Desma had a troubled childhood and had been removed from her mother and put into foster care. One of her therapists wanted her to probe into her past but Desma did not want to talk about it because it flooded her with emotion--namely anger. Now that she as back home, she felt a "snarly, pissy kind of rage."
But it was the aftermath of the bomb explosion--she broke no bones--that was the biggest problem.
"Pentagon officials estimated that more than three hundred thousand soldier had come back from Afghanistan with Iraq with invisible head wounds due to the tremendous explosions that had been detonating in both theaters. The armor on their bodies and their vehicles had kept them alive, but the blasts had sometimes caused winds in excess of three hundred miles per hour, and many of the soldiers had been knocked around so badly that their brains had sheared inside their skulls."That blew me away immediately--three hundred thousand people with traumatic brain injuries?--but it was when a therapist tried to get Desma past the sense of the immediate moment of the bomb going off that I lost it.
"Rather than avoid her frightening memories, the psychologist wanted Desma to wring them dry of emotion. The bomb blast was accidentally stuck in the present moment, the therapist observed; every time Desma thought about it, it was as though the incident were happening all over again. Dr. Knock wanted to help her get it safely into the photo album of history, where it would carry less valence."I RECOIL AT BIRTH SCENES
When I read those words, I thought of the visceral reaction I have every time there is a birth scene in a movie or on television. I shut my eyes, try to drown out the sound of the mother in pain--for the memory grabs me and I am back in that hospital, I am having my baby that I know I will give to someone else, I am living in the sheer horror of those emotions all over again.
I mean, it's time for me to move on, isn't it? My daughter Jane was born in 1966. We reunited in 1981, had a relationship, up and down, around and around, for more than a quarter of a century, and still that moment of giving birth under such terrible circumstances haunts me like nothing else does. Would it be possible for me to neutralize the event so that I could look at it with more distance and less emotion when the emotion is sorrow? Everybody's got something, right? We pick ourselves up, we move on, but this loss stayed with me like no other loss. It's why I feel sad when I think about the young man I did not marry, my first love, who I met in college and our breakup--the fault lies with both of us--leads me immediately to think: If we had married, I wouldn't have given up a child for adoption.
Maybe the feelings stay so raw because I feel so responsible for not keeping her. I can go on and on about the times, the social mores, the shame, the married father who wasn't ready to start a new life with me yet (but would later), the career I had been working for most of my life up to then blowing up in my face, how I couldn't face my father, but at bottom I feel that none of that exonerates me completely, and I will carry around a certain amount of guilt until I breathe my last breath. Why wasn't I stronger? is the question I that haunts me, even today. Why wasn't I stronger?
I have no answer to that question and I have no tidy solution for myself. I just keep trying to accept what is. Overall, I have made progress. Finding my daughter, when she was fifteen, was a great step forward, as were the years we were able to have together. I think I have become more inured to birth scenes in movies--there was even one in Philomena and I didn't leap out of my seat. There was one the other night in the Sundance TV series, An Honorable Woman. They are actually pretty common today, as if the directors feel they must include one if the story at all relates to the birth. I will see more.
GUILT OVER SURRENDER LINGERS ON
Everybody's got something, right? Cancer, being adopted, being raped, a prolonged period of caring for someone who cannot care for themselves, the death of a parent or a child, the suicide of someone close to you, the drug addiction of a loved one, a traumatic brain injury, the loss of a limb--but all of these things required no act or input from the person bearing the burden. For first mothers, it is not just that we had sex, but we had to give up our children. I gave up my daughter, I found her, and a quarter of a century later, she killed herself. Adoption was only part of her tsouris; she always said her epilepsy was a greater burden to bear, and I believed her. Yet I can talk about her suicide--or anyone's suicide--with less anxiety than I can talk about losing her to adoption, though giving her up occurred forty-two years earlier.
The mothers whose parents forced them to give up their children may be more angry--at their parents--than the rest of us. One mother who left a comment said that after she was forced to give up her child by her parents, but couldn't stop crying and moping, her father said it was "time to put on her big girl panties" and move on. How cruel sounded, how cruel it was.
But in a way, most of us first mothers do put on our big girl panties and move on. Most of us don't lie down and never get up. We do. We get up and carry on. We have our lives to reclaim. Some of us found a cause in helping understand the pain of adoption, and working for change in the laws. Some of us found it helpful to be a soft shoulder to other women going through the same trauma. Some of us have other children. I didn't, but I have a good life--my partner, my family, a wealth of friends, I live near a beach. I did resume my career, and part of it was in writing about adoption. I have found great comfort in being a voice for first mothers, in working for change, in getting states to repeal their laws sealing off adoptees identities.
Yet no one moves forward without the scars of the past, whatever they be. I will grant you that for a great many of us, losing a child to adoption was an immense body/mind blow. To greater and lesser degrees, we carry on with our own post traumatic stress disorders. We don't really get over anything. We do the best we can.
I am still recovering from my ankle-replacement surgery. My right ankle and calf are in a hard cast. I'm getting around on crutches and a scooter called a "knee walker." Many friends came over in the last two weeks bringing not only their company, but dinner as well. I have metal and plastic now embedded inside me. I will always be a woman with a ankle replacement and I will always be a woman who gave up a child.
So it goes.--lorraine
the BOOK that got me thinking:
Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War by Helen Thorpe
A thoroughly engrossing. a vivid and intensely personal account of the lives of three women whose only common denominator had been that they joined the Indiana National Guard, never imagining they might end up in a war zone. Journalist Helen Thorpe, through access to their diaries, emails, Facebook pages, as well as extensive interviews, tells their stories from 2000 to 20013 in intimate detail as they become intertwined in Afghanistan, and how they continue to depend on each other after they return home to a world that feels vastly different than the one they left. The women were all forever changed. The book is meticulously researched, well written, and a fascinating look at what it was like to join the National Guard for a variety of reasons (college tuition, a second-hand car, you want some adventure in your life) and end up in a war zone. Let me second it's almost certain nomination for a Pulitzer Prize. If it's not a finalist, it will certainly be because of gender bias.
Most of you know that I told my own story in the first memoir from a birth mother: Birthmark. See picture and link in the right sidebar. Second memoir about to go out to publishers. Fingers crossed. It will be published.