Mental health

Communal Catharsis Aboard the Carnival Cruise

we should not forget why the flowers
decided not to drink the rain
and chose to grow old instead

we should not forget why a small star
quit the glittering night
and died in silence and solitude
— Choman Hardi

For 50+ years, society has succeeded in communicating that my birthmom's trauma journey was not to be spoken of. Virtually no support, counseling or affirmation for her need to place me for adoption aided in her decision to keep my birth a secret. Psychological literature asserts that when traumatic memories are invalidated, one can feel their reality to be different, less meaningful, worthless even. Elie Wiesel's novel, Night, is a great example of the perils in believing ones story unspeakable. After years of living in literal darkness - blinds closed, overhead lights turned off, minimal contact with others & insomnia - I am greatly pleased to know that my birthmom has finally met full acceptance via the Soul Cruise. Her once numbed senses are activated again as she shares a week in the presence of 10 other birthmoms aboard a Carnival Cruise to Mexico. In the few short years since meeting my birth mom I've come to understand that decisions made by the oppressed are typically not made out of fear, but rather necessity. 

                                                                         Deborah and Soul Cruise Founder; Ashley Mitchell

                                                                         Deborah and Soul Cruise Founder; Ashley Mitchell

Ashley Mitchell, the brain-child behind the magic that is the Soul Cruise has worked tirelessly to secure donations for the birthmoms; Old Navy donated flip flops, the Little Cookie Shop donated sweet treats, party supplies were delivered from Knot & Bow, they'll even get to commune around this fun faux campfire. Ashley will lead the women in daily workshops, offering opportunities for these women to bear witness to each others' pain while disallowing the sun, sand and surf to make a mockery of their efforts. These gifts reinforce the truth that happiness and forgiveness (of the self) is possible when supported by a community such as this. 

Ashley and I have emailed back and forth the past few days to make sure all logistics were in place. After a few snafus and unexpected airline woes, Deborah arrived in Los Angeles allowing both of us to exhale a big sigh of relief. While communicating about next steps Ashley peppered in heart-felt text messages like, "I can't wait to meet Deborah and give her a big hug!" and "The other gals are really looking forward to meeting her." I soon began receiving photos of Deborah with the other gals, including her bunk mate, Sonya. The adage, BE STILL MY HEART has been my repeating mantra as I sit in my home hundreds of miles away watching this human display of reconciliation play out. 

Reflecting upon the changes I've seen in Deborah since her secret has come out (and broadcast on Netflix), I recount some of the blessings - her first taste of flavored lattes (she enjoyed the caramel macchiato), first airplane rides (she wondered why airplane travel didn't feel like a rocket blasting through the air), first time stepping foot in another country (she straddled the line of the Canada/US border), and simply the ability to be in daily communication with her daughter. I am pleased to have played a small part in her newfound loves; traveling, exploring the genealogy of her family and gardening. It is with confidence that I can assume this week will be one that she'll wish would never end. This assumption alone is a dream come true, especially when juxtaposed with her days of yore when each painstaking minute was a minute too many. 

I'll be thinking of her often this week (i.e. anxiously awaiting text message and Facebook updates) and am resting assured that her burdens are dissipating at a rate much faster than ever before.  

                My birthmom (far left) pictured with other birthmoms on the cruise ship. What a gorgeous group of strangers, brought together by decisions they made for their children.

                My birthmom (far left) pictured with other birthmoms on the cruise ship. What a gorgeous group of strangers, brought together by decisions they made for their children.

A Poem For Wounded Relationships

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I wrote this poem without any intention of making this public. However, in the last couple of days, I have received hundreds of emails from people who watched Closure on Netflix and felt inspired not only to write me, but to mend personal relationships that had previously been estranged. I hope this poem can serve as a response to your messages and as further fodder for positive reform.

THE BRIDGE

As I walk with my phone on airplane-mode

Uninterrupted by calls or texts

One song repeats, as my mind retreats

Into a fury of questions and hope



I wonder if The Bridge is strong enough

to hold my joys and your fears

Will his melanin and your lack thereof 

impact the color of our tears?



I've come to find beauty amidst the wondering

to embrace my partial truth

Your silence has demanded that I become content

with the unknowns about my youth



Here we stand at opposite sides

ready to venture across

You bring your frustration and I'll bring my pain

Together we can relinquish these thoughts.



