Licton Springs Review

Broken, a memoir By Suki Bourquin

Babies who are separated from their mothers demonstrate several stages of grief, which correspond to those seen in adults but are more difficult to discern. The initial response is one of protest and an urgent effort to recover the lost mother. According to some social workers, who worked at adoption agencies, this is the stage at which babies have been given Phenobarbital in order to quiet the anguish and rage as they cry for their missing mothers.
—Nancy Newton Verrier :: The Primal Wound

February 27, 1970 Los Angeles, California

I was sold on February 27, 1970. Though I have been cursed with the memory of a thousand elephants, my mind cannot recall this moment. So, I imagine the blue, sterile light of the hospital room. I imagine the confused look of the doctor as he smacked my back and heard not an infant’s cry but the cheerful ring of a cash register. I imagine my mother’s placenta falling to the floor like a long, white, curling receipt, stamped with a bold and bloody warning: All sales are final. Buyer beware.

Next comes despair. Although there is still longing for the lost mother, the hope of being reunited with her diminishes. The child stops crying and instead becomes withdrawn, depressed, and detached. If, after the loss, the child is put into the consistent care of another mother-figure, she will be aloof and distant with her for some time, but will eventually attach to her.
—Nancy Newton Verrier :: The Primal Wound

I was a plan hatched by bored housewives lunching poolside in Encino. I imagine they had at least three margaritas before they came up with the idea after an intense conversation about hairdressers and terra cotta tile. I imagine these ladies with frosted hair, lips, and nails that smoothed down nonexistent creases in polyester-blend leisure suits while Lupe the maid corralled their sons in the wall-to-wall-carpeted pool house.

I imagine one of these ladies would sigh, weighted down with the burden of raising her boys and her margarita glass. Glancing towards the pool house, she would say, “We should have girls. Girls are so much easier.” One would brighten at the thought of puffy, pink dresses and matching ruffled diaper covers. I imagine it is the third frosted lady who will one day take me home. Bonded to her purchase with her agreement and the excessive laughter of a liar, “We should have girls.” She would sit quietly feigning interest while her mind wandered to darker thoughts, smells, and secrets that little girls shared with fathers and kept from mothers. Three phone calls and three large checks later, three frosted ladies would skip to their station wagons cradling three, fresh-off-the-assembly-line baby girls to their flat suburban tummies.

I was told that I was hidden away in Cedars of Lebanon Hospital for four days after my birth. My mother did not want to hold me. Well-paid doctors arranged the delivery room so she would not have to see me. But there were grandparents who tried to stop the adoption from taking place. I imagine that I was kept in a shoe-box tucked away in a closet like a letter or a picture you don’t want to keep but can’t throw away. I imagine latching on to the infant syringe loaded with milky white Phenobarbital. I know now that it would take thirty-one years, countless hospital trips, and one perfect baby boy before I would have the strength to take down that shoe box, release my hold on the syringe and decide that its contents was not an object to be hidden or thrown away.

The family that purchased me was the picture of perfection as long as the numbers weren’t looked at too closely. People present the best to bankers and baby brokers. My adoptive mother was a twenty-three-year-old school teacher and mother of two, blond-haired, blue-eyed boys. My father was a forty-eight-year- old pediatric dentist and a Lieutenant in the Air Force. He was a pilot; he looked like a cross between James Garner, the renegade private detective of the Rockford Files and Jack Lord, the police chief of Hawaii Five-0. I imagine in the land-of-make-believe, Los Angeles, California, it was easy to ignore the little details; his alcoholism, his womanizing, the fact that their first son was conceived prior to their marriage, when she was his seventeen-year-old dental assistant.

I imagine I was like the missing part of a china tea set, saved in a cabinet and taken out to impress company. I was the matching cup of blond hair, blue eyes, with the plate of delicate feminine details that my brothers lacked. I have seen pictures that show by the age of five, I flourished in the spotlight of parties. I was a party favor that sang, danced, and giggled my way through the room. I drank in the attention, the alcohol, and the fresh air that the cabinet of my life did not supply. I fell in love with men that tossed me high above their shoulders and steered clear of women, particularly the frosted-blond glaring at me from the corner. It would take years to understand that party favors have no free-will and the love of little girls should not be reciprocated in all the forms that love can take.

While caring for her own child, a woman’s memories of having been cared for herself are called forth, either consciously or not. Opening to the baby’s emotional needs evoke memories and emotions of having once been a baby.
—Kathyrn Black :: Mothering Without a Map

January 2, 2002 Tieran Blue

I gave birth to my son January 2, 2002. Though I have been cursed with the memory of a thousand elephants, I cannot recall being mothered. So, I imagined in the cold, sterile light of my life, the miracle of birth and my own rebirth.

I imagined my son long before he came to be. I imagined a boy that would claw his way out of the darkness that was his mother. A boy that would climb the umbilical cord and scream defiantly at any doctor that dared to sever it.

I lay on the bed looking around at seven women, none of whom were mothers or related to me. I was not a promiscuous lesbian like my obstetrician suspected. The women that were there were not my lovers or my mothers; they were strangers that I allowed to witness my life. I frequently passed out tickets to the show that was my life.

My son was all that I imagined, and although he did not climb his umbilical cord, he did come out of my womb with such force his face was imprinted with my pelvis. Nurses stared in shock as he lifted his head and latched on to my breast. My landlord, the manic, control-freak, hippie, had somehow found her way in to the delivery room. She wanted the placenta. She wanted to plant my placenta in her garden. To quiet her screaming request, I said I had hepatitis. It worked.

Motherhood can be the labyrinth of change that leads women to enrich and refine the self. If a woman’s parents were withholding and unable to nurture her, then remembering babyhood can be a painful reenactment of being totally dependant and desperately in love and then shut out.
—Kathyrn Black :: Mothering Without a Map

I took a hundred pictures of his nursery with its matching stars-and-moon sheets, crib, border, the changing table with wipes, bootie-goo, and the inflatable changing-pad adorned with blankets that realistic mothers save as keepsakes. The toy chest with perfectly placed books like How to Raise A Son, Your Child’s Self Esteem, Good Night Moon, and Your Capricorn Child. I took pictures and created a file of evidence, proof that I could mother.

I would sit in my nursery as he slept in the equally excessive Birth and Beyond basket, in his room. The nursery was mine, and I would play and replay Billie Holiday. Silent tears streamed down my face and without betraying my pride. My arms slowly crept up my sides to cradle my body as the ice around my heart began to melt, cracking while I learned to hold all that was broken, as Billie sang, “Hush little baby don’t you cry.” With the vague feeling I was crazy, without a clue about the loss I was mourning, I was blessed by my son with the gift of mothering myself.

I imagine a beginning to a life without answers. I create characters out of the family I experienced. Characters create the distance needed to allow all that is dark and light to exist simultaneously, and somewhere in there I find the compassion I need to keep from imploding. So, I imagine, I was told, and it is through my son that I know.