The first lesson presents when I am still wet and cold and crying after cold steel forceps pull me from the safe, warm sanctuary of her womb into a room where the air is heavy with sorrow. Suddenly, there is this light and it is loud and I am wiped and weighed and taken from the room where she remains to be stitched and silenced.
Where is she?
No more the sound of her familiar heartbeat that lulled me to sleep and that my own synchronized with. Instead, a cacophony of strange voices and hospital sounds startles my newborn senses. Unfamiliar arms lower me into an isolette. I am alone and don’t know where I begin or end. Someone props something on a pillow beside me and touches my lips with a rubber nipple. Substitutionary sustenance. I drink. I sleep.
But where is she?
I wake to the sound of crying. The bleating is not unlike the sound that came from my own mouth when the rubber nipple fell away before I slept. I am undressed and lowered into a basin of warm water that feels like home and a hand moves a soapy washcloth over my wrinkled newborn body. The air is cool, and the parts of my body that are not in the warm water get cold and I cry. When I’m lifted from the water, I cry even harder at the injustice. Then I’m diapered and dressed in a flannel nightgown and put back in the isolette. I sleep.
Where is she?
Day after day, week after week, the rubber nipple delivers formula instead of her milk, and strange hands wash and change me. Sometimes, they hold and rock me for a time, and the fragile security I feel in those moments is more bittersweet than anything else. There’s always noise—non-stop bleating and unfamiliar voices—and light— always the light. I’m stuck with sharp things and prodded by people wearing white who stay just long enough to disrupt the routine.
Then, one day, I’m dressed and wrapped and put into the arms of someone who smells of something other than this strange and lonely place. She is gentle and holds me so close I can feel her heartbeat. She carries me away in her arms and doesn’t put me down until we are somewhere where there is no bleating or poking or prodding. Days and weeks pass. I drink and sleep and grow used to her and learn to relax when she holds me while I drink from a rubber nipple until I’m milk drunk and fall asleep in her arms. But I don’t stop wondering.
Where is she?
On another day, after I’ve grown accustomed to the cuddling and playing and the belly laughs she draws from me, she is no longer there when I wake up. Instead, I look up into the soft misty eyes of another woman. The smile on her round face looks like love. She caresses my cheek and holds me so close I can hear her heartbeat. This happened with the other one too. I wonder where she is and how long this one will stay. There’s another face beside hers—a man—looking down at me and smiling too. But still, the bigger question remains:
Where is she?
A half-century later I kneel at her grave and place my hands flat on the ground. Oh, here she is. But, by now I’m too late.
My origin story is one of lessons learned through loss. I’m still sorting through them to find truth. The lessons taught me not to trust. That the emptiness I felt was “normal”. That something—no someone—was missing and the void was immeasurable. I internalized these things before I had words to explain them and still struggle to express the impact of that loss.
The pain doesn’t go away. You just learn to live with it and try to ignore the little voice that continues to ask:
Where was she?
Powerful is the first word that comes to mind, Linda.
This captures my experience.
So glad you shared this
Thanks for bearing witness to my story, Carol.
Beautifully written, Linda! And for me, as a mother who lost her beloved firstborn son and only child to the wicked schemes of adoption, the same question left me floating in the space of unanswered cries. The trauma of separation wrecks God’s gloriously ordered, supplied growth on both the mother and infant, woven together in bonds of love that can never be completely severed, try as they did and still do…your question always remains…for both. Keep your beautiful heart flowing…it helps so many!!!
(my son & I found each other, & hope to embrace each orher this summer…we’ve been texting)
Oh, Mary, I’m so happy you and your son reunited. What a joy it will be for both of you to come together face-to-face!
That touches my heart. Thanks for sharing.
I just cried ugly tears. hugs to all !!!
Hugs back to you, Linda!