Category Archives: Adoption

On missing teeth … and so much more

They’re dropping like flies. Little white enamel-covered flies.

Tonight, when Maeve is sleeping, floating in slumberland, her body resting up for another day of intense summer play, the quarter-laden Tooth Fairy will make yet another appearance in our neighborhood, at the homes of two of Maeve’s friends.

As for Maeve, she’s not yet welcomed this mysterious visitor. There’s been no flutter of wings that brush by her sleeping face or tiny bits of sparkle left behind on her pillow. And if her deeply rooted pearly whites are any indication, that visit isn’t on the Tooth Fairy’s itinerary anytime soon. (This, despite her pulling and pushing on each, sure that “this time” something’s come loose.)

Tooth talk is fast and furious among the five- and six-year-old set, with gleeful announcements and excited displays of tooth-wiggling and look-at-my-tongue-poking-through-the-new-hole moments.

Inevitably these casual celebrations of coming of age turn to tallies – who’s lost how many and when. Then, as if on cue, comes the natural jump to tales of genetics: When Sally’s mom got – and lost – her first tooth, if Harry’s dad was in preschool or first grade when he lost his and whether his teeth came in early or late, and what all of this means for their progeny.

At this point in the conversation, of course, there’s not much I can contribute. Spurred by maternal instinct, my mind wanders to my own childhood and tooth timeline in an effort to uncover some sort of predictor for Maeve. But in a flash I am back, a bit embarrassed I’d sort of forgotten about my path to parenthood and the lack of DNA threads tying Maeve and I together. There simply is no charted course we can follow as she nears these biology-based milestones.

The truth is, of course, I never really forget. Not just because, as an adoptive mom and a wife to an adoptee, adoption has hugely impacted my life. No. I don’t forget because each day I am presented with yet another opportunity to see my daughter learn, struggle, celebrate, fail and overcome – and I know her first mother is missing it all.

Sometimes I am there with tears of joy – seeing her dance her heart out in the year-end recital, graduate from kindergarten, earn her next karate belt with ease, or finally conquer the sight word that had eluded her. When Maeve left her training wheels in the dust, her eyes lit and my heart swelled.

Other times, I shed tears of frustration – a friend’s rejection that left her broken-hearted and confused, her recent wrestle with particularly intense stuttering (the medical forms at the speech pathologist’s office asking if there was a genetic predisposition), or a temper tantrum or bad choice that comes seemingly out of nowhere and with full force.

Still, whether celebrating or struggling, we are together and this could make it possible to “forget,” to consider myself and my carefully crafted family a whole unto itself – daily reminders like developmental milestones and medical history forms be damned.

But the fact is, we are not whole. Maeve’s own story is missing key players. And because of that, our family’s cast of characters is not quite complete.

At this time, contact with Maeve’s first mom B. is entirely in her control – her stepping back some time ago means we can only wait, our arms open and our hearts committed, for her to be ready. Honestly, it’s not an easy place to be.

No matter how much I love Maeve, or how “perfectly” I try to love her, celebrate her and support her, I will never be her first mother, the woman who made her and brought her into this world. The world in which she now celebrates, struggles and finds herself landing in all the confusing places inbetween.

And therein lies a loss that cannot be swept under the carpet or placed neatly into a box to rest on a forgotten shelf. As Maeve’s mom — but not her first mom — it’s a struggle: How can I make her feel whole when she has such a fundamental loss? I am all too aware that my very presence in her life is because someone else is absent.

My mama role means ensuring my child is healthy, happy, generous and kind; that she is whole. The work to do that, of course, is monumental. It can be exhilarating and uplifting, it can be exhausting. Depends on the day.

As we merged onto the highway after leaving this year’s adoption picnic, Maeve shared an observation from her perch in the backseat: “Hey, Mom? Dad? I didn’t see B. there.”

No, Maeve, you didn’t.

