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Monday, November 15, 2010

Other Mothers

I remember the first time I really, truly felt jealous of one of my daughter's other mothers. We'd been home about six months. We were visiting with Rosie and her twins next-door, eating a snack. An 18-month-old Tongginator sat on the bench of one of those plastic toddler picnic tables when - all of the sudden - she fell sideways and slammed her head on Rosie's back deck.

Oh, how she cried.

I ran over to pick her up, comfort her, do some basic triage... you know, Mom Things. The Tongginator took one look at me, began sobbing harder, and started screaming over and over and over again just one word. A word that, quite frankly, broke my heart in that moment. "ABU! ABU! ABU!" Her foster mother... the Tongginator was calling for her foster mother. I picked up the Tongginator to cuddle her close despite her attempts to stiff-arm me. And still she screamed... "ABU! ABU! ABU!"

We'd been home six months at that point.

One-third of the Tongginator's life.

And all I could think was, "what the heck am I doing this for?"

During our initial transition, our first few months home, I heard the name Abu quite often. It made my heart hurt then as well, but for a totally different reason. I hurt for my daughter. I hurt for her foster mother. I hurt for the hard stuff that is adoption. I just plain hurt. But that day - after six months of striving so very hard to do all of the Right Things as an adoptive parent - that day I simply hurt for myself. Outwardly, I did what I was supposed to do as her mom. I told her I knew she missed Abu, comforted her, gently placed Boo-Boo Panda on her head and, most importantly, defended the Tongginator's actions to my neighbor Rosie, who was looking at me with horror, I think because she'd Just That Moment realized adoption is a lot more complex than society portrays it to be.

Inwardly, I wanted to curl up in a ball of hurt and cry for hours.

That's not to say that I didn't (or don't) feel the Tongginator had a right to her emotions. I felt terrible that afternoon for what I was thinking and feeling, although now I cut myself a bit more slack when I remember that day. Because it IS hard to share your child with other parents, other caregivers. As adoptive parents, we must do it, and it doesn't always feel painful, but...

Sometimes it does.

Love does not envy. It's easy to say those words, and harder to live them. That hot August day flashes through my mind whenever I climb onto my adoption soapbox. That day flashes through my mind when pride creeps to the forefront. Because that day? That day I just plain hurt. Because my daughter still would not kiss me. And my daughter still wouldn't laugh with me. And she still wouldn't turn to me for comfort.

After six months together, my daughter still didn't want me.

She wanted her foster mother.

Now I feel more secure when I think about my daughter's other mothers. I know that I have earned the right - in the Tongginator's mind and heart - to also be called Mom. I know that there is enough love in my Tongginator's heart for all of us.

Now I understand that nothing I do as an adoptive parent can erase the loss of adoption. I can strive to teach my daughter the tools she needs to navigate her life story, but I can't alter that story to make it less painful. There is no check list of things to do that will make her stop hurting. Yes, there are things I can do (or fail to do) that make the hurt worse, but there is little I can do to remove it from her life. She hurts because adoption begins in loss.

Now I realize that my relationship with my Tongginator does not now, nor will it ever, erase the relationships she has with both her first mother and her foster mother. Just as I have earned a right to be in her life, so too have they. And they have that right because the Tongginator says that they do.

Most days I hurt for her, for them, for everyone who has lived through the loss of adoption. But that day... that day I hurt for myself.

And I don't think that makes me evil.

I just think it makes me human.


Aunt LoLo said...

This resonates with me. Obviously, I'm not involved with the adoption world...but it resonates with things I've been learning lately. How, sometimes, we just hurt. And it's ok. And it's fine. And it's normal. But, sometimes, we can't tell the people that are hurting us that. We can't tell them, "what you are doing hurts. And i want to cry." We must put on the happy face, and do....what we are supposed to do. Because it's for the best, in the long run. Does that make any sense?

Kim K. said...

