Monday, May 16, 2011
My own birth story begins on the day my sister chose me...... I was seven weeks old.
Sarah was insistent. She only wanted you. You were the prettiest baby in the hospital, Mum would recall proudly; my sister sitting beside her, blushing on cue as she’d squeeze us into her.
Dad always said Mum was naturally maternal, but after five miscarriages in four years she conceded, receiving a baby in the normal way was unlikely. Mum never made my sister nor I feel like conciliation prizes. Rather, she made adoption seem like a spiritual act of fate:
‘My angels simply took an unintended detour. I just had to find them and bring them home’, she’d say matter-of-factly. I secretly worried about the three unfound angels. I wondered if Mum did too.
In my family, it was easy not to dwell on adoption, though it was a fact I could not ignore; more so since becoming a mother myself. I thought carrying and birthing a baby would help me reconcile a missing piece of myself, but in the days after my daughter’s birth, the overwhelming bond I felt for my child only brought confusion and despondency, as I struggled to understand how my birth mother could have abandoned me.
My family celebrates birthdays with presents and cake in the usual way, but they also acknowledge our adoption anniversary. On this day, Mum and Dad would pick a posy of flowers from the garden and leave them in our room with a simple note of affection resting against the crystal vase. It read:
‘So glad you are mine’.
I looked forward to that ritual every single year. Even now, as adults and Mum passed, Dad still pops around with flowers from his garden to mark the day; ‘So glad you are mine’, he’ll whisper in my ear as we embrace. ‘Me too Dad’, I reply. ’Me too’.
One night, when Chelsea was five, she asked me about ‘the flower day’, and I told her about my adoption and our family tradition. Chelsea was quiet throughout my story, lying back on her pillow with her honey coloured curls spiralling outward like a fan. When I was done, she lay looking at me with concerned eyes. Then she sat up and hugged me, her thin arms draped around my neck.
‘I am glad you are mine too Mummy’, she spoke softly into my ear.
‘I am glad you are mine too Poppet’, I returned.
Chelsea is ten now, and they are discussing family at school. Grandparents on both mine and her father’s side have been fantastic in helping Chels pad out her research.
I am sitting at the kitchen table, only distantly interested in the Suduku puzzle from the newspaper, while Chelsea glues photos onto a family tree project.
‘Mum’, she asks. ‘Have you ever thought of finding your real parents?’
This is not a new question. I have been asked this many times over during the course of my life. I answer in the rehearsed way:
‘No Darl, it doesn’t interest me’, I lie.
‘But don’t you want to know why your real mum didn’t want you?’
Your real Mum didn’t want you. These are the words that resonate in me. They burn with the ruthless ferocity of a rampaging forest fire, but I steady myself and follow with my stock standard retort:
‘As far as I am concerned, my real Mum and Dad are Grandma and Poppy. They have loved and raised me my whole life. I know no other parents’. This response usually suffices to shame the enquirer, and draw the conversation to a swift close - but not today.
‘You could go on that show Find My Family’, she suggests helpfully.
‘If others want to go on that show then that is okay, but it is something I do not feel necessary to enter into’, I reply self-righteously .
‘Okay’, she mumbles shamefully.
‘Besides’, I add, ‘how would Poppy feel?’ I wait for a response. Chelsea shrugs with resigned, withered shoulders.
‘Well I think he’d feel very hurt”. Chelsea says nothing, but continues to look down at her project. Smiling couples gleam back at her; happy portraits of the generations before her, and a candid shot of my sister and I at the beach, with Mum holding her sun hat, preventing it from blowing away. She is laughing at the awkwardness of her pose, with two squirming girls on her lap. This was my real childhood; my only childhood. What ifs can never be, despite the unspoken yearning to know more, and the unrelenting desire for understanding, which lurks below the surface and never leaves, like a menacing crocodile with its beady eyes peering out from the water; disturbing the tranquillity of a superficial paradise. Who am I to throw rocks into the water to torment the crocs?
‘Mum’, Chelsea chimes in. ‘Don’t be mad, but…’, she hesitates, and my stomach turns over like pages from a book made of slate. ‘The other day, when I was talking to Poppy about his Mum and Dad, I asked him if he’d be sad if you tried to find your real parents.’
‘Chelsea! You didn’t’, I throw my pencil down in disgust, and glare at her with a mix of fear and intrigue.
‘It was only a question’ she insists, sounding irritated.
‘Well!’ I blurt ‘How did he react?’ Chelsea looks up from her project, uncertain about sharing her information.
‘Well….. he asked if you’d looked into it, but I said I didn’t think so.’
‘Of course I haven’t’, I interrupt.
‘He thought for a bit, and said he might be a little sad, but he could understand someone needing to know about their birth family. Then he said he was surprised you hadn’t looked into it already. He reckoned he would want to know.’
‘Really….?’ My voice trails off. I sit there considering the possibility. It was an unspoken agreement, between my sister and I, that we never discuss our birth families; it was a loyalty thing; a respect thing. We were already part of a family story, as Chelsea’s project clearly illustrated, but I could also feel my absence in my birth mother’s story; we were like magnets pulling together through a thick sheet of cardboard; an irresistible attraction that others can neither see, feel nor understand.
Then there is the other draw; the need for understanding and rationalisation; traits that seem at odds with other family members. Such as my rotten temper, when all others are mellow. My honey coloured curls, which my daughter also inherited, but who gave them to me? And what about Dad’s diabetes, present on both sides of his family? What pathological traits have my genes set me up for?
Posted by The Brave at Monday, May 16, 2011