In honor of November being National Adoption Awareness Month, Portrait of an Adoption is hosting the fifth annual acclaimed series, 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days. Designed to give a voice to the many different perspectives of adoption, this series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying experiences.
By Carrie Goldman
It was an early spring morning, cool and crisp. “Girls!” I called down to the basement. “It’s time to go to school. Let’s go!” They came thumping up the stairs in a swirl of uncombed hair and missing socks. We were going to be late.
My phone buzzed from the depths of my backpack. It was my daughter K’s birthmother. “Can you talk?”
I could tell by the feel of the text that it wasn’t a simple chatty check-in. I called M right away, and she answered in a low, serious voice. “E is pregnant,” she said. E is my daughter’s older biological sister. Each summer, K and I travel south to visit her birth family. She loves to swim and play with her older siblings.
M filled me in on a few details. Since E was using birth control, she hadn’t expected that pregnancy was the cause of her changing body. Now she was sixteen weeks along. The baby’s father would not be providing support.
“Can you help us find a good adoptive family?” M asked.
“Of course,” I responded.
Memories of waiting to adopt flooded back to me, that ineffable yearning for a son or daughter to mother, that emptiness of having a home without the life and chaos and noise and mess of a child. Our children, now ages 13, 9 and 6 — were finally all in school full day, which made my work schedule slightly less complicated. We were comfortable, settled, complete.
Hesitantly, I told M, “You know that we can’t take the baby, right?”
“I know,” she said. “Besides, that might be weird for K.”
A week later, I reached out to E, who was struggling with terrible bouts of shame and denial. She wasn’t ready for K to know about the baby. I promised not to say anything until E was ready to tell K herself.
As the days tumbled by, E’s pregnancy was all I thought about. Her baby was my daughter’s blood relative. How amazing would it be for K if we did decide to adopt another child — one who would surely look more like her than the rest of us, a sibling to ease her painful feelings of being the only adoptee in our family?
In late-night whispered conversations with my husband, we mulled it over. The more we talked about it, the more we became convinced that we should be the ones to adopt the baby. E was considering adoption but had lamented to M, “I’ll never find an open adoption where I can have the type of relationship with the baby’s mom that you and Carrie have.”
My husband and I talked ourselves into all the ways that it would be the right decision. Our daughters would swoon over the chance to have a new baby sibling. We could manage to feed and clothe and educate another child. We have a strong marriage and healthy relationships, and welcoming another child would be a blessing. I spoke with a few of our closest friends, who were supportive and encouraging.
I called M to tell her that we would love to adopt the baby, if that’s what E chose. M was astonished. “I’m so happy for you guys! Wow! E is still not sure what she is going to do,” she said to me. We decided not to tell the kids anything about the baby until we knew more.
A couple weeks later, on the first morning of Passover, I sat quietly. I was thinking of my first baby. I always mourn him on that day, my Jewish firstborn son who was not passed over, the holiday a dull tangle of pain, even fourteen years after we lost him. I kissed my beloved three daughters and took a deep breath.
My phone buzzed with a text. “Just had the 20-week ultrasound. The baby is a boy. E is really struggling.” The timing felt profound. Were we going to adopt a baby boy, all these years later?
For the next month or so, it felt as if my husband and I were carrying around a giant, special secret. I allowed myself to dream about toting an infant with me, once again using my beloved sling.
But then E started seeing a really good therapist, and she received treatment for her depression. Within a few weeks, as her anxiety lessened and her access to state social supports increased, she decided she wanted to keep the baby. Yes, she was young and single. Yes, she was poor. But she could live with her mom, who would help. After all, the baby would be M’s grandchild. Adoption was no longer on the table.
I felt adrift. I had done such a good job of convincing myself why it would be great to have another baby that I felt a sense of loss at E’s decision not to place him. But my sadness caught me by surprise, because it goes against my beliefs.
I’m a strong advocate for providing birth parents with sufficient access to supports so that they are not coerced into adoption. I know that adoption should always be the very last option for a mother and her baby. Logically, I knew that E was the baby’s mother, but a secret part of my heart still hoped she would change her mind and place him with us. I guess the thought of a new baby triggers something very primal.
A strange thing happened, however, as I began to tell family and friends that K would be an aunt in a few months. Whenever someone expressed disapproval that E was keeping the baby, I found myself starting to argue in her defense. Her baby would never have to go through the complex identity and attachment issues that some adoptees encounter. I’ve talked to some adult adoptees and birthmothers – most from an older generation of closed adoptions – that insist all the financial and social stability in the world was not worth the loss of their biological families. Championing her cause strengthened my own faith in her, and I was able to see the beauty that she and her son would bring to each other.
Ultimately, though, there is no justification needed for E to keep her own baby. She will be a fine mother who endures the struggles and celebrates the bright parts of parenthood, just as we all do. A new lightness replaced my secret shame at having been initially disappointed at her decision to parent. Sure, it would be lovely to have a new little boy, but we have more love than we could ever imagine with our family of girls.
K, who is delighted that she will become an aunt in a few weeks, helped me pick out tiny clothes and blankets to send to E for the new baby. We are providing support and love in another kind of way, and we are rooting for this young mom and her son.
* * * *
E’s baby was born in September. He is healthy and beautiful. His mama is a natural; she has taken to motherhood with pride and responsibility. K’s birth mom is bowled over by the joy her grandson is bringing into their lives. I am excited to be a “grandma via adoption.” K’s younger sisters have declared that they, too, are aunts to this tiny little boy.
Are you looking for some awesome children’s chapter books? The BRAND NEW second book in the Jazzy’s Quest chapter book series for adoptees is HERE!!! Be sure to get your copy of Jazzy’s Quest: What Matters Most, the sequel to Jazzy’s Quest: Adopted and Amazing!