Motherlode

I just wanted to share a piece I found on the NY Times about adoption.

-GS

December 11, 2008, 12:30 pm <!– — Updated: 2:44 pm –>

Child? Or Adopted Child? Please Check One

If you have been following Motherlode the past few months, you might have noticed, as I did, the sage advice in the comments now and then from Jenni Levy. Jenni is a primary care doctor in Allentown, Pa., where she lives with her husband and the 9-year-old daughter they adopted at birth.

Why do I mention that their little girl is adopted? Isn’t a daughter a daughter? Isn’t her mother the woman who raised her?

In Jenni’s guest blog today, she says “yes,” and “no.” Which is not the answer she expected to reach when the baby first made her a parent nearly a decade ago.

By JENNI LEVY

Is my daughter my child, or my adopted child?

The life insurance form I have to fill out at work wants to know. Choose a beneficiary, and indicate their relationship to you from this drop-down list, it tells me:

Spouse
Parent
Ex-spouse
Brother
Sister
Adopted child
Child

I became a mother with two days’ notice. We met our daughter’s birth mother near the very end of her pregnancy, and she chose us to raise her child. We brought our baby home from the hospital, but I didn’t give birth and I wasn’t breastfeeding.

For the first few months, I felt compelled to explain myself to everyone — even to strangers. I felt like an impostor, an interloper into motherhood. I remember thinking that some day it wouldn’t matter any more, that I’d forget I was an adoptive mother and come to be just like everybody else.

It’s been almost nine years now, and I can’t forget that my daughter is adopted. I no longer want to forget, and I know I’m a real mother. I drop my third-grader off at school and go for walks with her and sign off on her homework and cuddle her when she’s hurt and try to answer those penetrating philosophical questions that kids ask only at bedtime. And adoption still matters. It’s not either/or. I am an adoptive mother. I am a real mother. I am not my daughter’s only mother, but I am her mommy, and she is my child. My adopted child.

I struggle with this triangular relationship – mother, child, birth mother. When my daughter’s birth mother calls, my stomach tightens. I have to work to keep the tension out of my voice. I can hear the pain in hers, but I can’t acknowledge it directly. I pick up the phone and answer her e-mails out of respect for the woman who gave me this gift, and out of love for my daughter. I want my daughter to know that I love and accept and honor every part of her, and that her biological relatives are not a secret or a shame. For my daughter, I can open my heart beyond my own fear and embrace the woman who gave her life.

Most days I feel good about the way we are together. I have become my child’s mother without denying her heritage, without erasing her origins. So why does this insignificant question on this routine insurance form bother me so much? Why can’t I just check “adopted child” and move on?

I can’t choose one because it’s a false dichotomy. My daughter is adopted, and she is my child. Both of those are true. I don’t want to deny any part of our relationship, even if it is just to answer a bureaucrat’s unthinking question.

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One Comment on “Motherlode

  1. That was moving. I’m so glad I had the chance to read it– and I only read it because you posted it. You’re doing wonderful work here. Thank you.

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