But oh how we wish you did. She could try to wiggle a tooth loose for you and share with you her own tooth timeline. She could hug you hard when you fall, try to make sense of confusion, twirl your curls around her own finger and clap as loudly as we do when you soar. We could all work on being whole together, in our own version of a family that makes sense for everyone.

And it would be monumental. And exhilarating. And uplifting. And exhausting.

But most of all, it would be amazing.

This is the latest Musings of an Adoptive Mama column from the quarterly publication, Adoption News, by Adoptions From The Heart.

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Filed under Adoption, Birth parents, Children, Firsts, Growing up, Latest AFTH column, Maeve, Open Adoption, Parenting

From grief … a gift

I’m in the midst of losing my grandmother. Losing her to a wicked disease that has transformed her body into a prison from which she cannot escape. Not being able to turn a key became not being able to hold a fork, which became not being able to walk. Now, she cannot speak. But I look into her eyes, a color of brown that Maeve’s crayon palette would deem Burnt Sienna, and I see a world of things she wants to say but cannot. I see a life of experiences she can no longer share with those around her. Recipes and rituals once rote to her are now outside her reach, and outside of ours for posterity. Her body has turned on her.

I watch all this play out before me like a car accident, tires screeching with urgency, yet seemingly in slow motion.

I am not unique, I imagine, in having the childhood memory of riding in the front seat of the family car when a parental arm suddenly flings out, steady and firm against the child’s chest, as the car brakes to avoid an accident.

Today, dear mirror on the wall, I see that I am my parents after all. My arm now instinctively reaches to Maeve, as if I can somehow protect her from the tragic scene unfolding before us. Yet I know that as the matriarch of the family slips away, I must loosen that grip and expose my daughter to certain pain.

As little as two weeks ago, Maeve could run into her grandparents’ home to greet her great-grandmother like countless times before. She’d sit near my grandmother’s chair and they would chat, Maeve bringing to life my grandmother’s pale blue plastic statues of the Virgin Mary in skits of domesticity or glamorous theater like only a young girl can.

Those rituals are no longer; my grandmother has slipped further away from us. My grandmother was there the day we arrived home from our three-day stint in a hotel as new parents. She has since attended her dance recitals, kid-centric birthday parties, and even watched from the front row as a cap-and-gown clad Maeve graduated preschool.

Her presence over the years has taught Maeve to be gentle with her touch, to recognize when someone might need extra help. Like “helping” Gram-Gram to the electric lift chair along the stairs that Maeve not-so-secretly wishes was her own plaything, installed not to give mobility to an ailing parent but rather as a grand gesture purely for a granddaughter and her visits! Or the birthday candles Maeve proudly “helps” Gram-Gram blow out on her birthday cake — this despite my grandmother’s germ-concerned pet peeve about the whole candle-blowing ritual to begin with.

While their lives have overlapped just a handful of years, the two generations are now forever linked by these memories, these threads that when woven together create a tapestry of family history and heritage.

The grief in eventually losing Gram-Gram will eventually be outweighed by the gift of them knowing one another. Each flavored one another’s existence in some unchangeable way that is unique to them — all the while without a shred of shared DNA.

So exactly why is it that so many seek to keep others — with actual genetic proprietary rights! — from living so authentically?

Sealed birth records take what is splintered and force a fracture. As manila files replete with long-sought answers sit in dark, dusty storage units, life outside moves on, time takes its toll and key characters in each story can be lost forever.

Blacking out identifying information weakens the thread of family heritage, to be sure; but such black-lining cannot erase a story that’s already begun. There is no ink dark enough.

Now, I have no pie-in-the-sky notion that every birth mother, birth father and child will link arms, sing Kumbaya and skip into a forever full only of familial bliss. (Do you know any family like this?) Still, we each deserve the opportunity to write our own stories with its full cast of characters. No one should have their story written for them, missing chapters be damned.

Yes, Maeve will hurt when she loses her great-grandmother. Yes, my parental arms will instinctively reach for my daughter, trying to lessen the sting for us both. Yes, I will seek solace in knowing it stings because we were lucky enough to know her, to love her, and to share life with her.

