My Hope as a Parent Is Something I Share with My Birth Mother
This folder contained memories I did not have, information about a family I did not know.
These are my parents with whom I belong, the people who will care for meTo whom do I belong?
Until one Easter morning, when I was restless and unable to sleep. I was in the basement of my home, shuffling through a filing cabinet that contained old report cards and school projects, when I discovered a blank manila envelope. Inside the folder I spotted a cover page from Catholic Charities, a page that hinted at what the goosebumps on my arms were already telling me: This folder contained memories I did not have, information about a family I did not know.
Did it make any sense that the woman who gave birth to me was someone I had never heard of and would never know?
The birth mother began receiving her pre-natal care at six weeks of pregnancy . . .
She had a total weight gain of twenty-two pounds during the pregnancy . . .
Michael was born after an eleven-hour labor . . .
The foster mother described Michael as a good baby who enjoyed being talked to and who smiled and cooed . . .
The birth mother is allergic to pollen, dust, and mold, has hayfever and wears glasses for reading . . .
She describes herself as social, introspective, pensive at times, assertive and open . . .
She relates she has a special skill of singing and enjoys this . . .
I am quite the letter-writer but I must say that this is the most difficult letter I have attempted so far. I wish that we could have more communication than this, but in some ways it may be best for all of us. I have decided that the surrender of my little boy is in his best interest and, from the beginning, I want you to know that he is yours to love. Never be threatened by my being his birth mother. The longing I feel for him is so intense that I could never explain it to you, but I cannot go back on my decision. I know I have made the right choice.
The reason I am going into all of this is because I want you to try to love him without any reservation. You see, he has my love, but he won’t know that 1st hand. I have had to trust many people in this past year that I never would have met if not for my pregnancy and though I am a trusting person, this is different. This tiny life was in my care until just over 2 months ago. Now he is with people I don’t even know. The separation is difficult but the worry is worse. I am trusting him to you and I am sure you will make wonderful parents to him, but it’s not enough to give me peace of mind. What I have turned to is God. I am entrusting him first of all to God. This brings some comfort.
Today, it feels like the pain will never go away and my life will never feel full. I don’t know what life holds in store for me now, but at least he will not suffer my struggles too . . . I hope you will do what is best for him. For now, I’ll do my best to go on.
I understand that he is pretty demanding of time and attention. Please be patient with him and shower him with love when it’s difficult. In our short time together, I realized what a wonderful person will blossom from this little fragile life. He deserves the best that you can give him every day. Believe it or not, I have learned a lot about life and love from him in ways too numerous to explain. I will always feel connected to him and though the intensity and immediacy of my feelings may fade a long time from now, I will never stop loving and missing him.
All You Can Ever Know,
The Golden State,
My daughter was born just after Thanksgiving, and she has already brought such joy to my life and our family. I have such hopes for her, but it is the daunting reality of any hope worth having that it will never be realized through our actions alone. I know now that she is more than a symbol, her purpose is not to fill some existential need, the answer to a lifelong question. I hold her, even now, and I am overwhelmed by how completely her own she is, with her own future.
Sometimes I still wonder if my life has prepared me to be her father. Has my family history left me with some inadequacy that will become apparent to us? Will she find me lacking? I suppose all parents ask these questions. Whatever I lack, however, I have found that my history has not left me empty-handed. I, too, have a family legacy to share with my child—it stretches back to my beginning, when my birth mother would sing to me, an act of audacious, generous, and loving hope as she anticipated my arrival and our parting. It recalls countless car rides with my grandparents. I have carried it forward with the songs I sing to her mother as we dance, or as we do the dishes.
I sing for my daughter, too. And maybe, in some future moment of need, when she faces the turmoil of adolescent romance, or the confusing transitions of adulthood, or when she is considering what she has to offer a child of her own, she will remember her father, whose arms were always open for her—whose love for her was inexhaustible.
I used to view jealousy as a vice, akin to covetousness and selfishness. But after reading my birth mother’s letter, I no longer think this is true. Not always. There is another kind of jealousy.
I would love to say that I am unreserved in my happiness for you, she wrote to my adoptive parents, but I am very, very jealous. I am jealous of the time you will have with him, the smiles you will see, the trials you will face, the love he will return to you.
I find that I am glad she was jealous. I am glad that her decision cost her something. That it meant something. That I meant something to her.
She had no idea, of course, that just years after adopting me my parents would divorce. Her expectation that my adoption would mean an intact family and a life of relative economic ease was misguided. “To have a child is to court loss”—to open up new horizons of both possibility and disappointment.
But I am still grateful to her, no less than I would be had my adoptive family been exactly as she imagined. All of my possibilities, all of my hopes—including the hope I have for my daughter—were made possible because of her hope. Though she gave me so little of what she wanted to give, in the end, she gave me everything she could.