Even before I was completely sewn back together, I held my newborn. In those very first moments of hormones and love and crying baby, I knew with my entire being that I could not, would not, ever give her up. How could anyone give up such a precious, perfect little girl? How very devastated would I be if I had to give away this little person who I'd just made, who was mine, all mine.
I tried to push those terrifying thoughts out of my head. Today was a day for joy, after all. But that act of giving away someone whom you'd carried with you for nine months, who was a part of you right down to a cellular level, it was mystifying and horrifying.
And yet, that was exactly what my birth mom did to me.
Of course, I knew she'd loved me. That's what my adoptive mom told me every time I asked about the day I was born when I'd met my birth mom for a few minutes. Mom always said, "Your birth mom loved you enough to give you up. And now I love you."
The agency had told us that my birth mom even wanted to hold me before I was taken away. Meaning that, on some level, I had in fact been wanted. To my child’s mind, this was a very important distinction indeed.
The common wisdom of adoption is that the bond of love offered by the well-educated, stable adoptive mother replaces that of the birth mother. The infant lacks cognitive ability to know there's been a switch, and if introduced to her new mom early enough, she will bond with no problems.
What psychologists are coming to understand is that newborns are capable of learning, and therefore capable of memory. If a newborn can remember, then the mother-child bond is there. It's pre-verbal; she won't even be able to articulate it once she can talk.
But that primal connection exists.
Agencies peddling closed adoptions encouraged the birth mom to forget about their baby. They focused on the adoptive families, the paying customer, reassuring the adoptive mom of her maternal worthiness. But it turns out that the child's bond with the adoptive family is in addition to her original bond with her birth mother. There’s enough love to go around.
When I reunited with my birth mom as a young adult, I was inexorably drawn to her, connected on a deep level. In her presence, I knew I was whole, and I knew she had loved me all those years.
At the time of my reunion, I didn't have children. In fact, directly after meeting my birth mother, I broke off an engagement to a man who was ready start a family. I for one was adamantly not ready to be pregnant; as evidenced by the stupid act of starving myself so thin that I didn't menstruate, thereby becoming (temporarily) infertile. Besides, I had no need for pregnancy. I planned to adopt a perfectly healthy, happy baby. No need to "ruin" my body, I argued. As a dancer, I wanted to remain thin and agile, and certainly couldn't do that with a huge pregnant belly.
I also felt adamantly that if adoption was good enough for my mom, then it was good enough for me.
It took years to overcome the levels of denial that I'd piled on my psyche. I believed the "normal" method for getting a baby was to adopt one. The thought did not occur to me that my own adoptive mother's first choice had been to get pregnant and have a baby of her own. When that didn't happen, she turned to an adoptive agency.
In my case, my proposed method of becoming a mother held an added bonus for whomever I would adopt: he or she would in fact be my first choice.
All of this semi-delusional thinking took years to unravel. Finally, I came to accept the stark, but simple, reality that closed adoption is f---ed up. Children are meant to be with their biological mothers, and to know their biological families. Children are meant to look into the faces of people to look just like them, and to know that they belong.
Yes, adoption as an institution is necessary. Yes, it will always exist. Yes, it gives unwanted babies to loving parents who otherwise couldn't start a family, blah, blah, blah. Fine. I get it. But, I won't adopt a child. Being adopted and having had experienced the same loss of identity would not help me raise an adopted child.
With this in mind, I married a wonderful man, and we agreed to start a family. I can't say I enjoyed being pregnant, but I did it. I grew a nine pound baby inside of me. She was likely too big, in fact, for a natural birth, my OB advised. On the appointed day, I was terrified. I hate hospitals, I hate blood and guts and gross bodily functions. But the baby had to come out, I reminded myself over and over.
All of my drama and worry was for naught; everything turned out fine. Even while the doctor was finishing up my scheduled caesarean, I held my daughter. When she was about twenty-minutes old, and I still couldn't feel my toes yet, the nurses offered to help me nurse her.
The rest of the day, into the evening, then after my husband went home, and the sun had finally set on a gloomy February day, I held my girl. The night nurse offered to take her to the nursery, but I politely declined. It seemed my girl liked to suckle, and she was content to sleep safely between my legs during the brief intervals when my arms got tired or I needed to eat something.
The thought of being away from my baby was unbearable. As if I would die.
I slept little that first night. I kept imagining the hospital room on the day my birth mom first became a mother. She didn’t have any visitors. She told me recently that even at the age of seventeen, she felt distinctly that it was the proudest moment of her life. On the day I was born, she'd met me, held me, even took a few photos before the nurses realized all of that might not be okay. But she had let me go, that was the plan. She had to give me up, but she would always be a mother.
When did my adoptive mom become a mother? The morning I was born? The day she received the call that her baby could be picked up the very next day? The moment the social worker put me in her arms?
As I held my baby girl, I cried for my own infant self, and I cried for my birth mother's loss. At the same time, I understood my adoptive mom’s joy.
Truly, when is it that one becomes a mother?
For my two moms and me, that moment was the same: holding our daughter for the very first time.
I’m so happy to be guest blogging today at The Declassified Adoptee. What are your views on adoption or becoming a parent? I'd love to hear from you, please comment below!
Laura Dennis currently lives in Serbia with her husband and two children. You can learn more about her adoption and reunion in her memoir, ADOPTED REALITYavailable on Amazon.com and Smashwords.com. The paperback version will be out in early fall 2012.
Check out her website, AdoptedRealityMemoir.com
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Email: laura @ adoptedrealitymemoir.com