We've been talking a lot about family and adoption around here lately. Forgive the rambling as I try to make sense of it all:
Yesterday, as I buckled Curious Girl into the carseat, she said to me, "I want to be a mama." "Well, maybe you will be a mama someday. You can be a mama if you want to when you're grown up," I told her. Indignantly, she said, "I going to be a mama!" So I smiled and said, "honey, you'll be a wonderful mama someday." "But I"m not going to have a baby," she went on. "Hmm..how are you going to be a mama if you don't have a baby? Are you going to adopt a toddler? That's how some people become mamas." "I not going to have a baby in my tummy. I going to adopt a baby." "Adoption is a great way to make a family, Curious Girl," I told her, as she ran off into the garden to pick some sorrel and move onto the next fantasy.
While I've been not blogging, there have been some bloggy dust-ups about adoption: Karen at the Naked Ovary had a major debate rolling in the comments to a post about her referral, a debate she quickly apologized for, even while the comments got discussed in plenty of other blogs. The discussion quickly moved from the specific issues in Karen's comments to a more general exploration of adoptive parents guilt, and the mixing of joy and hurt in family moments about adoption. (Check out a sort-of-new blog, Round is Funny, for a powerful series of posts about the mixing of all these emotions for new adoptive parents.) And then around this same time, over at Twice the Rice, there was a great post about adoption language. As I've written here before, I'm not entirely a fan of the positive adoption language movement: it has its virtues, but I see it as pushing discussion of birthfamilies away, and that's not a good thing. As I read all these posts, I kept thinking I wanted to write myself, but couldn't figure out what to say.
And then Curious Girl said, not for the first time, "I wish I were born in your tummy, Mama."
She says this a fair bit, and I have a general set of responses: I ask her if she knows where she was born for real ("In J.," she will say), I ask her what difference it would make, I tell her I love her. This last time, she told me that all her friends were born in their mama's tummys and she wasn't, and that's sad. I never argue with her when she tells me something is sad, but I did point out that not all her friends were born in their mamas' tummies (which led to a discussion about eggs and sperm and why didn't some of the papas have the babies). I always try to tell her I love her, I love her, I love her, and that she was born to her first mother, and that I'm sorry we don't know more about J.
This conversation got me thinking about the saying "you weren't born under my heart, but in it." In the comments over at Twice the Rice, this saying has gotten roundly trashed. I've never used it myself, either in conversation or my scrapbook, because it seems a nonsensical. My desire to be a mother didn't bring CG into the world; my desire to be a mother didn't create whatever dynamics led her birth parents to relinquish CG. She existed, and she came into the world with a heritage and a family and a story. She was born to her mother, in her homeland. She wasn't born in my heart, literally or metaphorically. But as I listened to what I almost said to Curious Girl's stated desire to be born in me, I came to understand why some adoptive parents like the saying.
I almost said to Curious Girl, "I didn't want to have a baby in my belly..." but I stopped myself. How will she hear that, I wondered. And what does it mean, now, when I look at my beautiful delightful curious girl and remember that once, I didn't want to get pregnant?
But it's true. I'm a medical wuss. I had to take antianxiety medication in advance of my thyroid surgery, and all the times I've ever fainted have been in hospitals or medical settings. I'm scared of pain, I'm scared of procedures, and I've been terrified about giving birth since I was old enough to think about it. So an alternative to pregnancy that allowed me to become a mother was my first choice. Lots of people look at the adoption process and think "gee, that sounds like a pain in the neck." Not me, when the alternative is lots of poking and prodding in doctors' offices (and let's add on top of that that psychologically, I'm more of a home-birth sort of person, but what with advanced maternal age and all my medical paranoia about things that might go wrong, that probably wouldn't have been a real option for us anyway.) My medical fears aren't the only reason we chose adoption, but it's part of my path to adoption. Among people who chose adoption first, there's some wonder about how people who go through fertility treatments and then choose adoption explain that choice to their children--how do children not feel like a second choice? I'm wondering now whether choosing adoption first doesn't avoid that kind of issue: how could I not want CG in me, after all?
Let me be clear: I'm never going to tell CG that she grew in my heart, but I'm thinking again about why she's drawn to wishing she did grow inside me. It's not just adoptive parents who want to create ties between parents and child. Curious Girl is drawn to this too. The reason she wants to have been born in my tummy, if I can venture a guess, comes from her connection to me, her attempts to understand where she came from. I'm not feeding her that language. Yes, it's my job to nurture her ties to us, and to teach her that family means forever: but that also means teaching her that her birth family is her family forever, shadowy though they may be for much of her life. I want her to love herself and her birth family.
An adoptive family isn't the same as a biological family; we have to juggle the relationships between gains and losses, joys and sorrows, families present and past. But not really past, for CG's birth family is in her. I think about them every day. Maybe she does, too. I want her to know that it's OK for her to think about them every day (and I wonder whether and how they think about her.)
At the moment, she's a four year old whose language is magic. "Pretend you're another person," she said to me yesterday while we were out, she riding her bike, I walking. "Do you want to play Magdalena?" she asked at the park. "What's your name in the game?" "Come to my garage sale!" she'll urge, gesturing at the jewelry she has scattered on the floor, for sale. With her words, anything is possible. She can't make me her birth mother (once, just once, she asked me to pretend that she grew in my tummy, and I gently said no, we can't pretend that, you grew in J.). But she can use her language to play out different connections to me and Politica, to play out connections to her first family, to create a safe space for herself. Her whole self, that is, her self past and present, her baby self and the grown-up self that will come. I hope we do right by her: it takes my breath away, sometimes, just to think about it all.