PAGE # 36
10:20 am

There was some confusion in the hospital lobby while we waited for Kendra's husband, Johnny, to come get us.  I'm not sure how we ended up in a small office with the head of hospital security, but the man was less helpful than a blade of grass.  Did we approach the security office ourselves?  Did the security guard question us on his own accord?  Tom, too, cannot remember the exact cause of this "detainment," but Johnny appeared in the midst of us trying to explain our situation to the officer, and we soon found ourselves in an elevator.

The three of us--myself, Tom, and Johnny--we must have had some conversation on the way up to Kendra's floor.  But I cannot recall what we spoke about.  Neither can Tom.  I imagine we asked about Kendra:  how she was doing, how the baby was, that kind of thing.

Although I cannot summon the exact dialogue between us, I do remember how Johnny seemed to me.  He appeared casual, in both demeanor and dress, just as when we had first met him at the attorney's office.  He gave an overall impression of relaxed indifference.  Perhaps he had smoked pot or taken something to calm his nerves?  

The situation we were walking into--the potential separation of a newborn from her very mother--would never be guessed by an outside observer.  If someone had seen us emerge from the elevator, he would not have suspected we were participants in anything out of the ordinary.

We followed Johnny down the hall, hypnotized by the sound of his shoes against the bottoms of his feet.  Flip-Flop. 

The room Kendra was in--I assume it was the room where she delivered the baby--was bright and spacious.  I saw Kendra in the bed.  She was still wearing that grayish blue hospital gown that everybody gets, whether for having a baby or a heart attack.

There were two other adults in the room--a woman and a man--probably in their mid-fifties.  They were Kendra's parents, and I was surprised to meet them, because the social worker had told me only Johnny and a few of Kendra's closest girlfriends would be there.  But there were no friends present, not on this day or the next.

Tom says I went straight over to Kendra, while he first shook hands with her parents.

The baby was in a bassinet.  She was located next to Kendra's bedside, and I was able to greet Kendra and the baby simultaneously.  This was a relief.  If the baby had been on the other side of the room, I probably would have gone to Kendra first, and then felt bad for neglecting the baby.

The atmosphere was not uncomfortable.  It was actually kind of pleasant.

I attribute this surprising discovery--that we recall feeling mostly normal and okay despite our bizarre circumstances--to the fact that we probably were completely out of touch with our feelings.  The whole encounter was outside the realm of our normal experience.  The fact that we remember feeling normal, probably has less to do with how we actually felt, and more to do with an utter lack of self-awareness that day.

In contrast, I usually balance social interaction with a high level of introspection.  My cognitive style, as I experience it, is that I engage others in a variety of social settings, and at the same time, I am exquisitely aware of my own emotional state.  I also tend to notice subtle cues from others.  And I am able to juggle all these tasks simultaneously; that is, I can participate in an event while attending to my own psychological reaction to the environment and its dynamics.  Furthermore, I'm typically aware of the feeling states of others.

Of course, being able to attend to multiple phenomena--both interpersonal and intrapersonal--demands a level of knowing what to expect in a given social encounter.  

Consider the following examples:  

If I am driving along a familiar route, I don't need to attend strictly to the demands of the task at hand.  I can attend to other things too.  Perhaps you're my passenger and we're talking about dinner or a mutual friend or even my next blog post.  I can engage in a significant conversation with you, and intuitively grasp your feelings about it, even with my eye on the road ahead.  I manage to arrive at our destination safely, because I already know the way. 

On the other hand, if I am met with a detour and have to travel a completely unfamiliar route, I am less likely to be attending to anything other than the road before me.  Since I do not know what to expect, and the way is unknown to me, my attention is likely focused solely on driving.  I'm probably not thinking about much else, let alone talking to anyone in the passenger seat.

