Jeanine and I snuck off this morning for a little snuggle in bed. The beauty of your kids getting older is that they don’t notice when you take off for a while so you can have a some horizontal alone time.
Not that their little radars don’t go off the minute anything interesting starts to happen and either start to fight with each other or suddenly need our help pouring the same bowl of cereal they insist on getting by themselves during the week.
Jeanine reminded me that 12 years ago today, we went to the OB’s office for a regular appointment and ended up the next morning with a new baby boy. My blood pressure had spiked and Dr. smiled and calmly said, Today’s the day.
And even without the bag packed, everything came out fine, she said to me this morning. Yes, I’m still pissed she hadn’t packed the damn bag like I asked her to.
In hindsight, it did all turn out all right. Ben, although in the NICU for ten days with a high fever, is a healthy, beautiful 12 year old. I can remember squeezing my eyes shut during those first few days when he was listless, being fed through a tube down his nose and throat, imagining a day like today. When he would be tall, strong and full of life. I even prayed, although I do not believe in prayer because there was nothing else I could do, aside from making copious amounts of breast milk.
But what I remember most about that time, those days lost in a sea of hospital green and florescent lights, was how it felt to hold my own child, my own blood for the first time in my life. I could only imagine how my birthmother, having left the hospital, never once touching me with her hands, must have felt. I could not leave Ben’s side. I held him while they tried to insert a needle for a spinal tap, tears pouring down my face, not willing to let him be held by anyone else. Not even Jeanine.
I had lived 32 years and never knew a blood relative. Adopted at three weeks old, I spent my first days in a nursery, not unlike Ben, waiting for paperwork to be finished. The image still feels like a black hole of emptiness to me. Who held me when I cried?
When Ben came out, after many long hours of pushing, he was covered in white goop and had one eye shut and one eye open. I thought he looked like a pirate. I was exhausted and crying and completely in love with this being. Skin on skin, I held him up to my breast and felt something I cannot explain in words. It was a connection on a fiber level, so deep, so intense; it overwhelms me even now to think about it.
In his first few days, so sick, I was terrified I was going to lose him.
And I could not stop staring at him, measuring the length of my hand against his small arm.
Something inside me shifted the day he was born. It’s not that I stopped struggling with abandonment issues, because I do still, and probably always will. It is part of my fabric, part of my life that is imbedded in a way that makes me who I am, in good ways and in not so good ways. For the first time, though, I felt a connection with the woman who gave birth to me on one side and my own flesh and blood on the other.
I didn’t feel alone in the world anymore.
I wasn’t emotionally alone, because I had a wife who loved me- and still usually does- and friends in my life. I am and was someone who likes to connect deeply with people. But for me, being adopted always meant never having someone’s eyes, or their smile, or the same desire to polish off an entire jar of olives. I was never “just like” someone.
I held Ben and wondered how he would be like me and how he would be different. I wondered if he would have feet like mine or big hands like I do. I have read many different adoptees stories over the years and the one universal feeling is of wanting to know their roots, wanting to know their physical history. People with blood relatives are not faced with putting question marks on every medical history form you encounter, or the loneliness of a grade school project on genealogy. In fourth grade I pretended to be part Native American. My teacher found out and told me to fill out my adopted parents backgrounds- that would be good enough.
It wasn’t. I wanted my history.
It’s a confusing road I travel now- I found my birthmother and know that I am part English, German and that my biological father was pure Irish. I still consider myself part southern, from my adopted mother because culturally I identify so deeply with it. My adopted mother was also remotely related to George Washington- that’s cool, so I’ll keep it.
I’ve dropped any connection to my adopted father. I am grateful I’m not his blood.
My kids identify with everything and everyone. Zachary, my biological son with blue blue eyes and pale white skin, describes himself as part Mexican. Jake, Jeanine’s biological son, dark, with her thick eyelashes, describe himself as part Irish. I hope I’ve done the right thing. I’ve always explained the difference between my bloodline and my adopted line- and how I feel both are me.
Ben, though, is suspiciously quiet on the subject. He has always identified as being of me, and only me. We share the same temperament, which leaves me often in the position of being the only one patient enough to deal with his anxiety. It’s funny that he looks a lot like Walter, even though they are not biologically related.
He also looks like me.
Something happened 12 years ago when I held my first-born son. His fever broke on day five- just a virus after all. He started nursing, pooping, peeing and looking around. I finally allowed my mother to come, having kept her away while we waited to see if there was something terribly wrong with Ben. She walked in and swooped up her grandbaby, just as in love as I was. Blood didn’t matter. He was hers.
And blood does matter. At 7:46AM in the morning on October 15th 1995, I finally had roots.
Even without Jeanine packing the bag.