I am fiercely passionate about what happens in my home and the family life we make. My mothering, my marriage, the relationship we have with our children, how they feel our love, and the connection we share. I am not aiming for perfection, and it has nothing to do with my daughter Zoe’s special needs and the acceptance of that. It is all about belonging; I want my kids to know that family is a place where they belong. Part of that passion stems from the fact that I am adopted.
I have searched for and found my birth-parents. I was lucky enough to unravel the truth behind the false birth certificate I grew up with. All of my original records remain closed (for now in the state of Ohio), yet still I was able to first find my birth-mother who told me the story of my “famous” father. I was able to reunite with my birth-parents and find that part of me. I was even fortunate enough to co-present with my birth-father, the keynote address at the 30th Annual American Adoption Congress , Adoption Network National Convention.
It was a different lifetime ago when I began searching. I was successful — a workaholic in the publishing profession I loved, yet I had no real life. The process of finding my past and connecting with my birth-parents helped me to find my future.
As a parent now, I finally understand that there is no greater love than the love a mother has for her child. I understand the genetic link too — the way my birth-father and I have so much in common and could choose to be family, decades later, and the way I felt so comfortable the first time I walked into my birth-mother’s home, although as individuals we are quite different.
But I also understand that adoptive mothers make a choice. They authentically choose to reach deep within, they choose to call their child their own, to protect, to nurture, to love as their biological own. They see no difference, fully loving their child born from their heart.
But that chosen child should be allowed to someday choose, too. That grown up child should be allowed to discover his or her own past that may complete and unfold their future, and to know about the biological parents they were born to, before they were born into another one’s heart.
This is a part of my story …
My eyes are burning, but I don’t reach for the white dish towel. It is lying on the kitchen counter next to where my mother stands. She is cutting up a bowl full of onions, chopping each one into tiny, tiny pieces and I am listening to her speak softly. Her story is a compelling confession that rises above the slight rush of water running from the faucet. I move the peeler in my hand, back and forth, and back again, turning the potato around until it is bare and white and I can drop it into the pot. The tendrils of brown skin fall into the sink in piles like dirty wet leaves floating in a puddle. I reach for another potato and begin again. I don’t dare break the rhythm of my movement, as she appears unaware of her emotion and the extent of what she is revealing. I am a 12-year-old girl, working next to her mother in the kitchen. I turn the potato around and around while my eyes burn and I listen.
She talks of emptiness, longing and wanting. She tells me my brother was turning seven then, and she had been trying for years to have another baby. She talks of envy, and how she began caring for young toddlers, desperate in her desire to feel a baby against her breast and breathe in again its sweet, sweet scent. She tells me about her need to feel tiny hands wrapped tightly around her neck and to feel the fullness of a child sleeping in her lap. She tells me about her hopes and dreams, and how badly she wanted a baby girl to complete her family.
She talks about her God, and how she begged and pleaded on her knees in prayer every week at Sunday Mass. She tells me about the heaviness in her heart as she watched new infants being baptized, and saw little girls in spring dresses with carefully combed curls pulled back into pastel bows.
She remembers the day she got the phone call, what she was doing and how excited she was; how she and my father drove through the ice and the snow, arriving at the children’s home eager to meet the almost one-year-old baby girl who would soon become their own.
She takes this baby home and at first feels joyful and then surprised. She is surprised to discover this baby has limits for affection, and can happily exist separate from her mother. Her baby prefers sleeping in her crib instead of snuggling in her new mother’s lap. Her baby needs little comfort to fall asleep and is often restless being held for too long in her mother’s arms. And in those first years with her independent baby, her hopes as a mother begin to fade and turn to disappointment. Her arms grow lonely and the space between them becomes a boundary.
Her voice stops. Her story is finished for now. She stops working and she picks up the dish towel, wiping away the strong scent of the onions. I move toward her, placing my arms around her.
Contributor Suzanne Perryman writes the blog Special Needs Mom. A former magazine publishing executive, she is the mother of two daughters and is the past President for the Arizona Chapter of the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation.