Reading the Hurt

So, before I begin, let me remind you all that I stalk my daughter online. Perhaps I should say visit as opposed to stalk since stalk sounds so, well, dark, nefarious and with malicious intent. There is of course, no malice intended, it is the only way I am able to stay connected to her and assure myself she is alive and comparatively well.

With that reminder, I will also note that I tend to read books she reads. Now, before you go and carry on about how creepy that is, I ask you to consider how hard it is to get to know a child that wants nothing to do with you.  As I have said many times, her choosing to erase me from her life does not erase her from mine. Surrendering her, not raising her, changed my legal status as her mother. It did not change the very real fact that I am her mother. I worry about her and think about her every day — just like I do the children I am parenting.

I decided years ago to read books she makes reference to with the hopes that perhaps I might find some shred of her within the story, some reason why she likes the book, some reflection of who she is. Equally important to note is the fact that I am a voracious reader. I can read several books in a week, many in a month.  I regularly have a book in my car, several on my desk at work, even more on my iPad, and some on my iPhone kindle app.  Every idle moment of my time is taken up with reading. As my daughter has similar tastes to me, is well-educated, I find it beneficial to follow her book tastes.

The first book I read that related to her was a book by Jean Rhys. Daughters blog title makes reference to a Rhys book and I was curious what might be behind it.  So I started there. A year or so ago she mentioned a Jeanette Winterson novel. Since she had not only blogged about the novel, but later tattooed her own body with reference to it, I was curious. Again, perhaps the books will tell me things my daughter wont or cannot. I bought it but found I could not get it into it.

Today, she made reference to Winterson again by way of a story about the author. I read the article and it made my heart ache. Perhaps I am projecting, reading to much into it, but oh, how it sliced those little papers cuts of adoption sorrow deeper into my soul. (You can read the article and draw your own conclusions).

I had no idea Winterson was adopted when I first bought her books (yes, the books I did not read which explains why I did not know for adoption is a theme woven through her novels).  Reading that Salon article once again piqued not only my interest in my daughter but in adoption reading (which is something I do a lot of, even if in small bursts here or there for my heart can only take it in small doses).  I downloaded Winterson’s latest novel to my iPad and began reading it this afternoon.

The book is titled Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal.  Amazon describes the book “…Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is a memoir about a life’s work to find happiness. It’s a book full of stories: about a girl locked out of her home, sitting on the doorstep all night; about a religious zealot disguised as a mother who has two sets of false teeth and a revolver in the dresser, waiting for Armageddon; about growing up in a north England industrial town now changed beyond recognition; about the Universe as Cosmic Dustbin.

It is the story of how a painful past that Jeanette thought she’d written over and repainted rose to haunt her, sending her on a journey into madness and out again, in search of her biological mother.

Witty, acute, fierce, and celebratory, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is a tough-minded search for belonging—for love, identity, home, and a mother.”


Let me give you a small taste of the very first part of the book.

Page 5 (on my kindle app):

“..It was my survival from the beginning. Adopted children are self-invented because we have to be, there is an absence, a void, a question mark at the very beginning of our lives. A crucial part of our story is gone, and violently, like a bomb in the womb.

The baby explodes into an unknown world that is only knowable through some kind of story – of course that is how we all live, it’s the narrative of our lives, but adoption drops you into the story after it has started. It’s like reading a book with the first few pages missing. It’s like arriving after curtain up. The feeling that something is missing  never, ever leaves you – and it can’t, and it shouldn’t, because something is missing.

That isn’t of its nature negative. The missing part, the missing past, can be an opening, not a void. It can be an entry as well as an exit. It is the fossil record, the imprint of another life, although you can never have that life, your fingers trace the space where it might have been, and your fingers learn a kind of braille.

There are markings here, raised like welts, Read them. Read the hurt. Rewrite them. Rewrite the hurt.

I am reading the hurt.

Again. I am not sure why or what will come of this. I do know I feel very compelled to continue reading even with the massive triggers.

I will let you know how the book turns out however, only a few pages in, I feel I can recommend. Let me know if you read it.

I suspect I will be done by late tomorrow.

photo credit: Joanna Fisher

21 Thoughts.

  1. I meant to look for it at the library today but I haven’t read it yet. I look forward to hearing what you think. Winterson is a writer I find maddening and compelling. I did read Oranges are not hte Only Fruit back in high school and I wonder if I should reread before coming at this one.

    I also realize I haven’t commented here in a long time. I think of you a lot.

  2. As an adult and rather senior adoptee I have always found books a great comfort and have been a voracious reader all my life.These days I read everything I can written by adoptees because of the light it throws, the shared experience and the insights. It’s like coming home.When it’s hard to read, imagine how hard it is to live and to write!

    • Completely agree Von. Explains why I have been unable to make real progress on my own novel.

      • So understand that Suz, who wants to go over the painful past.
        Interested Rebecca on your views on how to rewrite the hurt of adoption.

