So recently a friend recommended the documentary, Twinsters, to me....
And since it's about two young adult women adopted from South Korea, and I'm living in South Korea, I decided to watch it. Mostly because I have two cousins who were adopted from Korea, and because my friend (who is also an expat) mentioned that the documentary made her miss Korea, and I wanted to see if I recognized any sights.
Now, I have to say this: this was a lovely movie. It has an honest, albeit young, voice, as it is being told by two twenty-five year old kids through text messages, Skype conversations, etc. But it is really magical how these two women meet each other, after having been separated for their whole life to that point, and felt an instant connection. One of the sisters mentions having always felt like something was missing, or that she was lonely. It was beautiful to see how it was her sister she'd been missing all that time. Very tender and well done.
Now let's get to what sucked.....
Well...there is a scene towards the end of this film where these two young women meet their "foster moms" from their infancy, prior to being adopted. Now, I'm not sure how loosely the term foster mother is used here in South Korea, as I am told that most (though possibly not all) children are put into group homes or orphanages. So from what I can gather, these "foster moms" are the women who primarily cared for the girls while they were in the orphanage. Maybe I'm wrong. Who knows? I hope I am.
But, I digress...
So these foster mother's are led into the room where these two young women ("Sam" and "Anaise") are waiting to meet them, and when they walk in there are tears and smiles and hugs and love and... oh, it just warmed my heart to watch these young women being reunited with the women who so clearly loved them twenty-four-and-a-half years ago. In the process of an adoption, it is often easy to overlook the person in between the biological parents and the adoptive parents. There is, in most cases, someone in the middle, who gets overlooked.
I am that person.
As many of you know, we lost a daughter a couple of years ago. Not to death. To a fate I (sometimes) consider worse than death. She was taken from us, and placed back into the home of her biological family--the same people who allowed her to be neglected, beaten, and thrown into the foster care system, or more accurately, a perspective adoptive home. She was then ignored and forgotten for nearly a year, until we had started the adoption process, which was when they decided she was a pawn in a battle of wills and a show of power with the Child Protective Services of my (old) home state........and because in the state where we come from, a D+ grandparent will trump an A+ adoptive home every day of the week....we lost her. Our daughter now resides in frighteningly close proximity to the biological mother who abused drugs while she was pregnant, and neglected and abandoned her own child(ren--there are several of them now)--and the biological father who repeatedly beat her mother, her siblings, as well as her. She is not dead. Yet. She is alive, out there, and being exposed to God knows what, by God knows who. If she'd passed and was in the arms of our Heavenly Father, I would be able to take comfort. Unfortunately, that's not what happens with the American foster care system.
I've written about this before. Here. And here. Oh, and maybe here, too. It's been a long few years. And I would be lying by omission if I didn't admit that I walked a fine line between "doing okay" and "losing my grip on reality and seriously needing either a miracle or a lobotomy" for a while. By the grace of God, I got my miracle. With the help of some great friends, a loving husband, a merciful God, and a church family I still call home, I got through it. I'm shocked that I did, because there were some days when I (literally) could not get out of bed. And when I did get out of bed, I would hear a baby cry in Costco and lost my sh**, and have to go back home to get into my bed again. My other children were suffering through their own grief, but also having to watch me muck through mine, all while picking up slack that I'd dropped. My husband was starting to wonder if I needed that lobotomy (like, for reals) or if I was just going to stay a depressed sloth for the rest of my existence. My friends wanted me back, but I honestly didn't know who to give them, because I'd lost sight of who I was before my daughter, and had no idea who to be without her.
People would say, she wasn't really ever yours to begin with...to which I always responded: "If you aren't falling in love with the child you think you're adopting, then you're not doing it right." What so many failed to realize was that when she was handed to me by her social worker, it was (emotionally and spiritually speaking) the equivalent of my biological children emerging from my womb and being placed on my chest in the delivery room. There is no difference to an adoptive mother, and suggesting otherwise is futile and uneducated. She was, by all accounts, my daughter in every way, except that pesky DNA, and we (my husband and four biological children, and I) didn't give a damn about DNA. So losing her, to us, was like giving birth to a child, having that child in our home for nearly a year, and then losing her in an instant. Poof. Just like that. Gone.
Bottom line is: those were some dark days. And now? Well, some days are good now. Others are bad. Mostly they're good. Today was bad, and I'll tell you why....
Because my daughter's biological parents, as well as her grandparents are all on Facebook. Ahhhhh, Facebook. The place where political rants can break apart families, and you can use the selfie stick and misquoted Abraham Lincoln memes to create the perfect life for all the world to see, even though it's a fraction, if not a skewered fraction, of what your life is actually like.
Yes, they're on Facebook, and for some reason, they're foolish enough to have public profiles. So whenever I get the urge--which isn't often, as I am on the road to recovery after my little year long vaycay into the seventh circle of hell we shall call "grief"--I can go to their page and scour their pictures. And sure enough....there are pictures of my daughter on their pages. Sometimes she's smiling. Sometimes she's not. Sometimes she's sleeping. Sometimes she's awake. But every single time she's looking into the camera...I swear on all things holy, she is looking into my soul. This is truth.
And every time I see it, it puts me into a tailspin.
