Friday, May 8, 2009


I failed to mention a few months back that I won an online "hair narrative" contest on Afrobella's blog! I wrote the story of my hair, and how its transformation to natural has been tangled up in identity issues related to race, adoption, etc. Not sure how many people entered the contest (it was at least 70 when I posted my story a week before the contest closed), but apparently it was good enough to score a prize pack of Curls brand hair products, including hair cleanser, tea conditioner, and--best of all--hair milkshake leave-in conditioner. (see photos)

I've used the products about every other week (alternating with my Carol's Daughter products), and like them pretty well. The conditioner is excellent. So is the leave-in milkshake. The best thing about the milkshake is that it smells absolutely delicious! Seriously it smells more like cupcakes than cupcakes themselves. It's kinda thick, and I have to use it sparingly. Although these products contain mostly organic ingredients, I get more frizz when I use them (compared with Devachan products and Carol's Daughter) and usually go more days between washings, but overall they work well. If there were a man in my life close enough to be sniffing my hair, no doubt he'd rate these products highly! 

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Ode to the Hultbergs

Mom and Dad are here visiting. Mom was still worked up about our race conversation a few weeks ago, so we've had some long and deep conversations, with (surprisingly) more tears from her than from me. Dad was a blank slate, of course. But at least we've come to an understanding. 

We watched some documentaries on adoption. I described for them what I learned at the adoption conference, about cellular memory and grief and anger, and how psychologists are starting to understand adoption as child trauma. That even though the grief is there it doesn't take away from the love we have for our adoptive parents. And also that being told, as many adoptees including myself were, that "your birth mother loved you so much she gave you away" is psychologically confusing. The adoptee begins to automatically equate love with abandonment. 

Surprisingly, my parents have been really cool about all this. I haven't ever fully known how to talk to them about these things, nor had I the vocabulary to understand it myself, and plus I'd often shielded them from my pain (which I learned many adoptees do). Dad could connect with the emotional Jung-theory psychology because he had childhood trauma that he had only within the past few years fully dealt with. He remembers emotions that didn't make any sense. He remembers non-logical associations of pain. There was a tree in his backyard that he used to stare at and fantasize about when things got rough at home. Forty years later he drives by his childhood home and is doubled over in grief when discovering that the tree had been cut down. He began describing in detail the delicate leaves and branches and how beautiful the tree was.  Only later did he realize that he was not, in fact, grieving the silly tree. He was grieving for that little boy who hurt so bad inside that he wished to live in a tree.

Sometimes I envision that baby with new curls gripping the edge of her crib, screaming stiff-scared as Mom said I did those first few days.  That baby had been taken from her mother and given to a foster home. Two weeks later she had to break whatever bond formed with those foster parents and move to another foster home. This one lasted four months, during which time a potential family met her and rejected her, perhaps because they were told she was biracial. Then she finally moved into the arms of the people who would become her parents, and now she is in a crib they have built for her. Of course she is terrified. Who does she miss most? She does not have words yet, but she has a heart, and it is broken and scared. In my mind I hold her sweaty, quivering body and tell her that it is okay. These are people who will not abandon her. They won't always understand her hurts, and they will not be able to save her from life's sorrows, but they will love her and they will not leave. 


Words are too tiny... capture the past few weeks. Immediately following the semester I headed to the national adoption conference in Cleveland. What followed was what I can only describe as a honeymoon. 

I shared a hotel room with a fellow grad student from CA, also an adoptee. Quickly I realized that I'd never before had a friend who was adopted. Neither had she. We connected on so many levels, and as the weekend went on I realized that I had more in common with those 300 strangers than I'd ever had with anyone else in my life. Ever. Because we shared that key fundamental, foundational experience that has shaped our lives. Adoption. 

I had finally found my tribe. People that carry within their bones amazingly similar struggles. 

All the conference presentations were fascinating. There was a depth of understanding of the adoptee experience, the frustrations, the deep sorrow, the loneliness, the isolation, the feeling that you cannot trust your emotions, the fear of being abandoned, that I hadn't heard articulated so well before. Something started to fall away as I heard these motions of my own heart voiced. I learned about something called cellular memory. People think that because separation from the birth mother happens in infanthood that the child does not remember. But it does. That child has formed an emotional bond to the mother, and it feels quite deeply that separation. Because the logical part of the brain is not developed yet, as this begins to happen only after several months, the memory is totally emotional. 

So that thing that we carry around inside us, that pulls us into confusing sadness? Grief. It's our subconscious mind, that layer that remembers within our marrow, within our cells, that terrifying separation that happened when we were at our most vulnerable. We need to grieve for our birth mothers and honor that feeling, or it will never go away. Sometimes it can pull us into destructive situations and cause us to replicate our abandonment in other ways in order to call attention to it. 

One example is of Daryl McDaniels, of Run DMC, who attended the conference. He found out he was adopted at age 35 by accident. He had been feeling a strange sorrow that he did not understand. He was rich, successful, happily married, yet he kept contemplating suicide for no apparent reason. Then his parents told him he was adopted and it started to make sense. 

He did not know on a logical level that he was adopted. But he felt the grief for his mother. 

I can't describe in a length suitable for a blog post what all of this began to mean to me. Something within me started to fall away. It was a loss, but not one that threatened to pull me under. It was a closing of sorts. Perhaps a filling of that hole that has resided quietly next to my heart for a long time. I had grieved for my mother. I have begun to grieve for my father. But to hear that others are experiencing it too, to understand how those feelings have played out in my life, and to feel PERMISSION to feel them was such a sweet validation. I felt also absence--not an absence that left me empty, but one that made me feel lighter and more free. An absence of that old butterflies-in-the-stomach longing that I've had for as long as I can remember when I felt any kind of connection to someone. It's not a feeling that I associated with something negative. I thought it was positive--it was excitement. I would get it when I would first start to make friends in a new town. Or when a professor remembered my name. Or when someone would invite me to their home for Easter or Thanksgiving during college. Anytime there was a hint of the possibility of me belonging somewhere or to someone.  This feeling I know so well appears to be leaving me now, and I think that's a good thing. Because I finally belong in my own skin.