This week's prompt for the #52stories Project: "What do you know about the day you were born?"
I've always been sucked in by jigsaw puzzles. Lay out the pieces on the table, and I'll come back to them again and again until I've made the picture on the box. I just can't leave a puzzle alone. Incompleteness isn't right. The pieces in front of you can and ought to become the picture
As a child of a closed adoption I couldn't leave my life puzzle alone, though I had been warned many times to do just that. There wasn't a picture to guide me, and I didn't know where pieces were. But I kept coming back. Incompleteness isn't right.
What did 5 year-old me know about the day I was born? Well, neither my dad or my mom were there the day I was born, so they couldn't tell me anything. Except this: the woman whose body I came out of, sternly referred to to as my "natural mother," couldn't take care of me because she was not married. But she was brave. She loved me enough to put me up for adoption, to give me to someone else to raise. She was a vessel for me to come to earth, and I was a Chosen Child. I felt special being the Chosen Child, apart from other children.
What did 15 year-old me know about the day I was born? The first time I saw my birth certificate was in the spring of my Sophomore school year, when I needed it to apply for a driver's permit. I read every line of that thing several times, looking to learn more about the day I was born. A legal Birth Certificate should be a record about your birth. According to the document, I was born on November 17, 1966 at 12:38am at San Francisco General Hospital on 22nd and Potrero Avenue. William P. Young, MD attended the birth and signed the birth certificate. It was a single birth.
12:38 am. Thirty Eight. Specific down to the minute.
SF General Hospital on Portrero and 22nd. Specific street address. Documenting simply Mission District, or even San Francisco might have been good enough, but the certificate reports location with exactness. It was comforting not to find out that I flopped into a gas station toilet.
William P. Young, MD. Middle initial P, a Doctor of Medicine, was in the room.
Single birth. So, it was only me and my placenta in the womb, no evil twin. Good to know. Or was single birth referring to my natural mother's marital status?
But THEN... there are the names of my adoptive parents. Aberrations, because neither of them were around that fall day. The Birth Certificate became an irritant. I did not question that my adoptive parents were really my parents, but the document put them in a time and place where they weren't. The State of California demanded that the rest of the birth certificate be accurate. Then why fudge on the names of the mother and father who were involved with my birth? This document is a fraud.
Were a Certificate of Legal Parentage to exist, I'd have no problem having my adoptive parents' names on it. But a Certificate of Live Birth is supposed to be a record about your birth. Mine is a deception, a lie I am compelled to perpetuate if I am to drive, work, pay taxes, and travel overseas. It wasn't even created until I was almost 2 years old.
And why does William P. Young get his name on my birth certificate, but the woman who actually gave birth to me does not? Huh?
Years later I learned that another Birth Certificate exists for me, my Original Birth Certificate or OBC. It is locked away in a vault in Sacramento, a vault more secure than the one that holds the recipe for Coca-Cola. I guess I really was a Chosen Child, apart from other children.
What did 25 year-old me know about the day I was born? By the time I was 25 I'd learned the names of my first parents even without accessing my Original Birth Certificate. I'd just kept coming back to the puzzle until I found that piece. Though I hadn't been able to meet either parent yet, I did have a single correspondence with my first father, and he revealed to me that my first mother had held me the day I was born. That knowledge alone comforted me. I felt less like a Chosen Child, and more like a normal person.
Shortly after finding my first parents' names I had read a story in the San Francisco Chronicle about the '67 Summer of Love. 100,000 idealists, mostly young adults, had descended on the Haight-Ashbury District, ushering in the 1960's counter culture. I was born mere months before the Summer of Love in the very same city. Whoa. Maybe the Summer of Love was a piece of my adoption puzzle. My birth mother was probably a radical hippie. Why else would she be in San Francisco? Maybe she was wearing love beads when she gave birth to me. Maybe she was high on pot when she signed the adoption papers reliquishing all rights to me. This all made sense.
The thought of a bead-wearing, Aquarius-seeking, flower-powered birth mother was appealing to me. It changed what I thought I was. Or more exactly, it surfaced what I felt down deep but didn't think about, because it was so, so apart from what I had been raised to be.
What did 35 year-old me know about the day I was born? I had met my birth mother by the time I was 35. Her name is Jane. She told me everything about it. She was living alone in the seedy Tenderloin District of San Francisco. She had no family support. They didn't know she was pregnant. A Peruvian man who befriended her drove her to the hospital. It was rainy. The doctor, William P. Young, M.D. was a young medical resident. Everything detail was mine for the asking, much to the dismay of my adoptive mother Roberta.
I learned that my first mother was not a flower-powered hippie, not really. Jane was a Duke University graduate student. She'd come to San Francisco, a strange city, for my birth because of the liberal political climate. But though she was idealistic, she did not feel very brave. She wasn't high on marijuana when she signed the adoption papers, just depressed and alone. Her family didn't even know she was pregnant.
Puzzle pieces rained from heaven for me when I met Jane. I knew the facts. My puzzle would soon be complete. But no... I keep coming back to the puzzle, finding more pieces.
After our reunion Jane came to her understanding that she should have raised me herself. She needed me to also understand this, but I disappointed her. I felt really angry that Jane needed this of me, it was so unfair.
I also began to see how false the adoption narrative told to me by Roberta had been, and I resented being deceived. The world where birth mothers are courageous, adoptive parents are saviors, and God has one (and only one) plan for my family life never existed.
Each of my two mothers needed me to feel a certain way in order to validate herself. I wasn't free to feel what I felt, because no matter what I felt one of my mothers was quick to shame me. And I allowed her to do it.
Not feeling at all is easier. Feeling anger is hard. Feeling shame is even harder. When the anger became too much for my sanity I chose instead not to feel anything. I hung out in numbness for a while, but this, especially this, did not complete the puzzle.
45 years old and beyond...
Sorrow seems to be the puzzle piece that has been most elusive for me.
Only recently have I opened myself up to feeling sadness for Jane's and Roberta's ordeals. Giving birth alone in San Francisco, sacrificing your first-born to societal expectations - the sadness is vast, easily the size of the Grand Canyon. I've also felt for the mother who struggled with infertility but desperately wanted a life that others would see as normal.
Even more recently, and perhaps more remarkably, I've felt sadness for the newborn girl. She may have been a Chosen Child, but she certainly was not a Child Who Could Choose. Acknowledging that I'm not in control and never have been since the beginning is an expression of self compassion, my internal peace offering.
Will I find more pieces? I don't know. Incompleteness isn't wrong. But I will love myself and all of my parents. Perhaps the puzzle piece of LOVE is the grace to finally accept things as they are. Incompleteness isn't wrong.