What a beautiful post. I always appreciate your raw insights. We struggled with trust issues for months and months when we first came home. Although she was unable to communicate anything about her past life in China at the orphanage, we knew she was grieving. The meltdowns were unlike anything I had ever seen in our Emma. I'm waiting for the day that Josie starts wanting to talk about China and asking more questions. I love having adoptive friends to learn from. Thanks for always keeping it real.

Norah said...

What do you do when it's 2 years and 5 months later and your child still doesn't want you, come to you for comfort, no kisses, no hugs, just void of all emotion...? Your posts are always so eloquently written. You have a gift my friend. I always leave your blog feeling thankful I found it. Your words this time have helped ease the pain, if only for a moment. Well worth it.

Aus said...

TM - you may be one of the healthest people I know! You bullseyed the one REAL truism consistant through all adoptions (I don't care how old the child is when adopted) - "...that nothing I do as an adoptive parent can erase the loss of adoption." Truer words may never have been spoken!

And if I may - Norah - regardless of how long it's been - you 'fake it til you make it' - and you will make it - but on your child's schedule, not yours. There may also be some support for YOU out there with the professionals - but take care of yourself too - you'll be nothing to your child without that! Note that TM did that too - it's OK to be human!

TM - thanks - BRILLIANT as always - hugs around!

aus and co.

Elizabeth@Romans8:15 said...

I can see how that would have pierced your soul....and to have it happen in front of a friend was probably good and bad. Good because from then on, I bet Rosie understood a lot more of what you and your daughter were facing. But bad because it hurts when others see something like that. We humans are a prideful bunch, aren't we? Thanks for sharing. While it is important to be mindful of everyone's hurt and loss in adoption, especially our childrens, it is okay for us to hurt too. It is even okay to admit it. Thanks again.

lmgnyc said...

You have a generous heart TM. Your daughter will be richer for it.

prechrswife said...

My daughter has been with us now for over 4 years, and just very recently has stopped with that reflexive "get away from me" attitude when she hurts herself. I'm not even sure when the change happened. It just occurred to me the other day that when she got bumps or bruises that she was actually looking to her daddy and me for sympathy. That's a big one for her. When that attitude was here, though, I had many days of feeling exactly the way you described, and I think remembering we are human is just what we need to do. It is okay for us to feel, too.

Gayla said...

So so so so so so good!!! Love the honesty. I think we have all felt that way if we are really honest.

I am in the process of writing a post about my daughter's grieving and my response to it. Would you mind if I link this post when I do?

sara said...

Great...now I'm crying at work. This really resonated with me right now. We're having some issues with Pie's first parents and I'm struggling to remember that the should be in her life if they can be.

You are simply amazing.

Tricia said...

For a moment, I think I understood the pain my mother felt when I accidentally called a foster mom "momma" in her presence. And the love that momma had for me that overflowed and allowed me to love her back, even if I was only in her life for a short time. Or the pain my mother felt when I would choose to live with my grandmother over her. Or the pain my friend felt this summer when her daughter accidentally called me "mom" in front of her. For a moment, I understood a part of my mother.

Briana's Mom said...

You are human. We all are. There is no way that you couldn't have felt a hurt when your daughter was crying out for her Abu. Briana never cried out for anyone else and would seek comfort with her dad and me. But, I could definitely feel a distance with her the first 6 months of being together. The snuggles, hugs and kisses didn't come quickly because Briana had been giving those to her foster mom before I came along. I felt sad at times too because I just wanted that big hug from her already. But the love came with effort, time and lots patience. And Briana definitely knows there is room in her heart to love all her moms.

Sarah said...

Ouch. I'm not an adoptive mother, but my son sometimes calls out for the other people he stays with while I'm at work. And I feel so selfish sometimes when he calls me by their names, or when he asks for them when he's upset. He loves them, and he loves me. And when I catch myself envying his love for them, I have to remember, too, that they earned it, and that means they have my gratitude for being there when he needed them, whenever that was. But oh, I feel so wretched sometimes when I envy them. Thank you for posting this; it really hit home.

