Two weeks ago, we did something that not everyone understands: we kissed our adult adopted daughter, April, put her on a plane and sent her 1,000+ miles away. She left, with our blessings, to see her birth family. The last thing I yelled at her as she headed through security was, “Come home!” She beamed over her shoulder at me. Passengers in line around her laughed.
A few days ago, we got a text. “So. If I wanted to move up here?”
It’s been interesting, the past few days, watching my inbox fill. People are concerned because April is too happy too soon. She is far away, with strangers. She is, after all, our daughter.
What they don’t realize is: she has never, for an instant, been just our daughter.
We had 93 foster children over a ten year span. We heard them cry for their parents. We listened to them count the days to their next supervised visitation. We saw them spend hours drawing flowery cards to give their mothers. We took them to the ER after they feigned illness, knowing their Real Mommas would be called and come to the hospital. We saw their childish love. And we saw true parental love.
I have heard the judges, after terminating parental rights, say to teary-eyed mothers, “You will always be your child’s mother. No one can take that away from you.” I have watched women kiss their children for the last time. I have seen worlds end.
When April’s own world collapsed following the stillbirth of her anencephalic daughter, Stephanie Grace, her birth family–with whom we have always maintained a relationship, ranging from sporadic Christmas cards to a visit in 2006–rallied around her. Her elder brother and his pregnant wife suggested she come up, meet their toddler, and spend some time. He had invited her for years; this time, she went.
They hadn’t seen each other in over a decade, but their connection was immediate. Her texts were happy; Facebook videos of bonfires and fireworks showed a normal family, laughing. Pictures taken in the park show April with her near-twin. His friends’ comments beneath the photos marvel at their similarities.
I had first seen her brother in a picture mailed to us when April was a toddler. I opened the envelope to find the boy version of my daughter. Same eyes, same cheeks, same smile, same belly. At that moment, I felt my heart rip. She had been taken from her brother. Her family.
I felt the same pangs early in April’s pregnancy, when others suggested that she give her baby up for adoption. As I looked through the family profiles on a local adoption agency’s website, I thought, “Her baby doesn’t need to be saved FROM anything or anyone. We will ALL love this baby.”
That’s the insult of adoption, I think–cloaking it in terms of “salvation.”
This is unfair to birth parents. It implies unworthiness and inferiority. According to society’s narrative, their child is saved from them by Better People. Some nobility is afforded those birth parents who sign their rights away: obviously, they want what’s Best for their child. Finding themselves cast into roles of selfless saviors, adoptive parents are forced to wear a mantle of perfection, and they can exhaust themselves trying to be all to a child who has lost everything.
Lost in all this posture and coerced role play is a simple fact: most of the time, everyone involved in the adoption loves the child equally.
After I got April’s text about staying in New York, I read aloud from internet articles about the pros and cons of such birth family reunions. One of the most profound comments was that adoptees live with their feet in two worlds. My husband and I chatted about it for a moment, and then Greg said, “We don’t know what trauma we are causing. What hole we might be creating. There’s a spiritual connection an adoption doesn’t undo. We may be giving children safety and taking other things.”
Later, as we sat on alone the back porch together that evening, we silently looked up at the drake elm tree amid the pink of the crepe myrtles. Finally, he said, “This is normal. Children grow up. They sometimes move far away. It’s what they do.” His voice quavered.
As the sky darkened, we continued to talk quietly–tired survivors of a year full of heartbreak and loss, we are willing to grant that a fresh start might be in April’s best interest. We know that she is safe and loved; we try to console ourselves with that.
It is, we know, the ultimate in reversal of roles–the adoptive parents forlorn, the birth family elated. A thousand miles means we won’t see her often. There will be no visits on a whim.
We know people who, in 1998, felt the same way we do right now. April is now sitting on their sofa, petting their dog, laughing at their jokes.
Like us, they have always loved April. They, like us, always will. We have always understood that about each other. Ours doesn’t fit the “typical” adoption narrative. No one saved anyone; we all just did our best and loved the same brown-eyed girl.
And we all still do.