Archive for Chosen Baby

The Bruce, The L’Engle and The Matrix

Posted in The Blog with tags , , , , , on August 15, 2012 by chateaucone

Bruce Springsteen says, “I think what happens is sometimes you have to break your own narrative. We all have stories we’re living and telling ourselves. There’s a time when that narrative has to be broken because you’ve run out of freedom, you’ve run out of places to go.”

NR, my faithful friend and blog commentator says, “Your paper is a manifestation of an intellectual exercise . . . A non-conventional structure should allow the reader to explore meanings (or ways of thinking) that would not have been achieved otherwise.”

And that is what I have been trying to do here. To break the stranglehold of the metanarrative of our adoption. (I think I stole “stranglehold of metanarrative” from somewhere.  But I know not where. Any of my TC friends have a source?) Here is how I have tried:

  • I have written an essay about the first time I felt/saw a crack in the narrative
  • I have explored the discourses available to my parents in 1967, about families, about unwed mothers, that wrote/limited/prescribed, for them, the story of our adoption
  • I have explored the discourses of professionals in the adoption process, and how they and their research and their biases and values and beliefs wrote my birth mother’s story
  • I have re-explored, as an adult, The Chosen Baby, the text that illustrated for so many parents the chosen narrative
  • I have brought in other voices from other adoptees, most notably my brother, who tosses the whole story out without a backward glance
  • I have explored the personal essay and memoir as a genre to see how their very conventions influenced my retelling of the story, my exploration of the story, the boundaries of my exploration
  • And I have included, for the reader, other, later essays that touch on the adoption story, that trace, perhaps only minimally, the narrative, the memory, as it grows and changes as I grow and change
  • I have written each of these, whether wittingly or unwittingly, from a different persona, a different I. The I of the essay is only the I of the moment writing. There is Liz, the 28-year-old, first-time personal essayist; Liz, the child, being read The Chosen Baby and Liz, the horrified adult rereader of The Chosen Baby;  Liz, the . . .
  • And each of these Is contradicts, in small ways, the others–is different from the others, is older, younger, more or less naive, operating in a different discourse community with a different perspective for a different audience for a different purpose, is coherent and whole only in the moment of writing

And here is what (I think) has happened:

I have identified (some of) the gaps and silences in the adoption story and I have explored/exploded some of those. I have been (I think) successful in disrupting/ problematizing/exposing the constructedness of the narrative surrounding my birthmother, in moving her along some sort of spectrum from the Blessed Mother to a real person, although, yes, she stops well short of real and actual, at least in my narrative, and lands somewhere in the realm of “birth mothers of the 1960s.” But I have given her layers and complications and possibilities. (And really, from a post-structural point of view, she wouldn’t be representable even if she were sitting right next to me. So there.)

And I have called into question, to a small degree, the ever-popular choice narrative of adoption, the chosen baby narrative, and I’ve even  noted the contradiction it creates when it stands alongside the “meant to be a family” narrative.

But it’s that metanarrative of our family, our entire, extended family, that we were meant-to-be-a-family, that I have not touched, that I cannot touch.

As a reader, you might see places where it’s been disrupted, touched, toyed with. And that would be great. But I can tell you this: as the writer, as the person living inside the narrative, or living with the narrative inside me–I can’t touch it.

Is it enough to reveal it? To know I’m living inside a constructed reality? Is that maybe all we can do anyway?

If I break the “stranglehold of the metanarrative,” won’t I simply construct a new narrative, albeit one with perhaps more freedom to move, in which to live? Is that all Bruce is trying to tell us?

Am I even talking about the right metanarrative here? Is our narrative, our we-were-meant-to-be-a-family narrative, a metanarrative? Or it is operating as part of the metanarrative of family in general, which is such a strong narrative in our culture? Is ours simply a narrative underlying the metanarrative of American Family Values?

In that the narrative of our adoption operates behind all of the stories of my identity, of our identity as a family, I think it could be considered a metanarrative. In that it operates within the metanarrative of family, our cultural values and beliefs, our cultural “story” of family, if you will, our naturalization of family as we structure and organize it, it is just a narrative.

But as we’ve been saying– “just a narrative” is not nothing.

Let’s go back a minute, though. I can’t touch it. The narrative. Us. Meant to be a family. I can talk about the self, the post-structural subject being constructed by discourse from now until Kingdom Come (as my mother might say), but the meant-to-be-a-family narrative is the big one. I can play with it. I can talk about breaking it, disrupting it, where it contradicts itself, how it’s constructed and by what powers.

And through those actions, I can open up new avenues of freedom, of movement, of possibility, for my birth mother’s story, for example, and that’s a good thing. I can analyze and contest the practices that wrote her story, that wrote our story, even, and that gave her only one line in it. I can even analyze and contest the practices that wrote us as a family.

