You Shook Me Up a Bit, Birth Mother

You shook me up a bit today, birth mother.  Your call at the last half hour of the work day broke up the busyness of paperwork.  The moment I heard your voice say my name, I knew it was you.  It was good hearing from you.  It is something that I do not mind at all.

I never know when you are going to call, but every time you do, I cannot help but be affected by it.  Life has been a little hectic lately.  In the madness of it all, I have found myself barely stopping to inhale, or even exhale.  There have been moments in the past few months where I have felt overwhelmed by parenting; overwhelmed by the challenge of striving to raise kind, happy, faithful, and disciplined children.

There have been moments where my sole focus has been on what the child we share does not do, versus, what he does do.  Yet, when I told you of his recent accomplishments, his strengths, his talents, and his quirks, you gasped, laughed with joy, and thanked me for giving him opportunities in life.  That…birth mother…that shook me up a bit.

The space between our words was filled with just a bit of silence.  That was okay, though.  The gravity of why we are connected carries much weight.  We are connected by a precious little soul.  We are connected by love.

You shook me up a bit today, birth mother.  Your words speared me right into the heart.  While my heart has been worrying about his day-to-day life, your heart has been carrying emptiness to which I do not know.  You told me about all of the pictures I have sent you through the years, and how they are dispersed throughout your living room, and how you surround yourself with pictures of him.  In some sense, it sounded like you have a shrine devoted to the precious boy we share.  This shook me up.

As our conversation ended, your words began to take a more sincere turn.  You spoke of your eternal love for him.  You spoke of your sadness that is carried around on a daily basis.  You told me about how you felt you had to lose him.  In some ways, you believed it was your choice; yet in other ways, it was a choice you had to make.  You hope for a day that it will not hurt so bad; that the loss of him won’t feel as heavy as it does.

And then, you told me that you love me and my husband.  I wanted so badly to say that I love you, too, but the words just would not come.  That…birth mother…that shook me up a bit and caused my heart to wrench.

Your final words to me are ones that stuck to me as I hung up the phone and drove to get the child that has stirred both of our hearts.

“I love him more than words can ever tell.”  

These words from you resonated deep down.

As I stared at the pink sunset declaring itself to me as I drove, the thought hit me that you were probably staring at the very same sunset. You were probably recalling our conversation, my every word, your every word, and details of the incredible child to which we share.

I teared up a bit.  I tuned into a station on Pandora.  As I stared into the sunset, thinking about you, and thinking about our child, I sang every word to the song that was playing:

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.  I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.  ‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved;  How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.”

That…birth mother…that shook me up a bit.  

As I tucked our son into bed tonight, I held on to him just a little bit longer.  I told him that I loved him over and over again.  I stared into his soft brown eyes, examined his face, and kissed him.  I thought of you.

The truth is that I love your son…my son…our son…more than words can ever tell.  

All of my children have come to me through the sacrifice of someone else; through the sacrifice of another Mamma who carried them into the world.  The significance of this is something I do not ever want to take for granted.

You shook me up a bit today, birth mother, and I’m so glad you did.

Motherhood is a Gift

Over the past year or so, we have played the “I’m sorry” and “I’m thankful” game around the dinner table at meal times.  We take turns telling what we are thankful for, and apologizing for the things we have done during the week that might have hurt someone’s feelings, or broken a rule.

The great thing about this game is that we get to hear our children admit wrongdoings, even when we were not fully aware of them.  It is also nice to hear them say they are sorry.  Perhaps, though, the best lesson of all is that we can fully admit when we have done something wrong, made a bad choice, or have not been as patient as we should have been with our children, and each other.  This lesson is valuable for our children, and more importantly, it is humbling for us.

Recently during dinner, my daughter started the game, and we all went around and said sorry for the little things we did during the week that may have hurt each other’s feelings, or perhaps, caused more stress on our family unit.  After this, we went around and spoke about the things we were thankful for.

My son: “I’m thankful for my family and the food we have.”

The baby:  “…..some nodding of his head….” 

My husband: “I’m thankful that we have each other.”

Myself:  “I’m thankful that in this cold weather, we have a warm home to live in.”

My daughter:  “I’m thankful….(starts to tear up)….I’m thankful for mommy and daddy.” 

DtrI took another turn and said, “I’m thankful for having a daughter, and for this moment right now.” 

After I said this, my daughter took off running to her bedroom.  I left her alone in her room for a minute, and then decided to check on her.  I found her lying in her bed with tears rolling down her cheeks.

