This was written last week on a particularly emotional and difficult evening. Every year as my birthday gets closer and closer, a heaviness comes over me—a heaviness that only adoptees seem to understand.
Aai, I went through my wedding photos today. I looked for you in every single one. I searched my face for features that might have resembled yours. Some moments I feel my heart can’t handle the agony of knowing you will never see me in my bridal saree. Other moments I am comforted because I felt your presence all around me every moment that day. I felt like a true indian bride and I longed to see what you looked like on your wedding day. Maybe we looked the same. I ache for you.
So many milestones you’ve missed, and I have missed many of yours. There will always be one we share. 26 years ago I was still a part of you. You were my first home. We only had a week left to be together. I so wish I knew your thoughts during those last few weeks and days. I can only hope you were not alone.
We are turning 26, and each year that passes adds more and more distance between us but I will never give up on trying to find you. You are forever in my heart, my aai. Please don’t forget me.
January 9, 1994.
My paperwork throws this date around on almost every page. They tell me this is the day they think I was born. It’s also the day they think was our last together.
Is this the day? The last day my hands touched you? The last day I heard your voice? The last day I knew your smell?
I wonder if it affects you as it affects me. The trauma that occurred on this day 24 years ago changed the course of my life and walks with me every single moment. On this day I became a tree without any roots. I can’t help but wonder if it affects you. Do you yearn for me the way I yearn for you? I have this word tattooed on my forearm: “hiraeth.” It is a welsh word with no direct English translation, but a loose translation describes hiraeth as, “The nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost people and places of your past.” This perfectly describes how I feel about you, mainly on my birthday. GRIEF. I grieve for your loss and for mine. We are forever intertwined, you and I, although we may never know one another face to face.
This evening, I channeled my inner Desi and danced to my favorite Bhangra playlist as I did the dishes. I kept feeling the bindi between my eyes, making sure it was still there. I tried my very hardest not to cry while I was missing you so very fiercely. I wondered how we would be celebrating my birthday if I’d stayed in my homeland all this time. As kids we used to celebrate our birthdays the evening prior because India was a day ahead. So now, every year on my birthday eve, I wonder where you are and what you are doing and if you’re thinking of me. I wear this bindi because it connects me to you. It connects me to my roots. It connects me to my people, my culture. Our culture. As silly as it looks in my sweatpants and T-shirt, this bindi and my Bhangra take me back to you on this anniversary of our last day together.
It might have been a Sunday.
January 9, 1994.
A very odd day. I wonder what it was like for you and who was with you. I was too small to be full-term—I wonder if you were alone and scared and abandoned me because of this. I’ll never know. I think a piece of me wishes that you regret leaving me alone on my first day of life, but I can’t even imagine the weight of that burden. So I truly hope that you’ve found peace and I hope you know happiness today. I hope you have the support and love of community you might not have had back then.
Maybe someday I will find you. For now, you remain in my heavy heart on this 24th anniversary of my last day with roots.
And so the Christmas holiday comes to an end, which means my (approximate) day of birth soon follows. Another year separates me from you. Since I was a child I have written letters to a woman who is so much a part of me but who I have never known.
It is not an exaggeration when I say that not a day goes by where I’m not reminded of you or I don’t think about you. I wonder if you think about me around this time of year. I wonder if my hands are beginning to look like yours did 24 years ago. I wonder if I got them from you, or if I got my funny earlobes from you. Or maybe I got my monkey feet from you. It’s an overwhelming and painful reality that I’ll never know.
I don’t know where you are this holiday or if you even celebrate, but you are a part of me and so I think of you today, wondering if you think of me also. Merry Christmas, mom. You are with me always.
A fellow adoptee friend of mine shared this earlier today and it struck me. I immediately had to go write about it!
