I wrote a different piece for National Adoption Day, but I can’t post it. Someone told me not to or I’d be sorry. If I was still working for a newspaper, I’d say tough luck. But I’m not a reporter and this isn’t a story. It’s my life.
Unlike national dog, cat, goldfish, sibling or spouse appreciation day, today is more than just a day for thousands of foster kids across the country. It’s the day when they legally become a part of a family. It’s fitting that it falls on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, a holiday synonymous with family.
My original post told a story, but it’s not mine to tell. So I’ll share mine:
My road to adoption was long and arduous, and I sometimes wished I had adopted about five years before I did. Of course if I had, I wouldn’t have my two kids, whom I’m convinced God put with us for a reason. So I’m OK with that fact that I foolishly believed pregnancy was the only way to become a mom for too many years.
My son came into our lives 20 years ago when I was so fed up with the fertility process that I would have taken a baby monkey in diapers. I didn’t get a monkey though. I got a blue-eyed newborn whose curly white locks looked like angel wisps. And he was (is) my angel. As I stumbled through fertility treatments, my friend Carrie wrote down this quote from Simone Weil and framed it for me:
“Even if our efforts of attention seem for years to be producing no result, one day a light that is in exact proportion to them will fill our soul.”
One day in September, 1997, we got a call that a birth mother had picked us. I didn’t tell anyone except my parents because I was sure something would go wrong. My stoic Italian father cried over the phone when I told him. My mother helped me shop for baby supplies the day before.
After we picked him up at Catholic Charities, we drove to my parents house’ and my mother counted fingers and toes. She then studied his ears, remarking that his earlobes were nice and flat (as opposed to sticking out like Jumbo the Elephant?). I guess this is something experienced moms and grandmothers do.
My sisters came over one by one to meet the newest member of the tribe. They didn’t know why they were coming – just that we had a surprise. My sister Pip looked at him in my arms and said, “Who’s baby is that?” “It’s ours,” I said. “No, really, who’s baby is that?”
I brought the baby home and he became the darling of our close-knit neighborhood. He was the first baby on the block, and quickly became the focal point of six unofficial “aunts.” One neighbor officially became “Auntie,” and something of surrogate mother. They developed a special bond that endures today. He asked that she and her family come to his high school graduation party.
When I brought him home, I had no idea that our little corner of the universe would become home to 10 children, seven of whom were adopted. We all struggled with fertility issues and we’d joke (well, lament) that perhaps it was something in the water. Auntie and another neighbor ultimately delivered babies – twins (an adorable boy and girl) and a beautiful little girl. The rest of us adopted, some from the United States, others from foreign countries.
It’s actually pretty remarkable. So many families built from love. A lot of mothers who adopt tell their children that they didn’t grow in their stomach, but in their heart. I always thought it was a little corny until I became a mother too. It’s true. One of the nicest parts about adopting is not passing along your crappy genes or physical traits. You also don’t expect them to be mini versions of you. They’re their own person, as it should be for every child – biological, adopted or fostered.
Still, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thrilled that my son is a lefty who plays sports righty, just like me. And I’m heartened and proud that he loves tennis as much as my husband and I. I’ve been playing singles against The Curmudgeon with varying degrees of success since we first met. We’re thrilled that our kid walked onto his college team, and has gone further than either of us. I try to remind The Curmudgeon of that when he laments about paying for years of lessons, and then watching him double fault.
I’m thrilled that our 16-year-old daughter took up running like her dad. She began jogging when she was about 13 and friends would say, “Oh, I saw her running about two miles from your house.” “Nah, it wasn’t her,” I’d say. But it was. She ran for her head. That is, to think things over, be alone and get the endorphin rush known as “runner’s high.” She runs cross country in high school, and has pledged to kick her dad’s ass in an upcoming 5-mile Turkey Trot. I’m thrilled she’s competitive and spunky. Both will get her far in life.
I understand the desire that adopted children have to search and know their biological parents. My two children are at opposite ends on this subject. One has no desire and the other does. I’m heartened that the birth parents are on board, but I’d be lying if I said it’s not emotionally trying.
I’m supportive, but it’s tough sometimes. There’s a feeling of being compared with two parents who came before you and will always share something with your child you don’t. You’re on the front lines of parenting – the tantrums, demands, defiance and driving lessons – yet they see the perfectly behaved and polite child. At the same time, your child sees the best of his/her birth parents. They don’t see the bad moods, frustration or exhaustion that goes with parenting.
