Goodbyes Have Only Meant Forever

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.

“Love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark. To have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever.”

This photo was taken November 16th, the day my little nephew Noah was born. I remember holding him for the first time and being so careful to protect his neck and his head. He was so tiny and fragile, I didn’t dare do anything that might cause him harm. As I held him that first day, all I could think of was newborn Pranali. I must have been born premature, because at 23 weeks when I was admitted to the orphanage, I was only 4 lbs. In this photo, Noah was about 6 lbs. On my first day of life, I must have been extremely fragile and tiny. All I could think of was how at his age, I’d already been abandoned by the only people who were supposed to love me and protect me. It was a very sobering thought. I was so very thankful that Noah had two loving parents and a room full of people who already loved him more than anything.

This second photo was 3 days after Noah’s birth. As I took this photo, I remember thinking that at 3 days old, I’d already spent the first days of my life completely alone on the streets. I’ve known this my entire life, but having a newborn to hold and care for made this a tangible reality. At 3 days old, Noah was getting all of the snuggles and all the love he could possibly take. He cried if he was put down for too long because he would get either hungry or lonely. At 3 days old, I didn’t know what a mother’s loving touch was. I didn’t have a source of nutrition. I was sick, malnourished, and alone. At 3 days old I’d just been found by the Ahmednagar police and was in the hospital getting the medical care that I needed. The beginnings of our lives had been so very different, and it was a very sobering thought.

Watching my nephew grow has given me so much joy my heart can hardly handle it! But it is bittersweet to compare my own journey through early life with his. I can’t imagine abandoning a human so tiny, fragile, and innocent. If I could tell newborn me anything, it would be that the journey without familial and cultural connection will be long and difficult, but if I can survive the first few days of life alone then I can survive anything life throws at me.

I know that my precious nephew Noah will NEVER run out of people who love him and care for him and protect him. He will never have to wonder what a mother’s touch is and he will never have to be alone. He will never have to experience the pain of severed connection. I’m so very thankful that the love he’s already experienced this far in his early life will truly give him some protection forever.

Strangers Like Me

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 placeBeyond 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.