As I write I realized that when I hit publish on this, it will be my 100th post on this blog. So it is fitting that I return here to a long ramble about being an adoptive mama.
I am lucky to have made the virtual acquaintance of several wonderful, smart, writing moms through this blogging world. Sarah, author of Standing in the Shadows, honored me by linking laura writes– to her blog the other day– referring to me as someone who writes about adoption. So after weeks of writing only about the important events in Wisconsin, I take this time to think and write specifically about being a mom whose daughter came to us by adoption.
The fact that my daughter came into our family through adoption is on the one hand irrelevant to me as a parent and on the other hand, completely central and significant. It is not something about which I am explicit in my writing all that often. I write more about the things I see and learn as a Jewish mom, lesbian mom and as the white mom of a child of color. In our case, being a transracial family arose in the context of adoption.
Adoption is irrelevant in my parenting life in these ways; I am my daughter’s mom. My partner is her mom. I could not love her more or be closer to her if she had been born from my womb. She is a blessing, a pleasure, a miracle and a person– full of life and full of challenges and I love being her mom. Figuring out the big issues, like how to be close, what kind of education she should get, playdates, activities, setting limits, getting healthy food on the table, sleep at night, and keeping order in the house, but not too much order–those are the same big issues that any parent wrestles with every day and I am thoroughly bonded to my sisters in motherhood, adoptive or biological motherhood– in all of those efforts.
What is not at all irrelevant is that my daughter’s adoption was a radical event in her life– which shapes her world view, her fears, her sense of belonging and lack thereof, her sense of her friendships, her sense of herself in the world. And my job as a parent is to listen, to understand that, to not deny her experience, but to hear her out and to think for myself and to help her face what she needs to face, help her make sense of that radical event and help her to heal, now and throughout her life, from the hurts and losses and confusions that were part of this package for her.
First and foremost, my daughter had a life before she came to land with us. She was 12 days old when we met and she came “home” with us (first to an Embassy Suites hotel in the city in Texas where she was born). She was only four days old when we were identified as the family who would soon adopt her– and we talked to her foster mom every day for the eight days between when we were “matched” with each other and we actually took her in our arms, said goodbye to her foster family and began our lives together. (We actually didn’t say goodbye to her foster family as abruptly as many adoptive parents do– but that story is for another post.)
Our adoption and her situation, by choice of her birth mother– is that hers was a closed adoption and we have no contact and have never had any contact with her birth mother or birth father. This was not our choice, nor would it have been our preference. I went to some extraordinary length to ensure that we could get a copy of her original birth certificate, which we now have so that she can, whenever she asks or when she becomes an adult even if she does not ask– have the chance to decide at different times in her life, about whether to try to contact her birth mother.
But in my world view, twelve days old or younger isn’t too young for the life she had and the heritage she was born into– to matter. Nor is it too young for the loss of those specific relationships and of that heritage, to be a loss. In her life, the fact that she was adopted rather than born into her family matters. And so it has to matter in my life as a mother.
I will say a few other things; one that I have written about and a couple that I have not. My daughter is one of six children (as far as I know). She has three siblings who are being raised by her birth mother and two siblings younger than she. Each of her two younger siblings was placed for adoption after she was– not with us and not with each other. The family of her younger brother, when they learned of us, chose, as did we, contact with us. The other family has chosen, at least so far, not to have contact with us.
We learned about the two younger siblings many years after each younger child was born and many years after I had started asking our adoption agency whether there had been younger siblings born to her birth mother. The ethics of the agency’s decision about the separate placement of each of these three siblings and the complexity of all of our feelings about all of this, are also subjects for another time. None of this is simple emotionally. But I know that all three children are in good, healthy, loving homes and the rest is history; is what happened.
Our deep and growing relationship with her brother and his wonderful family is not without effort–trying to blend distance, busy schedules, differences in priorities and all the rest.
But the thing is this. I can see that her life is different; it is better now that she has her younger brother than it was before. I see very clearly that having the chance to locate herself in her own mind, as a person in the world who was born to someone like every other human being, and who has biological family, like every other human being– seems to have given her a larger anchor– greater confidence and ease in herself and her world. I have read several accounts about girls adopted from China into white families, whose parents also felt their daughters gained this sense of place, of anchor– after a long return visit to/ stay in China.
I know that every child who loses one family and gains another through adoption is different, one from another. I know of many young people who feel longings for their birth parents, their birth mothers in particular. My daughter has never expressed that longing, though we have always talked openly and I think very lovingly about her being adopted and about her birth family. We have talked a lot about her birth mother (about whom I know quite a lot, though we’ve never had contact) and birth father who was less forthcoming with our agency and so about whom we know less. She has asked several times to see a picture of her birth mother (which I do not have), but she has hedged and changed the subject — when asked if she would want to meet her.
It was when she was about five, that I felt she had enough grounding in biological reproduction and how that all works, and I felt she understood enough about adoption for real, that I told her for the first time that she had three older siblings. All being parented by her birth mother. These kin, she longed for. She learned what we knew of them; their first names. Their ages. She spoke of them. She asked about them. She asked if she could meet them. If strangers asked her if she had brothers and sisters she would say that she did, she had three, but they didn’t live with her.
One day, weeks after I told her about her older siblings for the first time, she brought them up while we were walking home one summer night, from a playdate at the home of a good friend of hers, also adopted. She asked me things about her siblings and their home with her birth mother that didn’t seem to me to be terribly heavy for her, but were important to her as she continued to try to have a picture of her complex, spread-out family. I answered what I knew and told her I didn’t know the rest.
I asked her gently– a little gingerly, but directly, if she ever wondered why she didn’t also live in their household with them. I wanted her to be able to tell me this, even if she didn’t know how to ask it. She smiled a big, knowing smile at me– a look she gives me still when she thinks I am overthinking something.
And her words to me, with a very knowing and final tone, at five, were “Let’s not go there, Mama.” We have gone there from time to time. But more than she seems interested in reconstructing the why of how she left her birth family and landed in this one, more than that, she wants people— family— a big moving wave of people– her two moms, her brother and his moms, her aunt in particular, four of the cousins she has in our two families (my partner’s and mine), our neighbor up the street and her three sisters, the son of one of my closest friends here and the son of my friend in Wisconsin, whom she refers to as her cousins, our very close Mexican immigrant friends and their two daughters, and their extended family, my friend L. and her husband and their two teenage daughters who we also consider her cousins and our nieces, her two grandmothers, and others.
Do I think she has some big struggles related to adoption? I do. But what she seems to have done with adoption and being part of a lesbian family is to say, “I go with this… I can choose who is mine and I choose a lot of you.” There are big tears at different times. She has said “you’re not my real mom” while crying hard about something that I or my partner did that hurt her feelings. When she is most deeply scared and upset she will cry and cry “I want to go home”. This is heartbreaking for me and also a gift– I assume she carries a deep feeling of having lost her home and that is one of the things she tries to bring up to the light and heal at different times.
I assume I will continue to understand and to learn more about the places of loss and heartbreak. I hope I will be not just loving but helpful. But she has a great mind and has used adoption and our lesbian family as the model for some things we could all use to learn about. And my guess is she will most likely build a family someday, that hopefully I will get to be a big part of; a family that looks like none you or I have ever quite seen before.