and ill-informed. But I guess it was a thing that happened at one time?

Also: the story was sad and great.
posted by kate blank at 12:02 PM on April 20, 2015

Here’s what didn’t happen. The little head when it came poking out was not seen as a buried treasure but as progress in a process to be endured. The little body was not held up in strong hands and placed like a fragile prize on clammy right-smelling skin, was not tenderly touched and gazed at like some brand-new life form, or an out-and-out miracle. There was no grateful gasp or sob. No pride, no wonderment. No lips, no loving breath brushed its purple skin. No. It simply arrived, an envelope slipped through a mail slot. A bill come due, a flyer for a take-out place no one would read

I was adopted too, and one of the most important gifts that my adoptive parents gave me was the story that my birth grandfather had been so overcome with joy at my birth that he had actually danced around the room with me in his arms until one of the nurses took me off him in case he broke me.

As a rather cynical adult, I have no idea if this was actually true, and I refuse to think too hard about questions like how they could have known it, and why I was adopted out if my birthfamily was so happy about my birth, and so on. Even though I'm in contact with my birthfamily now, I'm not asking anyone about these things because I would like to be able to keep believing it. But that this story was one of the stories told about my birth made a big difference to my childhood and to my feelings about myself and where I came from. And for that I am very thankful.
posted by lollusc at 12:19 PM on April 20, 2015 [27 favorites]

About the milk - I recently became curious about this (because of Call the Midwife) and it turns out that Gen X was the tipping point between evaporated milk and formula [wikipedia]:

By the early 1960s, commercial formulas were more commonly used than evaporated milk formulas in the United States, which all but vanished in the 1970s. By the early 1970s, over 75% of American babies were fed on formulas, almost entirely commercially produced.[4]

The author identifies as "middle-aged", so she was presumably born between the late 50s to the early 70s. I was born in 1972 and was not aware evaporated milk was for anything other than baking until last week.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:12 PM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

By the early 1960s, commercial formulas were more commonly used than evaporated milk formulas in the United States, which all but vanished in the 1970s.

Interesting! I'm part of the outliers on "all but vanished" -- I was born in 1980 so I was fed the Karo syrup/evaporated milk mixture in 1980 and 1981.
posted by kate blank at 1:46 PM on April 20, 2015

Oh that was wonderful, and heartbreaking.
posted by gaspode at 2:00 PM on April 20, 2015

Oddly, the thing about that part of the story that was jarring to me was the Karo syrup — but it turns out that formula needs to have added sugar, and some formulas still use glucose or sucrose for that rather than lactose.

So the Karo syrup must have made pretty decent sense given that you can't just buy lactose at the grocery store, and the thing that would actually have been problematic about that recipe was that it was missing some supplemental vitamins that formula manufacturers are required to add.

People From The Past: Definitely not right, but not always wrong in the ways you'd expect!
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:34 PM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Really amazing piece. I wonder if the author has ever search for her birthmother? I sought mine out when I was legally allowed. She made it easy to be found. She has two other daughters younger and much-younger than me. My story is that I lived with my birthmother for awhile then I was in foster care and then at around 6 months went to live with my adoptive family. I have a Raggedy Ann doll that was kept very safe and clean that was a present from my birthmother. Or so the story goes....

Since I have had my own daughter, my perspective on life and past history has been continually readjusted, challenged, re-written. It's been somewhat painful at times, very strange at most times and impossible to reconcile with all the parts. I am happy to know more but I'll never know everything. I continue to feel stateless.
posted by amanda at 3:23 PM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm a sucker for bunny wabbits.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:31 PM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Wow. Very powerful. Thank you.
posted by Jubey at 11:14 PM on April 20, 2015

Poignant anthropomorphic plushies are poignant: previously.
posted by otherchaz at 3:02 AM on April 21, 2015

I loved this article from so many perspectives. Thank you for posting it.
posted by h00py at 5:22 AM on April 21, 2015

I just finalized the adoption of my three-year-old daughter last week. She was placed with us, through Child Protective Services in our county, when she was three weeks old. As part of our final home study, we received her medical records from her birth and first month of life, and I am so glad that it indicates that the hospital observed "healthy bonding" between mother and daughter, even though her first mother was unable to adequately care for her.

Hoo boy. Crying at my desk at work now. It is my sincere hope that my daughter will always know she is loved, and that her biological parents' choice to surrender their own rights to her, after three years of her being in foster care, was a form of love too.
posted by SeedStitch at 10:30 AM on April 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

The author identifies as "middle-aged", so she was presumably born between the late 50s to the early 70s.

She says, regarding therapy, "it had come up in earlier sessions I’d resisted it wholly, patiently explaining that forty-some years ago I had appeared, been chosen, and come home," so presumably between '65 and '74. Subsequently:

“I just appeared. April 2, 1965, the day I came home,” I told her, bored by the facts.

“But your birthday is in December.”

So maybe 64.
posted by phearlez at 10:45 AM on April 21, 2015

This is beautiful.

The water-colour of the rabbit and the heart made this all the more poignant for me, for some reason. I think it's something to do with the simplicity of the images in contrast to the garish commerciality of the store - but I don't want to over analyse it and ruin the magic.

Thanks for sharing.
posted by man down under at 7:02 PM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

What a wonderful example of writing simply about complex and powerful things.

Thank you.
posted by bardophile at 9:41 PM on April 21, 2015

I sat on posting something for a day or so, really as a hedge against it being read. A few months ago, I located my birth father on LinkedIn and sent him a message. He blocked me. I don't think that a birth parent can possibly understand that, despite our complete lack of any relationship, they can still absolutely gut-punch you. I'm a dad myself and the thought of doing something to alienate my son or drive him away is unbearable. I have no idea what my birth dad thinks or feels about the situation. I just know that this is no way for parents and children to be.

More on point to the article itself, I do feel uncomfortable thinking about my birth or the lost nine months between my birth and adoption (where was I?... Who was I with?). This article really mirrors feeling that, if I'm honest with myself, I really wish I didn't have to face.
posted by One Hand Slowclapping at 5:02 AM on April 22, 2015 [5 favorites]

Sorry that happened to you. Your son is lucky to have a father who's not like yours.

The article and comments have given me a much better understanding of adoption. I hadn't considered that a few months between birth and adoption would have any significance for the child.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:35 AM on April 22, 2015

That was beautiful. Thanks for posting.
posted by natasha_k at 7:05 PM on April 25, 2015

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