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Monday, September 10, 2007

Separation, Part One

I don't even know how to begin this. I could take it back to the natural start, our cells, our DNA. I spent the earliest hours of the morning dreaming about brightly-coloured, twisted ladders.

The first time I met Josh's grandfather, I was sitting beside his chair and I remarked without thinking, "oh! You two have the same hands." It made him so happy that I noticed, that I had picked up without prompting this trait that they shared. It meant something.

I am waiting to make a left turn, an anxiety-inducing left turn across many lanes of traffic. As I wait, I can feel my lower teeth pressing against my upper lip. This is not my stress reliever. I crack my knuckles. This is a face I have seen my daughter make as she concentrates, a monster grimace, a nod to one thousand Halloween Frankensteins. I have co-opted the face that I love, the one that is so completely her own invention. It is traits moving backwards. Mannerisms on rewind.

It's a natural game. Who do they look like? Who do you look like? We play it ourselves. My son has my husband's hands. My son has his great-grandfather's hands. My daughter has my legs. My husband's eye colour. My eye shape. I look at her and I can see aspects of my husband's aunt. I can look at my son and see traits of my brother. When I do it, I feel like I'm trying to test some water, see how I feel about genetics. When other people do it, I don't like how it makes me feel. A pride that they are our image. A sadness that I care. A wonder how another child would feel in our family knowing how closely the twins resemble us. A wonder how another child would feel if they didn't look like us but were comprised of our genetic make-up. A wonder how another child would feel if they weren't.

Which is worse--looking like someone who has caused you tremendous pain that you know or looking like someone who has caused you tremendous pain precisely because you don't know them?

I have been reading A.M. Homes' book on her adoption. She writes, "to be adopted is to be adapted, to be amputated and sewn back together again. Whether or not you regain full function, there will always be scar tissue." After her birthmother dies, she goes through her house, searching for clues not only about this woman, but also answers about herself. She reaches into a pants pocket to find a wad of money. This is how A.M. Homes carries her own money--not in a purse as common with women--but as a wad of bills in her pocket. In another scene, she has a thought before they meet that while she doesn't want her birthmother to kiss her cheek, she would let her kiss her hand. When they meet, without prompting, her birthmother picks up her hand and kisses it. The thoughts that pass through biologically-linked minds.

Am I reading for answers? The topic of separation has been on my mind as of late. A cleaving of DNA-linkage. Our neighbour's divorce. Children growing up. Friends falling out of touch. Once a root is planted, can we ever sever it from the tree and have the tree remain whole? Should we then take better care of how much we invite into our life, how many roots we set down, because life is about separation, constant change. About moving and starting things and finishing things. If this is the case, is anyone ever whole if they are living life? And what is the difference between a separation and a severing? How do you know which category your particular parting falls?

I apologize; I have no answers. Only free-floating thoughts. And too many questions for one post.


calliope said...

It is interesting to wonder where our traits, dispositions and appearance come from. I grew up not knowing my father but apparently there was a look I would give as a child when I was frustrated that could have mirrored him. It was only when I was an adult that my Mother shared this and how much it creeped her out.

As I struggle to create a child with the use of donor sperm I wonder what traits my future child will have that I will just assume are from his/her other genetic half. And as a soon to be egg donor I wonder if another family somewhere will be pondering the same thing.

There is a sense of comfort in being able to claim a trait. It is grounding and it makes us feel connected in a special way. I have my grandfather's eyes and knowing that makes me feel blessed.

sorry...just rambling a comment. This was an interesting post.

Dianne/Flutter said...

This post pulled at me.

Hands. My mom's side of the family - we all have big hands. Inherited from my Grandfather. Ironically, the person with his mirrored hands - identical - was my cousin who passed away. Now, my Grandfather and my cousin are both gone.

Before my cousin's death, I didn't think I needed that genetic link. Now, it is all I yearn for. In hopes that I may see a part of him or of someone else that I loved.

It helped me realize how much my husband yearns to see his father again in someone new to love.

xavier2001 said...

I just wanted to chime in that kids who are adopted can take on their parents traits as well. My boss has a 10 year old adopted son, and aside from the fact that dad has dark hair and the son is a blonde, they look alike, even though they are not genetically related. His son has all the same mannerisms as his dad, from his facial experssions, to hand gestures, to tone of voice. I think so much of that is modeled by example. Yes, genetics plays a part, but I think environment plays a huge part as well.

Jess said...

Nature vs Nurture.

I worry about some of the things you talked about a lot, especially as we approach my due date and the date we are parents to BOTH an adopted child AND a biological child. Will they compare? Will Ava feel left out? Will ETHAN feel left out because he only has one family? Celebrates his holidays and birthdays with JUST us instead of us and a birthfamily? Can't call Ava's half siblings his own? Will Ava feel jealous that I wasn't pregnant with her?