        • I like to think of it more as “reframing” than rewriting. We cannot rewrite the past. We can however choose how we feel about it and how much it effects the rest of our life. One can stay bitter and angry in the loss of adoption or not. They can view their mother as a evil slut abandoner of babies or they an view their mother in the context of the landscape at that time. Our thoughts matter.

        • Its a good question – who wants to go back? Winterson alludes to this in her novel and it is something I struggle with. Modern psychology will tell you that you need to go back to go forward. That the only way out is through (it again). I am so very hesitant for so many reasons. The most obvious one is that I am not sure I will come back from that a second time. I know how damaged I came out after the first pass. Doing it a second time? I am not so sure. And yet something nags inside me, what if I am assuming I will come back worse off? I might actually come back better off?

  3. I want you to know I read this, I’m thinking about it & want to respond when there is quiet in my house. I love you. And maybe your daughter will absorb & learn from what she’s read and in time rewrite her own hurt.

  4. Hello Von, I am still mad @ this author for saying bio mother in an interview so I haven’t formulated a well thought out response to Suz’s post but it is a quote from what Suz quoted about. It was snotty of me I suppose but I meant that maybe Suz’s daughter will learn something from a stranger (the author) that she was unwilling or unable to with the aid of her own first mom, Suz. Some may argue that Suz is a stranger to her & perhaps she is but that is damn shame. I don’t understand what I perceive as cowardice that people choose to stick to the safety of anonymous authors rather than risk the hurt OR blinding joy of real people & real relationships with reading as a tool to go with that. I’m not saying it’s wrong, just that I can’t fathom it. Likely because I reunited with my first mom, we had a hugh falling out & didn’t talk for 3+ years then I wrote her a letter & we reunited again. I am bot sure I believe in the concept of “rewriting the hurt” however, recycling & turning into something useful and learning from it & moving on to the future, not forgetting the past but taking it with you into the future instead of the other way around and letting the past drag us back to it, seems a healthier & more fulfilling way to go. Has it been hard to get to 33 & feel like I’ve forgiven the wrongs I perceived done to me? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes. Could I have stayed damaged & bitter & dramatic? F*ck yeah! It’s a lonely way to live. Clinging to the hurt takes up space that people & relationships won’t be able occupy. Im not fixed & perfect. I feel that some of my dysfunction is inherent & much of my insecurity related to adoption trauma. You can use it, the bad stuff, or lose it, your mind. tYikes, I’ve rambled.( Please excuse my poor sentence structure. I didn’t sleep much last night.) Have a great day, Rebecca

    • Thanks Rebecca, clearer now and I agree. I never turn back, am a great believer in recycling past experiences for good rather than bitterness.Suz’s daughter hopefully will learn much from strangers, writers, other adoptees and supporters to bring her to a place of acceptance and understanding in time.While we have much to learn from our mothers they do not know what it is to be an adoptee nor would it be within their remit to try to tell us. All we can do is to try to solve the ambiguities, answer the questions and live as well as we can. At 67 I know the adopted life is a life sentence but I’m going to live the best I can with what I’ve got.

    • I feel it important to note that my daughter cites no no hurt, no ill effects from adoption. By her own words to me in email and on her own sites she does not think about it. Therefore, we would be remiss to asume she can or should rewrite or reframe hurt. It does not exist for her (and my association since adoption does not exixt – I do not exist). By way of contrast, I offer that Winterson (I just finished the book) notes obvious hurt and pain from her adoption and yet once she finds her mother (the biological mother as she calls her in the Salon article). She feel no connection no need or want of her a relationship with her (after three meetings mentioned in the book).

      I liked the book. Will post about it later.

      • It’s different for all of us and we’re at different places (see Brodzinsky’s work on the five stages of the adopted life).When you look at ambiguous loss and grief as explained by Pauline Boss in her excellent books it’s not hard to understand why adoption and reunion are so difficult and different for us all.

  5. 🙂 actually, my mom (adoptive) is an adoptee (also 67) and has very different feelings about being adopted & many times did not agree with, understand nor validate my feelings but she has grown to respect them. I could stay mad @ her for dismissing me & my acknowledgement of the primal wound, but choose not to talk about those things with her. I do find other outlets for that. I do hope that the books, blogging & so forth will help Suz’s daughter come back to her someday.

  6. It hurt to read this – we (in the triad) are at different stages, it seems. I, as an adoptee, would be mentally stable now to meet my mother. (I wasn’t really ready mentally when I found her. She chose not to meet me or talk many years ago). Since she has already died, I accept she never wanted to open that old can of worms and memories. But we both missed out on the adventure of reunion. Suz, speaking as an adoptee, don’t ever give up hope.

