Re-Framing Searching as Radical Empathy

My son was three days old when we left the hospital to go home. As I prepared to step through those sliding doors out into the sunlight of the parking area, I was acutely aware that my son was the same age I was when my infant self left the hospital in the arms of an adoption worker. As I secured his carrier into the car seat base, I tried to imagine what it would be like to leave the hospital still bleeding and empty-handed, as my mother had.

When my son was five months old, I realized he was the same age I was when my infant self left my foster home for my adoptive placement. I developed a paradoxical devastation and admiration for my foster mother, knowing intimately the bond we must have had and wondering how she could let me go, despite it.

I sought reunion to understand the human side of the choices--or lack thereof--made for me. It was a level of empathy that made my lungs burn

Today, a photo of me as a new mother popping up on my Facebook timeline, and an adoptee friend's recent words to me on her becoming a mother elicited memories I've thus far not articulated in words.

You could say that radical empathy, the willingness to be completely vulnerable to understand the experience of another person deeply connected to your own--is subversive. It disrupts the narrative that we are only to care about ourselves; or in the case of adoptees, that we are only to care about a rigid category of people. How often do people freely make themselves uncomfortable for the sake of another person when they have yet to figure out their own discomfort and grief?

People so often tell us that search desires are wrought from maladjustment and insensitivity. In truth, it's the exact opposite.


From the archives:
Becoming a Mother (Part I)
Becoming a Mother (Part II)