Today is my oldest daughter’s birthday. She is nine years old. I didn’t give birth to her, which always astonishes me a little bit when we celebrate her birthday. Sometimes I think of all the millions of random events that had to come together in just the right way for Katie to become my daughter.
It was a long and winding path that started with pain and sadness: our loss of baby Matthew, and the subsequent knowledge that we were carriers of a lethal gene, which made us too frightened at that time to embark on another pregnancy; Katie’s birthmother’s loss of custody of her two older children due to serious social issues at home, and the knowledge that when her new baby (Katie) was born, she too would be immediately placed into foster care.
We were two grieving families muddling through tragedy, each mired in daily desperation. We lived in two different states, but when you got right down to it, we may as well have lived on two different planets. The things that came easily to Andrew and me – social stability, strong support systems, financial security—were missing in Katie’s birthmother’s life. The things that came easily to her – the conception, carrying and delivery of healthy babies—were missing from our life.
The birthmother’s financial situation played the least significant role in Katie’s adoption. The birthmother did NOT lose custody of her kids because she was poor. She lost custody of the kids due to unsafe social interactions in her life that were endangering her children. I bring this up because I am fully aware that there are people out there who are critical of the institution of adoption, portraying it as an evil practice whereby rich people swoop in and take the babies from poor women. That certainly was not the case in our adoption, or I wouldn’t sleep at night.
So there we were, the birthmother and I, each waking up to an empty house. My baby was gone, never to return. Her kids were in foster care, not to return for many months. The birthmother wanted a better life for the baby that would be coming soon, a baby that would go directly from the hospital into protective custody. We didn’t know each other. We didn’t even know OF each other. But there we were, hurtling towards each other in space and time. When we chanced to cross paths, we each found an answer to our prayers. Out of wrenching sadness, we each chose hope. Hope in the form of a tiny little girl named Katie.
After several months in foster care, Katie finally came home with us. The birthmother was able to focus on getting her older kids back home, which took a long time and a lot of hard work. We were able to focus on bonding with our new daughter, and each day with her eased the emptiness that had settled so heavily in our apartment.
The questions from strangers began almost instantly, as to why baby Katie looked so different from us. Although we are the same race, we look very different, and people were openly curious about whom in the family she resembled. I became aware of how strongly many people search to see genetic resemblances among families. We were a confusing sight for those people.
As the years have passed, there are times when I look at my daughter, and I marvel that somehow, out of all the people on this planet, we found each other. Because we have an open adoption, I have a very clear sliding door image of what her “other life” might have been. It is strange how it will hit me sometimes that Katie was adopted. Many adoptive parents like to say that to their children, “You did not grow in my belly; you grew in my heart.”
But with Katie, it feels as if she grew in my soul. Someplace more profound than my body, someplace more intangible. When she was a baby, I was very consumed with the idea that Katie was mine. Maybe it was an adoptive mother’s insecurity (knowing that she wasn’t completely mine, since she undeniably has a birthmother who loves her).
But as Katie gets older and her strong personality continues to grow, I am reminded that she isn’t mine. Nor is she her birthmother’s. She does not belong to anyone but herself. She is her own amazing person, and I love her with every fiber of my being. She is a passionate, special child, and I cannot imagine the family without her.
Happiest of ninth birthdays to the girl who made me a mommy, and thank you to her birthmother for choosing us to be her parents, out of all the adoptive parents you could have chosen. We honor you today and every day.