Adoption’s circle of love

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Maeve, December 2006 

Having dug out from piles of ribbons, wrapping paper and leftovers, I’ve had the opportunity the last few days off from work to sit back and watch Maeve. Really watch her. The kind of watching that brings you somewhere else, where you revisit dreams and hopes and fears, and think of how you got where you are and wonder where you are headed.

She’s been busily exploring her Christmas gifts, moving new books, toys and puzzles from one play spot in the living room to another. Unexpectedly, she’s found kinship with a big, soft panda bear left by Santa. She’s never been drawn to stuffed animals before, yet this huggable bear has struck something in her heart. She brings it to her perfectly-sized-for-her easychair where she sits, trying to squeeze both the bear and her tush alongside each other. She hugs it, carries it, gives it nose kisses. She’s also taken to a baby doll she received last year on her first Christmas — its skin as cocoa as hers, an effort on the part of family to incorporate part of her ethnic makeup into her daily life. She nestles the baby doll into the crook of her own neck, patting its backside, giving it her love. Her Maeve Love. I watch these tender moments and find pleasure in the idea that she’s learned about love from us. Perhaps somehow, amid trying to learn all these new-parent things on the fly, we’re doing alright. This little girl knows how to comfort, how to love. Her heart can be full for someone other than herself.

Yesterday, when Tom and I played a CD I received for Christmas and began dancing around the room, Maeve put down her books and climbed out of her little armchair to join us. We opened her new Band in a Bucket and had a good old-fashioned jamsession. Me, still donning my holiday gift of The Perfect Robe, began shaking a tambourine and my groove thing (wherever that is, I am sure it was shaking), her daddy hitting drumsticks on the little drum, and Maeve, bobbing up and down, tilting her head side to side, shaking jingly bells.

What noise. What a musical extravaganza. We laughed, we danced, we had so much fun. The spark in her eyes, the light on her face — it’s phenomenal to live that moment with her. I felt peace in seeing her so happy and thought of the adoption quotation, “I can’t take credit for the face, but I can take credit for the smile.”

As much as I love that notion — because I do work so hard to ensure that smile — I do think about the face, the eyes, the corkscrew curls, the pudgy fingers and toes. I think about the mother who gave those beautiful things to her.

It’s especially during these blissful family moments that I think of Maeve’s birth mother, B., and Maeve’s birth family. As much as my heart swells with love for Maeve, my heart aches for her and her birth mom, and their separation.

It’s so very bittersweet. It’s because of her birth mother’s choice in selecting us to parent her child — it’s because of her loss — that I am even present for such bliss.

I never forget this.

I am aware of the depths of love between child and parent, and I feel an uneasy aching for B. Yes, our adoption is open. Yes, there are pictures, letters, and an agency picnic in the summer. But it hardly seems enough. That’s especially so in these moments.

We hope our relationship with B. flourishes and the degree of openness increases. Right now, it’s up to B. to want that too. We’ve made it clear that she is always in our hearts and our lives and when she’s ready to increase her involvement, we’ll be there.

Some folks are uncomfortable with this. I see it on their scrunched-up faces. I hear it in their uneasy, skeptical questions. I try not to get angry at their unwillingness to understand.

What I want need them to realize, to believe, is there is no reason to be threatened. What is threatening in the bonds of mother and child? Naysayers ask: “How could you want a relationship between Maeve and her birth mother?” I ask them how I couldn’t want one.

Maeve is not a possession. Her story, her biology — these are not for me to control. I am not a gatekeeper. No one is; these things are hers and hers alone. My job is to protect them, to try to cultivate them for her until she can take the reins and do as she pleases.

Maeve is a gift. A gift in my life for which I am entrusted with loving and teaching and raising and, eventually, setting free to be her own woman. Isn’t it, then, my job to equip her with the tools to help her be as happy, as whole, as possible?

It is ironic that the skeptics questioning me on open adoption are, in their very own disdain for it, answering exactly why the openness is so important. If only they could see that.

They ask if I am threatened when B. holds her, plays with her, kisses her. They tell me, “But you are her mom now.”

(Insert deep breath here.)

Clearly they believe in the importance of a mother and her bond with her child. In fact, in their incredulousness, aren’t they implying no one should be interfering with such a cherished relationship? Well, then — why don’t they want Maeve to know the mother that created her, carried her, gave birth to her? The mother that judge, attorney and adoption agency had nothing to do with.

What they don’t see is that this doesn’t take away from me, it only adds to me. It makes my daughter more complete which makes me more complete.

And, at the end of the day, is it so terrible that Maeve has another person in her life to love her? Oh, the horror.

There are bonds in our lives that are so fundamental they simply are the core of our being. B. is Maeve’s biological mother, the woman who chose life for her. The woman brave enough to acknowledge when she couldn’t be everything Maeve would need. She loves Maeve that much. That’s a bigger love than many are capable of. Maeve and B. shared an existence, months of moments together. They are part of each other. Biology cannot be altered. (And, by the way, if there was some bizarre scientific way to do that, I wouldn’t. Ever. She wouldn’t be the same little girl I adore if she were biologically mine. Irony again, you naysayers, you.)

