“My Gutsy Story” by Laura Dennis

 

Becoming a Mother

Even before I was completely sewn back together, I held my newborn. In those first moments of hormones, love, and crying baby, I knew with my entire being that I could not, would not, ever let her go. How could anyone give up such a precious little girl? How very devastated would I be if I had to relinquish this person who I’d just made, who was mine, all mine?

And yet, that was exactly what my birth mom did to me.

Of course, I knew she’d loved me. That’s what my adoptive mom always said, “Your birth mom loved you enough to give you up. And now I love you.”

The adoption agency told us that my birth mom even wanted to hold me before I was taken away. Meaning that, on some level, I had in fact been wanted. Even for my child’s mind, this was a very important distinction indeed.

Agencies peddling closed adoptions encouraged the birth mom to forget about the baby, to move on with her life. They reassured the adoptive parents that the bond of love offered by the well-educated, stable adoptive mother replaced that of the birth mother. The infant lacked cognitive ability to know there’d been a switch. If introduced to her new mom early enough, she would bond with no problems.

What psychologists are coming to understand is that newborns are capable of learning, and therefore capable of memory. If a newborn can remember, then the mother-child bond is there. It’s preverbal; she won’t even be able to articulate it once she can talk. Nevertheless, that primal connection exists.

It turns out that the child’s bond with the adoptive family is in addition to her original bond with her birth mother. And there’s enough love to go around.

When I reunited with my birth mom as a young adult, I was inexorably drawn to her, connected on a profound level. In her presence, I knew I was whole, and I knew she had loved me all those years. I understood that even though she didn’t have her baby with her, even though she didn’t know her child, she was still a mother.

At the time, I didn’t have children. In fact, directly after meeting my birth mother, I broke off an engagement to a man who was ready start a family. I for one was adamantly not ready to be pregnant; as evidenced by the stupid act of starving myself so thin that I didn’t menstruate, thereby becoming (temporarily) infertile. Besides, I planned to adopt a perfectly healthy baby. As a dancer, I wanted to remain thin and agile, and certainly couldn’t do that with a huge pregnant belly. No need to “ruin” my body, I argued.

This semi-delusional thinking took years to unravel. Finally, I came to accept the stark, but simple, reality that closed adoption is deeply flawed. Children are meant to be with their biological mothers, to look into the faces of people who look just like them, and to know that they belong.

Yes, adoption as an institution is necessary. Yes, it will always exist. Yes, it gives “unwanted” babies to loving parents who otherwise couldn’t start a family. Fine. I get it. But I won’t adopt a child. Being adopted and having had experienced the same loss of identity would not help me raise an adopted child.

With this in mind, I married a wonderful man, and we agreed to start a family. I can’t say I enjoyed being pregnant, but I did it. I grew a nine pound baby inside of me. She was likely too big, in fact, for a natural birth, my OB advised. On the appointed day, I was terrified. I hate hospitals, I hate blood and guts and gross bodily functions. But the baby had to come out, I reminded myself over and over.

I hadn’t felt like a mom when I decided to start a family. I hadn’t felt like a mom when I was pregnant. Then, while the doctor was finishing up my scheduled caesarean, I held my daughter and I knew it could be hell-and-high-water and I’d never let go. Those immature, selfish predilections I’d held onto well into adulthood melted away as I realized my life was no longer just my own anymore. In other words, I knew I was a mom.

The sun set on a gloomy February day, and I sent my husband home. I wasn’t scared to sleep in the hospital without him after all. I invited no one to visit me. I had my baby: the only person I wanted to see. The night nurse offered to take her to the nursery so I could rest. I politely declined. The thought of being away from my baby was unbearable, as if I would die.

I slept little that first night. I kept imagining the hospital room on the day my birth mom became a mother. Even at the age of seventeen, she felt distinctly that giving birth was the proudest moment of her life. She didn’t have any visitors, either. My birth was a secret. On the day I was born, she’d held me, even took a few photos before the nurses realized all of that might not be okay.

Then she let me go. But she never forgot me, and she would always be a mother.

When did my adoptive mom become a mother? The morning I was born? The day she received the call that her baby could be picked up the very next day, she’d better go buy an infant car seat? The moment the social worker put me in her arms?

For my two moms and me, that moment was the same: holding our daughter for the very first time. With the birth my baby girl, I had joined their ranks of irrevocably binding, fierce-as-a-lioness motherhood.

Laura Dennis and her family

Laura Dennis Bio:

Laura Dennis was born in New Jersey and raised in Maryland, but she learned how to be a (sane) person in California, where she lost her mind and found it again in 2001. A professionally trained dancer, Laura gave up aches and pains and bloody feet in 2004 to become a stylish, sales director for a biotech startup. Then with two children under the age of three, in 2010 she and her husband sought to simplify their lifestyle and escaped to his hometown, Belgrade. While the children learned Serbian in their cozy preschool, Laura recovered from sleep deprivation and wrote Adopted Reality.

You can join Laura on her sites by clicking the appropriate one:

Facebook, Twitter, Laura’s blog, LinkedIn, and to order her book, please visit Laura’s website.

