I cannot remember if it was my grandmother or someone else who made the thick pink afghan that was used to wrap me when, as a nine-day old baby, my birth mother brought me to the ground floor of the hospital to hand me to the couple who would become my parents. I do remember being told of the afghan’s importance to my grandmother: it needed to be thick so as to block the touch and scent of that unknown 16-year old girl.
I was startled when, just a few weeks ago, I returned home from a late night at work and entered my 5-year old daughter’s bedroom, where she lay asleep, the afghan clutched tightly in her arms as though it were a favorite doll. She, a child whose intense curiosity takes her on journeys through closets and drawers throughout the house, must have found it, folded in a plastic garment bag in the back of a storage closet, and decided to claim it as her own.
My mother gave me the afghan when I was pregnant with my daughter and told me, matter-of-factly, its history. “We had to provide the clothing in which you’d be brought to us. Your grandmother said that you should be wrapped in this blanket so that your birth mother wouldn’t become at all attached to you and change her mind.”
Then, I didn’t quite know how to authentically think or feel or talk about it.
Now, I know something of the confusion that many who are adopted carry around inside them. Those who are adopted—even those adopted as newborns (like me)—must grapple with a “split existence” that can be challenging to understand and manage (I give credit to the writer and psychotherapist Betty Jean Lifton for helping me to name this better). I carry within me a sense that I belong to a family and community(ies) and yet don’t belong, don’t quite fit in. I experience a sense of being wanted, of being chosen, and yet equally strong is the sense that I am unwanted, rejected. I have memories that span a history that began when I was nine days old, but my body remembers, too, a secret history that began long before.
Then, the only response I knew to give was one conveying gratitude. “Thank you, mom,” I said. She had little idea of the confusion, indeed a whole range of feelings and questions, such a gift would engender within me.
Now, I know better that many who are adopted are trained and conditioned to “know” only gratitude. We are told “chosen-baby” stories that are aimed at helping us to feel loved and special, but often function to deny, suppress, crowd out multiple, complex feelings and questions. We heard the message, “Be grateful,” in various iterations, throughout our childhoods and even as adults. My sister, also adopted, recently shared with me her memory of her elementary school teacher’s enjoinders: “You need to always know how lucky you were that your parents saved you.” I am grateful…for so much. But gratitude can coexist alongside anger, sadness, mourning– the full range of feelings that gestate in such experiences of separation and loss. But this truth often gets lost in a world where it’s much easier, much less ambiguous and therefore more comfortable, to think dichotomously.
The morning after my daughter found the blanket, I told her that it was the blanket in which I was wrapped when I was given to her grandparents. “So you had two mommies?” she asked, even though I had tried in the past to explain what “being adopted” meant. “Yes. I had a mommy who gave birth to me and a mommy who took care of me.” The questions flowed. I let them and did my best to answer them. It’s not easy to answer them, because I’m still searching for understanding and meaning.
That night, as I snuggled with her in her bed, she quickly sat up and said, “Mom, I forgot my favorite blanket.” It had been folded over the rocker in the corner of her room. She quickly got out of bed and retrieved it. She got back under the covers with me and pulled it over the two of us. I wondered, “Her favorite blanket?” Perhaps she knows now that this blanket connects her to me, to my mother, to my birth mother, to larger mysteries beyond our comprehension. Perhaps she just loves that it’s pink and warm. Perhaps both and more.
I lie back down beside her and let myself be wrapped in that blanket once again.