Without this meeting our song would sound different.

incomplete and empty, one-sided, not strong.

Without this attempt we’d stay disconnected

Cut off, detached, all wrong.



It is only through our mutual pain

and the trust hidden underneath our skin

That we can we truly respect ourselves enough

To face the truth within.



You think yourself to be so esoteric

so abstract, so strange, so rare.

we are actually way more alike than dissimilar

We both know alienation, trepidation and despair



The Bridge is our connection point

I hope you’ll meet me halfway

Let’s set aside the classism,

Let’s mend our gaps today.



We all experience dissonance in our lives. Times when we feel so disconnected from those for whom we care for so deeply. One key towards a healthier world is to strengthen relationships. Cross The Bridge.

A WORTHY VOICE: "I'll take it to my grave."

I was so grateful to have received a beautifully honest post submission from Jesse, a birthmother. Her voice is worthy to be heard. These are her words:

It was 1958,  I was 16 years old when I had my daughter. I came from a white, middle-class family - no one expected this from me.  I couldn't even tell my family.  I am now 72 years old and I finally understand that all those years of therapy and trying to resolve that grief just wasn’t going to happen.  While watching the documentary, Closure, I lost my breath hearing your birthmother, Deborah say; “I’ll take it to my grave.” I now accept that the pain and anguish will go with me to my grave too, just like Deborah.  I understood Deborah’s secrecy.  I also understood her family’s anger with her for not trusting them with The Big Secret.  Explaining the lifelong grief and pain that comes with losing your baby is a hard thing to explain for anyone.  After searching for my daughter for 30 years, I finally found her 5 years ago! She denied any contact.  I learned that she is a professional musician (jazz pianist) in Chicago, this is beautiful because I also play jazz piano and my mother and both my grandmothers were classical pianists.  It is so sad that she has no idea where her music comes from.  I was able to see her at one of her performances a few years ago - anonymously, of course.  I sat just 15 feet away from her and watched her incredible talent for a couple of hours, then I got up and left without approaching her.  It was hard, indeed, but just seeing her face made the huge, gaping hole in my chest a little smaller.  I know she is well and doing what she loves.

My wish is that people – especially adoptive parents – are educated about the totality of adoption, including the dark side.  Some adoption agencies see people like me (and the other women in my birthmother group) as being bitter, angry birth mothers.  We may be that at times, but losing your child for any reason is life-altering and not in a good way.  People who lose a child due to a death have support and support groups there for them to work through their grief as much as they can.  Birthmothers are not allowed to grieve, we have no support sometimes, and in my generation, we were supposed to be quiet and disappear.  So we’re left with unresolved grief which manifests in depression, substance abuse, failed relationships, etc.  I know I did the right thing in relinquishing my daughter  but it was not a choice.  There was no choice - as it is for most of us, whether due to youth, poverty, family or societal pressure, or religious pressure.

- Jesse 

Nature vs. Nurture

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 PHOTO: Black and White twins - Kian and Remee Hodgson

It is clear that our DNA plays crucial roles in making us who we are physically, but to what degree "are" we our genes?

The age old debate of nature versus nurture swirls around in my head often as I hear so many people refer to newborns being adopted as a "blank slate." Newborns - adopted or not - are certainly not "blank slates" (Tabula Rasa). Many behavioral geneticists have performed studies on adoptees and twins, and have learned that human development does not derive solely from environmental forces - wealth, social privilege and education cannot be assigned to a genetic code.

To what extent are we governed by external factors (nature), and how much is genetic? I think the answer lies in how we individually want to interpret it.  We can hear explanations for dwarfism, Parkinsons, and breast cancer, and try to ascertain that the reason we now have this condition is because of our genetics. However the reality is that our genes can only tell us if we have that mutation. Cancer, among other conditions, may in fact have more to do with our environment (nurture). However, people hear what they want to hear, think what they want to think, and assign blame to whom they'd like to assign the blame to.

I thought that finding my roots, and learning more about my genes and my background would give me answers, but it's actually left me with a lot more questions. I, along with countless others, would like to pinpoint reasons behind seemingly innate talents, distinct mannerisms, IQ, susceptibility to mental health issues, or alcoholism etc., down to either nature or nurture, however I'm learning that though genes play a large role in our creation, much of who we are is also quite random.

That randomness is hard to accept.