Whose Child Is She? Well . . .

There has been a discussion on my blog's Facebook page about the importance of acknowledging the roots of our adopted children.  Here is a post (now updated) that I wrote exploring my thoughts on this issue two years ago:

It was early evening, and I was talking on the phone with my daughter’s birthmother, M.  We were discussing her plans to come visit us in Chicago for the first time.

A trip to Chicago would be no small feat for M and her kids.  They have never been on an airplane, never seen a big city, never done a lot of the things that we take for granted in a metropolitan lifestyle.

As we talked, M relayed the following conversation to me:

“I told a friend of mine that I was going to Chicago to see my kid.”

To which her friend replied, “She’s not your kid.  You gave her up for adoption.”

And M responded, “Well, it’s hard to explain.  It’s sort of like we share her.  Or I’m an aunt or a friend or something.”

I listened to M’s story and murmured, “It’s complicated.”

Oh, it is.  So very complicated.  Only those who are in an open adoption can understand how hard it is to define the role of the child’s birthmother.  No, she is not really an aunt.  No, she is not just a friend.  And no, we don’t share the child.

The birthmother’s role is really best defined as just that – a birthmother.  No other word can capture all the subtleties of that role, all the angst and beauty and insecurity and fear of being a birthmother.

M referred to K as “her kid.”  And you know what?  That’s okay with me.  Some people might be extremely threatened by that wording.  But I cannot deny that M carried my daughter in her womb for nine months, grew her and delivered her into my care.  K was her kid.  Now she is my kid.

But even though I am the mother, I cannot erase the birthmother’s history, nor would I try to.  In accepting M’s unique claim to K, I free myself from a lifelong battle of denial and insecurity.

When I heard M call K “my kid,” I tried to place myself in her shoes.  I was five months pregnant (with C) when M and I had that conversation, and I absolutely felt attached to the baby in my womb.  My pregnancies are never free of trauma, and just in that month, I had undergone two botched amnios.  Facing the possibility that I was carrying another sick baby was terrifying, but things worked out, and C joined the family.

I laid awake in bed the night after my conversation with M and imagined how I would feel if my beloved child were born but I could not keep her.  What if I were in M’s shoes, and I had to say goodbye to my baby?  Wouldn’t I still think of the child as mine, on some level?  I couldn’t pretend all those months of pregnancy would disappear from my consciousness.

Healing takes years, and M has not healed yet.  She always wanted and loved her baby, but she was unable to take care of her.  At the time K was born, her brother and sister had already been removed from the birthmother’s care and placed into protective custody.

M knew that K too would be placed immediately into foster care.  She loved her baby and wanted her to go to a permanent home, not to spend her life being dragged through the foster care system.  Her first and last unilateral decision as K’s mother was to place her for adoption.

M probably has moments when she feels that she is capable of parenting K.  But the harsh reality is that it is too late.  Adoption is forever, and K belongs with us now.  We have raised her; we love her; she loves us.

If I can offer M comfort by allowing her into K’s life, then I am okay with that.  And if I can offer K some answers about her background, then I will do it.  It is not always easy but it feels right.  It is a decision that I have made as K’s mother.

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  • fb_avatar

    I have an open line of communication with my son's birth mother as well and this article touched me deeply! Thank you SO much for posting it. I felt like this was something I had written because I understand all of what you are saying.

  • Paulette, I am so glad that you enjoyed the article and found it meaningful. It is wonderful that your son is still in your life! Carrie

  • Wow, a four-hanky blog you are writing there! I have to avoid taking breaks at work reading them. LOL. Best to all -- glad everyone is well and/or on the mend.

  • In reply to cruisincoast:

    Yes, the past month has had some emotional blogs! Cleo is healing well, thank you, and thanks for reading Portrait!

  • Kudos to you as always, Carrie, for being so considerate of M's feelings and always trying to put yourself in her shoes. Lately I have had a hard time, seeing Nina. I want her to love me the way she used to, intensely, back in the days when I WAS her mom - and the shift is sometimes hard to take. Luckily for me, Rayna sees that and has been gently prodding me, urging me to call Nina more, telling me how much she talks about me and misses me. We are seeing Nina this evening after a long, long gap of extended travel and time away from home and I must admit I am anxious about how Nina will receive us and how I will feel, despite our excited conversations over the phone.

    So I can see how M must have complex, mixed emotions too - but luckily for her, she has your empathy and support and, together, you two are giving Katie a wonderful gift. I am so grateful that Rayna feels she and I are doing the same for Nina. We can only make the decisions that feel right in our hearts, as parents, and hope that these girls are enriched by it.

  • In reply to jiyer:

    J, I am always astounded by your generous heart and your ability to adapt to an impossible situation. I will be holding you in my thoughts tonight and hoping that your reunion will bring you reassurance and joy. Please let me know how it goes. All the best, Carrie

  • In reply to Carrie Goldman:

    Well, she's home with us for the weekend, and seeing her after 2 months was absolutely spectacular and joyful. I cannot believe I built up all these anxieties in my head. Rayna was so warm and loving too...I can sleep tonight with a smile on my face. Thanks so very much for thinking of me!

  • fb_avatar

    This was beautiful. It takes an incredible woman not to feel threatened when her child's birth mother calls her child "my kid". Blessings on thee for being so secure and open.

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