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 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.
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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.”
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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