The other day, I watched the documentary Twinsters on Netflix. It’s about two Korean adoptees who were separated at birth and had no idea they were twins. All their paperwork from Korea omits that fact, and even their foster parents in Korea had no idea. One was adopted by an American family with two older brothers (biological sons of the adoptive parents), and one was adopted by a childless couple in France. They found each other (unintentionally) with the help of YouTube and Facebook, and then they became like normal twins, with their own language and way of being together. It was sweet and had no agenda for or against international adoption (allowing me to keep my stance and still like the movie).
But the end got a bit heavier and hit me to the core: the twins traveled to Korea for a Korean Adoptee Conference, and during their trip they met the women who had fostered them when they were infants before they were adopted. The twin from the States had met hers the previous year, but it was the first time for the French one to meet hers. The impact it made on her was profound: she had been raised as an only child and felt that she only started existing the day she was adopted, that no one loved her or even cared whether she existed before then. Having now met her foster mom she suddenly realized that she did exist before and that people did love her and want her in the world. She was crying, and I was crying.
She said exactly what I used to say when I explained what I did as a foster parent (in my head, at least, back when I was doing it): that I was an unknown, never-to-be-remembered-yet-essential part of the babies’ lives and that no matter who loved them after me and whom they would credit with their lives, I was filling that small portion with love and care; it’s just that they would never know it. So for the girl to recognize it, it was as if she was recognizing me and what I had done for babies like her. It was what I would want them all to realize, that there was never a point in their lives when they weren’t known and loved.
Yet the very night I describe all this to my little sister and boyfriend, I have a dream about the little girl I fostered who felt most like a daughter to me, the one I tattooed in the form of an elephant onto my side. In this dream, I was her caregiver again. We played in a living room, and she had some words that she could say now. We were tentative, re-acquainting ourselves, but my love was just as strong. I adored her. I ate something and went to sleep and woke up a little while later, realizing I had someone else to take care of and that I hadn’t fed her or put her to bed. I walked down the stairs, my heart in my stomach, and I saw toys and trash strewn around, as if a two-year-old had been left to her own devices and what was left was evidence of my negligence. I heard her crying and went into the messy living room to find her lying on the floor amidst all the junk in her own pee. Her diaper was beyond full, and she was so exhausted but so uncomfortable with hunger and piss that she hadn’t been able to fall asleep. I knew then that I would never be forgiven, and I picked her up to hug her, holding her close to me. I changed her and put her down to sleep, but she couldn’t sleep in her crib, either. So I just decided to hold her in my arms and walk around until she did fall asleep. She had gone quiet by the time the sun came up.
I still can’t shake the sickening guilt.
There is an inextricable link between my feeling like what I did as a foster parent was of incalculable importance and feeling like I failed in truly living up to that. It doesn’t matter how it evens out logically. It is just something that’s there, inside, leaving me raw whenever it’s touched.
I guess this is where I could write about what it all means, what exactly I feel and the root of all this sadness. Maybe it’s just too personal for me to do that, or maybe it sits too closely to the nerve that causes such pain and leaves me so drained. What I can say is that the most meaningful experiences of my life have never been easy to describe or categorize. I know foster parenting certainly isn’t. But rarely has someone put it into such resonant terms as the adoptee in the film, and rarely have I felt so affirmed. I may have unresolved emotions, but that is only because life, as long as we are living it, will continually and frustratingly be unresolved as it unfolds. I don’t have closure, so I have dreams. I’m just grateful to realize that I will occasionally have more than that.