Editor’s Note: This is a companion piece to Karin’s Dec. 2010 column, “Meeting Daniel: An Adoption Story,” which readers can find at www.theday.com/article/20101201/GRACE04/312019805
Mother’s Day. My first.
Everyone around me was practically giddy. They were emotional, gushing, rushing to send their congratulations. After all, it had taken me seven years to get into this club.
“What a strange day,” I wrote in my blog. I had found myself unexpectedly teary in the morning, wading through a swirling river of emotions that didn’t lead in any particular direction. And I was sick, the runny nose and stuffed head creating a fatigue that activated any latent melancholy.
Yes, melancholy. A melancholy wrought from guilt over something I had no control over — my son’s mother.
What was she feeling this day?
We adopted Daniel in July 2010, meeting him when he was five days old and bringing him home from Indiana. It was a whirlwind adoption, with my husband Mike and I receiving a phone call at 6:30 on a Wednesday night and then hopping a plane early the next afternoon.
Everyone always wants to know if we met Daniel’s birth parents, or at least his birth mother. The short answer is that we would have, but it didn’t happen. And here I will sternly warn against jumping to any conclusions about why that is or anything else regarding our or anyone else’s adoption. It’s usually complicated on all sides. But that is another story.
On Mother’s Day, I came up with an analogy: This must be what it’s like for people who have received an organ transplant. The joy I have for my life is immeasurable, the thankfulness is beyond description.
“But I also know,” I wrote, “that my joy goes hand-in-hand with someone else’s grief.”
Not that long ago, I had cursed my luck. I wanted to know why things had to be so goddamned hard, why two people who had always played by the rules couldn’t have kids like everyone else. I lamented the loss of normalcy and swung fists at the loss of control.
Would it always feel, I asked our adoption social worker very early on, like I was raising someone else’s kid, feel like I was some sort of babysitter rather than a mother?
I know the answer now. I never — never, ever — feel like I’m raising someone else’s kid. I never feel like a babysitter.
I am Daniel’s mother. Period.
We are a transracial family, two white parents and a black child. We are, the adoption experts tell us, a “conspicuous family.” This — the standing out — is perhaps the biggest challenge for me, a person my mother used to describe as “painfully shy,” a person who spent most of her younger years trying to be inconspicuous.
Transracial adoption is much easier today than in years past. Still...
My husband had Daniel in a carriage at the grocery store and ran across an acquaintance. She looked at the baby, then looked at Mike.
“You must be babysitting,” she said.
“No, I already have a job,” he replied.
My mother-in-law was feeding Daniel ice cream outside of a restaurant in Ocean City, New Jersey, this summer, and he was very clearly enjoying it, to our amusement and to the amusement of others on the sidewalk. Mike and I were walking away, across the parking lot, when we heard a passerby.
“He’s beautiful,” the woman said to my mother-in-law. “Where’d you get him?”
“At Stop & Shop, on sale,” I muttered to my husband. (It wasn’t the answer they taught us in our home study.)
Conspicuousness. We will never blend in again. We will never know, when we pop into a store for a gallon of milk, whether we can run in and out or whether someone will start asking us questions. If an older black woman ever chastises me over Daniel’s hair again — it’s only happened once — I’ll never really know whether she would have done it to anyone whose son’s hair was unruly or whether it was because I am white.
Yet ... so what? We fixed the hair. We answer the questions.
The truth is that our life is multi-textured, and that’s a good thing. It feels richer and deeper than I thought it would. It feels more compassionate. It feels more nuanced.
I have found a strength and resiliency I had always hoped to possess. I have been forced to stretch.
Before Daniel, I would have spun off into a two-day funk over the notion that I would feel conflicted on Mother’s Day. Today it doesn’t matter. I am so deliriously happy every day, feel an awe that has only amplified, that Mother’s Day, with all due respect to Hallmark, is just another day. Vastly overrated, as I should have known.
I am also keenly aware that there is another woman out there who gave birth to him. I cannot assume to know what she feels, but I know it is likely that she thinks about him often. I think of her daily. We include her in our prayers on Thanksgiving, her favorite holiday; at Christmas; on Mother’s Day; and on Daniel’s birthday. And we think of her during any of the thousands of moments that make up our daily lives, wonder how her life is, and silently hope she is doing well.
You know how you have these moments when you wish your present self could have a glass of wine with your past self and describe how it all turned out? That question to the social worker is one of them.
Today, I look at my son and wonder how I ever got so lucky.