Not everyone gets that chance.

The Adoptee’s Birthright Bill permits access to original birth certificates. A-1406 awaits a posting before, and vote by, the full New Jersey Assembly. Encourage your legislator to support access to original birth certificates. Call 800-792-8630 for your legislators’ names and contact information, or log on to http://www.njleg.state.nj.us for contact information and a full text of the bill.

This is my latest column from Adoption From The Heart’s Adoption News.

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Filed under Adoption, Children, Closed Adoption, Death, Latest AFTH column, Legislation, Making a difference

Fostering Friendship

Five summers ago, my husband and I shared a picnic blanket with a couple we’d only recently met. Perched in a parking lot alongside the Navesink River in Red Bank, N.J., we awaited the sun to set and the night sky to fill with an extravaganza of colored lights. “The best around,” they’d promised.

Fireworks weren’t all we were waiting for. That first Fourth of July we spent together was also our last as couples without children. We met during Adoption From The Heart’s education classes and, after talking long after the session ended, we exchanged email addresses in a first act of “oh-my-gosh-they-have-the-same-anxiety-and-excitement-and-questions-and-fears-as-us” friendship.

After the next class and later the video shoot, we moved our chats to a nearby restaurant where we shared stories, fielded questions and got to know each other with a fervor – for hours at a clip. Emails seeking advice or sharing thoughts flooded one another’s in-boxes. We even talked about the inevitable situation when one couple would become parents before the other. Good thing, because just weeks after that shared Independence Day, the first call from our social worker came. The second followed within the month.

Weeks later we were together again, meeting newborn baby daughters, coddling them in colossal proportions and propping them next to each other for parent-paparazzi photo shoots. We opened gifts, compared feeding and sleeping schedules, and talked about home visits from social workers. Plans were made for our next gathering and, much like proud parents of a newly arranged marriage, we imagined their future together.

We’ve since celebrated birthdays, shared their first aquarium visit (the girls eating fish-shaped crackers from their stroller trays was an irony we noted more than once), left presents under each other’s Christmas tree, picnicked at the park, visited the zoo, talked of sharing a vacation someday, had family sleepovers capping hours of boardwalk rides or beach time, and spent cool evenings by a fire with tired kids on our laps, stars twinkling and crickets serenading yet another terrific time together.

Over the years we’ve shared meltdowns, milestones and diaper drama, asked “what do you do?” when a new stage or behavior has us stumped, and shared countless new-parent anecdotes. We’ve delighted in confusing strangers who assumed, thanks to the girls’ similar curls and complexion, they were twins. “Well,” we’d respond with devious smiles, “they’re three weeks apart.” When one of us welcomed another daughter, we all shared in that joy. We chuckle nervously about the tween and teen years to come, noting our “what do you do?” conversations will be so very different then.

Last year a move took one family out of state, changing the regularity of visits. Yet we still welcomed 2010 together, sitting before a fire in a new home, surrounded by the chaos that is three girls in dress-up, singing into microphones, opening holiday gifts and blowing party horns until their little bodies could take no more.

This summer we spent yet another steamy July evening crowded onto a picnic blanket along the Navesink River. Despite geography and another imminent family move, the foursome-turned-sevensome carried on as usual, continuing a tradition that began five years ago: sharing stories and making memories, and deepening a friendship that started when making long-haul friends was the last thing on our minds.

A framed photo of the two girls – the once “arranged friends” – sits by my daughter’s bedside. Despite current preschool friends and new friends to make at kindergarten this fall, nothing can change the comforting story of her first friend. Recently, one of the girls actually reflected on their friendship: “Mom, she’s more than a friend, isn’t she? She’s more like … a sister.” Not bad for a four-year-old!

I’d like to think that when the girls really begin to process their adoptions – each with their own very different story – they can trust the foundation we’ve created for them and, much like their folks have done, lean on the friend they have in one another.

