Telling The Truth

An adoptive mother ponders how and when to tell her young daughter about her origins.

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planeIt was a beautiful day yesterday, a treasure to enjoy before the cold weather sets in: early fall, the sun shining, the leaves just starting to turn orange, red and yellow.

We ran around as a family, cleaning the garage, cheering at soccer games. Friends stopped by. The boys looked for frogs and played wiffle ball in the backyard.

In the afternoon, my husband piled as many boys as he could fit in his car and took them out to lunch. I took Eliza, my four-year-old, in my car. She wanted McDonalds (sorry, health nuts), or “Old McDonalds”, as she calls it, so we went to get her a Happy Meal, and I got the requisite boring mom salad. We whipped through the drive thru and brought our lunch home to enjoy outside on the porch.

The house was momentarily still, as the boys were away and it was just my daughter and I enjoying our picnic. We sat outside munching away, the leaves falling around us, and high above a plane flew quietly overhead.

“Look, Eliza, a plane,” I said.

Planes play a significant, symbolic role in our little lives. At bedtime, I often tell Eliza a short story of her adoption. She will whisper to me, “Tell me the baby Eliza story.” And I will whisper back in the dark about the baby that needed a family, and the family that needed a baby. About how her dad and I got on a plane that flew high across the ocean to get her, wrapped her in a soft, pink blanket, and took turns holding her the whole way back on the plane. When we got home, there was a big party for everyone to meet her, and her brothers and sister had made a beautiful “Welcome Home” sign that spread across the whole front porch.

It’s a soothing ritual and a way for her to always know a piece of her story. Just a piece. I have never ventured far outside of the story. I have never explained what “adoption” means. It is just a word she knows. It has been enough, for now.

But as we sat out there on the porch, looking at the blue sky and the plane sailing smoothly across, I thought, I should start telling her now. So she will always know. Not just that adoption means love forever, but the nitty-gritty physical part of the adoption; that another woman gave birth to her, that she was not created in my body, as her siblings were, but that another mom and dad created her–that whole piece I have left out.

I feel like I should introduce the concept soon.  She is almost school age.  She sees other women who are pregnant and is starting to ask, “Why is her tummy so big?” Soon she will say, “I was in your tummy once, too, right?” With my biological kids it was easy: “Yes you were! I remember you kicking me!” But now…what do I say?

It’s easy to tell her a bedtime story about a plane and wrapping her in a blanket of love. It’s not so easy to look beyond that. So, I thought, I will tell her gently, slowly, and we can talk about it in pieces, as kids thankfully do. I want her to always know so it is never a surprise, just a natural part of who she is…but I guess I also want her to know to make it easier for me. So she doesn’t turn to me in public and say, “I was in your tummy too, right?” So we can have our own discussions, on our own terms, and then she can say, just as proudly as any child, “I was born in someone else’s tummy and in my mom’s heart!”

So on a splendid fall day, in a moment of quiet and sharing, I thought, “Here I go.”

“You know what?” I said, cheerfully.

She turned and looked at me. A chicken nugget in one hand. Her eyes big and brown, her long hair tousled. Her sparkly shoes always on the wrong feet, glimmering in the sun.

“What mom?”

And in a sudden unexpected rush, I felt my throat close. Tears appeared out of nowhere. I couldn’t say it. I choked. Because the truth is, I want her to be from my tummy. I want to be the one that felt her kick, that pushed her out into her dad’s waiting arms. I want to avoid the questions that will surely come, the possible pain she may have. I don’t want her to ever feel “less than” or unwanted. She is so not that.

“That plane sure is beautiful,” I said.

“Yeah!” she said. “I came on a plane, and you and daddy!”

“We sure did,” I said. “Come on, want me to push you on the swing?”

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