A few years ago, my then 21 year old daughter asked me, “Mom, was I a rape baby? I think I’m old enough to know. I can handle it.”
I thought for a moment.
“No,” I replied, “But I am.”
Adoption is a common theme in our family; a theme that brings hard questions that seem to have no answers. Sometimes, however, there are answers that have been years in coming.
My daughter and son are both adopted, as am I and my two brothers. We like to joke that adoption runs in the family. Both of my children were private adoptions – we met and formed relationships with both of my children’s birth mothers -- but never met their birthfathers. Over the years, I’ve kept in contact with my son’s birthmother from across the country, but lost track of Rachel’s “other” mom, Donna. As both an adoptee and an adoptive mother, I’ve been in a unique position to understand two of the three sides of the adoption experience. We’ve done our best to inoculate our children against the occasionally thoughtless person who asks the adoptee, “Don’t you wish you knew who your REAL mother was?” or asks the adoptive parent, “How can you love a child that isn’t really YOURS?” This last question was asked by a “friend” of mine who had tried for years to get pregnant, never could, but would never consider adoption, because the child wouldn’t be “hers”. All I could tell her was that no matter how a family was formed – by birth or by adoption – our children are never really “ours” anyway.
Like me, both of my children have always known that they were adopted. When they reached 18, we gave them all the records that we had about their adoptions, including any information we had about their birthparents. My son has chosen, at the moment, not to search, but my daughter did and a couple of years ago, found her birthmother living not far away. They met and have developed a relationship that is cordial and growing. It would be very easy, as an adoptive mom, to be jealous of such a relationship, but I have trod the same road; looking for my own heritage and backstory. In the mid 90s, I had an abdominal tumor and it was imperative that I get any family history I could. I had known for at least fifteen years who my birthmother was and her connection with my family and their friends, but I was adopted in 1951 – a vastly different time when being a pregnant teen carried an enormous stigma. In my teens and early 20s, I experienced a fierce desire to know "who I was", but by the time learned who my birthmother was and where she lived, I opted to let the past be the past and not interrupt her life.
Pregnant teen mothers, like mine, were usually whisked away to an institution like the Florence Crittenden home and a story was made up to cover her absence. The whole process was closed in those days and very little information was made available. The difference in my case, was that my dad was a doctor and, in the course of his practice, he was able to arrange to adopt the child of one of his patients – me. When my parents died, I found paperwork in their files that identified who my birthmother was. It turned out that my neighbor, who had always said I reminded her of someone she knew, was right. I was the daughter of her classmate and friend, Jo.
When I finally was faced with having to contact my birthmother, I did it through my neighbor to lessen the impact on her. I didn’t know how she would react and, as it turned out, she was not particularly happy to hear from me. I remember the turmoil I felt as I waiting to get the first phone call from her and the piercing pain when I realized I had invaded her life and upset her carefully erected defenses. I got the information I needed and it was a number of years before she was able to reach out to me and begin to build a friendship. For, you see, I was a rape baby and she was terrified that her other children would think less of her and reject her for having a child that had been adopted out. She has told me many times, “I didn’t see you when you were born and have never thought about you all these years.” I understand that she was just trying to protect herself and I like to think that the statement isn't completely true. I can't deny that it was and is an incredibly painful thing to hear, but I have to consider the times and the situation. Today, we are friendly but not close. It’s hard to become close to someone who hasn’t thought about you for 45 years. One incredible thing I did find out was what it means to have people who look like you. At a family reunion, held to meet me, I held my breath in nervous anticipation as I knocked on the door before I met my "new family". I need not have worried. And, wonder of wonders, they looked like me.
My daughter is luckier. Her birthmother, as it turns out had been looking for her too. Over the past few years they have been in contact but Donna has been hesitant to attend any family functions for fear we would somehow not accept her. She had been barely 15 when she delivered Rachel under very difficult circumstances. Although I had written to her and tried to call to invite her to our family events since they had reunited, she had never responded. I respected her wishes and hoped that things would change in the future.
On Tuesday, my beautiful daughter had a c-section and we welcomed a new life into our family. Little Adam seems to be an old soul; peaceful and calm from the moment he was born. He was born in a small regional hospital which is renowned for its personal care and family friendly atmosphere. Both grandmas were welcomed into the nursery right after he arrived when he was weighed and measured – you certainly can’t do that in a big hospital. He was washed and wrapped and delivered, a tiny bundle, to Rachel as she recuperated in her hospital room. As she dozed in and out of consciousness, I held the new little one while everyone else went to lunch. We talked lazily about how it doesn’t matter how you make a family, whether natural or adopted, there’s no such thing as too many people who love you. “Mom,” she said, “You know how I spent my childhood – like in that picture of me? Loving my babies. I’m still doing it.”
Later that afternoon, after I returned from lunch, I noticed Rachel had a visitor when I walked into the room. I said hello and we exchanged pleasantries. I took a closer look. “Donna?” I said. “Is that you?” An awkward silence, a rush to hug her, then tears; lots and lots of tears. Twenty three years after the fact, I finally had the opportunity to thank the wonderful woman who had made it possible for me to raise my daughter. We had come full circle and the circle was made of love.
As we clung to each other, each thanking the other, it was obvious once again that you truly cannot have too many people who love you.
Our daughter agrees.