It’s early morning, I’ve only the birds for company for a few more hours. Until my favourite person wakes up. Across the world in the place I was born it’s already early afternoon on my birthday.
Birthdays are a strange, strange day for adoptees. The days preceding it are pensive and sad for completely different reasons to those who perhaps see only more candles on cake. It’s an odd day to celebrate given the anniversary of loss eclipsing that day.
My birthday is one of normalised secrets and mysteries, unspoken questions unanswered. Who was the woman to whom I was born on this day? How was my birth? Did she hold me at all, for how long, minutes, days, weeks, months? How was she feeling? Sad, relieved, resentful, frightened. Decisive?
Who were the other women who cared for me and brokered my adoption? Nuns convinced they were doing a God’s work. While from my perspective it seems more like a Handmaids Tale.
I know my mothers name, her age and that she was Indian and I have her ID number, assuming my birth certificate wasn’t falsified as many were in other parts of Asia. That’s all, except perhaps that she was likely Catholic. You would think a name and an ID card number might be enough to find her. But it’s another continent, another culture. One in which I have no sources, no allies or relationships and no sense of the unwritten rules and expectations.
Her name now brings up an obituary listed in late 2016. A woman with this name died leaving behind a husband and a daughter. More mysteries, could it be my mother, and if so, is the daughter me, or a sister? Is her name common in Malaysia? Are those whom Google uncovers with this name, no more likely to be relatives than a Brown or a Smith? Or is it more rare? The first search reveals a young man, a journalist in Malaysia, a crime reporter. He’s on Twitter but he has only a handful of followers and very few tweets showing me who he is. Should I follow him, and see if he follows the clues back to me? Am I a random stranger whose profile of a Chindian Malaysian adoptee is only of passing interest or could it resonate with the possibilities of a shameful family secret? How does an adoptee reach out to people in these circumstances knowing the possible weight of consequences?
I could hire a detective – perhaps with this information it wouldn’t take a well connected expert long to find people and information. But I’m told it’s common practice to expect to bribe people for information. For my information. I’m resentful about how much it might cost me to find out what everyone else takes for granted. A history they’ve never even had to consider a human right. It just exists. Perhaps it’s even a little boring, the story of the day you were born, told again and again.
If I take my search to another level, there’ll be no going back once a certain line has been crossed. So much can unravel once it does in a family across the world, and in one here.
Only adoptees will really understand this, perhaps they will always mean more to me than family. They are mostly strangers across the world, they know intimate details about my adoption story and almost none about my day-to-day life. A kind of Adoptees Anonymous.
Today a call with my British adoptive parents will be unavoidable. There will be pseudo jollity. They’ll wish me a happy birthday, ask me about my day and presents, and no one will mention the secrets and mysteries of this day in 1972 in Malaysia.
I had my first panic attack almost fifteen years ago. I had just found out that my then partner was pregnant. As happy as I was for her and us that we were having a baby, something inside of me which I had suppressed for my whole life, without being aware of until then, was awoken. Sheer panic and absolute terror overcame me. I couldn’t eat or sleep. I was vomiting and having night sweats. This intense period went on for two weeks. Waves of panic and adrenaline would surge through me periodically through the day. I had to take time off work. I’d get up in the morning and make myself a glass of sustagen and that’s all I could manage to eat for the whole day. I lost 7 kilos over two weeks. I worried that a new baby would somehow replace me, that there wouldn’t be enough room for me and my needs anymore. The primal fear of being abandoned and rejected had resurfaced. I was thirty years old.
This has happened again twice more in my life. The second time came when my ex-partner and I broke up after being together for fifteen years. It was the same sense of being abandoned, feeling alone and not worthy of being loved anymore. Sound familiar? Thus ensued more vomiting and the inability to sleep or eat. I also experienced suicide ideation. I didn’t actually want to die, I just didn’t want to continue feeling like this. I’d lie there imagining what would happen if I walked out in the middle of the busy road that I lived on at the time. A very good friend thankfully called me one night to ask how I was. I told her about my thoughts of the busy road and the sharp knives in the kitchen.
She said, “You need to go and see your GP tomorrow”. I replied, “I’ll just keep doing my yoga and meditation. I’ll be fine.” I was less than fine. My doctor was unavailable so I saw another doctor who prescribed me anti-depression medication that had an anti-anxiety effect and another type of medication for anxiety. Both were highly addictive. And yes, I became addicted to them. It took me almost a year to get off them. The same beautiful friend who called me, drove me to stay with my parents who live on the Bellarine peninsula near Geelong, an hour and half away from Melbourne. I arrived a shell of myself and my folks literally scooped me up like I was a child again and took care of me until I was well enough to return home.
The third time came recently four months ago now when my girlfriend broke up with me. The same feelings of being rejected, not good enough, unworthy and unlovable resurfaced. This time though throughout the panic attacks, the vomiting, nausea and inability to eat, I was still able to function to the degree where I could continue to go to work and parent my children. Something had improved.
It’s only now that I have finally started working on the issues surrounding the one time in my life I was actually abandoned — as a newborn on the orphanage doorstep in Vietnam.
I now have a better understanding of what triggers my anxiety and what is at the heart of it. It isn’t anxiety at all, it’s grief. I have an ocean of sadness inside me that I’ve never fully addressed until now. I have gathered a team of professionals to surround me who are helping me work through this deep seated feeling of not being good enough or loveable. I know objectively and rationally that I am, but somewhere deep inside, the wounded child doesn’t know that ……… yet.