Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Part V: His story
Several times over the last few weeks I have had people congratulate me on my decision to be a full-time parent for YH during his transition to our family. I love hearing the words of support, as I feel on shaky ground in this new role.
The words of encouragement are sometimes followed by a question posed in lowered voice, "What happened to his real mother?"
I understand the subtext: What happened? What tragedy took place? Why does this beautiful boy need to leave his birth family/home country/foster family? Was she a teenager? Was she homeless? Did she die?
People want to understand. They want an answer that will make them shake their heads in sadness yet at the same time be reassured that good people are entering this boy's life to change his fate. It is human nature to want to know the particulars of another person's life story. We are hard-wired to sniff out the lineage of those who cross our paths. We look for similarities and connections, anything that makes it easier to find the humanity in one another.
My answer to that question is a simple "She was unable to parent him."
I will not go into the details of how he came to be surrendered. I will not disclose the details of his first parents' lives and histories.
Firstly the story as I know it is one that has been told to a social worker, translated into another language and re-recorded in an official document. I have no idea how accurate this story is--by his first mother's standards. I find it hard to believe that the decision to not parent your child can be easily written in a few sentences. How could such complicated, painful thoughts be boiled down to a cohesive narrative? Additionally, the story as represented in his referral papers captures a moment in time in his first mother's life. I have no way of knowing what her life looks like right now, almost two years later, or what it will look like ten years from now. It is not fair to her to represent her reality as stagnant--in all likelihood much about her circumstances has changed and will continue to change.
Secondly, this is YH's story. It is one of the few things he will carry with him from his home country. One of the few things that we can protect for him, and keep private until he is capable of making the decision of when and with who he wishes to share it. My son has had his baby pictures and medical history posted on a website for prospective parents to review. He will lose his first language, his favorite smells and sounds, and a physical connection to the family that raised him through infancy.
He will join our family with very little to call his own; the least we can do is ensure that his history remains his.
Thirdly, I know that the people asking the question are expecting a neatly packaged response that will answer all their questions and reaffirm their understanding of the dominant cultural narrative surrounding adoption issues. This narrative often strips the adoptee of person-hood status, in part by reducing their history to an anecdote. In this way the adoptee becomes known *by* the story of their surrender--it becomes the defining characteristic of an adoptee, often before he can even speak for himself. The experiences and family connections of an adoptee are his/hers alone to share and I will not be complicit in furthering any notion to the contrary.
And so YH's story will remain with Sean and I. We will make a life-book for him that includes all the answers we have. It will be his and his alone to look through and explore at his own pace. We will endeavor to answer his questions about his history to the best of our abilities, without defaulting to the responses that are most comfortable, or the responses that fill-in answers we don't have.