Read this article from one mom who reflects on the joys and challenges of meeting the needs of her adopted daughter:
What I Know About Motherhood Now That I Am an Adoptive Mother
By Carrie Goldman
Read this article from one mom who reflects on the joys and challenges of meeting the needs of her adopted daughter:
What I Know About Motherhood Now That I Am an Adoptive Mother
By Carrie Goldman
Vanessa McGrady’s posting, The Birth Parents Move in, in the New York Times Motherlode Blog, both broke my heart and cracked me up. As I sat at my computer (ok, maybe I was in the loo looking at my iphone, it was 2 weeks ago, I can’t remember) reading the posting, I recognized myself in her writing. I voiced an inner “oh god” reading the first paragraph where she loaded her child’s birth parents into her car to rescue them from homelessness, their rabbit cage and all. Oh god, that’s not a good idea, oh god, I could totally see myself doing that, oh god, my therapist would think all her work was for naught if I did that, oh god, my kids would be so excited if their birth families moved in, oh god, bunnies stink. Oh god, Ms. McGrady sure summed up the complexity of adoption in just a few short light-hearted paragraphs.
I can relate to Ms. McGrady’s desire to help her daughter’s birth parents, to swoop in and lift them up. I have felt this same tug when I hear of setbacks, or unexpected turns in the road, for my daughter’s birth family members. In the past I have helped on a few occasions, none that involved a bunny moving in, and sometimes it worked out well and other times; the assistance was awkwardly given and uncomfortably received. In our open adoptions, I often come up against the complexities of family, fairness, justice, opportunity, love, privilege, loss, power, judgment and suffering when I feel the urge to help, especially when it isn’t asked for. Our adoption constellation is complex and even a simple thing like lending a hand requires deep consideration and reflection. However, I have come to accept that the greatest help I can give my daughter’s birth parents is to love, care for, and raise my daughters well, to become kind, loving, healthy and happy women.
I was thinking about Dad today. Yes, Father’s Day is this weekend but that’s not what brought him to mind. It was actually a Mother’s Day memory that made me think of him. One Mother’s Day, my sisters and I had created a really special gift for Mom. We bought her a ceramic basket and placed maybe 100 small pieces of paper in it. On each piece of paper we wrote something special about her. We gave her the basket and we took turns reading each one aloud.
Dad listened attentively at first. They were great memories and let’s face it; it was a pretty thoughtful gift. I imagine he enjoyed the stories and was probably proud of his daughters for coming up with the idea (which I think we stole from a magazine but still). After a while though, he started interrupting us. “Hey, I was part of that too” or “There are two parents in this family” etc. Laughing, we kept telling him, “Dad, it’s not your basket.” He didn’t think it was nearly as funny as we did, but he finally stopped interrupting us and let us finish.
Of course when Father’s Day rolled around that year, we did something similar for him. After his reaction, we had to. If there was anyone Dad would play second fiddle to, it was definitely Mom. But overall, that position was not his favorite spot in the band.
Truth be told, maybe we gave Mom credit for more stuff than we should have. She was the gold standard of mothers so it was easy to do. There’s the physical stuff – we credit her for all the blue eyes in the family, but Dad’s eyes were blue too. I started wearing glasses in third grade so mine were certainly courtesy of Dad. And there’s the non-physical stuff – I think Dad gave my brothers their work ethic, my younger sister her strong sense of justice, and my older sister, her all around goodness. His sense of right and wrong was a force to be reckoned with, and he passed that on to all of us.
When I look at K, it is her birth mother to whom I give thanks. A’s choices brought K to us and I will never forget that. But yet… I don’t remember A having sapphire blue eyes. K’s eyes are unforgettable. If A’s were like that, I know I’d remember. And it’s not just the stunning blue color; it’s the sparkle behind them that’s remarkable. I wonder if those are a gift from her birth father. What about K’s ability to remember the directions to anywhere she’s ever been? Or her innate ability to reach out to someone who’s lonely or sad? Those may have come from him. I’ve just never really thought much about it before. Huh… It may not have been his basket but he was part of it too.