    • I imagine it would hurt everyone involved in the triad. It is rough yet it is truth, Jeanettes truth and from what I know the truth of many other adult adoptees. it is important truth that the world needs to know – particularly mothers who are buying in the myth of a better life or the belief that your child will be good and whole and happy to meet you when you reunite. Myths. All myths. Your statement is such a valid one and related to a point in my next post. How many truly dont want to open that can of worms because they have no feeling and how many dont because they have the complete opposite – too much feeling, feeling that is overwhelming and frightening and freezing and crazy making. I know I am in the latter group – but for me, I never closed the can so it was easy to do. I cannot imagine the fear held by others that did push it way down deep. The darkened parts of our souls can be very frightening places.

  7. Ok, I just downloaded “why be happy when you could be normal” I’m going to give it a whirl.
    I will say, I do want to go back, I have gotten to the stage where I want to go back and just be like everybody else, raised by the people I was born to. It’s become less the need to belong, and more to feel normal.
    Yet, I can undo it.
    I guess it’s just acceptance now.
    I’ll let you know what I think of the book.

  8. This makes me so sad. I know we have had our differences but in a weird way I relate to you. Because of the role adoption has played in my life, because of the way my own life played out being a teen mom, who honestly was lacking in some very real ways. Because adoption was pushed on me, because when it was actually happening not now, but when I was a kid what people were saying made sense to me. I was so naive and I *knew* I supposedly *knew*.

    Until the last couple of years there was this ghost experience a la Lifton that I had relinquished. Tomtom would have so been like your daughter. I have always felt that from knowing how he is. I always pictured me entreating and Tomtom saying, “Well you should have thought about that before hand ” I even spoke to him once about it, I told him what I thought he would say. He said, “Well of course I would, how is any kid supposed to understand that?”

    The reason I didn’t relinquish, because for sure I came from a family that believed in adoption right? I am adopted, we believe in it, the reason which sucks, but if I am really honest is because Tomtom’s father and his family does not believe in adoption due Tomtom’s paternal grandfather being adopted and it going horribly wrong. They are not kidding when they say it takes 5 generations to get over. His father told the people to fuck right off, not me. I felt stupid and unwholesome, I was so vulnerable.

    Oh I wouldn’t have lived through that, and oh I would stalk, shamelessly probably, I mean how do you not stalk your own child? I do now and he is an independent adult but so attractive to me, you know, he is as cute to me now as the day he was born. The positive for me in this is there has never been a day where I don’t feel weak in the knees grateful that I got the opportunity to raise him, that I got the support although sometimes just barely to raise him. That when I did give up when he was two and seek professional help the professional said, “no, get that off the table right now” Which is what they should do.

    Your daughter would have graduated from college had you raised her because you would have instilled your values in her. As a mom, my heart so goes out to you, as an adoptee, well me with my experience, am so not reading the book. It is probably awesome but this adoptee’s dance card overflows with adoptee hurt, Have heard enough. I want to do something powerful and creative and change this shit around. I am sick of the hurt. I want change. I am not saying you don’t , I know you do.

    I know there is a shit-ton of hurt in adoption. I want transformation, I want validation, I want hope. Please take this comment in the spirit it is sent, not a judgment, I see you as someone who is working hard at changing the incredibly moneyed and sick world of American adoption.

    I am just saying as much as I can, I feel ya girl. I am so sorry.

    • Thanks Joy. Nice comment. I appreciate the compassion and understanding. Too often lacking in our circles.

      • Oh I know but like you said in your other post many of us were very traumatized, many of us are dealing with copious amounts of shame. We are constantly being degraded by society, legally sanctioned in most states, it is real recipe for some really hurt feelings. Plus naturally we are are, as groups of people not you and me defensive. We have been attacked and marginalized so often, how could we not be.

        When we are validated and secure we can do other things. We have more resources. This conversation reminds me of one of my fav. yay college 90s songs, haven’t listened to it in ages…

  9. You’re not stalking, you are keeping tabs. Stalking is peering into windows and following the person a few feet behind. Keeping tabs is keeping up with the person online…at least that’s what I tell myself…

    I think it’s wonderful that you read the books she writes about. The books have touched her enough for her to write about it, so they must relate to her in some way. If my First Daughter wrote about the books she reads then I would be doing the same thing!!

    The book sounds interesting…guess I will need to download it on my Kindle.


  10. One of my granddaughters–the adopted (out) one–is a huge fan of Winterston and one of the things we happily noted about each other (when first we got together) was that we both thought she was brilliant. So reading your post was bittersweet. As for the aforementioned gd, she is in complete recovery and is happy now, she wrote, and can not deal with, does not want, “contact.” Okay, fine.

    We have not unfriended each other on FB –nor has she my extended family, most of whom she has not met–but it is strange.(My husband did, however; he was just irritated seeing her posts.) As the months roll by I tend to look at her page less and less, now almost never. I think it is different because she is a granddaughter, I personally did not give her up, and after a Christmas meltdown when I recognized how sad her turning away made me, I began to feel less attached to her or desire a relationship with someone who will walk away again. Only so many times you can get hurt by the same person, you know?

    But I totally get your checking out your daughter and what she reads etc. I guess this is what the social worker meant when she said…you will never forget her.

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