In honor of November being National Adoption Awareness Month, Portrait of an Adoption is hosting the fourth annual acclaimed series, 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 people with widely varying experiences.
By Joann Deiudicibus
My name is Jessica Lynn. I weighed 4 lbs. and ½ an ounce at the time of my sallow birth. I was hypocalcemic, even though my fair-haired mother, “an active, healthy girl,” drank a gallon of milk a day, and loved to eat vanilla yogurt while she was pregnant. I was discharged after twenty-one days. I lived inside of my mother for thirty-two weeks. She was in labor for nearly thirty-three hours. We almost died.
My name is Baby. I have several adolescent foster siblings and am accustomed to a dog in the house. I am not fussy. I sleep with the door open or closed, with the lights on or off. I like baths and shampoos. Someone writes that I have one fear: to be naked. I have a nasty temper when I am hungry. I am a good eater. I won’t be here for long.
My name is Baby Girl D, or Amber, or Josephine, like three of my grandmothers, or Christopher if I were a boy. My mom received a phone call on December 5, 1977, when I was three months old, that I was going to be her blue-eyed daughter. She called my father, who said nothing and hung up the phone.
Three days later, we met. I was not allowed to come home for another day. My mom said, “That one day felt like an eternity to me. I waited almost nine years for that day, so I suppose one more day wasn’t so much to ask…”
My name is Joann, or Jo, Squeek, or Joanny. I love to make up stories and songs, and play with My Little Ponies or Barbie dolls. I love to run across the muddy yard, or swim until my fingers prune and my eyes burn from chlorine. I read by nightlight when I am supposed to be asleep. I hide cookies wrapped in napkins in my top dresser drawer. I have night terrors and scream myself awake, or, sometimes, I walk in my sleep.
I think I can talk to animals, that they can communicate their stories through me. I somersault on my parents’ bed when no one is around to tell me it’s dangerous. I talk too much, and, then, I get in trouble at school. I read my mother’s journal in her nightstand because I love the story of my adoption. I love how my parents told it to me even more: that they chose me from all the babies in the cabbage patch because I was and am special.
I forget I am adopted most of the time.
I am seven years old and in the grocery store with my mother. Suddenly, she’s gone when I look up. (I must have been too busy counting tiles or jumping over the cracks in the floor to notice she’s turned down the bread aisle). I look around a few times, my straight, fine, dirty blond hair swishing back and forth. No one.
Scurrying like a chipmunk, I scan the faces of tall strange women who look back and can tell I am lost. I inspect their features, and, every so often, I think, Are you my mother? A nice woman with a tan wool coat stops and says, “Do you need help finding someone, dear?” My mother thanks her for returning me and tells me to stay close. She continues her shopping, and I make mischief. I steal the penny and nickel candies when she is not paying attention. I think the produce guy knows…
I love going to visit my maternal grandparents. I am the first grandchild, so I am kid royalty. My grandmother makes the best snacks, like Ritz crackers with peanut butter, or with cream cheese and jelly. My grandpa lets me sit on his lap while he mows the lawn, my own backyard carnival ride.
I feed the birds some peanuts and stay up late to watch television. My grandma always has Oreo cookies and milk for me. My grandfather takes me to the bakery, and we watch as men make Kaiser rolls. We take home a dozen warm bagels and rolls to share with my uncles and grandma. Food is love.
I have one family: my mother’s side. I have never really felt dissimilar from them. I am different, but not so much that I feel like I am not a part of them. People say I am like my youngest uncle, creative and moody. They say I resemble my doe-eyed, Irish cousin.
They say I look and sound a lot like my mom. I have light hair and eyes. She has brown hair and eyes. We both like animals and reading, only I’m neat and she’s messy. I talk too much and she likes to keep things inside. My maternal grandfather, now deceased, was not her biological father.
Why does no one speak of this?
I recall that my father has black hair and brown eyes, although I have not seen them for a while. He was adopted, too. My Italian grandparents on his side always seemed old and sick to me, even when I was a little girl.
After my parents’ separation, I had little contact with them; my mother stopped speaking to them because they always protected and lied for my father. I wish they were not dead so I could talk to my grandma about why and how they adopted my father. I wish I could ask him what it is like for him to be adopted.
I have one birthmother. She called me at work in March 2009 and asked me if I was sitting down, which I was. She lives alone and has no other children. She is creative, musical, moody, and obsessed with animals.
We are remarkably —no, frighteningly— similar in personality. We can talk about almost anything; she is forthright about her emotions, her past addictions, and her selfless choice to relinquish me. She was adopted, too, as was her brother. She does not know anything about her birth parents. Her adopted parents died in 2004 and 2009. Not everyone in my family knows that she found me, or that we talk and that we have met.
My mother’s face paled when I told her about the phone call, but she tried to be supportive. When I attempted to explain that this new relationship did not change my feelings for her or my family, she replied softly, “You would never understand, unless you had a child of your own.” She does not respond when I bring up my birthmother, which I rarely do out of respect for her.
What I know: my mother has sacrificed much to raise me as a single mother–she loves me. Her silence grows a wide and dry continent between us; her heart is unmapped. Why am I afraid to talk to her more about this and to tell the rest of my family? I can’t protect my mother from her own conflicted feelings forever.
After speaking to my birthmother for over five years now, I realize that I want to have a better relationship with my adopted family, especially with my mother. I’d love to remove the generational and personal shame that cloaks her experience, and to cultivate our relationship, which never transitioned with me into adulthood.
I also want to try to develop a more consistent relationship with my birthmother, who sometimes treats me like an old friend, but not her daughter, because we did not grow together with a parent-child dynamic.
These two women, so drastically different in their emotional needs, communication styles, and personalities, have both endured great loss, and are both responsible for my life, well-being, and success today.
I may never be brave enough to be a mother like my mothers have been, but if I decide to birth or adopt a child, I hope to tell her this story—she, too, was chosen and is deserving of an unyielding love that writes this authentic ending: one family, many faces.
Author’s note: some of the details about baby Jessica come from a schedule and notes from the foster parents.
Joann Deiudicibus lives, writes, and teaches in New York’s scenic Hudson Valley. Her poems have appeared in WaterWrites: A Hudson River Anthology, A Slant of Light: Contemporary Women Writers of the Hudson Valley (Codhill Press), and in the Shawangunk Review. Her research interests include creativity, mental health, and composition, body and gender studies, and twentieth century American poetry, particularly the work of Anne Sexton.
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