My latest Musings of An Adoptive Mama column, published Summer 2010 – http://www.adoptionsfromtheheart.org

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Filed under Adoption, Children, Discussing Adoption, Family, Friends, Latest AFTH column, Maeve, Parenting

Roots and Wings

Aside from the pitter patter of pet paws and my own keyboard clicks, the house is strangely silent. As a mom of an almost five year old, this hush doesn’t happen often.

Maeve is two houses away, playing inside with two long-time neighbor girls a few years her elder – and they all are delighted. Yesterday the new threesome played in our home, reading books, dressing up, chasing cats and even plopping down at the kitchen table to ask for a snack.

This is all so new to me. Now, we’ve shared playdates with preschool friends or meet-ups at the park – but as I’ve learned today, that’s so very different than letting her “be” without me or her dad. It’s just not about her being sans parent sidekicks, but we’ve orchestrated most every decision since we changed her first diaper. (Apologies to the future tweeny Maeve reading this. Yes, I mentioned your diapers to the world. Cue eye-roll … now!)

And in these moments I wonder if she will remember all we’ve tried to instill. Who will she “be” when not reminded by omnipotent voices from a few feet away to say thank you. Pick up the toys when you’re done. Take turns. Share. Be helpful. Use your kind voice. Make a good choice.

In five months, I’ll watch her enter elementary school as a kindergartner. Will she bravely bound inside, eager for new adventures? Or will she look back at me for assurance one last time before the door closes behind her? (If it’s anything like her first day at daycare when I returned to work, perhaps I should arrange for someone to get me home afterwards – who can see through all those tears to safely navigate a car through the streets?)

My mind sends me a reminder notice that this is just the beginning of an independence I’m supposed to be cultivating. You know, roots and wings.

Yet my maudlin heart responds with equal urgency that the moments are fleeting, the cuddles are numbered and it won’t be long before we’re not holding hands in public anymore.

I can’t help but be reminded of an excerpt in the book Tuesdays with Morrie:

“Life is a series of pulls back and forth. You want to do one thing, but you are bound to do something else. Something hurts you, yet you know it shouldn’t. You take certain things for granted, even when you know you should never take anything for granted. … A tension of opposites, like a pull on a rubber band. And most of us live somewhere in the middle.”

That tug-of-war in my heart is as fierce as her concentration while pumping on the playground swings or pushing her little Chucks into the pavement – handlebar tassels blowing in her breeze – as she and her Radio Flyer scooter sail away. Away from me, from her dad. Away from needing us so completely. Away from the cocoon we’ve enveloped her in since the day she made us a family.

The stillness in the house suddenly cuts sharply, and my thoughts are rattled back to the here and now as I hear the laughter and chatter of three new pals heading toward me, and just a few minutes after the return time I’d assigned.

The door swings open and the gleam in her eye is blinding. The energy she radiates brings me back to the bliss of my own childhood when the only concern was what to play next and how much time before dark.

Maeve smiles at me, and in this moment of welcoming, I feel so strongly the connection we’ve carefully cultivated while in that little cocoon.

That passage from Tuesdays with Morrie ends with this: “Which side wins? Love wins. Love always wins.”

Indeed.

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Filed under Adoption, Books, Children, Family, Firsts, Growing up, Life changes, Love, Maeve, Parenting

Board books to bikes

There’s a lot going on in my household these days. In fact, as we prepare to close on the sale of our home, I’m realizing just how much has gone on in our household.

When Thom and I bought the house, it was an old place with good bones. Eyeing its potential, we reveled in its charm and old-house details, convinced it just needed some paint and spackle. A couple cases of spackle, myriad repairs and countless gallons of paint later, it did become a home.

With that start, the house already was loaded with sentiment. But then it became the first place in which I rocked my child to sleep, the spot where I began to learn the daunting ropes of motherhood.

Bittersweet is an understatement.

It’s where my mom and sister came just hours after we received “the call” to help pack for the hospital. It’s the crackle of the stone driveway I hear each time I remember bringing Maeve home, our extended families standing there waiting to meet her.

