I have a friend. He’s bright and funny and asks 1 million questions. He’s also 6 years old. Okay, he’s actually Rory’s best friend since birth, but he’s the kind of kid who you could sit with and discuss…. just about anything. He’s the “why” kid. He asks why. And then he asks why again. And then again. Leo was born exactly 1 month before Rory. To say that our families are close is an understatement. When Leo’s mom went into labor for the second time, Leo stayed with us. When we had to drop everything and travel to Buffalo to meet Desi, Rory spent the night with Leo. Our families have vacationed together. We are each other’s emergency contacts. If I’m not too old to say, “my ride or die”, then they’re my ride or die. All of this is to say that Leo has known our family his entire life. He has known me as Rory’s mom since the moment he met Rory when he was 6 weeks old. So maybe that’s why I was so taken aback when Leo asked me why Rory’s real mom didn't want him. Last weekend, I found myself alone in the kitchen with my little friend Leo and I mentioned that if he had any questions about our family or adoption, he could ask (full disclosure; his mom told me he had had some questions recently). “Well, actually….” He said. My heart started beating faster. It was coming. A teachable moment! How exciting! I don’t know what question I imagined him asking, the question he asked is probably the most common question I hear….but still, I assumed some other question. “Why did Rory’s real mom not want him?” I just thought…. …..I just thought that Leo, who has incredible parents who have done a bang up job of teaching inclusivity and difference…Leo, who has grown up with us…would, I don’t know…know better? A six-year-old would know better? It’s so silly. So naive of me. So blissfully ignorant. Like all of the hard stuff (race and privilege are top of mind) if we don’t explicitly speak about this stuff, kids will learn from their surroundings, from school, from media, from peers…. how are they supposed to know any different? But, what struck me in the moment when Leo asked the question was how hurt I was by it. A simple question asked by a child. A child with a brilliant mind who was simply putting the facts together. I could have gotten defensive (I’m glad I didn’t, he’s only 6 Katy!!). I could have sweetly said, I AM his real mom. But, I stopped. I took a deep breath. I looked at my small friend and I told him to pinch me. He smiled big when I told him to, like he couldn’t believe I was asking pain to be inflicted on me. How lucky was he?!?! Kids are so weird. So. He pinched me. “Ow”, I said, “I seem pretty real, don’t I? And so is Rory’s tummy mommy. She’s real too.” He smiled and said, “yeah I guess you’re both real.” It might seem like a lot, bringing tummy mommies into the conversation. But it’s not. When we say open adoption, we mean more than maintaining a relationship with our boys first families. We mean being open about who they are to us and about how they are members of our family and about how genetics and biology ARE so important to us too. That’s openness. Even if our boys birth moms decided not to have contact with us, we would still uphold an open adoption by speaking about them freely and respectfully. Back to Leo. He asked again, “Okay, you’re real (with a little eye roll) and she’s real, but why didn’t she want him”. Oof. To think of my child not being wanted.
To think that that thought will undoubtedly cross his mind, if it hasn’t already, is gut wrenching.
All any of us want is to be wanted, right? And no matter how much E and I wanted a family and wanted Rory, it doesn’t matter when he begins to wonder about his first mom not wanting him. While that is NOT a true statement and the complexities of her decision to make an adoption plan is private and only for our family, it doesn’t change the fact that chances are he will wonder why he wasn’t wanted. I can’t protect my child from that. That’s really hard. It’s occurred to me how many people, and not just children, full grown adults too will default to the assumption that she didn’t want him. People often vilify her and her decision to make an adoption plan. It has been asked of me by many adults, “why didn’t she want him?”. Or the side eye or eye rolling when someone…a stranger, a friend, or even a family member asks about our kid’s birth moms. Part of our open adoption is being brave enough to speak to this when it comes up. Do people want a lecture? No. Do I want to give a lecture? Believe it or not, nope. But what I do want is to create openness around the reality of these women as thinking feeling human beings who MADE my children. That’s enormous. They made my children. They deserve A LOT. Even if they are not able to maintain openness or choose not to. It is still important to acknowledge them and keep space for them in conversations and be honest about who they are. They are mom too. Staying silent isn’t an option for our adopted kids. Because love actually isn’t enough. And, to that end, my kind of love involves openness and honesty and tenderness and bravery around birth moms (and birth dads too) and also around 6-year-olds asking me honest, earnest questions. Sometimes, I have to admit that a 6 year old’s question triggers panic and some ego nonsense that might always creep up when I’m asked about my boy’s first moms. It’s okay to feel that stuff AND it’s also necessary to bring tummy mommies into the conversation, no matter how old the person you are having the conversation with is. It can be both things. It can make me sad and squishy and wiggly, and it can also make me brave and excited to speak about our whole family. It continues to be worth mentioning…. We’re both real. We both have real emotions, and both of our experiences are valid and part of our child’s life. My love and connection to my child is real. Her genetics and connection to her child is real. There is no replacing or forgetting. There is no one or the other. It’s a wacky thing to wrap our brains around sometimes. It’s a wacky thing to really embrace and uphold. But it’s so very important and so real and so critical to parenting my children
in this wacky world. So, thanks Leo. Until next time. When your questions will no doubt get bigger and bolder. Thanks for being my friend. Rory and I are lucky to have you.