Does She Know?

Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives. 

By Anne Sawan

The first night I spent with my daughter I looked into her eyes and I started to cry suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that someday this beautiful baby of mine was going to be faced with a lot of pain. That at some point she would realize what it really means to be adopted. That despite the loving books we read her and the beautiful words we use to explain it, the reality is there is a sorrow and loss in her life that no one can take away.

Several years later I was at a function with my family when an older woman came over and asked about my children. She knew one of my daughters was adopted and quietly whispered into my ear, “Does she know?”  She wasn’t being rude, just curious. She was from a different generation and culture than me. A time and place where children weren’t told if they were adopted and parent were encouraged not to tell, not to talk about it.


I nodded and whispered back, “Yes, she does.” The older woman smiled and patted me on the shoulder, “It’s better that way, don’t you think?” Then she walked away.

Secrets…perhaps she had her own.

I sat there for a while after she left and looked at my young daughter, mulling over the question in my head, does she know?

Does she know? Yes, she knows she’s adopted. She will tell you, if it comes up, “I am adopted.” We have conversations about adoption, have read a few books that explain what adoption is and many nights as we lay together I tell her the story of how her dad and I flew far across the ocean, wrapped her up in a pink blanket and took her home to a big party of waiting siblings and excited relatives. But does she know? Does she truly know what it means, this word, adoption?

No. How could she know? She was young and busy with more important things like trying to figure out how to cross the monkey bars and ride a bike and count to one hundred. Her head full of birthday cake and colorful crayons and soft lullabies and that’s how it should be. She knows we love her. She knows her siblings love her. She knows we wished for her. She knows we flew high above the mountains and across the ocean to get her. She knows her family both far away and those close by helped us. She knows about the country she came from, what they eat, how they speak. She knows a word, adoption, but it’s all abstract to her. She doesn’t really know all of it. How could she?

She doesn’t know yet about the never-ending sorrow that must have filled a faraway woman’s soul as her belly began to grow and stretch, making room for the mysterious little arms and legs that were budding deep inside.

She doesn’t know about the rivers of joy and sadness that flowed together in the woman’s heart every time the child inside of her moved and danced, a tiny foot sending ripples of life across her tightly pulled skin.

She doesn’t know about the spirit of grief and loss that hovered like an unwelcome messenger in the sticky summer air, warning the woman that as the dull pangs of labor grew longer, her time with her secret was growing shorter.

She doesn’t know yet about the millions of tears that were shed and the hundred of kisses of joy and sorrow and thanks and love that were showered upon her before the woman finally wrapped her in a blanket and handed her to another, saying goodbye.

So, does she know the word, adoption? Yes, but does she truly know what it means?


It’s a hard truth, a harsh reality to take in, that love and pain can be so connected. So entwined. So when will my daughter truly know what adoption means? When will she finally learn and really understand the whole truth?

Maybe, when it is her turn. When it is her turn to hold her own child, be it through the miracle of adoption or the magic of biology, then she will know. When it is her turn to gently kiss her child’s soft cheeks, gaze with awe into her child’s sleepy eyes and breathe in all of her child’s sweet wonder, then she will know. When it is her turn to wrap her child in a soft blanket and bring the child home to her family, then she will know. When her heart rises up and she cries a hundred tears of thanks and joy and sorrow and love then maybe she will know… finally, and truly know what this word, adoption, means.

Anne Cavanaugh Sawan is a mother, psychologist, and writer. She lives in New England with her husband, five children, two dogs, three cats, and several chickens. Her picture book, “What Can Your Grandmother Do? won the International Picture Book Contest held by Inclusive Works and Clavis Publishing in 2014 while some of her other writing has been featured on Adoptive Families, Grown and Flown, The Mid, Scary Mommy and Blunt Moms.


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Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter

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