The Importance of Being Met at the Gate

by Barbara Free

     When I fly to visit someone, or fly home from a trip, I want to met at the gate by someone. If I m flying on business, with no one expected to meet me, I deal with it just fine, but when I m looking for that familiar face, and it s not there, I am let down, and after a few minutes, I wonder if I ve been forgotten, or abandoned. This may not be rational thinking, but it is what happens to me. Because of my visual impairment, I sometimes have difficulty recognizing individuals from a distance, and my desire to be met at the gate is therefore stronger than it used to be.
     Since last September 11th, new regulations mean that I cannot be met at the gate by anyone. It happens that I have not flown since then. When I was planning for my son and daughter-in-law and granddaughters to come for Christmas, I realized we would not be able to meet them at the gate, and the thought made me sad. I had been looking forward to seeing my baby granddaughter coming out of the jetway, and there we d be waiting, cameras in hand. Meeting them clear outside of the security area didn’t seem nearly as exciting. I wondered why this was so important to me.
     Then one evening, I was watching a PBS program about fertility treatments and adoption. It followed a couple through their fertility problems and treatments and even genetic testing. Then came the birth of this much-wanted baby. Childbirth is always very moving for me, and I always recall the excitement of giving birth to the three sons I raised, and the sadness of giving birth to my first son, whom I relinquished. The sadness is not just about the relinquishment, but also about being medicated, not really able to participate actively in pushing him out, holding him, or even seeing him at the time. I watched the couple in the show, and their joy at seeing and touching their son for the first time.
     “We ve been waiting for you!” they said to him as he looked so intensely at them.
     I was suddenly in tears, as I realized that, when my first son was born, there was no one telling him they d been waiting for him. His adoptive parents had been waiting, of course, but they weren’t there. I was not given the opportunity to tell him anything. No one in that room was overjoyed. I felt such grief for him, watching that happy birth on television, grief for both of us that we didn’t have that joy, and grief for his adoptive parents that they couldn’t be there, either. There was no one to meet him at the gate, in other words.
     I have been comforted to learn that the doctor called his adoptive parents within minutes, and that they came to see him within a day. I carried his little face in my mind for over thirty years, after insisting I must at least see him, though I never got to touch him or hold him. Now, I get to see him frequently, but seeing a thirty-five-year-old man is not the same as seeing a newborn.
     Yes, he had a good life. Yes, I went on with my life, married, had three more sons, and you can bet I was not medicated for those births. Husband by my side, I breathed and I pushed and I welcomed them in a state of euphoria. But the absence of that welcome for my first son will always be there. I realize that in that day, and decades before that, most mothers were much more medicated than I was, totally unconscious in many cases, and some did not see their babies for as long as two days afterward, so it’s not just about relinquishment and adoption. We have two generations of society that have experienced this initial void. We have survived, but perhaps not thrived.
     For me, watching that scene and realizing exactly what we missed, my thoughts went immediately to the upcoming arrival, by plane, of my granddaughters, and my desire to meet them at the gate. It all came together for me at that moment.
     Everyone deserves to be met at the gate as their life in this outside world begins, and we deserve to have someone with us when we go through the other gate at the end of life. When adoptions are being planned these days, birth parents and adoptive parents are able to decide, at least part of the time, who will meet the child at the gate. It won’t eliminate all the sadness of relinquishment, but it can certainly make it a happier birth for the child and both sets of parents. Perhaps a lot of what has been referred to as the primal wound is as simple as not being met at the gate.

Excerpted from the April 2002 edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 2002 Operation Identity