My family of 3 is home. Back safe and sound in Brooklyn. We left Fort Lauderdale early, a night before Hurricane Matthew was slated to make landfall. We were in Fort Lauderdale to visit R’s birth mother (who I call M). I kept wanting to write before our visit. I kept starting to write in anticipation of what was sure to be an emotional, strange, wonderful afternoon….But no words would come.
I had been thinking about what our first visit with our child’s birth mom would be like long before any baby was a reality. Long before we were matched with R’s birth mom. I knew we would try to make yearly visits happen. It was a priority for us to have an open adoption. That sounds so easy. It wasn’t. My personal journey to an open adoption was long and fraught with so many emotions. It still is. I never expected this to be easy. Today I read a sentence written by another mother who adopted her children. She wrote, “adoption wrecked me”. That sums it up. The process did wreck me. I look older. The bags under my eyes are deeper, my body never quite recovered from the extreme stress that was ever present throughout the process-the days when I thought I just couldn’t wait any longer, or when I just couldn’t deal with all the unknowns, or eventually, when the very real fear that Rory might not be ours to parent set in.
Yes, adoption wrecked me, but it continues to build me up again.
As we waited for M to arrive at our hotel with her children, that very particular stress of adoption showed up again. All too familiar and yet all but forgotten over the past year and a half. I tried to hug R a lot. I was clingy. Clinging to him. Clinging to my role as mother, scared that it could be taken away. That was my fear, that she would arrive and instantly be mother. That I was replaceable. Admitting that is painful. Painful for me, yes, but painful for all I believe is true, what I KNOW to be true about adoption. Admitting that fear feels like I’m turning my back on adoption. The fear that I can’t possibly be mother, because I didn’t give birth to my son.This was my deepest, darkest fear heading into our afternoon.
I know I am R’s mama. I feel it so deeply in my bones. I know I say that a lot, but it’s true. I didn’t know love like this before Rory. I don’t recognize myself that’s how crazy my love for my child is. However, fear is an irrational thing, and that was my fear as I waited for M to arrive.
And then she did. And so did her children. And the next 4 hours were chaotic and wackadoo as we watched kids, none of whom could swim, in a pool (nice plan Katy). The details of the day are for us. For R. But I learned a lot about motherhood and love that afternoon. I learned a lot about myself, and about my husband, and about my son. I learned and experienced a day that did nothing but strengthen my family. I learned I’m braver than I knew myself to be. I fell even more in love with my husband that afternoon as he swam with R’s birth siblings . I helped R’s birth sibling use the bathroom and as I scooped her up so she could wash her hands, I felt a new love. A love that few have the privilege to experience. I realized the gravity of that moment, of this visit, of complex birth family relationships that will forever be a part of my life, Ethan’s life, and R's life.
It was quite a thing to sit side by side with M as she parented her children and I tried to parent my wild, funny, rambunctious boy. We are so very different women. But we are both mothers doing our best. Two women sitting poolside. I wonder what the people around the pool thought of this motley crew?! I hope they figured out what they were witnessing. Was it beautiful and moving to them? Did they think it was strange or messed up? I don’t know. It’s just our life now. Ethan and I are simply trying our hardest to forge the best possible life for R, which every parent can relate to. I would walk through fire for my son. It is my belief that visits with his birth family are, right now, in his best interest. I will continue to navigate these uncharted, sometimes hard and scary (but also beautiful) waters. Anything for my child. My god, my love for him is primal.
So, the day ended. I survived. I have pictures for R looking at M in a way that is so beautiful, so stunning. Sure, it hurts me and I don’t entirely know why. But it does, and I want to acknowledge that. I got through it. We all did. We more than got through it.
That night M, a quiet and reserved woman, texted to tell me she loved us all. Oh how I had wanted to send that same text, but was too scared I wouldn’t get a response. I wasn’t brave enough. Again and again M’s bravery astounds and astonishes me.
The next day, after visiting our first home with R, The Hampton Inn (and reuniting with the staff), passing the hospital where R was born (oh my heart!!!), revisiting R’s first bar (priorities) we ended up at The Cheesecake Factory. For one, it was one of the only restaurants open with the hurricane approaching, but it was also the first place we went after landing in Florida for R’s birth, and it’s also where we took M for lunch the day before her due date.
We walked in and Ethan took R to the bathroom to change him. I found myself alone, sitting on the bench where I sat with M a year and a half ago ago when I told her what we would be naming our child. No one knew the name we had picked. Only Ethan, me, and from that moment, M. As I sat on that bench and waited for Ethan and R to return, I began to cry. I couldn’t stop. The intimacy I share with M came flooding back. Our bond. Her pregnancy and my adoption. That gorgeous moment of R’s adoption story that happened while sitting on that stupid bench at that silly chain restaurant came rushing back. As raw as our visit was, sitting on that bench reminded me of all the good and stunning moments of the adoption journey that I went on with M and that led me to my son.
The journey for all of us continues. It may continue to wreck me from time to time, but oh the faith I have that the adoption journey will always build me up again, braver, stronger, and more full of love than I could have ever have imagined.