So, on this Father’s Day, I will remember all the wonderful fathers I have known, like I always do. But for the first time, I will remember a particular high school boy who is now a grown man. I will think of him, and I will thank him for whatever he gave that made my girl the incredible person she is.
We tell a lot of stories in our family. Most of them are true, some are not. My girls fight to recognize when their dad is telling a true story, and when he’s just making up a fantastical fiction for them to enjoy. The girls still seem confused as to whether or not their dad rode a dinosaur to school when he was young. They seem better at guessing my truths and bluffs. I am not sure why, but it could be because I am the one who tells the stories with the hard truths and absolute facts (as I know them to be).
I often feel like I’m a witness in our own family court, and my girls are the determined lawyers wrangling the truth out of my testimony, in every last detail. I find it hard to separate the facts that I know, the feelings I have, the hunches, and assumptions which I have made over the years.
The girls especially love the stories where their dad or I (usually me) did something dangerous, or flat our stupid as kids. They love to hear how we got in trouble, ended up in the ER, or got sent to our rooms for what seemed like eons. One of their favorite stories is about the time I went off a jump on my bike and wiped out so hard that I ended up in the ER covered head to toe in bruises and scrapes. First, the story was loved due to the danger, blood, and guts (and that I didn’t have a helmet on!). Next, they loved hearing how embarrassed I was going to camp the next day, looking like a zombie fresh from the grave. Lately, they have fixated on the part when the nurses grilled me about what “really happened,” as they didn’t believe that my injuries were caused solely by my daredevil 9-year-old self.
I’ve told the girls this silly story (complete with viewing of the scars I still bear from that day) many times. It started for me as a cautionary tale about the need to wear helmets and to ride bikes safely, but it has morphed into many other tales according to the girls’ curiosity, and interest about the topic, players, setting, or plot of that fateful day. This story is an easy one for me to tell as it only involved me being a dumb kid, trying to show off to a bunch of my neighborhood friends. Thankfully, no permanent harm was done, no lives were lost, and the course of my life was not forever altered. The same cannot be said of all our family stories.
Our family stories, like the stories of any family I imagine, contain the joys, hopes and great loves of our family members. Our stories also contain the sorrows, fears, anger, and immense loss, which are the inherited lessons from our families of origin. We each have a birth story, we each have family who love us, and cherish us. The paths that brought the four of us together, to form our family, have taken many turns, some not of our own control, and have had joys and sorrows, love and loss along the way. These stories of love and loss, joy and sorrow, I tell like the bicycle story, focusing on the girls’ curiosity and interest. I want the girls to recognize themselves in our stories, and to see their role in our family reflected through the routes we’ve taken and the adventures we had. Hopefully, one day my girls will tell their own stories (hopefully with a helmet on) about their lives, and be able to understand the deep, meaningful connection that our family stories have to their sense of self, and belonging, in their own family.
I worry about my daughters. I worry about the usual mom things like their safety and well-being. I worry about them eating enough vegetables and fruit (they don’t!). I worry that they don’t get enough free play time in our busy schedule, enough adventures in the fresh air, and whether or not they’ll ever ride a two-wheeler without training wheels. (I hear there is a woman called the bike whisperer…She teaches them to ride in three lessons! I may need to call her soon).
I also worry about adoptive mom things like bonding, openness, self-esteem, relationships with their birth families, talking about adoption, loss, and sadness. I worry the adoptive mom worry, that no amount of love I give them could possibly fill the hole in their hearts left by the loss of their families of origin. I worry that any new unexpected behavior runs deeper than typical development, I worry it runs straight to the heart of their loss, and grabs on with vine-like tendrils which may be impossible to unwind.
These are the worries that keep me up at night, after one of my lil ones has awaken me with a need for water, or snuggles, or let’s be honest, a need for dry pj’s and a change of sheets. Instead of following my usual bedtime routine again of reading or more typically these days, listening to an audiobook, for a bit until I drift off to sleep, I find myself searching for answers to that day’s worries. I find myself playing the “what’s adoption-stuff and what’s just kid-stuff” game over and over in my mind. I despise that pointless game, and I don’t know why I play it, especially when it is an irresolvable question.