Mei Ling said...

"I can strive to teach my daughter the tools she needs to navigate her life story, but I can't alter that story to make it less painful."

You know...

A lot of people call adoption a success story based on the mere statement that a child got a family at all (through adoption). Or they say it's a success because the "birthmother" sacrificed so much to give up her child, and besides, she can always see her child in the future.

So many people call reunion a success - again, based on the mere fact that the adoptee is alive and gets to see the mother who bore them.

People don't bother to dig deeper than that, and they don't know that they should.

I've been told my own adoption story is so "wonderful" because I was adopted to a loving family and because I got to reunite. I don't deny those are wonderful things.

But I often wonder, why are they considered wonderful? Why did something so tragic have to begin to make these "wonderful" things happen?

IMO, "wonderful" means that adoptees should have never had to suffer this much.

Meaning that my desire to have my mother means my mom never would have been able to parent me. It's a paradox most can never understand. Being parented by one means not having been parented by the other. Adoption makes this an irrevocably contradictory issue. While I would not trade my adoptive mom for any other adoptive parent I could have ended up with, some part of me still wishes my mother could have raised me.

And then, I never would have known my adoptive mom. Being raised by my mother means never having been raised by my mom. That contradicts everything adoption is supposed to be about, and I'm well aware of the irony.

I once asked that if adoptive mothers can fill in adequate roles, and if so, then why aren't mothers and infants interchangeable?

Osolomama responded that humans have an infinity capacity to love and nurture others.

Funnily enough, I don't see a lot of that security with many adoptive mom blogs. I see a lot of "birthmother" talk, and sacrifice, and "loving option" spiels. The attempts to "Other" them.

No, adoption is not the same... and it is not just about having an "infinite capacity" to love.

Not from the child's perspective.

Carla said...

Oh TM, I've seen that look of horror too...this past week when I mentioned to friends in the FCC group that it took Katie 13 months to tell me she loved me, 9-10 months to kiss me, and over 6 months to give me a hug...and over 18 months to fall asleep in my arms. For Katie, she had to TRUST me, trust that I was not also going to disappear in her life. Now with Sarah, who has done all of that except tell us she loves us in the 5 months she has been home, I still look at her and know, she misses her foster Mom. She'd rather be with her foster Mom....and I hurt for her and them (and yes for me too because I long for her to want me like that). Thanks so much for this post today.

Sunday Kofffon Taylor said...

“I know that there is enough love in my Tongginator's heart for all of us.”

Yes she does TM, I still have love for all of my parents and care givers. I am still friends with many of them some 30 years later. I love that they loved, and nurtured me, but I sill grieved my inadequate “should be” parents, not making me love any of them any less. Humans have an infinite capacity to love, is so true. but no amount of love can erase the truth of past grief.

(((Big Hugs))) keep doing what you are doing, keep being honest, keep helping others, you are a much needed voice – keep speaking up.

Cedar said...

Hugs. Sometimes it just isn't fun to be human.

Holly said...

I so understand. Recently I had a child in China who had legally become my daughter who wanted nothing to do with me (understandably) who cried out for Mama with screams and shrieks when we ventured out in public. That got quite a bit of attention as people must have wondered what on earth was going on. Very hard being human. Even when everything in you KNOWS this is part of the process and that it sucks WAY worse for the child, it still hurts.
And you are right. Most people have NO idea about the deeper issues of adoption.
I have found it to be a bit of a balancing act knowing what to share, how much, how vulnerable to be, how honest without scaring people or making adoption sound bad. Adoption is the best and the worst.....joy and sorrow mingled and sometimes it is more hurt than happiness, but I keep telling myself that we can do this one day at a time.
Despite all the tears and the hard stuff, I still do believe in adoption when reunion with parents is not possible.
No child should have to live as an orphan.

Sarah said...

two thumbs up. thank you for sharing your heart.

Heather of the EO said...

