Like most adoptive parents, I have no birth story to share with my daughter. I wasn’t there. As a poor substitute I thought maybe I could share mine with her.
“I don’t remember a thing,” my mother informs me dryly. “I’ve blotted everything out. All of it.”
This is my mother’s standard response to questions about my early years. Don’t get me wrong – there was no trauma, no tragedy, no tumult. I suspect it’s just the accumulation of unremarkable details in a stable and secure environment – the pot roasts cooked, the laundry folded, the hours spent outside piano lessons or dentist visits or dance class, the birthday presents bought and wrapped – that my mother eventually put behind her like an outgrown shell; with that shell went the pearls, too, I guess. In 1961 fathers were not routinely welcomed into delivery rooms, let alone with cameras, let alone with video cameras. For my birth story I have to be content with a minute examination of my birth certificate, the first record of my existence.
Most noticeable, of course, is my footprint, the first involuntary step in my journey. How small it is! How unlikely it seems that that could have represented me. Time of birth, 5:45 p.m on Friday, May 12, 1961. Waltham, Massachusetts. While folks were stuck in rush-hour traffic in Boston and Cambridge, my heroic journey was getting underway close by, totally unmarked by those people! They could have been listening to the radio: “Take Good Care of My Baby,” by Bobby Vee, or Bobby Darin’s “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby.” How fitting that soundtrack was, and they had no idea! Where was my sister, then two years old? My dad? The only thing I can confidently assert is that at that moment, I was there and so was my mom.
The birth certificate can only tell me so much about that story, the opening lines and nothing more. Beyond that is a blank, a formless void until the arrival of my consciousness. This is how most origin stories start: in the beginning there was nothing, and then eventually the people became themselves. Creation stories and origin myths tells us much about how a culture views itself and what it counts as important, where it came from and where it is going. The sheer variety of these stories from around the world is dazzling, each one with its own local details and deities. The Maasai’s creation myth accounts for animal herding, animal hunting, and crop farming. Japan’s earliest origin stories describe the creation of the islands in the sea, and not surprisingly the Norse creation myths describe a universe of frost and ice.
Whether we know our own birth stories, whether we share our children’s birth stories with them or not, we are, in a way, each responsible for our own creation myth. We build it over time, as our journey unfolds, as we become ourselves. May we all have the courage to tell that story. I wish that for my daughter most of all.