I didn’t have a story.
It was a scenario I’ve been in countless times before, and I understood my role as a silent observer. I was sitting on a side chair in the comfort of a friend’s home, a cup of coffee and a warm blueberry muffin in hand, listening as the women around me shared their birth stories with a friend, days away from giving birth to her first born baby. They talked of centimeters, epidurals, and labor hours as I silently smiled and sipped my coffee, taking it all in. These stories brought a measure of comfort to this new mama, knowing these women had gone before her, experienced the best and the worst, and understood her anxiety and her joy. These women shared a common bond, but it was inclusion in a club I will never belong to.
I didn’t have a story to share.
My entrance into motherhood doesn’t include words like contractions, dilation, and (thank you, Lord) forceps. The ways my children came to our family are both quite different, but the words I have come to know have a different ring: home study, ICPC, placement vs. finalization, post-placement.
I relaxed back in my chair that evening, enjoying the banter, the stories, the joy that this new life would bring not only to my friend, but also the community surrounding her and her family. I know my own children bring this circle joy, too, but it is in these moments that I also recognize the need and the desire for an adoption community.
Because we, too, have stories to share.
We share the story of loving ferociously, fiercely, and forever a child we did not birth. And that means loving, for the sake of my children, their first families, too.
My children will never have my husband’s eyes or my nose. And while both of them certainly have traits that mimic ours, every day, I catch a glimpse of their first families in the tilt of a head or the curve of a lip. Those outside the adoption triad often have a difficult time accepting dialogue that refers to first families, thinking that it is a violation of my children’s place in our family, that somehow acknowledging first families makes our lives unstable or unsure.
But when I am surrounded by those in the trenches of adoption with me, it is acknowledged as part of who we are, who my children are, how our family came to be. I can love the women that gave birth to my children, who created adoption plans for them, who chose homes for them where they would be loved and cared for without my role in their lives being diminished, without feeling second-rate or in second place. Because they loved my children, I now love my children.
We share the story of months, years, and mountains of preparation.
As soon as I meet another mama through adoption and the term home study is spoken, chuckles, grins, shaking heads, and sighs bond us forever. Ours are not hours of labor but months of paperwork, fingerprints, background checks, water temperature tests. We tell tales not of nurses and doctors and doulas, but of case managers and social workers, and administrative assistants. It is a story of exhaustion, late nights, and papercuts. A story of questions and interrogation, organization, hurrying up frantically only to wait indefinitely. One mama I met recarpeted her living room, another remodeled her bathroom. I repainted my entire house, including our front door. Does every outlet have a cover? Does every floor have a fire extinguisher? Does every cabinet have a lock? Is my fence high enough? Is my dog calm enough? Did I remember to buy slip pads for the tub? Where did I put the first aid kit (because random boxes of Band-aids, first aid cream, and tweezers will not suffice. It needs to be in a kit in a known place easily retrievable).
We laugh because it is now years after we started this process; it was not funny then, but relief allows us a moment of fun.
We share stories of being an island.
We are islands because we don’t have birth stories. We are islands because our children will never have great Aunt Sally’s long index finger that all the girls have or Grandpa Jim’s penchant for card games. We are islands because we may never know who her love for science or his singing voice comes from. We are islands because we may never have held one or more of our babies as infants and rocked them to sleep in the chair that held all of the family babies. We are islands because there is a chance we don’t know where they were born or what their first solid food was or what they learned in the days and months and years before they came to us. And so, we have to explain away or account for behaviors or gaps or missing pieces we know nothing about. We are islands because people continually ask about their “real moms.”
But here’s the truth of it all: we don’t have to be islands alone. We don’t have to be deserted. And depleted. And discouraged. We can be connected; we can form our own archipelago and thrive together. As mamas and daddies and families by adoption, we need each other; we need to share our stories together, pull each other through the trenches, let new mamas know that we, too, have had our own labor pains and survived. We have experienced the best; we have lived through the worst; we understand each other’s anxieties and joys, too. We can be part of the mainland of motherhood and fatherhood and parenthood to offer those tales in the larger sphere of community; but we must build a community, too, for each other.
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