Last week I was at a function with my family when an older woman came over and asked about my children. She knew one of my daughters was adopted and quietly whispered into my ear, “Does she know?” I didn’t think she was being rude, just curious. She is from a different generation and culture than me. A time and place where children often weren’t told if they were adopted and parent were encouraged not to tell, not to talk about it.
I nodded and whispered back, “Yes, she does.” The older woman smiled and patted me on the shoulder, “It’s better that way, don’t you think?” Then she walked away.
Secrets…perhaps she has her own.
I sat there for a while after she left and looked at my young daughter, mulling over the question in my head, does she know?
Does she know? Yes, she knows she’s adopted. She will tell you, if it comes up, “I am adopted.” We have conversations about adoption, have read a few books that explain what adoption is and many nights as we lay together I tell her the story of how her dad and I flew far across the ocean, wrapped her up in a pink blanket and took her home to a big party of waiting siblings and excited relatives. But does she know? Does she truly know what it means, this word, adoption?
No. How could she know? She is young and busy with more important things like trying to figure out how to cross the monkey bars and ride a bike and count to one hundred. Her head is full of birthday cake and colorful crayons and soft lullabies and that’s how it should be. She knows we love her. She knows her siblings love her. She knows we wished for her on a star. She knows we flew high above the mountains and across the ocean to get her. She knows her family both far away and those close by helped us. She knows about the country she came from, what they eat, how they speak. She knows a word, adoption, but it’s all abstract to her. She doesn’t really know all of it. How can she?
She doesn’t know about the never ending sorrow that must have filled a far away woman’s soul as her belly began to grow and stretch, making room for the mysterious little arms and legs that were budding deep inside.
She doesn’t know about the rivers of joy and sadness that flowed together in the woman’s heart every time the child inside of her moved and danced, a tiny foot sending ripples across her tightly pulled skin.
She doesn’t know about the spirit of grief and loss that hovered like an unwelcome messenger in the sticky summer air, warning the woman that as the dull pangs of labor grew longer, her time with her secret was growing shorter.
She doesn’t know about the millions of tears that were shed and the hundred of kisses of joy and sorrow and thanks and love that were showered upon her before the woman finally wrapped her in a blanket and handed her to another, saying goodbye.
So, does she know the word, adoption? Yes, but does she truly know what it means?
It’s a hard truth, a harsh reality to take in, that love and pain can be so connected. So entwined. So when will my daughter truly know what adoption means? When will she finally learn and really understand the whole truth?
When it is her turn. When it is her turn to hold her own child, be it through the miracle of adoption or the magic of biology, then she will know. When it is her turn to gently kiss her child’s soft cheeks, gaze with awe into her child’s sleepy eyes and breathe in all of her child’s sweet wonder, then she will know. When it is her turn to wrap her child in a soft blanket and bring it home to meet it’s family, then she will know. When her heart rises up and she cries a hundred tears of thanks and joy and sorrow and love then she will know… finally, and truly know what this word, adoption, means.
(This post first appeared in Adoptive Families in 2011)