After lunch on Saturday Kyle was sleepy and fussy. I scooped him up and carried him into the family room. With my little boy sprawled out on our couch and sucking his thumb, I patted his back gently, whispered sweet things into his baby boy ear, and stroked his soft forehead until he fell asleep. I watched Kyle, as he was lying there so peacefully in the afternoon sun, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it: “The Primal Wound.” [If you’re unfamiliar, click here for some background on this.] A bit later Braydon carried Kyle, asleep, up to his own bed while I brought Owen to his bedroom. As I held Owen tightly “like a little baby” (his request: “Mommy, hold me like a little baby?”), and rocked him to sleep in the rocking chair, I was thinking about it again: “The Primal Wound” — Can I heal it? Can I soothe it? Can I help ease that ache that might be (probably is) deep in my little boys’ souls?
The general idea of Nancy Verrier’s ‘primal wound theory’ is that all adoptees — whether adopted in infancy or late in childhood — experience extreme trauma as a result of their birthmother separation/relinquishment. Verrier’s basic stance is that adoptive parents can help to heal this “primal wound” in their children through empathy and compassion (and primarily through not denying its existence). There is a lot of controversy about this in the adoption world. And I’m not sure where I stand on it (specifically, I’m not sure if I 100% believe that all adoptees have this so-called “primal wound”/separation trauma)… but I can tell you this: rarely does a month or week or even day go by that I don’t think about what my boys have gone through. I cannot speak for other families, and I cannot speak for Kyle and Owen, but I can say that from my own pespective — in my heart — I believe that my babies have experienced a basic (Verrier can call it “primal”) trauma. I don’t for a second deny that is their reality, or forget that.
I remember thinking about it a lot when we first brought our babies home. They were eight months old and in rough shape. I remember regularly sobbing at their cribsides as I watched them sleep. I could barely contain my excitement and relief and joy with the fact that they were finally here, safe in my home, real breathing alive little human lives. Yet at the same time I felt such anguish for them, such grief, such deep sorrow, for what they had gone through in their tiny little lives. Although we had only spent one week there, I had seen enough in Haiti to have an idea of the kinds of traumas my boys had suffered. I had a deep mournful pain in my belly; an intense sense of grief for them; a fissure in my soul. I can remember feeling incredibly strong as Braydon and I would hold it together enough to rock our babies as they’d wail in the night. I didn’t know before then how strong we (each of us individually, and us as a pair) really were. I remember Braydon watching me, and me watching Braydon, in the middle of the night as we’d each take turns sitting on the floor with a partially-broken-baby in our arms rocking forward-and-backward as we whispered, “we know, we know, we saw it, we saw it, we’re so sorry you had to live through that, we wanted to get you sooner, we are so sorry it took us so long to get to you, we are here now, we are here now, its o.k., its o.k., let it out, let it out, tell us all about it, we’re listening, tell us all about it, we’re listening, tell us what you have lived through.” The baby would cry and cry and cry. We’d finally get one to sleep and then the other would start — that grieving, yearning, soul-wrenching depth-of-night wailing — and we’d take turns with the rocking and soul-soothing and empathetic baby-whispering. With time some of those feelings have mellowed (for all four of us), I think. But from time to time those deep feelings flood back.
Saturday afternoon, as I watched Kyle and Owen drift off to sleep, those feelings were flooding me. Mostly I think about what it must have been like for them, and what it is like for them, and what it will be like for them. But I also think a lot about my relationship with them and with that “primal wound” that may very well lie deep within each of my children. I think about whether I can pour enough love salve into those deep cuts so ease their pain. I think about if it is possible for a mother to connect soul-to-soul so soulfully with her child that she can help him transcend his original trauma. I think about what it must be like to have your first mother — the woman who you grew inside — relinquish you at birth, even if for the most legitimate reasons. I think about what it must be like to spend your first months in an orphanage in Haiti. I know I can never make up for it. I know I can never fix it. I know I can never change it. But I wonder if it is possible for me to pull some of the ache out of their hearts, to tug the insecurity out of their little minds, to absorb some of their anguish for them so that some of it can soak away. I wonder if my babies will ever be able to comprehend that in my own heart and soul and mind I love them and care for them and desperately want them more than 100,000 other womens’ love and care and want combined; that in my own heart and soul and mind I love and care and desperately want them more than enough to make up for any single birthmother’s original heart-wrenching necessity to relinquish, enough for any single orphanage’s utter deprivation, enough for any single country’s desperate impoverishment. I wonder: Can I heal the “primal wound”? I think about this when I rock them in the darkness, and hold them in their sickness, and watch their delight in daily living. I think about this when I consider their past, and when I am fully present in the moment, and when I ponder our family’s future.
In our first few months home with the boys we performed a little ritual for them daily. Each morning when we’d go to get them out of their cribs we’d enter the room with incredible gusto — we’d bound in visibly exuberant and cheerful (jumping up and down, arms waving, huge smiles): “Good Morning Boys! Oh Owen! Our baby! We’re sooooo happy to see you! Kyle, you’re our baby! We are so glad you’re awake!” And we’d lift them out of their cribs smiling brightly and looking them in the eyes. Then we’d immediately walk to the windows and pull up the shades. No matter what the day (rain, snow, sun, fog), I’d enthusiastically announce the same thing while looking out the window with them: “It’s a BEAUTIFUL day for Kyle and Owen!!!” They were eight months old, they’d never heard english, they barely knew us… but I wanted them to sense it: to sense that it was all for them. I wanted them to know that we were so happy to see them, that we were so glad that they were alive, that we desperately wanted them. Still this little ritual is performed in our home each day. From time to time now we’re in a rush, or we just simply forget, and the boys remind us: “Open window Mama!” And I pull the shade and say it: “It is a BEAUTIFUL day for Kyle and Owen!!!”… and they grin ear to ear — a just-waking-up-groggy-barely-alert-baby-grin. It doesn’t mean that their wounds are all healed. It doesn’t mean that their traumas are erased. It doesn’t mean that they will ever truly know how much I love them or care for them or desperately want them… but it is a little reminder that home can heal.
I do not believe that love conquers all. I do not believe that love solves all problems. I do not believe that with enough love all will be o.k. I do, however, believe that home can heal. There is healing in home. I’m unsure if “the primal wound” really exists. And I’m unsure of whether it can ever truly be healed. But in these moments of my daily parenting I am sure that there is no mother on earth who has ever loved or cared for or desperately wanted her child more than I love and care for and desperately want mine. And in the long run of the life of a child, that has to count for something. We have to believe that. If we didn’t believe that, we wouldn’t be the family that we are.