Sunday, November 16, 2014

Is the Primal Wound Real?

Ever since I read Nancy Verrier's The Primal Wound, I've relied on it to make sense of what happened to my son and me when I relinquished him for adoption in 1968.  Reading the book for the first time was a revelation, and suddenly my feelings of over forty years made sense.  There are those who say the primal wound is a myth, that it's not scientific and can't be proved.  I don't know, but I suspect those who dismiss the primal wound are "birth" mothers and adoptees who are at least satisfied with their lives.  Some older "birth" mothers may have found peace and laid their grief to rest, while younger ones may feel justified, relieved, even proud. 

I've been reading literature all my life, and it's given me a lot more wisdom than even my long lifetime of experience could have provided.  It's given me a way of interpreting the world, other people, even myself.  I believe that each of us constructs a narrative of our own life.  As David Copperfield implies in the first sentence of Dickens' novel-- "Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show"-- every person's life is a story with, if not a hero, a central protagonist--him/herself.  Literature follows Hamlet's precept to "hold up a mirror to nature."  You might ask if Hamlet is true.   Or the Iliad.  Or Oedipus Rex.  Did the events described in these great works actually happen?  Are they real?  They did not happen as depicted historically, but they are true nonetheless.  You don't bring a scientist in when you analyze a text, because some truths are not quantifiable or measurable.  When it comes to human experience, you need a heart as well as a mind to try to understand it.  If a work speaks to you, what it says is true.  If your experience evokes feelings in you, those feelings are real, whether anyone else responds the way you do or not.  There is Truth (measurable, quantifiable, replicable) and there is truth that is uniquely personal. 

The primal wound is my truth.  It explains my own experience and, I believe, that of my son.  Someone with a cold sneezes on you and on me, but only I become sick.  Should you then assume cold viruses aren't real?  There is no need to argue about this, as some have done.  If you relinquished a baby and feel no less intact than you did before, then either you have been unaffected by the primal wound or it has yet to open.  But if you lost your child to adoption and never recovered, then the primal would is as real as love or delight or sorrow or any of the myriad emotions no one would dare dispute.  Of course, the primal wound is real.  I have felt it and known it my entire adult life, and all I can ask is that others respect my own understanding of what happened to me. 

Perhaps it's akin to religion.  I'm not religious, so I suppose in some ways I'm like those who pooh-pooh the idea of the primal wound.  But I know people for whom religious belief is as real as the sunrise.  I respect that, and while I don't understand it, I would be ungracious to argue against it.  I'm not equating the physiological and psychological trauma of mother/baby separation with religious faith, but I suggest that they may be in some ways analogous.  The Bibe is constructed out of stories that many Christians take at face value.  My life is the story I tell myself, just as history is the story human beings tell about their culture and collective experience.  When we look for guides to living, we look to stories, not to the stars or the test tube.  Science tells us what is; stories tell us what it all means.  The primal wound is my story, and I'm sticking to it.

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