Jennifer Lauck is an award-winning journalist and the author, most recently, of the memoir, FOUND, which is the sequel to her memoir BLACKBIRD, the New York Times bestseller.
This interview will touch anyone who has longed for a place to feel like they belong. Other than that, it requires no introduction, except to tell you how much I love it. That said, meet Jennifer Lauck:
Meredith: Can you describe the moment, the sensation, the knowingness that you'd felt a wholeness you hadn't known consciously? As a writer, can you put that into words perhaps other than a feeling state? I think many people long to know what this feels like. I often think of it as the moment when, for example, water or air, is the same temperature as your skin. You feel like you fit, belong right where you are. You just are, and it's peaceful.
JENNIFER: I have never felt this sense of peace described by the question. My general/conditioned sense of being is jittery, as if pins are under the skin and I must move to be elsewhere, I must "do" something and the story in my head is that the "doing" is a way to justify existence and yet, therein lies the dilemma (and the frustration). There is no "doing" that achieves a sense of belonging and peace. The sense of being that I live with on a daily basis is that I am stirred up, unsettled and restless. Even in sleep, there is this phenomenon. Dreams are of being lost, of trying to get somewhere and great frustration. I can say there were two moments of clarity, during meditation retreats, when I saw the veil lift and the illusion of living/thought/selfness dissolve. There was great calm for a few moments both times.
I did feel a wave of relief--this "YES!" sense of rightness--when I heard my birthmother's voice on the phone and then when I saw her in person. This wasn't a sense of "rightness," it was more of a sense of "comfirmation." Something in me knew--and this was not rational at all--that she was out there and she sounded, looked, smelled, felt a certain way. When I spent time with her, I felt my system being bombarded with sensory confirmations that acted on my brain. It felt like doors could be closed in my nervous system. I was no longer waiting for the "right mother." She was there and my entire system got the message. I used to be searching for someone--a man or a woman or an experience--to fulfill me. After meeting my mother and being with her--the search ended. I have not looked outside myself for anything or anyone since. I lived like a person who lost something and couldn't stop searching. I don't live like that now.
But, I will be dishonest to say I am at peace and calm and feel "right." The brain has been trained and experience has been ingrained. That cannot be undone.
Meredith: In your opinion, is there a primal wound? Or are those words that try to capture something that perhaps the human race can feel as a whole, and not only the individual who was left behind?
JENNIFER: When I read the work of Nancy Verrier, who coined "Primal Wound," I had a deep sense of "yes, that is how it is for me," and then, "why did no one tell me this sooner?" I read her work very carefully but must admit, it was difficult to ingest in one sitting. It was painful to see myself so aptly described. She makes perfect, painful sense to me. So does the late B.J. Lifton, who wrote about adoption from Jungian and mythological views. But more so, Nancy Verrier. She is more practical and common sense and I just know, in my own gut that she has nailed what it is to be adopted.
I also understand the backlash against the label "Primal Wound" for some people (usually adoptive parents and birth mothers from my own experience). A strong negative reaction means a chord has been struck--something is being touched inside when we say "NO" and push things away. So, I find the negative reactions very interesting. And I also know that when we label anything, we miss the essence of it. Words are limiting. Language is limited.
I do not know what it is to be a "bonded human being" in the human family, or to belong to a tribe, a culture, a town, a home or to feel a sense of peace in my skin that is lasting. So to try to say all humans feel this primal wound, I cannot speak to that. I can only know myself and I believe that my sense of displacement and discomfort result from the loss of my original mother at birth. I also believe our violent separation became my first experience of welcome--which was no welcome at all.
And, through my own experiences, I have also witnessed how my son's similar birth circumstance resulted in restlessness. My son, born premature, was taken from me and treated with great violence by the medical professionals who followed established medical policies. This was a great tragedy for him. He was deprived of my nurturing touch and those essential moments of bonding that are a necessary part of the birth experience. He is a very different child than my second child--a daughter--who was never taken from me. She is a calm human being. He is reactive. She is peaceful. He is agitated. She has no learning challenges. He has struggled to learn. She has no issues with her brain, eyes or hearing. He has optical nerve damage that is credited to a brain injury (despite the fact he has had not had a head injury--his only trauma was our four-day separation). This is evidence enough for me. I find my son and I are much closer in temperament and reaction to the world. This is because we share a similar birth experience.
If there is great suffering in our culture which is one that medicalizes birth (for stunning profit) and turns it into a fear-based procedure where mothers and babies are separated during those first crucial hours post birth. You might call this the societal "primal wound." I would not apply this to all cultures, not all cultures take babies from mothers. I only know what is happening here, in the U.S., where I have been told we have the highest infant mortality rate of all the developed nations. We are a very barbaric culture, we harm our children from birth on and wonder why we are a nation at war inside our own skin and with the world. Look at the root to understand what grows from that root. And looking at how we birth is very important.