Now, the tailspin (for me) is not the same as it was two years ago. Two years ago, I would've gone to bed and wept for a week. No really, a solid week of crying and binge eating--since I'm not a drinker. If I were, I would've been the drunkest mother-freaker you'd ever meet. We're talking, train wreck. But I don't drink, and I no longer have the stomach capacity to binge eat, so I go into myself for a while. I hang out at Club Brooke, where the pity parties are frequent, the anger is quick and private, and the tears are shed when nobody else is around. I allow myself that, and I think that's okay. Grief never quite goes away. It's like a scar. It fades and changes shape, sometimes smoothing out until it's (almost) unnoticeable. But it's always there. You can feel it, even when nobody else can see it. I accept that, even when other people don't understand it. It's okay. It's not meant to make sense to other people. Plus....and if I'm being honest....I sound like a nut-bar by saying this: sometimes the grief reminds me that it was real. That the year I spent in love with this little person who so easily filled a spot in my heart actually counted for something.
My point to all of this?
Well...that documentary did something to me. You see, I've been spending the last two years envisioning what it would be like if I ever saw my daughter in a store or some place at random now. I think of new and inventive ways to tell her family to go to h*ll, and to make them feel so awful and guilty for taking her away that they will wish they could go to hell, just to get a reprieve from the guilt. Other times I fantasize about seeing her, and having her know exactly who I am, and how she knows me. Occasionally I think about her calling me Mama one more time, right in front of them so that they can see how much she loved me over them.
I never said I was perfect. My daydreams are pretty selfish, that much is clear.
Seeing the foster mom's who cared for those young women was agonizing. They were so happy to see those girls! Their love was so tangible! It literally filled the room from end to end. Those women loved those girls, and it was truly moving to see how it changed their perspectives on whether or not they were loved or "unwanted" at the beginning of their lives. I wanted to scream: YES, you were loved! You were probably loved and cherished and valued from your first breath, and it probably tore those women's hearts out to let you go!!! I know this to be true, because I was one of those women! And it did tear me apart!
I am a smart, reasonable woman. I know that my daughter will never come back to me. Hell, I moved to South-freaking-Korea...so the likelihood of her coming back has been reduced to dust. I know this. However, now...after watching Twinsters, I have something to look forward to. And the truth is, I have been looking--for two years--for something to look forward to.
I cannot wait to be reunited with my daughter.
She will not know who I am. She may not ever be told that she was in an adoptive home for a time between the ages of 1 and 2. She may not know what to do with that information when and if it is shared with her. And, honestly, she may even reject me. I am prepared for that. It will suck. And it will hurt. And I will likely have to mourn her all over again. However, I have to look forward to the day when I can approach her and say...
"Hi, you don't know me, but I was your mother for a short while. And I have never, ever stopped loving or missing you. Every single day of my life has a whisper of you in it, and the thought of being able to tell you that is the one thing that has gotten me through these years."
I wouldn't wish the pain of a failed adoption on anyone. Not even my worst enemy. I cannot even begin to tell you what it feels like, except that it's ugly. Horribly, painfully, undeniably, irrevocably ugly. And I still cannot believe I made it through. But for the first time since the day I walked my daughter to her social worker's car...buckled her into her car seat while she struggled and clawed at my body...ignored her and sang her primary songs while she screamed for me, begging me not to let go...not to shut the car door...not to walk back into the house.....I know that I have something to look forward to.
You know, I recently remembered a random detail about the day we learned our daughter was going to be taken away. My husband and I had driven to the courthouse separately, and I'd asked him to stop to pick up the children from my mother's house because I couldn't face my mom that day. I couldn't bear her grief (of the loss of a grandchild) on top of my own inexplicable pain. It was all too much. It was so raw, even someone breathing near me stung like acid on an open wound. So with the children my husband's responsibility, I drove home alone, walked into my house, walked into my bedroom and landed in a heap on the floor. I lay there... all the while, my heart pounding this message to my brain: call Joe, call Joe, call Joe.
I'm not particularly close with my brothers. I have friends I turn to in times of crisis, but I couldn't bring myself to reach out to them. My brother had worked as a social worker for a number of years, and I think that I knew that he would be able to tell me--with absolute truth--what I needed to hear. I dialed his number, and as soon as he picked up, I wailed....
I sobbed into the phone, yelling at him and demanding why the system, put in place to help children, was so grossly failing this little girl. I begged him for a solution, hoping he would somehow be able to make sense of what was happening, or shed some light on what I could do to reverse the decision, blow a whistle on the horrible job the social workers and judges and the Child Protective Department as a whole, and, above all else, keep my daughter. I begged him for answers, and wept with the ferocity of a mother whose child had just been hit by a car. This was an injustice. This was a system fail. This was not fair.
He had no answers for me. He listened, and cussed a little. And listened some more. And when the conversation ended, he told me something that--for the last two years--I've considered to be a sendoff false hope that he'd given me, purely out of sympathy for his (hysterical) sister. But I know now that I'd misinterpreted it. Maybe he'd misinterpreted it himself, and didn't know why the words came out of his mouth that day. Who knows?
He just said, with a decisive sniff, "It's not over."
"But how? How can we stop this? How is it not over!?" I'd wailed.
"It's just... not over yet. You're going to be okay. And we don't know if she's going to be okay. But it's not over."
Nobody else comforted me that day. My husband couldn't--and couldn't provide comfort for the next year. My biological children couldn't. My mother couldn't. My friends couldn't. But my brother did. And now, two years later, I get it.
It's not over.
I'm not dead. And so far, our daughter isn't, either. There will come a day when she will be eighteen, and I will be able to send her my words. I will get to have my "Twinsters" moment with her, where I will become the emotional "foster mom" who once loved a little baby and then was cast off and forgotten. I'll get that chance, because it's not over yet.
For now, I will bide my time. I will continue to hold my grief at bay, and I will continue to live each day. Some days will be better than others, and that's okay. Because it's not over yet.