It has been my experience that really important conversations with my children often happen in the car. In our family, the car is one of the few places that I might be alone with just one child. It’s also a private and protected space. This doesn’t mean that I’m ever fully prepared for these interactions. I have learned, though, to pay attention when all of my mom alarms go off. “Listen to this person; they are showing you their heart.”
I was in the car last week with Katie, on our way to her annual well-visit, when she asked me how we would know if her birthmother was still alive or not. She’d obviously been giving this some thought and was looking for some straight talk. I explained, once again, our relationship with their birthmother and how the adoption attorney handles all of our communication. Katie was quiet and then said, “I miss her.”
These are important moments for any adoptive mom. It’s taken me awhile, but I’m learning to remove myself from the equation. Katie missing her birthmother doesn’t mean that I’m a bad mom; it just means that she misses the very woman who gave her life. I’m working on erring on the side of compassion; I’m asking the part of my brain that feels threatened to pipe down.
Even though Katie hasn’t had contact with her birthmother since we left the hospital, somewhere in her little soul, there is a longing.
A few years ago, Elizabeth unexpectedly said, “You know my birthmother? I think I remember her eyes.” It was a statement of such intimacy and loss that I forgot to breathe for a few seconds. Of course Elizabeth can’t remember her birthmother’s eyes in a literal or clinical sense, but what she was saying, I think, was “I miss something from before.”
I’ve been wondering lately if being adopted sometimes feels like being homesick.
As we were pulling into the doctor’s office, I did my best to both honor Katie’s statement and park safely. Then, we sat quietly for a moment. My heart hurt for her. I don’t know what it is like to not know what the women in my family look like as they age; I don’t know what it is like to wonder which side of the family I got my eyes or my mouth from; I don’t know what it is like to have only a sibling to tie me to my ancestors.
Today, our twins turn ten. Every year around their birthday, I send pictures of them through our attorney to their birthmother. Choosing and mailing the pictures used to knock the wind out of me, but now I see it as important practice for sharing them someday with a larger community.
A few days ago, Katie saw the envelope with the pictures on my nightstand and asked if they were for their birthmom. I told her that they were and we looked through them together. She didn’t seem that interested, but just a few minutes later, I walked into the kitchen to find she and Elizabeth making construction-paper cards for their birth mom. This seemed to come out of nowhere: we have never once talked about writing to her. I knew that we probably wouldn’t legally be allowed to send the cards to their birthmom, but it seemed lovely that they wanted to write out their feelings.
I took a deep breath and started cooking dinner while they worked on their cards. When they asked me if I wanted to hear what they had written, I told them that I would love to hear them. I had been praying the whole time they were working that, no matter what the cards said, I would handle it with love and strength.
The cards were so sweet and kind. By God’s grace, their words of “we miss you” and “we love you” and “we hope we get to see you again someday” landed on my heart like pure, gentle rain. I was so grateful to have daughters with such big hearts. I was amazed by their generosity towards her and inspired by their tremendous capacity for love.
Before we become parents, most of us don’t know how little we actually know about raising children. The good news is that we don’t have to know everything in the beginning. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have believed that my heart could handle an unexpected note to their birthmother. I wouldn’t have known that their sweet words would break open my heart in a million different ways and then piece it back together again, kinder and stronger.