Not breathing too much.

We’re not supposed to disrupt your life. We’re supposed to fit-in beautifully. Fill a gap, a hole in your heart, in your life.

find object, 2020
d. j. dawson (b. 1963)
mixed media on vocabulary card
3 x 6 inches (approx.)

Baby caulk.

We were in need of rescue, shelter, family (which we have before we meet, by the way, before you erase that history or change our names, deny our heritage, replace our ancestry, extinguish our native tongue). You rescued us. Brought us home, fed and cared for and raised us, good selfless people that you are. You saved us from a fate worse than being born (which, turned out, was not a great way to begin, given we were not wanted by them-that-made-us). Savior, saved.

Baby rescue.

We should be grateful to be saved and able to provide you something you lacked. We should be thankful you wanted us.

Fact is, you didn’t want US, per se. You wanted an available baby. Any baby at the time you were trying to fill that gap, busted heart hole, save your barren wife or husband from circling the drain…give your other child[ren] a sibling. We should be so happy to be here. You expect us to be so happy. We are not allowed to be anything but happy and grateful.

But, well, we’re not happy – not in the way you think we should be.

Baby as disappointment, and often, shamed.

Happy to be alive? Most days, yes. Like anybody.
Happy to be part of someone’s family? Umm, well, that’s where it immediately gets complicated. I don’t mean to down’splain things do you or use an insulting tone, but it’s going to sound that way all the same. Hang on.

I had/have a family, the genetic one who provided parts of me like eye and hair color, skin and vocal texture, sense of humor, joke timing, freckles and whether or not I’m a good natural golfer. (I am, by the way, a very good natural golfer.) They passed-on, without much effort or issue, a love of rhythm and music and theater, and an ability to cook well, and fascination with the stars and a dislike of meanness in others. Patience, an ease of mannerisms, my height and a general adoration of all living things. The sag of my aging knuckle skin against the bones of my hand and ruddy cheeks when I eat any nightshade vegetables. This is inherited, this is organic, biologic family hand-me-down, parts of the genetic wardrobe draped across my life.

Baby seedling.

But I’m not supposed to be that person.
None of us are supposed to be that person, the OG [Original Genetic] version of our Self, not once we’re adopted. All that is erased. And, if lucky enough to win the adoptive parent lottery and be taken-in by at least one narcissistic parent, all YOU’ness is obliterated before the ink has dried on your adoption paperwork.

Baby as canvas.
Adoption gesso.
Baby actor: learn the new script, stick to the new script.

We, I, youbaby and youbaby and youbaby, we get
New names, new starting stories – we’re no longer born, we’re ‘gotten’.
New clothing, new toys (mine were all tossed very, very early on. I have spent most of my life periodically lamenting and grieving a toy blue monkey with wired tail who was silently removed from my crib within the first weeks of being someone else’s baby.) So, when I lose things now – common, replaceable things – reading glasses, coupons, pens – don’t ask me why I doggedly look for them until I can make peace with the fact they are, simply, gone (not stolen).

Baby gaslighting.

New everything, including smells, food, environments filled with completely unfamiliar sounds and complete and total strangers acting as we’ve been part of them since the beginning. I will always have a double-edged behavior/quirk when it comes to strangers – and it will lead me to trouble in my life:

Edge 1: Strangers can hold you and put you on their laps and kiss you and cuddle you and be kind and act familiar and, little baby, you’ll do nothing off-putting because you are in shock removed from your tribe. Good babies are just that: good, well-behaved, they don’t cause problems. Good babies like everyone, they trust everyone.

Edge 2: Strangers should not freely hold you nor touch you nor ever act as if they know or love you or pretend to be familiar. Just because you perceive them to be kind to you, and your new family says you should like them, you do not have to like anyone until you are ready. You never have to like them, if you’re never ready.

I will grow up to trust everyone, including the most awful of strangers, but doubt and second-guess my very nature and instinct. This should not be the way.

We don’t mean to cause problems, but we can’t help it. You are not our family – we all know this – but we, the babies, we do our very best to fit in and not cause you any problems. Some days, breathing is a problem as is taking up any space. It all reminds you that you “had” to adopt, and that we should be grateful. You rescued a baby and it’s not perfect. Welcome home.

I didn’t have any choice, in case you forgot that part.
I didn’t chime into the conversations about shame or abandonment or payments or what other family members think. That was all you, the adults at the time.

I’m trying to breathe as little as possible for 56 years, trying to take up as little space as I can, while still being alive in my own life and not embarrassing any of the adults who put me here.

Baby in a coffin, still breathing.

One thought on “Not breathing too much.

  1. Jennifer,
    I have found all of your writings on this subject enlightening in terms of:
    – the perspective of people who as babies/children were given up by their biological parents and adopted by another family
    – how that experience has affected who you are and how you respond to the world on many levels
    – my own limitations when imagining someone else’s headspace if an aspect of their life experience is quite different from mine despite a wealth of similarities of experience.

    I feel your pain, frustration, desire to be fully seen/understood, as well as your irrepressible strength almost every time I read these posts.

    Reading this particular one made me wonder to what extent I might trigger your double-edged stranger response. Despite a deeply ingrained shyness and being an extreme introvert, I tend to be immediately warm and familiar with anyone with whom I feel I have a previous connection, especially if we’ve had conversations (if only in writing) about intimate topics – perhaps because I don’t find many opportunities/outlets for that (this) depth of communication. I discovered repeatedly (and sometimes painfully) over the years that others do not sense the immediate connection/closeness that I do from that shared experience, so I’ve learned to be more conscious about the need to build mutual trust and understanding over time. But you don’t know that about me, and my stating it doesn’t necessarily translate to you (or anyone) suddenly trusting that I don’t have needy, ulterior motives.

    I’m not fishing for an answer so much as wanting you to know that, after reading this, getting together socially recently, and recognizing how my own pattern of behavior might be perceived, I see great potential for triggering your sensitivity to people being overly friendly before you have sized them up and decided to what extent you want to engage with them. And, if that dynamic is beginning to play out, I won’t take it personally, though I do recognize my part in it.

    Thank you again for sharing,


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