Monday, February 18, 2013

The Connectedness of Motherhood

Are you a mother? If so, how does being a "mother" differentiate from being a "daughter"? Have you explained to your children about your adoption? Explain. If you are not a mother, do you want to be one someday? Does your answer have anything to do with your adoption?

Having my own biological children has given me a whole new perspective on being adopted. Going through the process of being pregnant and giving birth conjured for me questions about how my own birth mother felt while she was carrying me. Surely, she felt me moving inside her. Did she rub her belly the way I rubbed mine, thinking my unborn children would feel the pressure of my hand and know that I loved them? Did she talk or sing to me?

In the hospital after my oldest child was born, I felt an overwhelming fear that someone would come and take him from me. Luckily, that hospital’s policy was to keep babies with their mothers as much as possible, but during those brief times when he was taken away from me—to have his picture taken, for instance—I sent my husband with him to make sure I got him back (I’d had a caesarean section and couldn’t go with him myself).

My daughter was born in a hospital that still believed in keeping babies in the nursery to let their mothers have some rest. On the first night, I panicked when they didn’t bring her back to me soon enough. I think I called the nursery three times. Finally, I heard a loud cry in the hall, coming toward my room. I knew instantly it was my daughter. The nurse placed her in my arms, but when she didn’t immediately calm down, the nurse snatched her back to walk with her. Once she settled and was back in my arms again, I resolved never again to allow her to be taken to the nursery. I wouldn’t let her out of my sight. I still wonder, if my newborn daughter was that upset after being away from me for what was maybe a couple of hours, how must I have felt after being taken away from my mother and never returned? Of course, I’ll never know for sure why my daughter was crying that night, but this is how my adoptee mind works.

Photo by Jennifer Morrow via Flickr

I continue to fight the urge to keep my children too close to me at all times. For instance, I have an awful time leaving them with babysitters. Those rare times that I’ve hired the typical teenage girl to watch them, it’s only been after I’ve had the sitter over for a “test run” or when I’ve known her family well. I’m really only comfortable leaving them with trusted adult family members or friends, and even then I’m never completely relaxed when I’m away from them. I cried most of my son’s first day at kindergarten, and I had to consciously force myself not to panic when he traveled on his first overnight field trip last year. I’m always afraid something will happen to my kids while they’re away from me and I’ll lose them. I have to stay vigilant against overprotecting them as a way of coping with this fear. It’s gotten better over the years and I’ve relaxed quite a bit, but the fear is there in the back of my mind always.

When my son was four years old and my daughter was still doing somersaults in my belly, I met my birth mother, a half-sister, and a niece for the first time. My children gained a grandmother, aunt, and cousin. Two years later, I met my birth father and a bunch of other half-siblings. My son and daughter gained another new set of grandparents, a slew of new aunts and uncles, and a gazillion new cousins. I didn’t have to explain too much to my daughter since she was so young, but I answered a ton of questions from my son: What do I call them? Why do you have two mommies? How many cousins do I have now? To help him—and me!—keep everyone straight, I drew a picture of my complicated family tree for him. Now he matter-of-factly tells his friends, “My mom is adopted, so she has two mothers.” Now when I take my kids to the pediatrician, I’m able to provide medical history for them from my side of the family as well as my husband’s.

Photo by Rachel Kramer via Flickr

When I look at my children, I see myself and my birth parents in them. I recognize traits they’ve inherited from my parents through me. It’s difficult to explain how powerful this after never knowing anyone blood-related to me for over thirty years of my life. I catch myself staring at my kids’ faces, studying them and thinking things like, “Is that how my nose looks?” I never felt pretty as a girl. In fact, I felt like I looked odd, different in a way that other people must have recognized. Now I see how attractive my own children are and I realize I couldn’t have looked as abnormal as I always thought. I probably wasn’t half-bad, only I couldn’t see myself because I had no frame of reference for my “look.”

My daughter will look at me at times when my hair is unwashed and remnants of yesterday’s mascara are stuck to the bags under my eyes, and she’ll say, “Mommy, you look beautiful.” I know she sees her own beauty in me, and I know that if I had been able to see my own birth mother when I was a girl, I would have seen myself in her and felt a self confidence I’ll probably never know. My children have taught me this, just as they’ve taught me how much more intuitive it is to understand someone you share biology with—things I never knew during those years when I flailed without a genetic tie to anyone.