In our living room she toddled her first steps, right into my sister’s welcoming arms.

For her first birthday, we celebrated in the backyard: our closest friends and family, countless balloons, food galore, bright tablecloths, a packed piñata, and multiple cakes.

We gather on the couch to read – first baby board books, now stacks of picture books – in front of a crackling fire.

Maeve chases cats Kate and Ella around and under and over and up and down the house, once a crawling baby and now a young girl, determined to cement a friendship.

Sitting in the shadows of the tree each Christmas morning, we’ve watched Maeve’s excitement and understanding grow. This year, a shiny new bike greeted her as she came downstairs.

We’ve hurried up those same stairs on movie night to pick the evening’s entertainment.

She’s moved from sweet nursery with mosquito netting and soft teddy bear to sassy big-girl room with play tent and carefully arranged dolls.

Maeve took her first bite of corn-on-the-cob — now her favorite vegetable — on the bright red bench in our breakfast nook. In that same spot, we now practice writing her name and numbers.

The screech of her bench dragging across bathroom tile to stop just in front of the sink — the required preface to toothpaste-squeezing (not so much, Maeve!), tooth-brushing (a little longer, Maeve!) and vitamin-choosing (any one of them will do, Maeve!) — will soon be just a memory.

When we all cuddle in our bed, her foot jutting into my side or her head bumping into Thom’s, we ask how she got so big. She giggles and as if she’s revealing a secret, tells us she just can’t help it, she has to grow into “a dult” like us. Then we tell her again how at just a few days old, she lay between us in this very bed and we stared with amazement, watching her every move.

Since the house went on the market, I’ve been stumbling around these and so many other memories, trying to make sense of leaving it all behind.

Then my mother, in an oh-so-motherly tone, set me straight: “Gretchen, when you get down to it, a house is just a bunch of wood and nails. It’s you and your family that make up all those moments. That’s what makes wood and nails a home.”

Enough said. So I’ll keep packing, shed a few more tears and then let go, knowing we’re starting a new chapter in the book that is our family. There are new memories to create, dreams to make a reality – perhaps a sibling for Maeve – and family stories not yet written.

Deep breath, Gretchen, deep breath. Then off to the next pile of wood and nails.

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Miles of Mama Memories

This summer Maeve and I shared a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as we piled into the car with my mother — three generations of girls — and hit the open road. Our ultimate destination? A visit with my sister in Arizona. We’d decided to make the journey as memorable as the destination and vowed to drive only two-lane roads or smaller, and take the route we wanted, no matter how indirect.

We left New Jersey on a ferry bound for Delaware, then began to drive the coast: Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia; in Florida we’d hang a right and head through Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and New Mexico before reaching my sister in Arizona.

On the return trip we’d see the heartland, hopping onto Route 66 as well: New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky; we’d veer south to take in the rolling hills of West Virginia before crossing into Pennsylvania and, with a click of our ruby red shoes and an EZPass swipe or two, we’d be home in New Jersey.

Making this trip with my four-year-old daughter and mother was something special — full of girl power, of course, and many laughs, fun discoveries and extraordinary moments — even some adoption-related.

It wasn’t lost on me that I was sharing an adventure with my daughter — one in which I would watch her grow and experience slices of small-town America — and her first mother B, wasn’t alongside her to take it all in as her everyday mom.

B missed watching Maeve’s eyes widen at the sight of wild ponies on Virginia’s Chincoteague Island. (From here on, all animals spotted from inside the car during the 6,000 miles we covered were immediately deemed “wild” – “Mama! Look, wild cows! Wild sheep!”)

She also missed being evacuated from a North Carolina aquarium when the fire alarms sounded and fire trucks rushed to the scene. After worrying about the fish, Maeve decided they were safe in the water because, after all, water puts out fire.