Goodbyes have always been difficult for me. As a child, they were nothing short of traumatic—especially when it came to my parents. When I was 7 my mother travelled for the fourth time to India, this time to accompany a friend in bringing home her own adopted baby. I knew how far away India was, and I was sure my mother was going to die while there. I tried my hardest to be brave and not to cry, but my heart ached for my Mama to come home. I needed everyone home in order to feel we were all safe.
I remember believing with all my heart that if I didn’t give a proper goodbye they would either leave and never come back, or they would die without a goodbye.
When my dad would leave for work every morning, if I didn’t get to give him a kiss and tell him goodbye face to face I would have a breakdown. Breakdown as in crying uncontrollably until I could find him and embrace him. Separation was so traumatic. There was one particular day I remember I was so inconsolable that my mom called my dad back to the house because he left before I could say goodbye. I remember another day where I was sick with the stomach flu and Dad had snuck off to work without saying goodbye. I was devastated and as I was hurling into the trash can, I tried yelling out goodbye loud enough for him to hear. He didn’t respond, so I knew he hadn’t heard. My little heart was absolutely broken.
In my young innocent heart, I thought goodbyes were permanent. I’d been told so often that my birth family loved me so much that they had to say goodbye to me. So in my mind, love meant goodbye, and goodbyes meant forever.
Anne’s words hit me because after so long of this anxiety and stress that accompanied goodbyes, the adoptee’s body and mind shut down. It’s easier to walk away than to undergo the stress it triggers. The moment our blood relatives abandoned us, our little bodies experienced a separation so traumatic, it triggered a heightened level of a stress hormone that never quite went away. Fight, flight, or freeze. Now as adults, that’s how many of us function—at the first sight of conflict, we see a goodbye. And goodbyes have only ever meant forever. If you know an adoptee who struggles with this, please hang in there. Please don’t give up on us. We are trying…it doesn’t mean we don’t care.
I’ve been trying to string together words that make sense into a post for several months now. It’s been a busy few months, but every so often I will sit down and pull my thoughts together until I feel I have a coherent idea. My train of thought has a different agenda, however, and after several different tangents and deleting and overthinking and rewriting and self doubt I will finally just save the damn post as a draft, forget about it, and then come back to it days later and realize how awfully disorganized and stupid it is and delete the whole thing.
This is how my adoptee brain works.
Some days I wish I could just take a break from my brain and sit inside someone else’s head. A non-adoptee.
Not another adoptee’s brain, because we all seem to think the same way. The more adoptees I connect with, the more I realize we are all the same. Something in our brains were rewired the moment we were left by our blood and abandoned to our own devices. Some as infants, some as children, some even as teenagers.
That damn fight, flight, or freeze reaction that was permanently wired into my brain the moment I was abandoned as a newborn.
That damn overactive stress response that my subconscious alerts to every stressor and every change no matter how minute.
These I know too well. The stress and fear of change and failure that have accompanied me every moment of every day since Day 1. They in turn summon my good ole friend, Anxiety.
Just for a day I would like to know what it is to be relaxed. To be normal. To see what a normal functioning mind looks like.
I need to understand what it is like to be able to fly by the seat of your pants. To be able to change plans last minute and not panic about every small detail that could possibly go wrong.
What is it like to get ready to go out and be rushed and not have an elevated heart rate? To not snap at someone who rushes you or mentions the time because you’re so anxious about it you’re raging inside?
I would love to understand what it’s like to go to a family reunion and not feel like a stranger among them. I’ve known them my entire life—yet it still feels like something is missing. What is it like to be among family and feel whole?
What is it like to not be N E R V O U S all the damn time? Sometimes I don’t even know what I feel nervous about.
Also, can we talk about the stress of meeting new people? Someone please explain to me what it is like to not absolutely DREAD meeting new people. And when I say dread, I mean I would rather take a razor blade to my tongue and chug some whiskey than meet new people. Since Day 1, I have been hard wired to remain self-reliant. If there is anything I’ve learned from my experiences, it is that people lie and people change and people leave, even the ones we call family. I don’t say this for your pity or concern, I say it because it’s just true. I don’t need people, and the ones I choose to remain in my life are the ones who I know, I KNOW they won’t be leaving. The honest and the genuine. So when I meet new people, I begin the process of figuring out which kind of people they are—the changing kind or the staying kind. It’s an exhausting process and one that I would rather avoid.
