We were having a great night, until suddenly we weren't.
As parents to four young children, a bottle of wine and a movie after the kids were in bed was as close to a romantic date night as my husband and I were going to get. My husband usually goes for action films, but this time he'd suggested something more my speed, a historical drama based on a true story, to go with our fancy Cabernet. (So it was actually a cheap bottle from Walmart. Moving on.)
Though it was a movie I'd wanted to see, the story line wasn't what I had expected. It took an agonizing turn when the main character was forced to give her baby daughter away.
My grief over my relinquishment and the loss of my first mother had only recently surfaced. Knowledge of the the time period I'd been born in, and my mother's likely lack of choice, was fresh. My stomach knotted as the scene unfolded. It was my mother fighting the urge to run after her baby and being forcibly restrained. I was the baby being whisked away by a stranger, crying for her mother.
We'd planned a relaxing evening. Now my husband was wearing his deer-in-headlights look, unsure how to help as I curled into a ball in the corner of the couch and sobbed.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't know that was in the movie."
Adoption can be like that. Sometimes it's sneaky. Sometimes it creeps up when you're not looking and takes you by surprise.
* * *
It's one thing to talk about adoption when I'm prepared and make a conscious choice to do so, but it's something else entirely to have adoption come up when I'm not expecting it, or when I'm making an effort not to focus on adoption. These encounters can be mildly annoying, jarring, or downright painful or triggering. Unfortunately, no setting seems to be safe.
Several years ago I knew I needed a break from adoption talk. I determined to focus on pursuits that brought joy. Purposefully, I got online and went to a favorite decorating blog. I was promptly hit with a We're Adopting and Here's How You Can Help Fund It!!! post. Adoptees are often told we need to "get over it" or "move on", but it's hard to move on from something you can't ever get away from.
It can be especially difficult when adoption comes up in places we believe will be safe. For some, this is their workplace, where they face the particular difficulty of managing heavy emotions while needing to function appropriately in the professional setting. For me, my safe-place-turned-hard-place is church.
Church is where I expressed interest in participating in the program that supports teen moms, sharing that my because my mom had been a teen, I'd been relinquished and adopted. The woman I was talking with tossed her hands in delight. "Praise God!"
I might have stopped breathing.
"No," I told her. (Heart pounding. Smile fixed. Be kind.) "I don't."
More recently, a clip from The Drop Box was shown at church. I can't tell you what was said about it because I got up and walked out. My flight/fight/freeze mechanism kicked into high gear as soon as I realized what was on the screen, and I was walking down the aisle and out the door before I'd even decided if that was what I wanted to do. While I'm firm in my opposition to baby-boxes, I regret my reaction that morning.
* * *
I wish I had helpful answers, but I'm obviously still working on this myself. Sometimes it helps to engage; other times it helps to step away. Grounding by bringing the mind to what can be seen, heard, or touched can be helpful when emotion threatens to overwhelm. Good self-care is important. (I'm having a not-so-fancy glass of cab right now.) I take comfort in community where I can be understood and vent safely, even as I'm pushed to grow in sometimes uncomfortable ways.
My hope is to become less reactionary and more able to respond in thoughtful ways, whether that means engaging or choosing to remove myself from the situation. I can't stop adoption from popping up unexpectedly, but I can learn to take good care of myself when it does.