As we sat in a cart pulled by mules along the charming streets of Charleston, South Carolina, Maeve counted palm trees, delighted in spotting other carriage rides in the distance, and got personal with a mule excitedly licking Maeve’s shirt — seems it had remnants of maple syrup from breakfast! B couldn’t hold Maeve in her arms and giggle about that.

In Georgia, Maeve hit a milestone in the pool – jumping from the side into the water and my nearby arms — without holding a hand. It was me there to gush and shower her with pride.

Maeve ate her first clam and her first fried green tomato on this journey, which also found us on a swamp boat in Louisiana searching for alligators. The next morning’s breakfast featured a zydeco band, a raucous dance floor and such culinary adventures as beignets and boudin. Maeve studied every move being made on the dance floor. I knew how much she wanted to be out there — a day doesn’t pass for her without dancing — but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. I could so easily read her tortured thoughts — a result, of course, of being her everyday mom.

At Texas’ Cadillac Ranch, Maeve stood in awe at the row of cars, colorful with graffiti, planted hood down in the middle of farmland. While tourist folks in the know brought spray paint to leave their mark, this three-generation road trip team, savvy after weeks on the road, had to leave its tag after some improvising. Maeve has learned how to write her name — but I certainly hope that trying to do so in peach nail polish, on an old Cadillac, alongside her mom and grandma, remains one of her childhood memories.

Oklahoma proved surprisingly quirky — from its sort-of famous blue whale, a now-defunct swimming hole still beloved by the locals who fish from it and play inside its two-level belly — to the largest cement totem pole in the world.

There are many stories of adventure to share, and more than a thousand wonderful pictures — but there’s one snapshot I will forever keep with me, and it didn’t happen with a camera around my neck.

In between silly splashes and watching tiny lizards scurry by my sister’s pool, Maeve said matter-of-factly (with some words running together and lost): “Mama? When [B] had me from her belly … couldn’t take care of me … but Gretchen and Thomas … mama and daddy …”

I stared in disbelief. Then, with a swell of excitement, she sing-songed: “and that’s how I found you!”

Four years of sharing her adoption story, keeping B a topic of conversation in our home and photos in her bedroom of them together, and this was the first time Maeve raised the topic herself. It was bittersweet. Happy and relieved we’d been doing our job, ensuring her story is part of her. Sad as she now begins to process her loss.

The adoption wheels of her mind have begun to turn and while I’ll not always be able to read her mind like that morning at the zydeco café or provide every answer to every question, I’m grateful to have the information we do, the contact with B we’ve shared, and hope that holds some of the peace she will seek in the future.

For now, though, we’ll continue to take each adventure — and surprising moments of clarity from a four-year-old — as they come, embracing the quirky places, the surprising finds and the small but oh-so-cherished moments that make up our family’s journey.

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Filed under Adoption, Birth parents, Discussing Adoption, Family, Maeve, Parenting

Finally, some adoption nitty-gritty (revised)

It’s been a while since I got down and dirty here with the nitty-gritty of adoption issues. A long while.

One reason — and seemingly the simplest believe it or not, is the major life changes going on round here for me. From starting my own craft biz geared toward children and also experiencing a serious career-shocker regarding my day gig, it’s been all about new patterns, new priorities and new timeframes in which to manage them. I’m still learning on that one, and from what I can tell, the next month or so will add yet another new layer of  changes to what my life is, or who I am, becoming these days.

(Yes, that was the simple reason.)

The more difficult reason, if you will, for quiet time around here is because I’ve always liked to think (naively, I know, so don’t burst my bubble) that I’m only venturing in here and donning this specific writer’s cap when I have something I need to say, something that’s worthwhile in the moment.

I’ve never wanted this to be a space to talk about the deal I got on such and such at the shop downtown or what I had for lunch that day, and unless I could devote the time to musings:mamahood&more — even after the house is finally still and the thermostat plunges into its insanely low sleeping temperature so my tapping fingertips are numb and hard to move — and be able to say something of value (even if only for myself), well, I’d rather it let it stand on its own. Quiet, but standing tall nonetheless.