You’re probably stressed by now just reading this. Exhausting huh? Chances are, if you know an adoptee they struggle with these issues as well. Some hide it, others embrace it. Some still live in what we call a “fog” and have absolutely no idea these feelings of grief and anxiety and depression even exist. Maybe they are aware and struggle but don’t know why. I have struggled with these issues all my life and I never realized until recently how it all ties back to my abandonment/adoption.
Don’t get me wrong—adoption can be great. CAN be. But it always always begins with trauma for the adoptee. Somewhere along the line, someone decided to abandon/give away/leave and even if it isn’t meant to, it hurts. Being given up or abandoned will fuck someone up for life. Over the past year I have been meeting more and more adoptees who share these same experiences and subconscious responses that abandonment has hard wired into our brains. It has been refreshing to know that what I experience is normal for adoptees because they experience it too. I’m growing ever more thankful for these connections that validate my existence. Despite our different beginnings and backgrounds and different upbringings, we function the same way because of the burden we all carry. It can get to be exhausting.
So just for a day, I would like to experience what it is to be a normal, non-dysfunctional, non-adopted human. Sometimes this anxious brain just needs a break.
A Welsh word for which there is no direct English translation.
“A homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.”
I work at a Children’s hospital and interact with children on a daily basis. I often ask them what their favorite Disney movies and songs are. Most of the answers I get are from the movie Frozen. Others were from Beauty and the Beast, understandably so since the new movie just came out and it is fresh in their minds. I mentioned that my favorite Disney songs come from the movie Tarzan. One in particular is the song Strangers Like Me.
It’s not as much of a popular song, but I’m sure you’ve heard it. You’re probably not as familiar with the lyrics, so I’ll post a few excerpts here:
“Whatever you do, I’ll do it too
Show me everything and tell me how
It all means something
And yet nothing to me
I can see there’s so much to learn
It’s all so close and yet so far
I see myself as people see me
Oh, I just know there’s something bigger out there
I wanna know, can you show me
I wanna know about these
strangers like me
Tell me more, please show me
Something’s familiar about these strangers like me
Ooo, these emotions I never knew
Of some other world far beyond this place
Beyond the trees, above the clouds
I see before me a new horizon.”
This may sound like a random song to be favored among the others. But if you take a closer look at the lyrics, it truly describes how I feel around other “authentic” Indians.
Those first few sentences truly resonate with me–“Whatever you do, I’ll do it too. Show me everything and tell me how. It all means something to me and yet nothing to me.” Being around other Indians is an awkward feeling for me. I so badly want to feel like I fit in with them. I look like them…it makes sense that I should act like them too. The reality is that I will never be fully Indian. I missed growing up in the culture I was born into. I will always look Indian, but I’ll never be fully Indian. I don’t look American, but I am more American than Indian. Can you imagine how confusing this becomes?
“I can see there’s so much to learn. It’s all so close and yet so far. I see myself as people see me. Oh I just know there’s something bigger out there.”
I truly want learning about my culture to come easily to me…but it just won’t happen. I see myself as an American because that’s the culture I was raised in. I’ve had friends say to me, “I always forget that you’re Indian.” To be honest, sometimes I do too. But then I look in the mirror and remember this dark skin is not American. But there is a world out there that beckons for me to come discover it, and find others who are look like me, yet feel like such strangers because I lack the culture, identity, and religion I was born into. They are strangers…strangers like me.