***

Sonia Marsh Says:

Laura, you bring up some interesting questions about being both the adoptive mother, the adopted child and the birth mother. I like the way you question when did your adoptive mom become a mother?

“The morning I was born? The day she received the call that her baby could be picked up the very next day, she’d better go buy an infant car seat? The moment the social worker put me in her arms?”

A great conclusion that makes us all mothers.

“For my two moms and me, that moment was the same: holding our daughter for the very first time.”

***

Laura Dennis’ story is the last one this month. We also have Barbara Ehrentreu’s story, Heidi Morrell’s, and Sharon Melton Lippincott’s.

Due to my book launch on Thursday, August 30th, the vote for your favorite August “My Gutsy Story” will start on August 31st, until September 12th. The winner will be announced on September 13th.

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Do you have a “My Gutsy Story” you’d like to share?

To submit your own, “My Gutsy Story” you can find all the information, and our sponsors on the “My Gutsy Story” contest page. (VIDEO) Submission guidelines here.

 

 

Comments (24)

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  1. Sonia Marsh says:

    Laura, you brought up some interesting questions. I know there are many women who have been adopted or have adopted and your story will truly resonate with the. Thanks for opening my eyes to see adoption in a new light.

  2. Laura Dennis says:

    Thanks for your kind words, Sonia — I’m so glad to be participating on your Gusty Living site!

  3. Very nice post! As the male adopting parent of two fully-grown boys I can relate to your “extended family” theory. In fact that’s the explanation we gave to our sons: you come into a family in a multiple of ways: marriage, relatives, birth, adoption and sometimes, friendship. When my older son was an infant I was on Navy carrier and used to look at all the (very handsome) aviators in the Wardroom and wonder what he would look lke as an adult. Only fathers can have that fantasy.

  4. Laura Dennis says:

    D E,
    Thanks for the note! You seem like a very open-minded adoptive parent, I applaud you. Enjoy your day!
    Laura

  5. Lady Fi says:

    The sad fact is that many adopted children cannot be with their birth mothers due to poverty, illness, death… Some birth parents feel they cannot bring up a child… It is not as easy as saying that all children should be with their birth parents, I’m afraid.

    My two kids come from South Africa, where living conditions are so very different to the ones we take for granted in the West. We don’t look anything alike, yet there is so much more to becoming a family.

    We talk a lot about the birth mums and try to respect and honour them and their decision. My children will always have two mothers. And if they want to find them when they are old enough,I’ll do everything in my power to help them.

    Thank you for a thoughtful post.
    Lady Fi recently posted..Steamy!My Profile

  6. Laura Dennis says:

    Ladi Fi,

    Thanks for your post. Just a small, little point of clarification: I said that children are “meant” to be with their biological families. But of course, the sad fact is that this can’t always be the case. I spent a lot of time talking about this issue of “who I’d have been better off with” in my book, Adopted Reality. This was something that I had to work through in my young adulthood.

    The truth is that it’s all water under the bridge now.

    I do think that more should be done, especially in poor areas and countries, to keep biological families together. I applaud you for talking to your children about their biological backgrounds. Also, thank you for listening. Many adoptive parents are wary to hear stories from adult adoptees, but it’s only by opening up a dialogue that we can help all of those in the adoption triad.

    • Lady Fi says:

      Thanks for your clarification. I was a bit tired when I read your story yesterday. I totally agree about there being so much to do in poorer countries. Unfortunately, many children are abandoned and there is no way of finding out who their biological families are. Many countries have a law that all children must be advertised in papers so that bio families can find them if they want to before they are allowed to be put up for adoption in other countries.

      My daughter, who is 11, is very interested in her birth mother and I’m sure that meeting her would give her a sense of peace and closure.

      I’m always interested in what adult adoptees have to say, although well aware that feelings are so different according to the individual.

      As a mother who has adopted, it’s a double-edge sword – my greatest joy is based on someone else’s sorrow.
      Lady Fi recently posted..Steamy!My Profile

  7. Laura Dennis says:

    You’re last line, is SO true. Even if the birth mom KNEW she couldn’t keep the baby, how could she not feel a loss?

    The individual aspect of adopted kids is so true. My brother (adopted from another family into ours, 5 yrs younger) has no need to learn about his birth family. He feels that “our family” is enough for him. He never yearned to meet his birth mom the way I have. It’s just such a different perspective, and we were raised in the SAME family, the same dysfunctions!

    I’m glad that you’re supportive of your daughter’s feelings. They in NO way reflect your work as a mom to her. Please remember that, even when it feels completely opposite. … I have to say, even my biological daughter (4 going on 16) says the meanest things to me that pierce me to the core! That’s mother-daughter, no matter what the biology.

    Laura

  8. Laura, as the stepmother of an adopted daughter (my husband’s first marriage), I know the anguish felt by a child not “feeling loved.” Larger still was an experience when my stepdaughter was about 12 and we were with my husband’s family looking at old family photos. My stepdaughter gazed at each one longingly, and then would ask, “Who do I look like?” That visible connection was not there for her, and it hurt me even as her stepmother to see this pain. Finally, she did find her birth mother but it wasn’t the kind of reunion you enjoyed. However, your sharing of your story will perhaps bring a different complexion to not only the adoption process itself but also to the need for connection on many levels for this little ones who have been adopted.