Sure, every writer who is a mother and an employee and a juggler of many things she loves has the same issues. So I suppose that’s not the truly difficult part, either.

Rather, it’s difficult because the ebb and flow of adoption as I know it sometimes hits so hard and so personally that I’ve not yet processed it in a way that is 1) ready for public consumption and 2) even something I’ll want to share here.  

Those of you who are regulars here, friends here and in real-life know I’m touched by adoption in two ways. Both my daughter and my husband were adopted. One is meant to be open, the other is terribly closed due to unrealistic laws that disrespect those they affect.

Tonight, while avoiding the To-Do list that sits before me as this weekend is packed with things I must attend/do/finish and prepare for, I popped in on one of my favorite bloggers. It was meant to be a quick read, a small diversion from what I must do tonight before my head hits the pillow.

Instead, the floodgates opened and salty tears came a’flowin. (Yep, I’m lookin’ mighty fine right about now.)

The words she shared today, on the eve her daughter’s birthday, had me awash in tears not only for her and her daughter (whom she placed for adoption five years ago but remains active in an open-adoption arrangement), but ultimately, I suppose, for my own daughter as well.

A few simple sentences and I was a goner. She’s done this to me before, and since I’ve been reading her since Maeve was just a wee one, it’s happened plenty. I dunno, maybe this time though it also has to do with the season. After all, just around the corner from where I sit right now, my family’s Christmas tree sits in all its splendor, centered before two front windows, glistening in its white lights, sentimental ornaments and cranberry garland. My large and stately fireplace is softened by garland Tom has wrapped it in, white lights and berries and all. Our knit stockings dangle with anticipation and the staircase leading upstairs is wrapped in garland and lights and love.

And running about among all this light and love in my life is my beautiful three-year-old daughter. She wakes up each morning to find “her” tree “stayed there” all night and delights in that fact (whatever that means, goodness knows what she’s worried about!). She’s enjoying the events of the season this year as she’s now old enough to participate more actively, chatting with St. Nick today on his lap (“What would you like for Christmas, Maeve?” he asked. “A present,” she says simply, before thanking him for letting us take a photo of them together.)

I am so lucky to have her in my life. Even at 4 am when her cool little hand touches my warm leg as she hoists herself high into our big bed, having just pitter-patted across the hall into our bedroom. And as she works to tuck her legs under the tangle of all the blankets, nestles in alongside me and rests her arm on my hip, she groggily begins a full-blown conversation, pulling me from my sleep:

Can I go ride my tricycle outside now? (Despite it being dark and cold.)

Is the sun still in its nest or has it left to find the sky so the morning can come?

Is the moon tired from all night? Will it sleep all day in its nest, mommy?

Do girls have mustaches? Can I have a pink one? Right …. here? Look, mommy, open your eyes. (She taps me from the oblivion I’m trying to rediscover and points to her upper lip.) Can I have a pink one … right … here?

Despite this burst of inquisitive imagination, within moments of my answers, the rhythm of her breathing falls into a pattern I have come to know as if it were my own.

I cannot help but smile in these simple moments. It’s a reflex gushing with thankfulness for this light in my life. So sweet, so genuine and somehow, because they happen under the cover of night, these moments are even more special, more sacred, more … gourmet. As if I was the lucky recipient of a little bit of heaven. Moments one might not notice so easily had they happened once the dawn, with all its duties and responsibilities, has broken.

It is not at all uncommon, though, that in these joyous moments, her breathing lulling me back to a blissful sleep, my happiness turns to a bittersweet reality. A cloud has rolled in and I am pulled awake again.

After all, no matter how much I love her, no matter how deeply or how perfectly (in goal only, of course) I love her,  I will never, ever be her first mother.

Don’t get me wrong, or jump to an incorrect conclusion: I’m not pondering my own short-falling.  This isn’t at all about me.

It’s not something I can change, no matter how hard I try, who I know, how much money I have or how many magical powers I can muster from a genie’s lamp. I Will Never Be The Woman Who Made Her Who She is.

