At four years old, my son Eli amused himself by muttering nonsense words. He walked down the street of our Portland, Oregon, neighborhood with a stick, banging on trees or scraping it on the sidewalk. “Chink, chink, chink,” he said. His eyes so dark you couldn’t see his irises.
I didn’t say anything. It was a nonsense word to him—for now. I didn’t think anyone we passed noticed him speaking, but I did. He was Chinese to the core. Chinese blood, Chinese skin, Chinese everything, but given an American passport with no choice of his own. Assigned the name Yu Zheng at his orphanage, Yu for the rivers that crossed his homeland and Zheng for strength, he was renamed when we adopted him at ten months old: Eli Zheng. His birth name is a secret, maybe whispered to him by his mother in Chongqing’s local dialect. Those brief days she held him before he was left at the orphanage by someone. Maybe her. No one knows or will tell us the truth.
What I learned before adopting: the biological woman, the Homo sapiens, the primate, does not know the difference between raising a child and preparing to “revoke” the child for adoption. The human is an animal. A fierce animal. When the mother brings the child’s lips to her nipple, oxytocin surges through her body. It causes the milk to be released. When the child latches on, the pressure on the nipple causes the brain to secrete oxytocin in milliseconds. Yet if the woman is stressed, she won’t release oxytocin, which is crucial to nurturing and bonding. (They tested this by lighting firecrackers by a nursing gorilla and testing her oxytocin levels.) How would a woman facing the most traumatic moment of her life respond to this child she had born? And how would I bond with no oxytocin released naturally?
We were told: the adopted child always feels a loss. Always. The child needs consistency and realistic boundaries. The child needs us to follow through.