However much I dread the nighttime visits from the worry monster, I am also thankful for all my worries. I am thankful that my worries keep me thinking about our family life and my daughter’s well-being. I am thankful that my worries oblige me to reach out for help from teachers, friends, professionals, and most importantly family. I am even more thankful for the people in my life that are brave enough to listen to my worry, and even braver to ask uncomfortable questions and offer a kind word, or the possibility of taking a new path. I am most thankful that I have my two beautiful and courageous girls to fret my mother worries over each and every day.
Fifteen years ago, on Valentine’s Day, K’s birth mother chose us.
She picked us from our “Dear Birth Mother” brochure. I can’t remember what the proper name for the document actually was. It may in fact have been brochure. I know that’s what M and I called it. It was a booklet of text and pictures shown to potential birth mothers to help them decide if we were the right family for their baby.
I remember agonizing over its creation, trying to select the perfect pictures and just the right words. Not to mention the sheer difficulty of putting it all together in the era before digital pictures. We made fifty copies and waited.
While we waited, we went to pre-adoptive parent education classes. At first, my favorite part of the class was when new families brought their new baby/child and told the story of how they became a family. “That’s going to be us some day,” I’d think.
But not a single one of the first fifty potential birth mothers expressed any interest in us. We regrouped. We took a vacation to San Francisco. We changed our picture on the brochure cover and made some more copies. I didn’t love the babies coming to class as much. As much as I hate to admit it, as much as it makes me seem petty and small, I couldn’t help but think “why them and not us?”
Until Valentine’s Day, 1998, when she chose us. She liked our picture on the cover. She said we looked nice. We talked on the phone and we emailed. She got to know us better and still thought we were nice. Two months later K was born and we became a family. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of K’s birth mother and thank her for that.
And on the fifteen anniversary of my very best Valentine’s Day, I also give thanks to all the women who didn’t choose us. I was once told, “The soul of the child that was meant to be yours will find you.” I don’t know if that’s always true but I know my child found me. She just needed me to wait for her.
A few weeks ago, an inquisitive first grader, with adorable crazy curls, wearing a tousled outfit (reminds me of myself at that age) walks into her kitchen during Daisy Scouts, and overhears me talking to her mom about our family. The Inquisitive first grader then asks me what adopted means. “We’re an adoptive family; I’m her adoptive mom, or everyday mom. She also has a birth mom who gave birth to her.” I explain a bit more about adoption and how it is for our family, then she announces “that’s sad” and says “who’s her real mom?” I of course laugh it off, and tell the now slightly bothersome, yet still adorable, first grader that neither of us is imaginary, that we are both real moms. Then she avoids my eyes, spying some cookies up on a high shelf, asks her mom for some, and heads back to the scout meeting. Her mom and I gave each other that, “Yup, that’s first graders for you” look and moved on with our conversation.
I rather enjoyed my conversation with the inquisitive first grader, she’s a kid I really like, and I appreciate her frankness. I am also amused that we made it all the way to first grade before anyone asked about my oldest daughter’s “real” mom. We are lucky to live in a pretty progressive place, in an enlightened age, and to have many different family make-ups in our daughter’s school, in our community, and in our church. We have always felt welcome and accepted in our community, and most importantly felt like a “real” family.
With all that said, we do still work on keeping appropriate adoption speak and realistic images of adoption present in our life, most in particular in our girls school. This week, my oldest daughter will be sharing a book with her class, which she and I made, about her adoption story. My husband and I will join her in class to help with the presentation, and to guide, or deflect, any conversation or questions her classmates may have. We will also be bringing in a few of our favorite picture books about adoption for the class to borrow, and some photographs of our family, including some of our daughter’s birth family to share with the kids. Hopefully our story will teach the kids how real we all are, and that the most important thing about our adoption is how real the love is that our daughter has from all her parents.
