I always knew that giving me up for adoption had been hard for my mother.
I knew this before I met her, when I romanticized her in my prepubescent mind, imagining she was a foreign princess who wept daily about my absence.
I knew it at 18, when I met her for the first time and realized she was just a normal person who made a very difficult choice, in an attempt to make the best of a disaster, for both of us.
But when I knew it sadly in my bones the most of all was the moment I became a mother, when I was handed my freshly born son and gazed into his murky, inky eyes for the first time.
I was loved with ferocity, with the purest kind of parental devotion, born from an incredible yearning to have a child. My parents played with us, took us fun places, talked to us, hugged us. They always had time for us, they always had patience. When I think of what could have been, I am grateful that I was given away, and that I was chosen by them.
Being adopted represents the greatest rejection and the greatest acceptance possible. The one person who is supposed to want you the most doesn’t. There may be valid reasons, causes, excuses, but at the core you are a rejected pup, the runt of the litter. On the other side of the transaction, you are the prize, the chosen gem, the person who has been imagined and fantasized about for a long time. An adoptee is the most unwanted wanted person in the world.
It’s that dichotomy of experience that makes being adopted so confusing for children. You are constantly told that you are “special,” that you were “chosen,” but you know that you weren’t chosen originally, and that rejection seems to rob you of any special status. Insomuch that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, adoption seeks to be the human equivalent of a recycling plant, taking broken families and reimagining and repurposing them as ones that function and can love one another.
There is a sort of elegant balance in this contract. I have two mothers. For one, my birth represented a low point, a disappointment, a time of great stress and upheaval. For the other one, my arrival signaled a new beginning, a time of joy and elation. In many ways, being adopted ensures you are grounded and pragmatic. It allows you to believe the hype that you are special, while lurking in the background is the very real proof that you aren’t.
I had a story book when I was a child about being adopted, to help me understand my situation. The last line of the book stated “adoption means belonging.” I always found this to be confusing. For me, being adopted meant I didn’t belong. Not to my birth family, with whom I shared nothing but blood, and not with my adoptive family, with whom I shared everything but blood.
In many ways, our genes connect and define us. I look like my birth mother; we even share the same giggle. But my love of literature comes from the hours my (adoptive) father spent teaching me to read, and putting on funny character voices to make me laugh. My love of the absurd and silly was honed by my (adoptive) mother’s hilarious sayings, which we call “Mum-isms.”
When I held my baby, talked softly to him and noticed all those similarities that I was never able to match on my parents’ faces, the connection between the two of us had its own heartbeat; it was a primal, throbbing bond that bared its teeth at any suggestion of separation.
Giving me up for adoption was the right choice for my first mother, it was the right choice for me, but it’s a choice I know that I couldn’t have made.
That deep maternal connection with a child doesn’t necessarily require shared DNA. It’s all the days that follow that matter, not that first day here on Earth. The bond I share with my second mother is closer than most. When my son was born, she was right there holding my leg and cheering me on. Getting so excited that she messed up the counting “6, 7, 9, 11,” prompting me to yell at her to shut up.
My childhood memories, our family traditions and our constant contact are the threads that connect us. Birthday parties filled with laughter, a bouncy castle in the garden, a Brazil nut and a satsuma nestled in the bottom of my Christmas stocking, and every night ending with a kiss and a hug before bed.
Because of these things, and so many more, there is an invisible connection among my parents, my brother and me. Our bond was made from love, daily expressions of love, love when we didn’t even deserve it, love when we needed it the most. Love that compounded over the years and created a family.
That’s the sort of love story I want to continue to write for my son.
Fiona Tapp is a mom and freelance writer based in Ottawa. Find her at fionatapp.com.
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