Back to the Beginning

Maya on her birth country visit I went back for my 7th birthday. My mom and dad planned what was supposed to be one of most memorable trips of my life. We had plans to ride camels in the desert, see the Taj Mahal, ride on rickshaws everywhere, and visit the orphanage where my biological grandmother dropped me off when I was born. No one knew this trip back to India would be a nightmare.

Although there wasn’t a sit-down conversation where my parents ceremoniously gave my sister and me envelopes with plane tickets to India, I do remember the fear I felt for weeks after hearing we would be going on the trip. One night my mom and dad did what they always did; They read me a story, then turned out the lights and said, “Goodnight Maya, we love you.” They kissed me on the forehead and left the room. As usual, as soon as my head hit the pillow I was out for the night. No one woke me up until it was time for breakfast. But something was different about this night – I had a nightmare, and the fear from it didn’t last a day, it lasted for months.

The streets were crowded with people, smoke in the air, rickshaws so close together and people yelling every which way. I was scared. I thought to myself, why would my parents leave me here? What did I do wrong?

Big giant feet shook the world, like an earthquake. These feet were the feet of my parents. I could see myself in their arms. They took one step and they were at the orphanage. I was silent in fear. Their hands placed me on the back-courtyard porch. I grabbed onto the railing, scared for my life. Tears dripped down my cheeks. I watched as the big giant feet walked away, leaving me in the dust. I was surrounded by a language I didn’t know, people who were strangers, abandoned again.

I woke up to the voice of my mom. “It’s time for breakfast,” she said. I woke up relieved that it was all just a bad dream. I went to school, learned how to multiply, ate round pizza at lunch and played on the playground. Life was good. It wasn’t until I came home, surrounded by all of my toys, when the nightmare resurfaced. I looked around my room….I had a play kitchen – with plastic food. I had a toy car collection, and my soccer clothes in the hamper. I wondered what would happen to all of my toys when I left. For my whole childhood my dad and I had shared a joke: One day I tried to run away. (What kid doesn’t?) I packed a rolling suitcase and held onto my favorite stuffed animal. I put my boots on and started my journey up the dirt road. The wheels of my suitcase kept getting stuck on rocks as I walked away from the house. Dad opened the door, “Maya… what are you doing?” I replied, “I am running away!” Dad said, “Can I have your toys?” I stopped in the road, picked my suitcase up over a rock, and rolled it home. I couldn’t leave my toys!

Maya on her birth country visitI wondered how I was going to pack all of my toys… all of the things I loved and couldn’t live without. There were no moving boxes in my house, and I only had my small yellow and red rolling suitcase. I tried to think of what I wanted to pack most, but the list was endless – I felt hopeless and scared. I was sure the trip to India was because they were going to return me and I was sure my dad was going to get to play with all of my toys back home.

Weeks went by, and the nightmare played like a broken record as my fears grew bigger. I never said a word to my parents. What would I even say? Mom, Dad are you going to leave me in India? I guess that question was easier to ask in my head than out loud. I didn’t want to hear the answer I feared.

Maya on her birth country visitThe day came to board the plane. We drove all the way to New York City, only to realize the plane was flying out of Boston. We got back in the car and just barely made the flight. I wish we missed the flight. Then they would have to keep me. We landed in India. The streets were packed, and the air was foggy. Just like in my dream. We visited landmarks and ate Indian food. We rode elephants and camels in the desert. But even during all of these fun activities I kept wondering when they were going to leave me. We went back to the orphanage where everyone was very welcoming. I held a baby and saw the crib both my sister and I had slept in as babies.

I survived the journey. I made it back home to all of my toys.

Years passed and the trip to India came up in a conversation with my mom. My mom remembered how miserable I was, how difficult I had been at times during the trip. It wasn’t the first time she had asked, but she asked me why I had such a bad time in India. It wasn’t until that day, years after the trip, that I said, “Because I thought you were going to leave me there.” Tears dripped down my mom’s eyes as I took a deep breath. She had no idea, no one did. I told her everything after that.

It has been 20 years since my nightmare and 20 years since my visit to India. Not until recently had I ever considered visiting India again. But, I have been thinking about it. I have been thinking about what it would be like to go back as an adult, with a clear understanding that I will come home to my toys. I wonder about my birth family and think about what it would be like to be surrounded by people who look like me. I question what I want from the trip, and what I need to feel safe in my emotions. Birth country trips can be emotional. Going back to my beginning and seeing what life could have been, this is something to prepare for.

At Boston Post Adoption Resources, we talk about birth country trips and how to prepare for them. Do you expect to meet birth family, or is the trip mainly intended to explore the country where you were born? What do you want from the trip? How much time do you want to spend? What can you do when you need space to process emotions that may come up? Who will you travel with? Do your travel companions understand the complexity of the trip? Have you told your children that they will be coming home with you after the trip is over? These are just a few of the questions that are helpful to think about when planning.

It is my goal in the upcoming year to think about these questions and plan a trip back to India, back to my beginning. I invite you on this journey with me, as I explore it through digital media.

Written by Maya Rogers-Bursen
Boston Post Adoption Resources

About Maya Rogers-Bursen, LMHC, Expressive Therapist

Maya Rogers-Bursen, LMHC, ATR, Expressive Therapist, is a clinician at Boston Post Adoption Resources. To read her bio, please visit BPAR's Team page.