20 September 2009

What No One Told Me About Adoption

This post is written for a carnival on What No One Told Me About Adoption, organized by the (regrettably named blog) Grown in My Heart. (Here's an older extended explanation of my problems with that term, if anyone's interested.)

I'm an academic, and I read my way through life. When I encounter something new, I read. So I read a lot about adoption, and I was prepared for medical issues, attachment issues, conversations about biology and destiny and families and travel and hard stuff and genes. What no one told me is that knowing something in your head isn't the same as knowing something in your heart.

No one told me how profoundly sad I would feel, listening to the hurt in my daughter's voice as she asks questions I can't answer about her first family.

No one told me how small school assignments can connect to adoption. We have some art Curious Girl did last year, around election day, on the prompt "If I were the President of the United States, I would....." Last year, she was simply happy about her work (she'd make sure all animals go to the vet, in case you're wondering). This morning, though, she said it makes her sad, because she can't be President (not having been born a US citizen) and everyone else in her class last year could be President but she can't and it's.not.fair. I was ready to talk with her teachers about the family tree assignment, or the mapping family eye colors to learn about dominant/recessive genes assignment. I wasn't ready to see how even the simple request to identify yourself as someone with siblings, or not, can be hard for an adopted child to answer.

No one told me that I'd have to find a face-saving, child-supporting way to explain to CG's friends that her birth mother isn't coming to visit tomorrow, even though that's what CG has been telling people all day at school.

No one told me how fiercely protective I would feel about CG's first family, how angry I feel when people generalize about reasons women place children for adoption, assuming that birth mothers are undeserving of grace, love, and parenthood.

No one told me how profoundly happy I would feel, listening to my daughter answer her friends' questions about our family and her adoption. I love the way she's found some words to tell her own story.

No one told me how something so hard can be so wonderful, too. In an ideal world, there'd be no adoption. I can live with the contradictions between my life and that claim: I can't imagine my life not as CG's mother (although yes, the pre-child years were full of happiness, too). But the loss at the root of my wonderful life is something no parents and no children should have to endure. Still. Here I am, with my wonderful beautiful creative and curious girl sleeping upstairs. I love the way she and Politica and I forge our family one conversation at a time, one loving action at a time, one emotion at a time. We're making our family together, weaving ourselves together in ways that help each of us, in our own time, make peace with our pasts. It's amazing, and no one told me just how much I would wonder at what the love between the three of us makes possible.


Kris Peleg said...

yes, my kids can't be president either and you'd think the schools in the US might have figured out that there are students born elsewhere.

shana tova.

jo(e) said...

Beautiful post.

Songbird said...

Smiling here, though teary-eyed, too.

Tall Kate said...

Lovely. Thanks for sharing.

MK said...

My daughter also gets easily upset about the injustice of rules that don't allow her to do things - like be president. That, I had never thought about. Great post.

Phantom Scribbler said...

Such a beautiful post, Susan. And it makes me a little mad that CG can't be president, too.

a Tonggu Momma said...

Beautiful post and oh, so true. Knowing something in your head is very different from experiencing it in your heart.

And my daughter? Actually wrote a letter to "O'Rock Obama" this past winter, asking him to change the rule about the presidency. She is five and was born in China. Heh.

susan said...

Welcome, MK and Tonggu Momma! TM: Curious Girl was a big Hillary Clinton supporter during the last election, but we had our fair share of conversations about Baracko Obama or Rock O'Obama, too. She's currently a huge fan of the Obama girls, who are winning her over to the Obama presidency.

julie said...

Just a beautiful, beautiful post about what's a family, about what is parenting, about what love makes possible. About how possible makes love.

Thank you.

niobe said...

I've been reading and re-reading this gorgeous post for a while now.

Though, because I'm completely self-centered, I keep trying to relate it to my own situation. In my case (IVF + surrogacy), in a sense, it really was my own desire to have a child that brought Cole into being. Without enormous efforts on my part (and, of course, the surrogate's part), he never would have existed.

Could I say that he grew in my heart, though he certainly didn't grow under it? Or would people find that somehow objectionable? (I mean, not that it really matters what other people think, but I'm just trying to get a handle on this....)

liz said...

Thank you for this post.

Anonymous said...

I agree. I've encountered those family tree assignments, too.


No one ever told me that I would encounter so many school situations with a need for baby pictures (I have none below the ages of 3.5 and 5.5 for my boys).

No one ever told me that my son would have better answers to questions about our family than I did. I arrived at kindergarten to pick my son up. A child who had encountered my ex partner the day before was incredulous. "This is your mom? How come you got two moms?" Before I could open my mouth to give the (canned, pre-prepared) reply, my son answered, "Just lucky, I guess."