You were the first person whose face I recognized, day after day, as you cared for me. As my eyes learned to sharpen the blurry edges of objects, and the facial recognition center in my brain searched for eye-nose-mouth patterns anywhere and everywhere, I always found you, smiling at me. Although you didn’t smell like her or sound like her, I grew to expect your scent and your calming voice. The anxiety of being separated from my birth mom kept me awake in those first 6 weeks — it dysregulated me — I would cry out, in search of the familiar body I had been a part of for 9 months. You would come to me, feed me, hold me, sing to me, and it would soothe me. Although you did not embody those sensory qualities I craved, you were a constant source of affection and love, during a time when I needed it most, a time when the world was brand new — a frightening cacophony of sensory overload — a time when my brain was just beginning to forge the body-world connections it would need to navigate the complex terrain of interactions that would go on to shape me profoundly.
You kept watch over me in that space between the trauma of being ripped apart from my birth mom and the eventual comfort of my forever mom. I grew to trust and love my forever family, but I still have abandonment anxiety and attachment problems. It is no one’s fault. It is just the biological situation of my birth and first few weeks of life. In you, I learned what a real mom could be like, briefly, and then I suffered yet another trauma of being taken from you too.
And I don’t even know who you are.
All my memories of you are preverbal, inscribed on my nervous system, visceral and prenoetic. I have no records of precisely what happened in those 6 weeks, no indication, even, if YOU were more than one person. All I know is that I was loved and protected enough that I don’t have any severe problems — just the regular grab bag of emotional distress and psychological turmoil that so many adoptees carry around. The more I know, the more questions I have. I didn’t even think to wonder about you until later in life, as I finished writing a book — about human-dog relationships of all things. In it, I argue that our capacity to truly bond with others transcends species lines, that hormones like oxytocin help form symbiotic relationships in the here-and-now interactions occurring between all sorts of mammals, and that ‘kin’ is just as socially constructed as gender. Of course, biology and genetics matter too — hence my longing to find my birth parents and other biological kin. But if it’s possible for a human and a dog to form a bond of love and trust that rivals that of a human-human relationship, why would it seem so strange that in those 6 weeks, I could grow to love and need you, just as much as I needed her — my birth mom — just as much as I needed them — my forever family? And I still do. We all crave connection. It’s written into our coding. One of my favorite books has always been Howards End, and I think it’s because the refrain of that story is “Only Connect.” I’ve spent my whole life trying to find myself, as all of us do. But finding yourself is all the more challenging when you don’t even fully comprehend your origin story.
A void in my narrative account.
There are no pictures, no stories, no memories from others I can call upon.
I never believed the first 6 weeks of life could be so important until I spent those first 6 weeks of life with each of my two children. Now I think of you and what you were for me in those incredibly formative and difficult days. Without you, connecting to others would have been even more difficult for me than it already is. I have you, my ‘third mom’, to thank for giving me a fighting chance at love, trust, and forgiveness.
You are, by all accounts, another mom to me, my ‘third mom’ (or dad, or collection of moms and dads).
And I don’t even know your name(s).