“What’s wrong, sweetie?”  I asked.

“A long, long time ago when I was in my birth mom’s belly, I heard (our son) tell you that he will miss you if you die.”

As the tears came barreling down her cheeks, she said, “I will miss you if you die, and you are the best parents ever.”

My daughter has talked often about knowing us while in her birth mother’s belly.  I cannot even begin to comprehend what runs through an adopted child’s mind, or heart.

On the one side, it gives me great joy to think about the opportunities in life that are present and available when children are placed into families whose deepest desires are to bring in a child to love wholly, celebrate, and give life-changing open doors to.  On the other, and with a twinge of protective sadness, I think about just how much an adopted child wonders about their birth families, what life would have been like in their families of origin, and if they were loved by birth parents.

I do not have all of the answers, and will never have them.  Like most parents, I want the best for my children.  I want my children to be understood, nurtured by those around them, to passionately seek out the things in life that give laughter to their souls, and to be able to look back on life with a full measure of contentment.

As an adoptive parent, though, I recognize that there might always be an unfulfilled space where questions linger and thoughts go unrecognized.  In other words, I know that there could be an empty place in my children’s lives that can only be filled with answers to which I may never be able to give them.

Adoptive parenting is both joy and loss, and sweetness and sorrow at the same time.

I have seen that some people who are parents through adoption have revolted (if you want to call it that) against the word adoptive being in front of the word parent.  I get it.  To my children, I am not “Adoptive Mommy”,  I’m “Mommy”.  I am not “Adoptive Tear-Drier, Adoptive Cheerleader, and Adoptive Caretaker.”  I am tear-drier, cheerleader, and caretaker.

But, the truth is, my babies grew in another’s body.  The fact that they grew in another mother’s womb, and are being cared for by me as their mother, does not fall lightly in my thoughts.

I think it is a privilege and incredible honor to call myself an adoptive mother.

 It is not a subtitle, or secondary description.

Being an adoptive mother is profound.

It is the unique experience that lends one’s heart to the belief that our children were chosen for us, and we were chosen for them.

Today, while thinking about my children, I whispered this to the Lord,

“Thank you for these moments right now of being a parent.”

Motherhood is a gift.

Adoptive motherhood is even more of a gift, and for that, I am thankful.

Real Mom

The other day my son said something to me that stopped me in my tracks.  He was mad at me for getting on to him about needing to clean his room when he said, “You’re not my real mom.”  Whoa…I felt that gut-wrenching, knife in the heart, floor dropping out from under me twinge of pain.  After he said it, I sat down next to him and looked at him.  He had that look of confusion mixed in with a little sadness and anger.

I asked him, “Sweetie, what do you mean?”  Nothing…nothing but staring off at the TV screen.  “Honey, please help me understand what you mean.  Do you mean that I’m not your real mom because I didn’t give birth to you like your birth mother did?”  Silence.  Then finally, he looked at me and said, “You are not my real mom because you tell me what to do and you always get me in trouble.”  I have to admit that I was a little more relieved with his explanation, but still bothered.  I told him that he gets in trouble when he disobeys, and my job as his mom is to tell him what to do sometimes.  I also told him that we are his real parents and that we love him more than anything.  He looked at me and said, “Okay, but you’re still not my real mom.”  My mind was racing with how to handle this.  I grabbed the basket of laundry and used it as an excuse to escape off to our room to silently and quickly allow myself to exhale, gather my thoughts, and hold back the tears that were wanting to escape.

I returned to the living room and noticed that he went on with his after-school routine of building Legos, drawing, and eating a snack.  From time to time though, he looked at me and studied my face.  I kept it all together.  I acted as if nothing was wrong and that his words had not bothered me.  We went on with the rest of the afternoon like usual.  Later on in the evening, my son was quite clingy.  He wanted me to hold him, lay by him on the couch, snuggle, etc.  I took him up on the offer, and wondered if his words were still on his mind as well.

When I told my husband what was said, he responded “Caroline, you have to expect this.  If he knows it bothers you, then he will use it in the future when he is mad about something.  He was probably just testing you out to see how you would respond.”  My husband was right.  I do expect both of my children to refer to their birth parents as their “real” parents at some time during their lives.  I expect them to have a lot of questions about their birth family histories, how they ended up in our home, and anything else that has to do with adoption.  I guess I just didn’t expect it so soon, and I certainly didn’t expect it to hurt so much.