As a mom I accept all of it – the good, the bad and the right to know whose DNA you have. Birth parents are part of the story, and to deny them a relationship is wrong. We recently connected with one of my child’s birth parents, and I love and appreciate their sacrifice even more today. They put the needs of their child first. That’s the first law of good parenting – doing whatever it takes for your kid.
Happily, the birth parents moved on with their lives, got married and now have young children. I’m developing a relationship with three half-siblings. I even asked my child if I can be their fake grandmother. “That’s ridiculous. How do you see that you’d be their grandmother?” “Well, I’m old enough to be your mother’s mother,” I reasoned. “How about a special Auntie?”
And so I am. They kiss and hug me when we show up, and one demanded that I keep my arm around his shoulder while we played games on his tablet. Since his shoulder was so low at age 7, I asked if he wanted to get on my lap. Holding him made me long for the days of having young children. They think you’re great, shower you with love and want to be your playmate.
I’m starting to see the situation in a new light. Instead of the loss of my sole authority and role as mom, I have the chance for a larger extended family. A sleepover with the three little ones is in the works. I better get busy childproofing, and pulling out the Thomas the Tank Engine trains (and clunky) train table from the basement. They’ll be here with their sleeping bags before I know it.
Note: The following is my friend John’s account of meeting his cousin whom he learned about through Ancestry.com. John didn’t know anything about Denise, who was put up for adoption in the late 1950s. Here’s his story:
I recently had my DNA analyzed by Ancestry.com. As well as finding out that I’m less Sicilian that I had thought (81%), I found out something else much more interesting: I have a first cousin that I didn’t know about.
In addition to giving you your ethnic background, Ancestry gives you all your genetic matches in their database, including their best guess as to your relationship. A few months after receiving the analysis, I received an email from a woman claiming to be my first cousin, and asking me if I would be interested in exploring our relationship. She stated that she was adopted, and knew little of her genetic background. I hadn’t looked at my results page in a while, and when I did, there she was, right at the top, indicating that she was my closest match in the database. Her name is Denise.
After exchanging a few emails, we talked by phone. Long story short, she was born in Lawrence, MA, my father’s hometown. Bingo. The adoption agency told her that her birth father was an electrical engineer, married with two sons age 5 and 1 at the time of her birth. Her mother was single, and decided on adoption. My father’s youngest brother, now deceased, fit the description. It’s not proof, but it’s very convincing evidence. Uncle Charlie must have had an affair, and Denise is the result.
Denise and I decided to meet. We met for lunch with our spouses, and made a connection that had started with emails and phone calls. She looks like a family member, and I’ve accepted her as such. I think we are going to continue to explore our relationship as she gets more information from the adoption agency.
I was always close with my father’s side of the family, but all my uncles and aunt are deceased, some of my cousins as well, and I’ve lost contact with most of the rest. I don’t think that’s uncommon with families as the years go by. But Denise has reenergized me, and I hope she and I can make up for lost time. As my wife reminded me, Denise’s father and mine were brothers. Obvious, but when you put it like that, it’s more impactful that saying we’re cousins, at least for me. We have the same grandparents. More impact.
Some people would say that my uncle made a mistake. Well, don’t tell Denise that, or her two sons. They wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t done what he did. It wasn’t a mistake. It’s just what happened. I’m sure many would disagree, but that’s my view. I judge no one. Adoption is mostly a good thing, but it’s complicated. I know, I have an adopted daughter. My cousin Denise wants to find out more about her roots, and I’ve been giving her information about our family as we get to know each other. It’s exciting to help a long lost cousin discover roots.
I don’t know how this is all going to shake out. As Denise continues to search for other relatives (she has three half siblings), she will probably run into apathy and rejection; I’ve read that it’s common in searches like this, but she owes it to herself to try, come what may. At least she’s found one cousin who wants to get to know her better. We both feel good about that, even if that’s all she gets out of the process. She appears to be a very nice person, and I am glad she is my cousin.
Laws regarding the release of birth parent information vary from state to state, but one thing is for sure: DNA analysis has the potential to blow the lid off the subject. If you have your DNA analyzed, be prepared; you too may discover a long lost cousin or perhaps even a sibling you don’t know about.