By: Stacey Ellis
One year old. One. Wow. Where did the time go? I feel like I keep saying that. In the beginning I think new parents wonder if they will make it to one year because every day seems so long. But as the months passed, one by one, we got the hang of it…we learned her cues and her cries. We taught her baby sign language for “eat”, “milk”, and “more” and oh, she’s a pro at “more”. And our hearts melted when she said “Mama” and “Dada” even if they weren’t directed at us at first. But now we know she understands what we say. When we say, “Can I have your leg?” She sticks one out, waiting for her pant leg. And then we say, “Can I have your other leg?” Here comes the other leg. We ask for kisses and get them. We ask, “Where are the doggies?” and she grabs at them. We tell her we’ll be right back and she doesn’t cry as often when we leave the room. It’s amazing how much she knows. What she doesn’t quite know yet is that she is adopted.
We use the word “adopted” as often as we can without trying. I will say to her every night, “We are so lucky we adopted you.” Or, I’ll try to say, “Adopting you was the best thing that ever happened to us.” I try to make it sound natural so that when she does understand that word, “adoption”, she will think it is like the word “apple” or “shoe” – a word that is a part of her life.
On this – the end of her first year – we wrote the birth parents her 12-month update letter. In it, we included pictures of our daughter doing everything she loves – going down slides, swimming, running, climbing. And we included a charm necklace – the charm necklace I wrote about a few weeks ago. It says “Many hearts, one beat.” It symbolizes all of the hearts that go into adoption which all beat in unison toward one goal. I bought one for myself and I wear it every day. I also bought one for her birth mother and one for our daughter. I thought if our daughter ever meets her birth mother, it would be neat if we were all wearing the same charm – a connection – so our daughter would know she was thought about every day.
But when our adoption lawyer went to send the letter, something unsettling happened. The office called the birth mother’s and birth father’s cell phones – both were disconnected. My husband and I had their phone numbers in our cell phones for that day when our daughter asked to meet them. But now, they were not valid numbers. So, the office sent an email through Facebook and through regular email trying to confirm they were at the same address before sending the package. No response. At first, we thought “oh, maybe they don’t check their email that often.” But as the days turned into weeks, we knew. Those words they said in the hospital were true: “She is your daughter. We are not going to interfere in your lives. When she’s 18 or 30 or 50 and she wants to meet us, you reach out to us and we’ll all decide if that is a good idea.”
They’re gone. My husband and I didn’t know what to think or how to feel. At first we both felt abandonment – not for us, but for our daughter. Not that we ever agreed to continued contact, but we guess we just kind of assumed they’d always be out “there” somewhere. People always ask whether we have maintained contact with them. We have sent a letter and pictures every three months and never expected anything in return. But after the six-month letter, we did get a letter back and it felt, well, good. After a week, we moved from abandonment to feeling, well, weird. As if for some reason, the closure we had isn’t there anymore. Maybe it’s because we didn’t send the “last letter”. Or maybe it’s because we finally feel like we are truly her parents.
People say those who raise a child are the child’s parents. I’m not sure I truly believe that all by itself. I think we always knew and respected the fact that she has two sets of parents – us and her birth parents. But now, we feel like we are her only parents. We don’t know if they ever think about our daughter. We don’t know whether they will be open to meeting her if she wants to meet them someday. Those lingering questions make me sad for our daughter – it’s not that we can’t track down her birth parents and that part of her history someday, but we won’t know until that time whether her history will smile upon her or close the door in her face.