While I was growing up, every time one of my classmates in school had a birthday, the teacher would invite the student to tell the class about the way they were born. I would get insanely jealous because my story was nothing like theirs. There were no tales of water breaking and long labors from the day I was born. From the beginning, I had two moms, my birth mother, and my adoptive mother.

The history of my birthday is not preserved in a baby book or a framed document. There are no pictures or copies of my tiny footprints, only the neat handwriting of an 18-year-old girl on the back of a puzzle.

That day, St. Patrick’s Day, 1973, my parents were having their traditional Irish dinner—corned beef and cabbage. My birth mother was lying in a hospital room, trying to muffle her cries so the couple next to her wouldn’t even know she was there. She was alone, in pain, waiting for me to arrive so that her life could return to normal.

Meanwhile, my parents talked about the chances of a baby girl coming into their lives after all this time. Over the course of the meal, they realized that their desire for another child outweighed the need for a girl. As I was being transferred to a foster home, my father called the agency to inform them of their decision. Less than a month later, they received the call that would change their lives—it was the caseworker asking them to come and pick up their new daughter.

I always knew that I was adopted and that one day, I would search for my birth mother. My desire to search had nothing to do with my family or trying to find replacements for them. I searched because I wanted to know where I came from, and most importantly, to thank the woman who had given me to my parents.

As my birth mother was returning to college (I had so kindly chosen to arrive during spring break so she only had to miss one-quarter of school), my parents were bringing me home. Their family was completed. My birth mother and I went on to fulfill our destinies, forever connected by blood and love, yet separated by circumstance.

I am conscious of the strength it took for her to place me ‘in God’s hands’ and trust that I would be loved and cared for. She knew that she wasn’t ready to be a mother, she wasn’t yet finished being a child. I have never doubted the wisdom in that decision. While no family is perfect, mine is as close as a person could hope for. I was placed into a family that always encouraged me and never let me doubt my own strength. My parents have been my best friends since the day we met.

My mom was there for me every time I scraped my knee, had a bad dream, or wet the bed. These days, she’s a phone call away, but always available. When I sprained my ankle at 1 a.m., she didn’t complain that I called but calmly talked me through it as she has so many times before. So when people ask me if I’ve met my real mom yet, the answer is yes, I met her in 1973, on the day she came to pick me up. I know that they don’t mean my mom, but my birth mother. I never know what to say. I don’t want to seem rude, yet it bothers me that people assume that a stranger is somehow more ‘real’ than my mom.

The Velveteen Rabbit became real after believing that he was real. I read that story over and over again as a child, knowing that I was like the rabbit, wanting to be a part of a ‘real’ family. What I didn’t realize was I already was part of a ‘real’ family, that the forces involved in bringing us together just had to work a lot harder to make us a family. I have never known another mother, and I don’t want to. Now that I know my birth mother, it only affirms that she wasn’t meant to be a mother to me, but to her young sons who came along when she was ready for them.

When I mailed the letter I’d always dreamed of writing to my birth mother, I knew that it could be my only contact with her. I made sure that it said everything I wanted her to know—that I was okay and very grateful for her strength and wisdom. I held no anger or malice towards her, only love and gratitude. Not every adoptee is graced with the peace I’ve always felt concerning my adoption, not every contact between birth parents and adoptees goes as well as mine has. I am mindful of that every time I hear from my birth mother or her family, and again I am humble in their strength and warmth.

I knew that my life would not be the same once I met my birth mother. I could only hope that it would be better, not worse. When I walked into her parent’s house and found myself surrounded by wonderful people, I knew I was, once again, lucky. She had loved me enough to give us both a chance at a better life, and her family had trusted her that it was right. We laughed and cried together, not exactly a family, but something both more and less.

My questions have been answered, and I have gained a large set of not-quite-relatives and a deeper understanding of the miracle of adoption. It’s as if I’ve married into a wonderful family where I’m one of them in a way, but I joined late. They are not and can never be replacements for my family; merely enhancements to my already rich life.

I realize that not every family created through adoption is like mine. It’s still a matter of chance if you get a good one or not, just like it is for kids who aren’t adopted. Knowing that only makes me more grateful for the family I am lucky enough to be part of. While I don’t agree with the closed records and the bureaucratic attempts to pretend that I was never part of another family, I see the wisdom in the system that brought me to my family.

How can I not be grateful to have two mothers, one who loved me enough to place me and one who loved me enough to call me her own?