Meredith: How did you fortify yourself on all levels--body, mind, spirit--to keep moving forward during the greatest challenges?
JENNIFER: An outlet, from childhood to the point I began writing about my life, was vigorous exercise. This was way to let off steam in a socially acceptable way. The anger build up in my body, not really allowed or even understood, could dissipate with running, fitness classes, weight lifting and cycling.
After I started writing about my life and doing some therapy, the greatest soothing came from being in warm water. I soaked each day for many hours to give myself a sense of calm. I also had to nurse my son this way, he was also calmed by warm water. Adding salt to the water was a great aid.
Just before I found my birthmother, I did EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) and also took up knitting as a way to heal the trauma-based tracks in my brain. This required me to accept I had a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder type injury in my brain, which I denied vigorously for a long time. EMDR was very helpful but not lasting. Knitting provides some calm but again, not lasting. I find my brain is fast to shift into old patterns of hostility, anger, negativity, restlessness and self-loathing.
Once I found my birthmother and had that confirmation of her existence and some sensory interaction that allowed my brain to calm down a bit, I turned to yoga. I began with Hatha and Yin style classes and then moved to Vinyasa. I did yoga because, having met my mother, my nervous system calmed to such a point I became aware of the pain in my body and was curious how to alleviate that pain. By this time, vigorous exercise no longer worked. I had burned through my adrenal system and couldn't get sustainable energy. So yoga is all I do and I must do it every day for a lasting impact and for pain relief. I also do a 90 minute morning meditation practice as well.
Self care is extremely important. Self love/acceptance/compassion is also vital. I reassure and soothe myself a lot.
Meredith: How does one transcend or transmute an identity that has been built on/defined by loss?
JENNIFER: I'll let you know when I figure this out. But I suspect the thinking must change. The messages the mind sends internally, that voice in the head, can be relentless. I work very hard to change my thought patterns, notice when I am being hard on myself and question where those feels are coming from. I choose, consciously, to move towards love versus battle and that is within myself as well as in my reactions to the world. This, in a practical way, means I can get angry at my child for being disobedient or just unhappy (as children get) or I can stop myself, breathe, refocus and then re-contextualize. I can offer empathy, establish boundaries that serve us both and then move forward from that place. I can actually send out the message of love, that I love my child and my child loves me and all will be well. This is very helpful when it comes to calming the internal knee jerk responses.
My greatest, ongoing challenge, is in my interactions with other human beings. As I do not feel, at a core level, that I belong--so people are difficult for me. Meeting people causes anxiety. I am prepared, energetically, for something negative to happen--on guard--and this tension is calmed by the yoga and by breathing but those are both forced behaviors.
Meredith: How do you keep from abandoning yourself during the process of writing, and also during the years of your journey--between your two books? For me, for example, it can happen that when something hits an emotion, triggers something I may not even be conscious of that evokes pain, I might forget my true self--which creates panic etc, until I can recenter. Understanding this phenomenon has been very helpful. How do you reclaim yours?
JENNIFER: I did abandon myself in the course of writing, over and over again and when I say "abandon," I mean, I beat myself with negative messages of non-worth. I rejected portions of myself as well--just left that weak, innocent, carefree aspect of being a child behind and refused anything that seemed childlike or small. I built up a huge internal device of self protection--like a giant red snake that would attack at a moments notice.
In writing my four books, all about my life, I never gave up writing though. I stayed the course on the questions at hand because there was no other choice and no other comfort. The restless nature of my own mind and my chemistry was a good match with writing/revising/researching/questing and questioning. I needed to get to answers that felt like "the" answers to all of my questions and that need drove me forward. I did not look at my writing as a career, I considered it as a necessity--like food or water or air.
Now, having found my mother and having found the root of my own restlessness, I understand myself and my actions/reactions and take good care of myself as an ongoing process. I am done asking questions. I have "the" answers to all my questions about myself. There is some comfort in that. Although I am still restless and know my patterns, I accept I will not change to be this centered, whole, comfortable person who has a deep sense of belonging. The brain patterns are set. But I am also very familiar with the big red snake like protection I have created and have dismantled aspects of that in order to allow the more innocent, open, childlike qualities space in my life. I am the one who makes the choices about what I "do" and I have made a conscious choice to offer myself, my story and my method of self-knowing to the world as a way to give back and offer some insight/comfort. I choose to be hopeful, to have an ongoing positive relationship with my mother and to have positive relationships with all the people in my life. I choose my life--to keep living it--to be as happy as I can be. These are all ways to embrace the self.
Visit Jennifer's website for more about her.