In a few weeks, I am going to attend a presentation on genealogy. I have always wondered where my ancestors came from, what did they do for a living, and the overarching interest in finding out what tie there is between who I am now and my past. I have been blessed to have had the benefit of grandparents who lived until their 80’s and 90’s and my husband’s dad is in his 90’s. We have had conversations and learned of some of our family history but it isn’t enough. I want to learn more.
However, this raises many feelings about what happens when my son and daughter start having similar interests. We have some basic history on their birth parents…..on birth mom’s side, we know that there is a sister who, too, was adopted and now lives in California, a brother down in Texas, and a sister in Florida. Our twins also have three nephews…one lives with his great-grandmother in Kentucky, one was placed with an adoptive family and the other lives with his mother (Bruiser & Princess’ sister). We know that their birth mom lived in Las Vegas as of a year ago. Their birth dad is a merchant marine based out of Florida and he has a son, who, also, calls Florida home. Most of our twins’ birth family is geographically spread out and moves quite a bit.
I realize that the whole genealogy thing is hard for everyone……..constantly going down paths that lead to dead ends….but then one little piece of the puzzle connects to another, and another to yet another and so on. I wonder when my twins will have the curiosity to seek out their genealogy. Will it be in 10 years………will it be later? What will their genealogy tree look like?
Far more complicated than ours……….but no less important and vital to their understanding of who they are.
Bruiser –you are my son. Princess – you are my daughter.
Although you were not born from my belly,
Although your family tree will have a few more branches on it,
Although the roots may be a distance apart,
Our leaves reach up to the same sky, seek the same sunshine, and breathe the same air.
Over the last six months in my household, we have been reliving the joy
of those sleepless nights caring for our daughters as newborns. Literally, as my
oldest would say. My husband and I have been awakened many times a
night by our youngest, needing us like she did at five weeks old, to cuddle
and soothe her, despite the fact that she is five years old. It’s been hard
on us all, well me mostly, as I sleep closest to the door. My youngest flies
open our bedroom door and lets the bright hall light shine in my eyes,
which are shut tight, hoping it’s all part of a dream. Like most parents I
know, sleep is a delicacy which I look forward to indulging in each night.
I had imagined that after my youngest slept through the night at three
months old, that my next sleepless nights would come sometime in the
teenage years, when she willingly broke curfew and was up to no good. Oh
man, was I off by a decade!
My daughter’s sleepwalking, which was funny when it started last spring,
with her appearing at night hovering over her sister in bed, has morphed
into full-blown insomnia. While I’ve been so sleepless, I have been
prowling on Google for answers to my youngest’s insomnia, which has led
to my own iPhone induced insomnia. As I lay in bed, awake at 2:00am,
I find myself drifting from the wisdom of the Mayo Clinic, and off into a
wormhole of my own creation.
My searches are often for my daughters’ birth family members whom I do
not yet know. Perhaps, one downside to living in our open adoptions, is
the immense amount of information I have collected, sometimes only tiny
bits, about different family members on our daughters’ birth family’s sides.
I know most of the names on both of our girls’ family trees, at least back to
their great grandparents, but I don’t know much beyond their basic data.
Some family members I know only their nickname, or part of their name.
I search to complete the puzzle to who these people are, and how they fit
into our family.
Usually, my search comes to a screeching halt, either by the limits
of Google to read my mind in the middle of the night, or due to my
realization of the fruitlessness of these searches. I suppose that’s why
my genealogical scavenger hunts are reserved to the sleepless nights, to
the times when my brain doesn’t know any better, than to search for the
answers to questions I do not yet know.
I wonder, what is the question I am searching for. Is it; who are these
people who run through my daughters’ DNA, what part do they play in our
family’s life, or where does my oldest get her love (ok, lust) for Cantaloupe?
These are the questions that may seem important, but they are also
questions that I can easily find answers to, by asking my daughters’ birth
moms and families. I think the question I am searching to answer to is why.
I want to know the why of their adoption stories. Why is the question I will
not be able to answer for my girls. Why is the question that I think haunts
me, late at night on my insomnia induced internet searches. How can I one
day shepherd my girls on their own journey, to answer the question, Why? I
have no idea, and neither does Google.