I appreciate this post so much. One of my favorite things about you is your honesty. How you don't pretend the hard stuff isn't always truly hard. Thank you for doing that. Because your posts always speak of hope and redemption even in those hard things and that's what people need to see. It's there, in life and in these pages. So yeah, thank you.

Football and Fried Rice said...

oh man. I find myself often lost in the throes of who Mya loved before me (for almost three years!) who was there for her? who wiped away her tears? who kissed her goodnight? Yes, my daughter had other mothers too. Another mother whom she grieved in the days after we met. another mother whom my daughter longed to reach for.... We are almost 2/3 of the way to knowing her longer than we haven't know her and I have finally gotten a piece of her heart among her other mothers. I'd like to think a bigger piece :) A piece of her heart that says, "we're gonna be okay".

Sharie said...

It is also those other mother's who made our kids who they are today - so while I am grateful for that, I am also a bit jealous that I wasn't there to be the one to influence those important first months....yep I'm human too.

luna said...

thank you for sharing this moment with such candor. of course that's what makes us human.

interesting some of the differences in that regard between domestic and int'l adoption. I look at my nearly 18 month old daughter and can only imagine what she will want some day.

LucisMomma said...

Hugs to you and to Miss T. Thanks for your honesty.

We've had a rough week here with our DD--the changes DD is going through (learning new things--milestones of Kindergarten) is really having a big effect on her. It's been so hard emotionally this week. I just want a break...but it's so much harder on DD. I keep telling myself that. But sometimes, like you, I'm just human and want a break.

The Byrd's Nest said...

Oh yea sister....I know this terrible feeling. Mine lasted for 3 1/2 years...on top of that icky ridiculous feeling was shame most of all. I was so ashamed that I was so sad that she never liked me...much less loved me. I was never jealous though of her mom or grandmother but I just always felt guilty for "taking" her from them because she was grieving so much. I felt like I was a kidnapper and took someone's child from them.

In the last 4 months...Emma has changed so much. She just randomly loves on me and tells me how much she loves me. Today she told me I was the best teacher in the whole world after homeschool this morning. Wow....I have waited almost 4 years to hear her feelings now I feel so differently. Now I focus on helping her to put her grief into words and to talk about where she came from so she can have a release. All 4 of my children are different.....but I really had to earn her trust and her love....and boy was it worth it!

No...we are not evil....we have been entrusted with God's precious little ones...and oh what a learning adventure it has been so far:)

Special K said...

Beautiful post. Thank you for writing it. This is one of those I'll file away for future reference.

Cassi said...

I wanted to read all the other comments, but I'm so tired but really wanted to say to you . . .

As a First mom, as a mom, as someone who respects you and all you do . . .

It very much makes you human! And you are allowed to hurt just for you sometimes too!

Anonymous said...

You don't need me to say how terrific this post is, and how very, very true. I know as an adoptive mom that I don't feel like I have the right to talk about the "bad" times - I knowingly asked for it, right? Thank you so much for for being honest and vulnerable.

Claudia said...

oh yeah... I hear you on all of this!!! For me, it's been incredibly important to try to sort out in my own head which bits of me feel sad for my kids, and which bits feel sad for me. I think admitting to myself when I feel sad for me is healthy. I want my kids to be able to work through their grief, so I think I should be able to work through mine, too :)

discombobulated said...

brave and heartfelt. One of my fave posts is still the Oil and Vinegar post

Canada to China and back! said...

This is such an amazing post. And something I needed to hear today! So thank you! We travelled with friends and sometimes its hard not to compare the girls attachment....dumb, yes I know! And today was one of those days where I saw that I still wasn't "mom" enough to be Mama to my Addison. And my friends daughter seems so much further down the attachment road, I felt rotten! However this post reminded me I am not alone, so thank you for that! That the other Mom's in Addy's life certainly do have the right to be in my sweet little girls heart, hopefully one day I will see that there is a true place for me there as well!

Thanks again this post was so uplifiting.