In honor of November being National Adoption Month, Portrait of an Adoption is running a special series called 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days. Designed to give a voice to the many different perspectives of adoption, this series will feature guest posts by adoptees, birthparents, adoptive parents, waiting adoptive parents, and foster parents-turned-adoptive parents. Painful and beautiful, these stories will bring you a deeper understanding of what adoption looks like, allowing you to appreciate the many brushstrokes that comprise a family portrait.
My oldest daughter and I shared our first hug
By Amy Conn
Sixteen years ago, I gave up my first daughter for adoption. There are so many parts of that phrase I don’t like. “Gave up” and “adoption” being the main ones. What words would I use?
Something along the lines of: sixteen years ago I was psychologically confused and unprepared for adult life (like most twenty-one-year-olds) and happened to get pregnant in the middle of it...and I found a way through that gave my daughter a chance for a good life and that I could simply live with.
And I wish I wish I wish it hadn’t happened that way.
I recently ran in to my friend Carrie and shared that this summer I met my oldest child for the first time, knowing that she would appreciate the news. She immediately invited me to do a guest blog and I have been teary ever since. Not many people know I am a birth mother.
I tell people sometimes and don’t consider it a secret, but it feels like a big life story to bring in to casual conversation. I have another daughter who is now seven, so I’ve answered “yes” to the question “Is she your only?” hundreds of times out of expediency and it always breaks my heart.
Ours is a semi-open adoption, involving annual letters and pictures from my older daughter’s family and, as she has gotten older, letters from her as well. When she was thirteen, she and I slipped into e-mailing rather than snail mail, but I was never sure how much her adoptive parents were monitoring, and after a while her questions morphed from “what is your favorite movie,” to statements such as “sometimes I wonder what it would be like not to be adopted.”
At that point, I contacted her adoptive mother and we had our first phone conversation since the first week of our daughter’s life. The phone call was generally positive, resulting in clearer boundaries and a feeling that we all had our daughter at the top of our priority list, but it opened my eyes and heart to this whole complex web of family relationships.
In the adoptive mother’s voice, I heard wariness and vulnerability.
Wary of me, I thought? Of course, wary of me. Of course.
So this summer, when I received an e-mail from my older daughter saying “my mom might be calling you soon”, I wasn’t sure how excited to be. A week letter her mom sent a casual and friendly e-mail… “weʼll be in Chicago a couple of times this summer, would love to have lunch with you if you would like...”
The first opportunity was only a week away, and I was totally available. There was back-and forthing and we made our plan to meet in Millennium Park and walk around and get some food.
Both her parents were coming as was her elder sister in that family. I decided to bring along my younger daughter, who has known about her sister for some time and literally screamed at the top of her lungs with excitement when she found out about the meeting.
We drove to Millennium Park in our nicest summer skirts in virtual silence. I felt my 22nd-year-old pregnant self re-inhabiting my body, filling it with stress and shame, almost overwhelming shame.
Forget that I am now thirty-nine and generally sane and confident (generally) and practice both yoga and forgiveness whenever possible. I was afraid my daughter’s adoptive parents would patronize me in some way, afraid that I would be under examination. I didn’t even know what to be excited about in terms of meeting my daughter, she was so completely unknown.
My youngest and I waited at the fountain on the corner of Randolph and Michigan and after some quick texts about parking options, I turned around and they were there.
My oldest daughter and I shared our first hug, long and strong, during which my brain and heart and spirit shifted. I felt her and I smelled her and felt our mutual yearning and my narcissistic, childish anxieties dissolved.
My brain and heart sort of rolled around and all that ran through me was: “this is my child and I am her parent and she needs my love” - simple as that. In the meantime there was small talk - very gentle and considerate small talk on everyoneʼs part.
An inclusion of my seven-year-old in the conversation, a walk around the Gold Coast Art Fair, some pizza and an explanation of the finer points of the Tour de France. My eldest obviously looking for similarities to me and to her sister and finding them, both in personality and mannerisms and preferences.
We spent many hours talking about hobbies and school and interests and talents and whose noses are the same and who thinks math is fun… My daughters are full biological sisters and are fascinated with one another. Watching them talk from my seat across the table was one of the most peaceful experiences I’ve ever had.
Her adoptive parents and sister were easygoing and obviously committed to supporting all of us.
The visit ended with another long and intense hug; really long and really intense. So far, that’s it. A few gifts exchanged, a few follow-up “thank you so much for the visit” emails. A small release on the pressure valve of pent-up longing for one another.
And for me, a hopeful future full of opportunities to love her tangibly rather than intangibly.
By Amy Conn