The other day in the grocery store, my daughter asked me to tell her, again, how it is that I have two moms. This question is hard to explain to a six-year-old even in the best of circumstances. But in an extremely crowded Wegman’s on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, while trying to maneuver a cart and a child through the turkey aisle, it was damn near impossible. But still, I endeavored.
In what was probably the most crowded location in our entire town at that particular moment, I stopped to explain one of the most complicated aspects of my existence.
“The mommy who carried me in her belly, your Nana,” I told her “was too young to take care of a baby. And the mommy who raised me, Grandma Michele, who is in heaven, was old enough to take care of me, but she couldn’t have babies of her own. So your Nana gave me to your Grandma and Grandpa, so that they could take care of me instead. But they all loved me very much.”
That story is about as deep as you can go with an elementary schooler. But even in the midst of the chaos and my own distraction, I was very aware of what I was leaving out.
I didn’t mention how hard I always knew it was for the woman who gave birth to me to have had to let me go. I didn’t tell her how the only time I came close to crying right after she was born was when I thought about what it would have felt like if I’d had to give her up to be raised by another woman.
I couldn’t tell her how, although I always saw my birth mother as a hero, there were times when I couldn’t help but wonder how she could possibly have left me behind. And I couldn’t tell her how, despite the incredible love I have for the family I know as my own, I still wondered — just sometimes — what it would have been like to be a part of a family of people who were related to me by blood.
I couldn’t tell her how fiercely angry I feel when people suggest that the mother who made me her own wasn’t my “real” mom. And I couldn’t explain how the joy I felt when I met the mother I’d lost at birth didn’t lessen the grief I will always feel for the mother I lost forever.
I couldn’t explain how incredibly fortunate I felt when the mother who gave me life was one of the first people to meet my daughter after her own birth. And I couldn’t explain how much it sometimes breaks my heart to see the genetic stamp of my adoptive mother on my cousin’s kids and not my own.
And I don’t think I will ever be able to explain to her how, even though I have been blessed with the love of two mothers, there have been moments in my life when I have felt motherless.
There is so much that I can’t explain to my children right now about the reality of my family history. Adoption stories are always complicated, and the fact that I lost the mother who raised me just muddles things further.
But in spite of the complications, it is a story I like to tell, and one that I think is beautiful.
Because even though there is so much I can’t explain, there is so much more that I won’t have to explain.
I won’t have to explain how aware and deeply appreciative I am of the love my mothers had for me and of the sacrifices they both made on my behalf. Because those gifts, which came to me doubled, are now mine to grow and to give to my own children.
I won’t have to explain that family is so much more than sharing a genetic bond, because by the time they understand what it means to be related by blood, they will already know how little those ties matter when it comes to love.
And I won’t have to explain how much love is capable of overcoming, how time and distance and loss and sacrifice only make it more powerful, because the one thing that is clear from my story is that love was behind it all.
This is love.
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November is National Adoption Month. Although I tend to shy away from Awareness months in general, I’m glad adoption is something people are talking about.
I have heard people describe adoption as something that always comes from loss. And in a sense, this is undeniably true. People who are adopting are often, though not always, doing so because they cannot have a child any other way. And people who are giving away a child are always losing a part of themselves. Adoption is not an easy option.
But adoption is also a gift of love, in the best sense of the word. It isn’t always the best choice, but when it is, adoption enriches the lives of everyone it touches and it creates a legacy that lasts for generations.
* * *
As Thanksgiving approaches, I am aware of how much I have to be grateful for. Above all, as I am every year, I am thankful for the story of how I came to be, for where I was planted, and especially for the love that made me who I am.
And if anyone who is contemplating adoption reads this, let me share one final story with you, one that my grandmother told me many times over the years.
My grandmother had a terrible time when she was in labor with my father. The birth was so difficult, in fact, that her doctors told her she would probably die if she tried to have another child. She was devastated because she’d always wanted at least four children. So she asked my grandfather if he would consider adopting. He said no, because he just couldn’t fathom being able to love a child that wasn’t his own, especially after having a child that was.
30-some years later, after my parents had adopted me as a six-week-old infant, my grandmother came across my grandfather holding me. She used to say that he looked up from me to her and said, with awe in his voice, that he couldn’t imagine loving anyone more than he loved that baby in his arms.
Adoption is easier than you think it might be.