    Thanks again for sharing and good luck!
    Sherrey Meyer recently posted..No Need to FearMy Profile

  9. Laura Dennis says:

    Sherrey,

    Thanks for writing. You know, not every reunion story is flowers and lace. And even as amazing as mine was, there were bumps along the way, as well. That said, there’s something about trying to understand the adopted person. Acknowledging that it’s sad that your step-daughter doesn’t have pictures of biological relatives. Understanding that even if the reunion isn’t great, it still likely answered questions that she would have spent a lifetime wondering about.

    I think it’s better to know, and to learn to accept.

    I’m not sure how old your stepdaughter is now, but if she wants to connect with me about these adoption “issues,” I’d love to hear from her – laura @ adoptedrealitymemoir.com

    • Laura, I appreciate your additional insight. Very helpful. Suzanne is now 38, raising a teenager on her own — a baby she chose not to give up for adoption even though there was no identifiable father. She has multiple mental struggles with bipolarism and adult ADHD and often is not even in communication with her adoptive parents, my husband and his ex-wife. I’ll keep your email handy in case something should ever happen and a copy of your book handy in case she should ever mention a desire to read someone else’s story. Thanks so much for your offer!
      Sherrey Meyer recently posted..No Need to FearMy Profile

  10. Laura Dennis says:

    Sherrey,

    You know, I’m not surprised by what you said about your step daughter being disconnected. Once you realize you’re not truly a part of “any” family, it’s hard to want to keep trying. I know that feeling, but I try to push through it for the sake of my two small children. I want them to have a full extended family, and never want them to feel that they aren’t 100% loved, by everyone.

    One more thought … Having struggled with bipolar, feeling disconnected, like you don’t need anyone and can survive on your own, is a common feeling for me, and I think it stems from the bipolar.

    I’m sure your husband feels sorrow about this, and I’m sorry about that, too.

  11. Laura,

    This is such a powerful and poignant story of love, longing and forgiveness. I so admire how you have woven together your story to include your love of and respect for both your Moms and how that has shaped your own role as a mother. Beautifully written, just like your memoir,Adopted Reality. I’m not adopted but you have shed new light on the adoptive experience and the importance of knowing our own birth stories. For those who have been adopted, you have given them a voice to tell their own stories. That’s a gift!
    Thank you for sharing from your heart.

    Kathy
    Kathleen Pooler recently posted..How Memoir Writing Helped Me to Grieve My Loss~ A Guest Post by Christine GroteMy Profile

  12. Laura Dennis says:

    Hi Kathy!

    Thanks for such a nice note. Because of the secrecy inherent in closed adoptions over the last half a century, even I find that I learn something when I read about others’ adoption experiences. My own experience with motherhood is evolving, and is informed by my having been adopted. It’s definitely a process, just like any writing that is about one’s personal experience!

    Laura

  13. I have 2 siblings who were adopted. They were reunited with their birth mother as adults, and my brother, in fact, lives with her now.
    Beautiful story. Thanks.
    Teresa Cleveland Wendel recently posted..It Takes a ThiefMy Profile

  14. Laura Dennis says:

    Teresa,

    Thanks for the comment. I’m always interested to hear from “mixed” families (for lack of a better phrase), with biological and adopted children. My brother was adopted, but feels no need to connect with his birth mom, or seek any biological reunion. People have different reactions, but it’s in sharing our experiences that we can learn from one another!

    Laura

  15. Laura,

    Great Gutsy Story from the heart. Babies do learn while in the womb — they do make that bond — They learn the sound of your voice — they can hear you sing and so much more — why it is important for a pregnant woman to be relaxed and not stressed out.

    I am one of eleven children and grew up extremely poor — and many a times — I wished I was adopted by a wealthy family. I realize now I was meant to be where I was to be — in that family — dammit! (: Just Kidding!

    And in the beginning, you were meant to be with your adoptive Mother — it was already written before you were conceived or born by the Supreme One Above. Everything happens for a reason.

    You are truly blessed with two moms who love you. Relish it!

    Hugs
    Marisa

  16. Laura Dennis says:

    Marisa,

    Thanks for your nice note, it’s great to ‘reconnect’ with you!

    Another benefit of being adopted, is that I got to be siblings with my brother (also adopted, 5 years younger than I). I never would have even met him if I hadn’t been adopted.

    Laura

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  18. MuMuGB says:

    Well, Laura, it looks like you have had to deal with quite a lot: moving to Belgrade, becoming a Mom, dealing with your own adoption…But you managed it in a very impressive way. Well done!
    MuMuGB recently posted..Do All French Men Have Mistresses?My Profile

    • Laura Dennis says:

      Thanks! Yes, and now that I’m here in Belgrade and settled for the past two years, I’m actually happy to have “nothing going on.” Kids, preschool, activities … and my writing. That’s enough for now!

      It’s great to “meet” you and I’m excited to read more of your blog, as well (just signed on).

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