No way to know. No way to really prepare. But I think it can work. I hope it can work well.

There is no difference for us, but the worry is...will there be for THEM?

Before the adoption, before the pregnancy, my great grandmother died. She was 107 and we all loved her. She had these pale blue eyes. Lots of us (including me) have them. Your post and the responses made me think of them, and how I'm proud to have them and would love for my kids to have had them too. know what? It's not that eyes REALLY that make me proud, it's the legacy they represent. And Ava and Ethan can BOTH have that.

Genetics matter, but so does environment.

Lori said...

This post touches me on so many levels.

I, too, read the AM Homes book. It really made me wonder how much of her longing will also be my children's longing. There is very little "adoption lit" written from the POV of an adopted person in an open adoption, since it is a pretty new arrangement. I think there will be similarities with and differences from people in closed adoptions, but I don't yet know how they will manifest.

For me, it IS weird to be unconnected, biologically, to my children. To see someone else's face on the face of my daughter. To wonder where my son gets the way he moves his hands when he is making a point. It is weird (at times -- I don't think about it continually).

There are endless discussions on adoption boards about nature vs nurture.

But in the end, what does it matter? We do well by our children when we teach them (lovingly) to play the hand they are dealt. And we teach that best when we do it ourselves.

I grieved the DNA loss. And later I rejoiced in my bountiful gain, which is more wonderful than I could have imagined.

(And, as I recall, it was important for AM Homes to also build the geneology of her adoptive family. That, for her, was also a link to her past.)

bonniekay said...

Roots nourish us while we are connected to them, even if we don't remain connected to them forever. We lose their nourishment completely if we don't set them down.

Anonymous said...

My last post kind of follows this - I am an adoptee considering adoption. What I have come to realize is I look like the birth family I have met, but they don't know the ins and outs of what makes me "me."

Biology does matter, but it isn't everything. Having a loving family is everything. The rest doesn't matter as much.

katd said...

This post made me cry - mostly in a good way. I worry about our Lily in these respects. I pray that she is secure enough, brave enough, and knows she is loved enough to be able to wade through the genetics and understand what family really is. I have my mom's facial features. My sister and I have exactly the same thumbs:) I have my dad's feet, but I share nothing more with him at all. Lily has a half-brother whom her first mom chose to parent- she looks so much like him. But, at five months old,she already mimics faces my husband makes at her. And I swear that she's already sensitive like I am. :) There are definitely genetic links-no doubt. But,I really believe that most of what makes us "us" is how we are raised, treated, and loved. Too optimistic,maybe,but I have to believe that my daughter will know she is my daughter even though we share no genetic link.
Beautiful post,Mel!

Michell said...

Being someone who is adopted and had a great childhood with parents who were fantastic when I was a child, I admit that I never thought much about who I looked like etc. I did think about whether I had siblings and such but I never really felt like something was missing from my life. When I started TTC using donor sperm it never occured to me to wonder how my "child" would feel about their origins until I came across blogs of individuals who are here because of donor sperm or surrogacy etc. Reading those blogs has scared me a bit about using a donor which has led me to consider a known donor who wants to have some level of involvement in the childs life. I don't know what the answer is either. I will just try to be the best parent I can be and try to help the child be ok with whatever origins they end up with.

Mary said...

Wow, this one struck a nerve. We are just starting another DE cycle and I have grieved the fact that I will never see my mother's eyes or hear my father's laugh in my own children. At our family reunion this summer I noticed how often someone commented on how much so and so looked like someone else or how these grandchildren had the family chubby cheeks. Silly conversation, but I felt sad because my children won't have that genetic connection to my family. I know they will probably pick up some of my expressions and mannerisms and since we don't plan to tell most people that our children will be DE it will be interesting to hear how many people still think my children have my eyes or my mom's hands. How much is what we expect to see versus the reality?

Bea said...

I have no answers either, unless it's a sort of "worse things happen at sea" "people get by" "all you need is love" kind of answer. I know all kinds of situations can work really well, and that not all traits are genetic (how cool that you picked up something from your daughter!). I guess I kind of feel like, no matter how much you prepare, you end up having to make a whole lot up as you go along.


Samantha said...

I've been thinking about this issue a lot as well as I've been exploring adoption, and thinking about my grandparents with their heavy interest in genealogy. I don't think I can much to the discussion, but wanted to thank you for making this post.

Carole said...

This is an interesting post. I've had some of these thoughts lately. We are pretty sure that we want to adopt sometime in the future (probably an older child) and I was wondering today if they would feel out of place because of the two biological children we have. I hope that wouldn't be the case...because I'm a hopeless romantic like that and want to think that love can conquer all.

My mom looks like her dad...who is not a great person. He left the family when she was little. People in the family would talk about how awful he was and what a scumbag he was...and then make a comment later on that she looked just like him. She has some self-esteem issues about her looks.

Not sure where I'm going with that...but thanks for this post.