It’s simple: I can be many, many things for Maeve. And don’t get me wrong, being her mom means more to me than — well, than I can adequately express via keyboard.

But I can never be the woman who brought her into this world.

I am the one lucky enough to love her in person each day. Every uh-oh and sad tear, every milestone, every hug and nose kiss, even every tantrum, are mine to receive, to witness — indelible marks on my heart.

Unlike B., I am here, within arms reach, to feel her love at any moment. I am sad that B. is several hours away, the next state over, unable to feel this Maeve Love anytime she wants. Unable to hear the raucous of her jingly bells.

I do not pretend to know B.’s pain, her thoughts, her fears. When I try to imagine these things, I fear how large that cloud of pain and sadness could be. I fear the shadows it may cast for her. I only have my own experiences as a mother within which to craft some idea of what choosing someone else to raise my child feels like. I will never adequately know.

But I do try to understand. I try to understand the complexity of emotions involved. I feel connected to B. in a way that brings me 1) humility at her selecting me as Maeve’s everyday mom and 2) promise — promise to do right by her. Promise to be the best mother I can be to a little girl that forever binds us.

Every morning I wake and embrace the commitment I made to B. to raise a giving, loving child with a heart so big that no one and no creature be excluded from its myriad gifts.

I share these dreams and aspirations for Maeve as honestly and fully as B. chose to share this beloved little girl Maeve with us.

Although miles away from us, B., I send you my love. And know that it is love from Maeve too; it’s the love you first shared 17 months ago coming back to you. Like a full circle, your love for Maeve gave us the chance to love her and to receive her love, and we share it with you now and always. We are all forever entwined in this circle of love.

A circle of Maeve Love.

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8 Comments

Filed under Adoption, Birth parents, Children, Family, Friends, Gifts, Husbands, Love, Maeve, Open Adoption, Parenting, Promises, Relationships

8 responses to “Adoption’s circle of love

  1. This is so true. We have a semi-open adoption at the request of Ruby’s birthmother and though we would like for more openness, we have to respect her wishes. We cannot know what grief she has endured/is enduring as she’s let go of her child, knowing she couldn’t care for her in the way she felt her child deserved. I’ve always maintained that birthmothers are the most progressive people among us.

    What open adoption is about, ultimately, is what is in the best interest of the child. People who haven’t experienced adoption and even some who have simply don’t understand this. We get the same comments and experience the level of discomfort you explain here. And this is frustrating. But we try to gently educate people and help them to see that there are never enough people who can love a child and that nobody will ever take away the fact that I am Ruby’s mother and Sam her father.

    Lovely post.
    We are kindered spirits.
    Oh, and Maeve (LOVE the name)? She’s delicious!

  2. Maureen

    Okay, G – you have got to submit this to some magazine – so that the rest of the world who are not yet smart enough to read this blog, can share in its love. This is beautiful, truely beautiful (just like Maevy!!). I will hopefully read it to T someday because it does capture the essence of adoption and motherhood so well – even though our situation is not open…..

    Lots of love!
    Maureen

  3. Lauren

    I am so happy to have you as a reference for families exploring adoption. This really was a great piece, I agree with Maureen! Thank you!

  4. Karen

    Gretchen…

    You’ve done it again. You put into words everything that we want to tell families about openness and adoption. There’s nothing more I can even say to express to you how wonderful this post is. Thank-you for writing it.

  5. Biology cannot be altered. (And, by the way, if there was some bizarre scientific way to do that, I wouldn’t. Ever. She wouldn’t be the same little girl I adore if she were biologically mine. Irony again, you naysayers, you.)

    I don’t have an experience with adoption, but I have a 19-month-old son who has Down syndrome and this is *exactly* how I feel about him. That extra chromosome that “messed up” every single one of his cells could not be extracted from him without changing his personality. Don’t believe what people who do not live with this say: they are such sweet and loving children! No, they are children. They have their moments of anger and frustration as well moments of sweetness and loving. All I know is that I love him, he is a wonderful human being, and I wouldn’t change him if I could. My struggle now is how I reconcile that feeling with the hope that our daughter (who is due in April) does not have Down syndrome. It leaves me in tears just to contemplate that it might mean I don’t love him as much as I think I do.

    You write wonderfully, btw. I came by way of Owlhaven and I’ll be coming back.

  6. That was just beautiful.

  7. Jessica

    This is why you are such great parents for Meave. Meave is such a great gift and you guys are so lucky to have such a beautiful and happy little girl. You better watch out..i might take her home from daycare one day and keep her!! haha.

    p.s. i didn’t get to taste the cookie yet since the party is tomorrow, but it looks delicious and Meave’s valentine card is “perfect.”

  8. First, I just want to say that I love your style of writing. I’ve read a few of your blogs here a while ago (my social worker from AFTH gave me the link) and then while reading the AFTH newsletter I could TELL it was your writing.

    Second, I thank you SO much for writing these. I’m a birth mother–gave birth May 20th, 2008 to my beautiful son–and am working through AFTH in an open adoption. I love the family we chose, LOVE them, and being able to see a glimpse into the other side of adoption is a very good helper for me these first few days without him.

    I look forward to reading more of your blogs! (o:

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