January 10, 2011

The Person I Wish I Knew

Yesterday was Isabel’s birthday. Inevitably, my children’s birth date is a day I spend thinking and praying about the one who saw their first moments in this world and made the hard choice to let them go.
How do I thank the woman who changed my life and gave me such precious a gift I can never repay? I guess I don’t yet know the words invented to express what I feel towards her. It is so much more than gratitude, or admiration, or even indebtedness. I am a mother because she is not and I am reminded of her sacrifice every time I look my children.
One of the things we had to consider while going through the process of adoption is how open we wanted our relationship with the birthparents to be. The spectrum is wide from no contact whatsoever, to visits to your home or theirs several times a year. We thought about this long and hard. We weighed our options, the pros and the cons. We placed ourselves in the spectrum carefully and prayerfully. In the end the decision was made for us by the kids’ birthmom.
For whatever reason, S. chose not to have contact with our children.  I cannot judge her. What do I know? I’ve never been in her shoes. I choose to believe that she felt it would be easier on her pain not to know them or see them. Perhaps she had never heard of open adoptions and felt she had no other option or choice. I do know in my heart it was not a heartless act of a careless mother. From what I know of her situation, the choice of an adoption plan was a courageous one for her, meant to give her children the life she knew she could not. That’s a woman who loves her children in my book.
But adoption, as happy an event as it can be, is not all rainbows and butterflies. In adoption there is loss and, believe me, we are the ones that suffered the least.  Yes, we mourned the loss of the biological children that never were, but in the end we are parents; we have these two amazing beings that fill our lives with laughter and joy.
On the other side of the adoption triad is a woman who walked into a hospital carrying life and walked out with empty arms back to real-life, minus baby. On the other side of the adoption triad are two children who are loved by their parents but who are left with lots of painful questions that may never receive an answer and that become deeper and more thoughtful as they get older.
Isabel began asking such questions early on. I’m waiting for the day the one I dread the most will come: why didn’t she want me? Now, I know that’s not true, but how do you explain that to a little girl?
There are seasons when the questions cease for a while, and then there are seasons when adoption is all that seems to be on her mind.
A few days ago she came to me and said:
“-Mami, I saw a picture of Miss S. holding me as a baby!” (she calls her birthmom Miss S., as she calls all women in our life)
“-No, baby, we don’t have a picture of Miss S. holding you.”
“-But, mami, I saw it on the computer screen!”
Our screen saver is an ongoing slide show of pictures from our files. I realized she had seen a picture of her foster mom holding her the day they placed her in our arms.  It made me smile that her foster mom is white. Isabel still does not associate families by color as most children do at her age. This is not unusual given that there are four adoptive families in our church, all formed transracially.
“-Baby, that is not S. That is a lady that took care of you when you were little.”
“-Oh. Well, where is Miss S.?”
“-I don’t know, baby.”
“-Where does she live?”
“-I don’t know, sweetheart.”
“-Oh.” Off to play she went.
She had never before expressed a desire to see her birthmom or to know where she lives. These are shadows of things to come. How I wish I could provide her with a picture. How I wish I could see a picture. I want to know where she got her big brown eyes and her beautiful mouth. More than anything I know the feeling of belonging that I experience when I look at my mom and see the family resemblance.
There is loss in adoption and the mirror is a constant reminder. Isabel and Noah are blessed to have one another: they look like each other, they have that connection. Many adoptees do not and we can’t minimize the importance of family resemblance. Matt’s family has strong genes. There is the Johnson’s mouth, the Johnson’s hair, the Johnson’s you-name-it. When they discuss the cousins’ traits I ache for my kids who will never be part of that conversation.
No matter where I was in the openness spectrum of adoption before, I have now become an advocate for the open adoption end. What child would not benefit from more people in their lives that love them and cherish them?

There are lots of misunderstandings about open adoption out there and they mostly come from a place of lack of knowledge. Yes, there are situations where the child is best not to have a relationship with his or her birthmother. But when this is not the case, I now think that the decision about how open to make the adoption, if you have the choice, should be one that is considered carefully, with research, and with the child’s best interest in mind.
Since we did not have the choice I can only pray daily for S. and tell my children what I know about her, making sure they always know the difficult choice she made for them and how much love, pain, and selflessness is involved in that choice.
**Dear S., if you are out there, I hope someday we meet face to face. I want to thank you in person for the way you changed my life and introduce you to the two incredible human beings you brought forth. I hope you can feel our prayers; I ask God to give you a peace that your children are safe, loved, and growing to know Him and love Him.**


Carole St-Laurent said...

Gaby, these situations do not happen only with adopted children. My son's father decided to stop seeing him when he was only six. The decision came abruptly and fell hard on my son. He didn't understand.

"Did I do something wrong?" he would asked at first.

"No, you didn't. You did nothing wrong."

During the next few years, other questions came, one very dominant: "Why?"

I would always answer that I didn't know, only his father did know. I shared with my son how I felt about the issue, without judging: "I don't know why, but I know something: he's missing out."

floyd said...

You have a great attitude and a great heart. It's rare to recognize the "selflessness" required for mothers giving their children up for adoption. God's plans are amazing and beautiful.

Deborah said...

Although Isabel's and Noah's adoptions aren't open, at least it sounds like you can be open with them about the information you know. I hope your beliefs about the selflessness and love their birth mother showed shine through and they can focus on that and less on the loss. Good luck.

Gaby said...

Carole, I'm sorry to hear that. It must have been so hard for you to watch him suffer like that.
Floyd, thank you for your kind words. God's plans are truly amazing!
Deborah, that's what we strive for so the kids grow up knowing they were loved from the beginning.

Lori Lavender Luz said...

You know what you're great at (among many thing)? Respecting and loving S. That one thing will get Isabel through a lot. You do all that you can and then support your children as they get through whatever is in front of them.

You're a good mama, Gaby.

Gaby said...

Thank you for your sweet words, Lori, and your advice. It means a lot coming from someone who is so thoughtful about adoption :)

Jennifer said...

I am really thankful for your posts, Gaby. Matt and I are considering adopting when our youngest gets a little older, and I'm glad for your opinion on open adoption.

Your children are very blessed to have you, and I know S. would feel such a peace knowing her children are being cared for by such a good Mommy and Daddy.

Katie said...

Thank you Gaby for sharing your experience with this topic. As Alex and I are discussing/praying/working our way through this process, it helps to have insight from someone who has experienced it fist hand.

Gaby said...

Jennifer, how wonderful that you are praying about this. If God calls you to do so, it is a wonder-filled experience.

For both Katherine and Jennifer, someone else worth reading if you are trying to decide what type of adoption you want is my friend Lori at http://writemindopenheart.com/. She is an adoptive mother in open adoptions who writes beautifully.

Blessings to you both!