Last week, after more than six years apart, my nine-year-old daughter reconnected with her birth mom. Since then, I’ve been struggling to put the experience into words, to accurately describe how it felt to see her embrace and fawn over the woman who gave her life, nursed her and raised her until she was a toddler.
I guess it’s kind of like watching your partner reconnect with an ex or first love. You stand there, knowing you’re not part of their connection and that somehow you factor into all this, but no one really knows how. Everyone is conscious of your feelings but you still feel like a third wheel, a voyeur. Your words and your body language are trying to convince yourself and everyone else that “THIS IS NOT WEIRD AT ALL AND I’M TOTALLY FINE WITH IT.”
I’ve done enough research to know that these reunions don’t always turn out well. Some birth parents would rather stay anonymous, some birth children have high expectations that can’t possibly be met. Sometimes it just all goes wrong and the wounds deepen.
But ours? Ours was awesome.
When my husband and I found out our daughter’s birth mom was living in our area and doing very well we sat with this information for a few weeks before discussing what to do with it. Our daughter has always wondered and talked openly about what she remembers and wants to know about her birth family so pretty quickly the decision was made to make contact, and after several months of texts, photos and phone calls, we planned the reunion.
It took place at a restaurant 30 minutes from our home and 15 minutes from birth mom’s house. We chose our daughter’s favourite restaurant so if things got too intense at least there would be chicken fingers, ice cream and an all-you-can-eat buffet. In other words, we could just eat our feelings and go home.
But everything turned out better than I ever could have imagined.
The best way I can describe it is to say it felt right. All of us being around the table together was unusual but after the first few minutes, it started to feel very natural. Birth mom stole my heart when she agreed wine was in order. After a few minutes of deep breaths and nervousness, I was able to sit back and watch my definition of family (and my actual family!) expand right before my eyes.
Because here’s the thing: you can run from what scares you or you can face it head on. Birth mom isn’t going away, nor should she, and my daughter’s desire to see her and know her isn’t going away, nor should it. As parents, our job is to help our kids figure out who they are, and this is a step we need to take to help our little girl become the best, happiest human she can be.
My daughter wanting to see and know her birth mom doesn’t feel like she’s choosing birth mom over me. It’s not a betrayal and I don’t question why I’m not “enough” for her. Every child deserves to have a complete picture of who she is and where she came from. As her adoptive mother, it’s not my job to edit or hide parts of her story. It’s my job to decide what to share and when, to make decisions in her best interest, and to be by her side as she uncovers her past.
Mothers can love more than one child so why can’t it be the same for children? As my favourite saying goes, love is not pie: it doesn’t run out, there’s enough for everyone.
With adopted children, especially those with birth parent contact, it’s almost impossible to raise them as though they are property, ie. this one is “ours” and that one is “yours.” We’ve had to accept more of a village approach to raising our kids because that’s what we signed up for as adoptive parents. We committed to nurturing the whole child and honouring her whole past, which includes people and experiences we know little or nothing about.
The great news is, I think I got lucky. Birth mom’s story is not mine to tell but I am in awe of her strength and resilience. She’s set an example for her daughter that any mother could be proud of. As our girl gets older it will be up to them to navigate the story of how they were separated and why, and I will be there to support them both.
The scariest part is trusting someone else to keep promises and to be the responsible adult my daughter needs and deserves. Now she has three adults in her life to guide her and look up to, but she also has three adults who will make mistakes when it comes to raising her. I’m losing a bit of control but it’s not about ‘who will she love more’ or, ‘what if she wants to spend more time with her than me’? I can’t pretend those things wouldn’t hurt like hell but the alternative, her not knowing, is scarier because no one deserves to grow up with a giant hole or question mark in their identity.
So, for now, we will navigate this new reality one day at a time, one all-you-can-eat buffet at a time.