Missing Memories

I was reading the news a couple of weeks ago and stumbled across BBC Future’s archive page, which claims to “make you smarter every day” (their slogan). These articles focus on psychology, astronomy, and everything in between, from why cannibalism exists to explaining the theory of infinite universes.

The article I read was called “The mystery of why you can’t remember being a baby,” and although the content of the article was fascinating, that isn’t what I was really focusing on.

I was remembering a year ago, when I turned to my boyfriend at the time and told him that I missed my birth mother while expressing my frustration at not being able to remember her facial expressions that morphed from undying love when she first saw me to heartbreak as she left me, her voice from the lullabies she sang to me while I was in her womb, and her mother’s touch that was my safety and comfort for the short time I knew her.

He responded: It is absolutely fine you don’t remember – there’s no way you could remember anything when you were only two weeks old anyway.

Technically, this is true. Even the article with all of its data and scientific studies says so, but that doesn’t matter. I can still miss my mother. I can, and do, miss a life I never knew.

I miss my birth mother and birth father; I miss learning Chinese as a first language and understanding the culture I was born into; I miss being able to attribute my eyes with a spark of mischievousness to my father and my passionate and outgoing personality to my mother.

I miss things that do not exist. They are missing memories in the space between what should have been and what was.

BBC’s article discusses how under the age of about two or three, people cannot form memories in the most conventional sense. However, our senses are developed almost immediately. We can hear, see, smell, taste, and feel things; but we cannot process them to form true memories.

Every year, I have struggled with feelings of abandonment around my birthday. I may not consciously remember my infant life, but my body does. It remembers being held and loved by my birth mother, only to be abandoned in a box in the dead of night. My body remembers feeling completely out of control, and completely alone – no amount of screaming or crying seemed to bring my mother back the night she left me forever.

I’ve now worked through all of the emotions surrounding my adoption, so I thought maybe this year it would be better.

I was wrong. This year has been the same as always. Waking up night after night from the same nightmare over and over. Panicking in the middle of the day at the thought of some bizarre disaster taking away someone I love. Bursting into tears in the evening for no other reason than an overwhelming sense of yearning for a missing mother.

I cannot enter the alternate reality of what could have, should have, and would have been; but I can accept these feelings of loss each year.

One of my favorite taglines is “Recovery is not linear,” and I could not agree more. As I recover from a lost family, language, and culture, some days are harder than others, some days I miss my would-have-been life; but in the end, I am able to come back to the life I am currently living. I am able to remember all of the wonderful experiences and opportunities; the monumental and constant love and support from friends and family; and of course, all of the kittens and cats in the world just waiting to be pet.

May there be many more great memories to come.