And therein, my friends, lies Incredible Loss. Loss for Maeve. Loss for B., her first mom.

Loss that I cannot sweep under a carpet or pour into a box to perch on a dusty old shelf to be long forgotten. I cannot do that, because B. is with me every single day. She is entwined in my heart so completely there is no parting us. She’s there because Maeve is there. B is there because of everything she and I have known together, because of how she has forever changed the course of my life, the story I am living.

Bittersweet is an overused and shallow word for what I’m trying to describe. So I will try to say it as succinctly as possible (for verbose me): The depth of my joy in being a mother seems matched only by a constant and acute awareness of a sadness equally as deep.

Anyone reading this who is a mother but who is not touched by adoption, try to gather the myriad feelings, emotions, thoughts and experiences that are permanently wrapped in to your motherhood. A scope and depth of love so serious and raw and real that it’s hard to adequately find the words.

Now take that powerful mix, relish in the joy you feel in being the mother to your children, and add to that wholehearted devotion the strength of your instincts to protect and nurture.

Being a mother means doing everything in our power to ensure our children are whole, healthy, happy and kind. We work to ensure they are comforted in the strength of our fierce love for them and the power it ultimately gives them to thrive.

As Maeve’s mom — but not her first mom — it’s something I struggle with. How can I make her whole? I believe her happiness comes from that wholeness. Yet my very presence in her life is because something else, someone else, is missing.

And not for nothing, but if I feel this strongly, how will Maeve feel as the flesh and blood of a mother not nurturing her on a daily basis?  

This Spring, contact was the best it had been. Leaps and bounds in connections, in conversations, in sharing — whether small, idle chats or more serious discussions.

It was Exhilarating. Exciting. There was Relief.

And then, like a thief during the dark of night, while we weren’t paying attention, while Maeve was busy coming to our bedside and nestling in close, a part of us, a part of her, integral parts to the puzzle assembled ever so slowly since she was born, simply vanished with the arrival … of silence.

I cannot help but grieve the loss for them both, all over again.

Is it an ebb and flow (its own issue to make peace with and make the most of) or was it just too much?

I’ve spent far too long, in those rare quiet moments alone the last few months, wondering. We continue to let B. know we’re here. Our arms are open, our hearts are committed. Tender now from the pain, but our hearts are always, and will always be, ever-so committed.

After all, she is part of us. She is part of Maeve. Maeve is part of her.

The simple sentiments in the aforementioned blog post that released all of this from me tonight were thoughts reminiscent of where the blogger was five years ago tonight.

Five years ago the baby inside her tossed and turned and made her presence known as if she were having “a party” in her belly. Now she recalls that evening and writes:

“I did not know, however, that it was her going away party.”

Today, in describing that night, as she tried to get comfortable amid contractions signaling the end of one part of her journey, she writes:

“It was the last day that I was ever her only mother. It was the last day that she was truly mine.”

My heart hurts for her, for B., for Maeve. As I told this blogger in an embarrassingly long comment, despite feeling sadness for her tonight, I also cannot help but revel in the blessing her daughter has — because no matter how difficult it has been for these five years since placement, she has, without a doubt, stuck it out. Been there. Worked on her pain and healing and kept in contact. Visits. Letters. Phone calls. Emails.

Reaching out to the little girl that is still inside her, although in a different way now.

No matter the road before her these last five years, she has chosen to travel the journey. She has not walked away.

It seems to me it will never be easy. How can such things be? But the path she’s chosen to take, despite the personal struggle it might be at times, is one that brings her the highest esteem from me.

I am in awe of how she continues, for the good of her daughter, her family, and the story she weaves of her life by living it each day.

Jenna, may this weekend’s bitterness and sweetness somehow mesh for you in a way that is bearable.

Happy birthday to your daughter. Relish in wishing the stunningly beautiful girl whose own eyes mirror yours all the very best.

Oh, and Jenna?  Thank you.

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