Our youngest daughter, Baby E, is ten months old today. It's hard to believe! She's doing so many new and exciting things: saying "mama" and "dada," pulling from sitting to standing position, drinking from a sippy cup, learning to use a baby fork on her own, enjoying splashing in the swimming pool, teething, doing classic baby "snorty" face (wrinkling her nose and breathing really hard while closing her eyes), playing with her big sis, and listening for a few moments while I read to her.
I'll admit, when we first brought both of our girls home, they hardly felt like mine. This is common when adoptive families, who haven't had the ten months of gestational bonding and preparation, to feel that they are babysitting, not parenting, their new child. It's strange, miraculous, and frightening (even when you have plenty of child care experience like we did), to be handed a bundle of joy who will be yours FOREVER, a little someone who was born to someone else, looks like someone else, and has known, for the gestational period, someone else's voice, scent, and heartbeat.
But after many sleepless nights involving feedings, cuddles, and quiet songs, after fits of tears followed by giggles and smiles, after marathon play sessions, after kisses and cuddles, that baby becomes fully ours, despite that she looks nothing like us, that she exudes her birth parents in personality, preferences, and gestures, and that she was a stranger when she came to us, she is ours.
Here's an excerpt of a letter I wrote to Miss E around her 10 month birthday:
Today you had just finished eating some mixed veggies. (I know you were finished because you threw your sippy cup, then your fork, then some veggies onto the floor). I wiped off your hands and took you into the living room. I gave you a binky (you look so sweet when you suck your binky) and we read Ten Little Babies. You were attentive, focused, and quiet. What a beautiful moment. After we read the book twice, I put you in your bed for your nap.
I realize that I have now had you as my daughter for ten months which is the same amount of time your birth mother, _____, carried you in her. This is a defining moment in my life. I’m sad that _____ is missing you, and I’m sad that the circumstances in her life meant she felt she couldn’t parent you. I try my very best to send detailed letters to her and lots of photographs so she can see how you are doing, what you are interested in, and most of all, that we are living up to our promises to her---raising you in a Christian home, letting you experience new things, traveling, and educating you.
You are such a blessing to our family! Did you know when you were younger, we would get you out of bed when you were sleeping just to hold you and look at you? Yeah, you are that awesome. J
And today, now that Miss E's sister, Baby E, is 10 months, I am feeling this wave of emotion all over again.
Baby E was carried by her birth mother approximately the same amount of time that Baby E has been ours.
Please think for a moment what it would be like to have your ten month old baby, one whom you've cared for every day with love and devotion, to be taken from you. Just like that. Here today, gone tomorrow. Imagine the heartache, the terror, the confusion, the fear. Imagine the trust it would involve to hand your baby over to people you hardly know....forever. Imagine not knowing if those people will keep their promise to write you letters or visit you, keeping you informed on how your child is doing. Imagine wondering if you'd be forgotten eventually, or how you would explain your choice to your child one day if he or she were to ask you, "Why did you give me up?" (I know the PC language is "placed for adoption"---but I can tell you that some of the birth mothers I know use the term "gave up" because that is what it felt like to them.)
I am not a birth parent. But I know several women who are. And I will tell you that these women love their babies. They think of them every. single. day. They stumble upon grief during unexpected times. Their lives are never the same because a part of them is missing, forever, even when the loss was voluntary, even when the adoption is open, even when they can see and touch and speak with their birth child.
I rejoice in my sweet Baby E. I am thankful for the presence of her birth parents in our lives. And I am always mindful of the magnitude of their decision to allow us to raise Baby E.