But I can’t, really, touch that narrative.

I just don’t believe we were not meant to be a family.

And that’s where it becomes, for me, an intellectual game, something to toy with, something that stops, always, short of me feeling anything. And makes me a fraud.

And what would I feel if I could touch it, really? My brother’s disconnect from the family?

And why can’t I touch it? Am I not ready, intellectually, emotionally? Are we seeing the power of the metanarrative?

Because I don’t mean, here, that I back off from feeling anything, like when you tentatively touch a bruise to see how much it still hurts, and you yank your hand away when you sense the pain about to start.

I mean, there’s no bruise. There’s no hand. It’s all pretend.

In Madeleine L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tiltling Planet, Charles Wallace Murray, who you might remember from A Wrinkle in Time, gets blown into a projection. The unicorn he is traveling with, Gaudior, tells him, “We’re still here, in your own Where, although it is not yet a real When.”

Charles Wallace asks, “Will it be?”

“It is one of the Projections we have been sent to try to prevent. The Echthroi will do everything in their power to make it real,” Gaudior answers.

I think L’Engle’s Projections are like narratives–evil, purposeful incarnations of narratives that culturally and ideologically and through our social class inscribe us–narratives that construct and constrain us, that write our lives for us, or that we, if we’re lucky, can see and prevent. Either way, they’re a place to stand, and to look around, to be.

Do I need a place to stand, a place from which to be, and this is what I’ve chosen? Don’t we all need a place to stand?

Has this narrative not yet constricted my freedom, my agency, in such a way that I need to break it? Have I become as savvy as some of my students, who say, “Yes, I see what this text is trying to do to me, and I don’t care?”

Or am I kidding myself?

The Echthroi have won.

I’m in the Matrix.

That baby?

Posted in The Blog with tags , , , , on August 8, 2012 by chateaucone

August 8

I finished Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell, on Sunday, and it was great. Read it. Don’t let the first section, which is the diary of this 19th century notary aboard a ship sailing from New South Wales, I think, to San Francisco, stop you. It gets better. Much better. Took forever to read, but it was worth it.

Then I whipped through Joan Didion’s new book, Blue Nights, which was good, although not as good as The Year of Magical Thinking, which is one of those books I read and wished I had written, it was so beautiful. But Blue Nights was interesting, and I love Didion, and it was, in part, about adoption and motherhood.

In Blue Nights, Didion tells the story that she and John Gregory Dunne told their adopted daughter, Quintana Roo, about her adoption:

She was born in the first hour of the third day of March, 1966, at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica. We were told we could adopt her late the afternoon of the same day, March third, when Blake Watson, the obstetrician who delivered her, called the house at Portuguese Bend in which we then lived, forty-some miles down the coast from Santa Monica. I was taking a shower and burst into tears when John came into the bathroom to report what Blake Watson had said. “I have a beautiful baby girl at St. John’s,” is what he had said. “I need to know if you want her.” The baby’s mother, he had said, was from Tucson. She had been staying with relatives in California for the birth of the baby. An hour later we stood outside the window of the nursery at St. John’s looking at an infant with fierce dark hair and rosebud features. The beads on her wrist spelled out not her name but “N.I.,” for “No Information,” which was the hospital’s response to any questions that might be asked about a baby being placed for adoption. One of the nurses had tied a pink ribbon in the fierce dark hair. “Not that baby,” John would repeat to her again and again in the years that followed, reenacting the nursery scene, the recommended “choice” narrative, the moment when, of all the babies in the nursery, we picked her. “Not that baby . . . that baby. The baby with the ribbon.”

This is the story Rosemary and Frank Cone told Elizabeth Cone, about her adoption.

One day in June, the phone rang, and when I answered it, it was the nun from Angel Guardian. She said, “We have a baby girl named Elizabeth for you.” I burst into tears, and the nun said, “Oh, no! You can change her name if you want to!” But I was crying because I’d always dreamed of having a baby girl named Elizabeth. So I quit my job teaching even though there was only a week of school left and Dad and I went down to Angel Guardian to get you. And when the nun brought you into the room, you sat right up, all by yourself, on the desk, and Dad picked you up and said to the nun, “You’re never going to get her back,” and we left and took you home.

Didion tells us that  Quintana Roo asked these questions as she was growing up:

What if you hadn’t answered the phone when Dr. Watson called, she would suddenly say. What if you hadn’t been home, what if you couldn’t meet him at the hospital, what if there’d been an accident on the freeway, what would happen to me then?

Elizabeth didn’t ask any questions. She couldn’t imagine it happening any other way.

You see, Elizabeth conveniently forgot about the page in The Chosen Baby where the mom and the dad are shown a baby, and they say, “This is a beautiful child, but we know it is not our baby.” And then they are taken to see the next child.