I don’t even know where my son got the term “real mom”, or why he would say this.  I know he was mad at me, but he had never said anything like that to me before.  Perhaps someone said something to him at school.  Maybe he overheard someone else talking about this.  Or perhaps, he is just starting to really process and learn how to navigate his own world of adoption.  Maybe he has a fantasy version of his birth mother, and in that fantasy she would never “get on to him”, put him in time-out, or make him clean his room.  I don’t know, but it reminded me that adoption is extremely complex and there are layers within it.  One certainly needs to have “thick-skin”!

One thing though that has been laid on my heart since all of this took place is that my husband and I need to be mindful of the adoption language we use around the home and in the community.  We need to be there to answer any and ALL questions our children have even if it makes us uncomfortable.  We need to not perceive questions about birth parents as a threat to who were are and the relationship we have with our children.

And, we need to keep in mind that we are their real parents.  We are a real family.  We get on to each other.  We discipline the kids when they are being disobedient.  We lose our tempers at times.  We get frustrated at times.  We are not perfect.  But, if we were perfect, didn’t lose our tempers, didn’t get frustrated, didn’t discipline, and didn’t get on to each other, then we would not be real at all.

Deep Thoughts at the Zoo

One day while visiting the zoo, my kiddos started to engage in a conversation about being babies. My 3-year-old daughter said something to the effect of “when I was a baby, I was in mommy’s tummy.” In an instant, my 5-year-old son, said “No, when you were a baby, you were in your birth mom’s belly.” The conversation kept going from there and my son gently reminded his sister that she really was in her birth mom’s belly. My husband and I would acknowledge them from time to time, but also took the moment to try to gauge what their level of understanding of their own history is.

All of these deep thoughts from two preschoolers while eating ice cream at a zoo quickly caught the attention of a young couple sitting at the table next to us. I noticed they were trying to listen, but also did not want to make it obvious. Every once in a while they would grin at things my kids would say. I suspect perhaps they have never heard young children talk about birth mommies and adoption before.

Life as an adoptive family is different from biological families. The topics of birth parents and adoption pop up at various locations and times in our lives. Sometimes the questions and comments made by our children are random and occur when least expected. Other times, we will purposefully engage them in discussion about their unique stories as adopted children.

We try to take advantage of these teachable moments if we can. For example, my kids were playing with a baby doll one morning in our living room. My husband asked, “Did you adopt that baby?” My kids replied “Yes!” They were so excited to proclaim this. Adoption is exciting. It should not be something that is a hushed topic in the home. Children might just perceive it to be something shameful if adults act like it can never be talked about.

We are not experts on adoption. We are just two parents who love our children with everything we have. We want to make sure they appreciate their histories as much as we do. Honestly, sometimes we feel the need to have teachable moments as adoptive parents!

It scares me a little to wonder if at any time in their lives they will resent being adopted, feel insecure about who they are, or even about the love we have for them. The more we can grow their roots with love, honesty, stability, and grace, the better off they will be to face anything in the future. I know this is what parents strive to do for all children, but as an adoptive parent, I’m a little more sensitive to the need for this.

Recently, my daughter said to me “one day you will show me a picture of when I was in a belly right mommy?” Sadly, my answer was no. I do not have any pictures to show her of the time she spent in her birth mom’s belly. Sometimes, I wished our lives of mommy/daddy/children-hood were not so complicated. Sometimes I wished we didn’t have to talk about adoption and birth parents or any of that stuff; yet, I believe these things are also what make our family special.

I’m finding that the older they get, the more they want to know. This only makes sense. I wish I had a way to read their minds – get into their heads fully so that I could explain it all to them in a way that brings clarity and comfort. I try to take my cues from them. Often, I can sense where the conversation is going but that doesn’t mean my words are eloquent. My words, regardless of how well they are used to explain things, may never completely fulfill my children’s longing to know more.

Words may never fill in the cracks of their histories for them. How could my words do this when I do not even know all the necessary information to give them a complete history of their birth families? It does not seem fair that children who are born into the world, separated from their birth families, and adopted end up losing so much of their roots and family histories.

Then there’s my history to take into consideration when talking about their adoption. My surgery and inability to have children is obviously a part of the story. But, I never want them to think that the only reason they are my babies is because I could not have a biological child. I never want them to believe they are second choices…never. They are not. They are here in my life by the works of God and by the hands of many.

Perhaps I’m just over-thinking it all. I don’t know. All I can do is pray about it, learn from others, model honesty and grace to them and take it one day at a time.

…and…maybe just learn from them while they are sharing their deep thoughts at the zoo.