Category Archives: Birth parents

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

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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Filed under Adoption, Birth parents, Birthdays, Children, Closed Adoption, Family, Maeve, Open Adoption, Parenting, Uncategorized

Openness: Yours, mine and theirs

While the amount of contact with B. has increased as time has passed, I’d always considered ours an open adoption. Even from our Day One in both her and Maeve’s lives.

Dawn’s written a wonderful post about open adoptions that not only covers some of the varied ways it’s defined — a nice primer for those new to the concept and making assumptions about what it means to all those involved — but simultaneously debunks some of its common misconceptions and talks about how foster care has impacted the movement toward openness.

Best of all, her words resonated with me as she stated what, for me and so many others, is the bottom line in all of this:

“… at the heart of it is that belief that connection — in whatever form works — matters to our kids.”

Amen, sistah.

Hop on over and have a read for yourself.

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Filed under Birth parents, Discussing Adoption, Open Adoption, Someone else said

One gift … gives another

Last night we were wrapping up a small present to send to someone in Maeve’s first mom’s family.  While the unwrapped  present (a friend of mine’s aunt makes these super-adorable child and adult necklaces! See Maeve wearing one here) sat on our kitchen counter a couple days, Maeve would occasionally point it out and reference the recipient.

“That neck-uh-lace for J.,” she’d say. “My J.,” she’d exclaim with pride.

As I wrapped the item, Maeve sat alongside me, coloring on a blank card to send along as well. I had thought about buying a card, just as a matter of reflex, but thought again. I pulled out a blank card, Maeve’s crayons and told her to go to town.

As I wrapped, I watched Maeve’s tiny hands work intently and enjoyed knowing she was creating something herself, something unique, for this person and their unique role in her life. As she colored in patches of colors here and “Mommy, Look! A circle!” there, and scrawled and “A” and an “M” in random places, she was delighted to take part in the gifting, mentioning J., and that J. is her [their relationship title] as she worked.

And me? I am delighted that our contact and continually evolving relationship with Maeve’s first mom allows for these moments and these experiences for her daughter, for our daughter.

Just knowing Maeve sat at our kitchen table last night and helped complete a gift that she knows is for someone special, someone in her biological family, makes me terribly happy (and grateful, and relieved and well, the list goes on).

These moments add to the important conversations we have in our home about her first mom B. We talk about whose belly she grew in, about the other people in B.’s family and their relationship to Maeve. She repeats these things as we talk, and proudly takes ownership (something most toddlers are proficient at) in these relationships.

“My B.!” “My J.!”  Or, “Maeve a baby B’s belly,” she’ll say, smiling.

Of course, at two and a half, I know that she understands just so much. But these are the building blocks we’re putting down now. These are just some of the ways we’re making (and keeping) Maeve’s first family part of her life, part of our lives and nurturing what is, to us, our expanded family.

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Filed under Adoption, Birth parents, Discussing Adoption, Open Adoption

NJ advances open records, family leave legislation!

It’s been quite a busy week here in New Jersey for legislators and those with a stake in adoption-related laws.

Two bills — which for many years have floundered at various stages of the legislative process — have each made a substantial leap forward, and hold more hope than ever for adoptees seeking open access to their birth records, and new adoptive parents seeking paid time off to care for and bond with their new family member.

The state Senate approved S-611, a bill that would allow adoptees to obtain their original birth records — and therefore their medical histories and heritage — which currently are sealed under New Jersey law.

Adoptees at least 18 years old or the adoptive parents of a child would be able to petition the state registrar for an original birth certificate listing the biological parents’ names.

Birth parents would have one year after the bill takes effect to request their name and address remain confidential. Those seeking to do that, however, would be required to provide a health and cultural history every 10 years until they turn 40, and every five years after that.

Despite the bill’s decades-long battle, the Senate voted 31-7 to approve it without any discussion! The Assembly version of the bill is before its Human Services Committee.

Sen. Joseph Vitale, the bill’s sponsor, said after the vote, “Through this legislation, we’ve taken pains to balance the needs of adopted individuals to know with the needs of certain birth parents to maintain anonymity. For New Jersey’s adopted residents, this bill is about fairness, giving them the same opportunity to know where they come from as non-adopted people.”

***

Paid family leave in New Jersey — which includes those having just adopted a child — is now also considerably closer to reality than ever before. The bill, S-786 — which has had its share of tweaking over the last few months, beginning as a 12-week plan, later reduced to a 10-week program, and stands now as six weeks’ leave — was approved 22-16 by the state Senate.

The full Assembly will consider the bill in the coming weeks and, considering it’s a bill generally favored by Democrats and opposed by Republicans, it should do well in the heavily Democratic Assembly. Democratic Gov. Jon S. Corzine has said he will sign the bill.

This would make New Jersey the third state to allow workers to take paid leave to care for a sick family member or a newly adopted child. Since 2004, California has allowed workers up to six weeks paid leave, and as of October 2009, Washington will allow workers five weeks’ paid leave.

New Jersey’s program would be funded through an estimated $33 a year per employee, taken through payroll deductions. Those taking the leave would receive two-thirds of their salary, up to $502 weekly.

The video of all the proceedings is here — click the March 3 session — about 90 minutes of debate and then the vote on the paid family leave legislation, and then a very fast vote (less than one minute!) on the open records bill.

Hoo-rah!

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Filed under Adoption, Adoption Ethics, Adoption leave, Birth parents, Family Leave, Legislation, Making a difference, Paid Adoption Leave

Connecting Adoption’s Dots

I chatted online with Maeve’s first mom tonight. IM’d as the cool kids say.

Although I’ve been steadfast in my sometimes impatient desire for more — more contact in any and every which way — I’m having to remind myself here, right now in the blogosphere, to be happy for these small steps. Because these steps face forward. She’s in our lives and I have to respect — and have pledged to honor — the pace at which she wants or needs to move.

The time tonight spent typing back and forth was nice in that it was a real-time conversation, something we haven’t had since our last in-person visit quite a while back. It felt good knowing that in those moments, in that block of time, she and I were connected, literally and figuratively. In this busy world with our mutually busy days, we chatted. Each a mother to the same little girl, each reaching out to one another.

In talking to Maeve recently about her pregnant teacher’s expanding belly, the discussion moved from babies and babies in bellies to the fact that she’s been both a baby, and a baby in a belly. A baby in the belly of B.

If you ask her whose belly she grew in, she’ll tell you. Of course, at two and a half, her understanding is limited, both in biology and the layer that is adoption.

But. Still. She can answer the question. It’s a conversation we’re having. It’s part of the everyday-speak of our lives.

So tonight’s IM session felt like the lengthening of the ribbon that curves between and connects the small dots that are her adoption books tucked into overflowing bookshelves, the photos in our home of B. with Maeve, the telling of her story in those special moments, the other children she’s getting to know who also were adopted, and of course those baby-in-the-belly conversations.

Her first mom, her dad and I, all connecting with each other, connecting for her. A strong, wide ribbon twisting and turning along the path that is Maeve’s story and connecting the dots.

Dots that one day will bring to life a picture from which I know Maeve will draw conclusions about herself; a picture from which I hope she can answer the very questions it provokes; and a picture from which she will likely encounter myriad emotions.

How I hope that most often, in and among everything she draws from that picture, and from all of our efforts to connect during these days, is the love.

For there is so very much of it.

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Filed under Adoption, Birth parents, Love, Maeve, Open Adoption, Relationships