When I’m out and about with my girl, and we see Asian mothers and daughters laughing, eating or picking out soccer cleats, it gives me a pang. I don’t look like my beautiful daughter, with her shiny black hair, amber skin, and eyes shaped like marquise gemstones. But I have to remind myself we are alike in other ways.
I am Polish, Dutch, Scottish and German by birth and Swiss/German Mennonite by upbringing. I didn’t really look like my parents, but then again, I wasn’t a different race, either. Phoebe is Korean, and I am a Chex Mix of Caucasian lineages.
So I have this pang, because seeing Asian mothers and daughters accentuates the fact that another mother gave my daughter life. And I think about Phoebe’s birth mother again—how her loss was my joy. I can never forget.
From there, my thoughts inevitably turn to my own birth mother, the tall, slender teacher’s college student who relinquished me in 1968. We’ve known each other for 20 years now, and our relationship is good, but complicated. Knowing Dora has enabled me to connect some dots about myself, to integrate my first family with my forever family. This relationship has also provided me with some insights into my daughter and her first mother, too:
1. Phoebe will always wonder about her birth mother—who she is, what she looks like, why she gave her up. It will always be a part of her, whether she voices it regularly or not.
2. Her birth mother, like mine, will never stop loving the baby she surrendered.
3. Her birth mother is not a threat to the bond we share. People think DNA is the ultimate bonding agent, but I have found out it’s not. I have so much more in common with my adoptive parents than I do my birth parents! What bonds a parent and a child is love, and lots and lots of care and time. Finding my birth mother served to underscore and solidify my devotion to my real mom—my forever mom. It’s easy to think that when your child finds her birth mom he or she might lose some allegiance to you, but in my case, the opposite was true.
4. In other words, there’s room in my daughter’s heart for two mothers, just as there was room in my heart for my birth mother and my forever mom.
5. Still, it’s complicated. Phoebe has another mama out there in the world, one who carried her and gave birth to her, whose love and genomes are engraved in her. Meanwhile, I have been the mama who loves her, cares for her, and busts her chops to do her homework. I am the only mama she will likely ever know. The point is, the more we as adoptive mamas and papas can help our kids sort it all out, the better. So…
6. Don’t be afraid to speak her name or bring her up. (While watching Hawaii Five O): “Kono is actually Korean in real life. She’s so pretty! I bet she looks a little bit like your Korean mama.” (While discussing a pregnant cousin): “I’m so thankful your Korean mama took such good care of you while you were in her tummy. She wanted you to be healthy.” I admit—this is awkward and difficult sometimes. But vital to my girl’s wholeness.
7. Keep in mind that if your adopted child takes after anyone, it will probably be you. Folks assume that one will be just like one’s birth parents in every conceivable way. But I have found that though I look like my birth mother and we are both writers (very different kinds of writers), my personality is a hybrid of my mom and dad, and most importantly—they were the ones who shaped my character, not my bio parents.
As Phoebe gets older, the more she will know this, and the more important it will be. As your child gets older, too, the more they will know this, and the more important it will be!