In honor of November being National Adoption Awareness Month, Portrait of an Adoption is hosting the fifth 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 Anne Sawan
There are some stories in life that we tell our children over and over. Favorite books, old fairy tales. Books that hold messages and lessons we want to pass on. Stories that have meaning, that matter to us.
I was driving in the car with my seven-year-old daughter. It was a warm summer night, just the two of us, a wide-open evening full of possibilities and fireflies. After camp she usually likes to tell my stories about her day, about the arts and crafts they created, the games they played, but this day she was quiet and I thought she must be tired from a long day. She certainly looked like she had been busy: her hair a mess, her sneakers scuffed, her knees dirty.
It was just the two of us that evening, my other children scattered about at various friend’s houses to swim and eat hamburgers. I asked her what she wanted to do with our free time together.
“Can we go to the mall and get some sushi and Legos?”
It was always the same answer.
As we meandered down the road I glanced in the rear view mirror. She was staring out the window, a serious look on her face, her lips moving slightly as she muttered something quietly to herself.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Nothing,” she said, her eyes looking away, her finger tracing a path against the glass.
There was a beat of silence and then, “Mom, I know someone else who
“Yes, he is at camp.”
I nodded, “How do you know he is adopted?”
“I heard him tell someone.”
“Did you tell him you were adopted too?”
We drove along. Each lost in our own thoughts for a few moments. I wondered why she had brought it up, about this other camper. Having no real inkling about what to say next, but knowing there was something there, hidden in her words, I casually asked, “If someone at camp were to ask you what that other camper meant by adoption, what would you say?”
My daughter shrugged, her finger still smudging an imaginary track against the window. “I guess I would say, it means someone had you but they had to get rid of you, so your mom and dad got you.”
Get rid of you?
I pulled into the mall parking lot, my heart thumping.
My beautiful, sassy, silly, sweet, wonderful daughter thought someone just… got rid of her?
I turned around. “Honey,” I said. “Your birth mother didn’t just get rid of you, she loved you.”
My daughter stared at me, her brown eyes growing wide, her hand falling away from the window.
My mind swirled.
Hadn’t I told her?
Hadn’t I told her, her adoption story a million times?
Hadn’t I told her something like this:
You didn’t grow in my tummy, you grew in your birthmother’s tummy, but she couldn’t keep you, I am not sure why. But your dad and I wanted you soooo much so we flew far across the deep ocean and over the tall mountains, picked you up, wrapped you in a soft pink blanket, flew back across the big ocean and over the mountains where everyone was waiting for you and we had a big party full of love and kisses and cake!
Did I say, “I’m not sure why, but she she loved you very much”
Did I say, “I’m not sure why, but she loved you very much and it must have been very difficult for her to say goodbye.”
I must have.
My child’s beginning is unknown. I don’t know the reasons why her birth mother couldn’t keep her and I realized that in telling her, I try to breeze quickly by that part, the beginning. It just seems tricky and messy and fraught with such hard questions and deep sadness that I hurry through, telling my daughter instead a story of a kisses and cake and a soft pink blanket that enveloped her with love; shielding her from sorrow.
I so want that story to be enough. For our love to be enough…but it can’t be, because it’s not her story.
When we open a book, we don’t just jump into the middle. We need to have an understanding of where the story begins, and my daughter’s beginning, although difficult, is just as important as any other; a beginning that doesn’t start with my love, but with the extraordinary love of another person. A love that while complicated shouldn’t just be casually rushed over. A love that deserves to be talked about slowly and carefully and with respect. A love like a cherished old book on the shelf, that can be revisited over and over again.
So I took a deep breath and slowly, slowly I spoke,
“Sweetie, I don’t know why your birth mom couldn’t keep you but I do know that she didn’t just get rid of you. Maybe she was too young to have a baby, or maybe she didn’t know how to be a mom yet but she loved you very, very much; and she did the hardest and bravest thing a mom could ever do and found you a place where she knew you would always be safe and where she knew there would be a family that would love you as much as she did.”
My daughter stared, her brown eyes meeting mine.
“Yes, really. She loved you and you know what else? You are full of extra love because you have love from your birth mom and love from all of us.”
A broad smile settled on her lips.
The story was shifting, the words were changing, slightly perhaps, but it was enough… for now.
“Can we go get some sushi and Legos now?”
Anne Sawan is a mom of five, a psychologist and an author, having books published with MeeGenuis, as well as having articles published on Adoption Today, Adoptive Families, Brain Child, Scary Mommy and BluntMoms. She won The International Picture Book contest held by Inclusive Works and Clavis Publishing in 2014 and her book, What Can Your Grandmother Do? is scheduled to come out sometime this year.
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