Now, imagine doing something more socially complex and interactive, say going to a wedding.  At such an event--a person is able to attend to many aspects of his/her experience without having to deconstruct the very nature of the experience itself.  There's the ceremonial ritual, the couple's first dance, the cake, etc.  A person can perceive the other, random things happening at the event (say, the building flirtation between two other guests, or that the bride's mother seems like a control freak, or any other number of possibilities), and I'd argue that this is all possible because the overall experience unfolds in an already familiar cultural paradigm.  

If I attended a wedding ceremony in Papua New Guinea, on the other hand, I'd probably be less attuned to the more subtle details of the environment.  I'd likely be focused, instead, on whatever novelty I'd be experiencing.  I might fail to notice that I'm getting tired, or that my husband has sprouted a few more gray hairs.  I'd be too busy experiencing new foods, strange rituals (strange, that is, to my American point of view), etc.  I'd be so overcome by the experience--the in-the-moment excitement of the unexpected--that I'd neglect the softer, perhaps mundane, details of human existence at that particular moment in time.  

I use these examples to illustrate how even a neutral condition (like driving) or a celebratory one (like a wedding), if either occurs in an unfamiliar context, can alter our perceptive abilities.  So, how can one begin to navigate a complex and unfamiliar situation that is also entangled with traumatic circumstances?  How does anyone make cognitive sense of the pending separation of an infant from her mother?  And...while the biological grandparents stand by, witnessing it all, as if it were a normal rite of passage in any young woman's life?   

It is no wonder that trauma is so hard to integrate into our experience.  It is no wonder that traumatic material gets split off, repressed, fragmented, dissociated, etc.  It's hard enough to process new stimuli in a meaningful way, even when it occurs in a safe situation.  Imagine trying to merely understand an entirely unnatural situation, integrate it within one's sense of self and personal autobiographical memory, and make sense--any sense whatsoever--of an act you cannot fathom.  (In this case, the act of relinquishing one's flesh and blood to, hold on a second, to me?)

I apologize for this lengthy detour from the main story.  But the reader must know, and keep in mind, that my confusion at the hospital cannot be related in its pure form.  And writing it all down now, transforms a primitive experience into something other than it was.  

Through writing, something that had no organizing principle, now gains meaning and structure through narrative, the benefit of hindsight, and an author who is subsequently much more educated on adoption issues.  The words you read now, are formed via a mode of elevated thought; therefore, it is impossible to convey my sheer bewilderment at the hospital.  Please know, that the actual experience, as it is depicted here, is merely a construct of the fragmented details of what was actually, I now understand, a traumatic experience.  And worse in some ways than other traumas, because no one dared to call it what it was.  Not even me.  Not even Kendra.  And certainly not its littlest victim:  a baby girl with no voice.  

Where's Baby Lily, Mommy?

The past, through being told, gets trapped in story.  It's a process of containment.  Form appears from what was wild and incomprehensible.  Before, I could not grasp it.  There were no words.    

It simply was.

Therefore, in the posts that follow, the ones that try to best depict our experience at the hospital, I may need to write two accounts:  the one I recall experiencing, and the present analysis of that described experience.  

And by the way...

In case you too are now wondering about wedding customs in Papua New Guinea, I just Googled "Papua New Guinea Wedding" and the first link to appear leads to this story:


The story is also, coincidentally, about an abandoned infant and how later, as a grown man, he returns to his original family and native land.  For his wedding!


Melynda said...

"Imagine trying to merely understand an entirely unnatural situation, make sense of it, integrate it within one's sense of self and personal autobiographical memory, and make sense--any sense whatsoever--of an act you cannot fathom."

As a mother who lost a child to a coerced adoption, there is no making sense of it. Ever. To this day, twenty years later I cannot wrap my head around what I did and what happened to me and my daughter. There is learning to live with the loss, but never making sense of it, not at the cellular deep level. At least not for me.

Thank you for sharing this journey. I have been reading from the beginning and have found it fascinating.

Jennifer said...


It's just unimaginable grief. Since I started this blog, I am astounded by how many women and children have been separated by coercive adoption practices. I was ignorant of the historical phenomenon and the present day methods of separating mothers from their babies.
So sorry for your trauma.
Jennifer :)