“I wanna know, can you show me? I wanna know about these strangers like me. Tell me more, please show me. Something’s familiar about these strangers like me.” Growing up I wanted to be as American as I could be–I wanted to be a normal, typical, all-American kid. I never quite fit the mold. Now, it feels like I’ve been living the remainder of my life trying desperately to grasp what I can from that life and culture that I lost. I am Indian on the outside, but am American through and through so growing up I never felt like I quite fit in with Indians or Americans. It can become an isolating and lonely endeavor to try and balance this dual identity.
“These emotions I never knew of some other world far beyond this place. Beyond the trees, above the clouds I see before me a new horizon.” It may be too late for me to truly experience my culture the way any other Indian would having grown into it, but it’s not too late for me to try. As awkward as it may be to be in the presence of people who look like me but act so differently, I truly love learning. My heritage and culture is beautiful, intriguing, and mystic. This song makes me feel as though I am not alone. Talking to fellow adoptees has been so encouraging to me as well as I’ve been finding that I am not the only one who goes through this experience. I wouldn’t change that bond for anything.
If you’ve read my story, you know that I was abandoned as an infant.
If you think this is a rare occurrence, you are sorely mistaken.
In recent years, the war on the girl child in India took off as the ultrasound made its way to my home country. Every 12 seconds, a baby girl is killed. That means 7,200 girls are killed a day in India because of their sex. That is only counting the thousands that are killed…not including the millions who are abandoned.
Gita Aravamudan has been a warrior for our girls and had brought this issue to the forefront as she has written for and worked with Hindustan Times, India Today, and Indian Express. Just today, she wrote an article that was published on First Post. Here is the link to the article:
In 1994, she was in Tamil Nadu in the small village of Usilampatti as she was investigating the issue of female infanticide. For the first time, an arrest had been made but the community had rallied around the accused woman. In this village it was normal to murder the second daughters and third daughters and so on, as more than one girl was seen as an impossible social and financial burden to bear. The more people Gita talked, the more she found out about this horrific phenomenon. One woman she spoke to was the midwife who delivered all of the babies in the community. She spoke about the horror that a girl child brought to families and she was asked to dispose of countless female infants. Many of them she was able to sneak away and give up for adoptions, but there were also families who asked for proof of her disposal and she was forced to murder them and give the tiny bodies back as proof.
Little did Gita know, these girls were not lost forever. Not far away, in the town of Tiruchi, these lost girls were found by social workers who stumbled upon Mose Ministries, run by a man called Pastor Gideon Jacob. These 89 girls knew nothing of their past, and only knew Pastor Gideon as their saving grace. Their parents did not even know of their existence.
“The girls grew up cooking and caring for themselves with no adult mentors. They were visited sometimes by the pastor and his friends. They were often severely punished for minor misdemeanours and sent away to “hostels” for disciplining. There they were severely beaten and forced to go without bathing or eating for days. Many of them worked on the pastor’s farm as labourers as a form of punishment. Others were sent with illegally obtained passports on trips to Germany to collect money for the home. They were made to sing and perform street plays and distribute pamphlets on the streets of Germany. Many were compulsorily taught theology and some were being groomed to become evangelists. There was no evidence of sexual abuse, but they were emotionally and physically traumatised and were in the thrall of the Stockholm syndrome which meant they did not want to leave the home or move away from Pastor Gideon Jacob.”
Another one of Gita’s thoughts hit me hard: “The girls never had the life their parents had imagined for them. How many of the girls who were given away or taken illegally from their parents actually ended up having a good life?”
I struggled with so many mixed feelings reading this. What kind of a life had their parents imagined for them? Many of them wanted their daughters dead. I was one of the “lucky” ones. It is so easy for me to wallow in self pity over the fact that I not only lost my birth family but also my culture. But I know there are other lost daughters like me who lost their entire identity and instead lived a life less than human. That could’ve easily been me had I not been rescued and given a new life. Now the girls had the choice of either going back to their families who gave them away, or living on their own. Many of them chose to stick together, as this was the life they’d always known.
How many more of us must be lost in order for India to realize she’s killing and abandoning her own daughters?