Just shy of two decades ago, early on in the process of adopting, I asked some parents what it was like to parent the adopted child. The responses were typical: “Wonderful!” “It’s as though she’s always been with us!” “Seamless!”
I listened but felt I wasn’t privy to the reality of adoption. Something within me, perhaps it was my mother’s heart, encouraged me to outstrip the level of preparation I had undertaken before giving birth to my son and caring for him as a newborn. I read until I’d exhausted all of the periodicals, research, and personal accounts I could find. The Internet as we know it was in its infancy. I was unsatisfied and went in search of “more.”
Reflecting I wonder why did I go in search of “more”? Why was I so insistent?
I am a realist, so it was no surprise that the simple answer I arrived at time and again was that parenting my daughter was not about me. It was about her. My goal was to be the child-centered parent. I needed to learn far more about the adopted child to be an effective child-centered parent of an adopted child.
I didn’t carry my daughter within me. I didn’t experience her first flutters, hiccups, and gymnastics as she grew inside of me. I didn’t expel her into our beautiful, complicated world. I didn’t conceive her or nurture her within my amniotic environment. She didn’t cut her first tooth with me. Nor did she roll over, sit up, or crawl for the first time in my presence. We missed all of those milestones.
My daughter grew inside another woman, a woman she referred to, and still does, as her birth mom, a woman who faced a heart-wrenching decision to not parent her. A woman I do not know, but love deeply and with compassion. I could assume that my daughter picked up her birth mother’s distress within her amniotic fluid and the sound of her heartbeat. She might have heard her birth mother cry often and wail when parting with her.
My daughter would arrive into our family with her unique history and difficult truths. On my end, I would become her mother after grieving and reconciling the losses of my biological baby and my mother. We would adapt to our adoption of each other, and we would learn to embrace and honor our differences as well as our similarities. We would become family, but adoption would ever-present.
My desire was to become my daughter’s mother, to fill the ambiguous void resulting from the distress of her birth mother and being relinquishment. My mothering role took on “more.”
I educated myself. I trained in seminars and workshops. I grew awareness, preparation, and created a toolbox. I set about to gently move into and help my daughter soften the impact of the fractured and broken spaces tied to her losses, similar to how olive oil coats the pan. I vowed never to discount what my daughter might be feeling, or how she might be acting out, even if “it” could not be contextualized. After all, it’s not about me. It’s about her.
For Discussion: What has surprised you regarding parenting your adopted child? What tools are in your parenting toolbox?
~ Photo: NliveN, LLC