Monday, November 19, 2012
On Being an Adopted Mom
This one is the hardest to write. It hits closest to home.
Being a mom is hard. It's hard work, it is lots of work, and pretty much every philosophy, idea, parenting style, fad, or medical advice tidbit somehow makes you feel like you're doing it wrong. It is impossible to do perfectly, yet imperative to do so. It is the hardest job I've ever done, one that demands I turn myself inside and out and loosen my hold on most of my ideals and all of my youth. It is harder than I ever imagined it could be, from the outside.
Being a mom is also awesome. It's fun, and hilarious, and makes me cry with joy on a pretty regular basis. Every day I have moments of pure joy and sweet victories. It is the most rewarding job I've ever done, likely because it demands so much of me. It is more rewarding than I ever imagined it could be, from the outside.
Adopting a child adds a new twist. An extra shadow. Every action, every thought, every decision, all of parenting has this extra shadow on it. Not a dark shadow, but one like you see on a summer morning; lots of reflected light makes it seem barely present and you hardly notice its there. For awhile, I parented Matthew in the shadow of his foster and biological moms. I was certain they could be doing it better. I hated myself for my failures. Then the shadow changed a bit, shifting colour or something. Less angry and more worried. I worry all the time: what's he thinking about? Does he harbor fear? Is this normal eight year old boy behavior, or is he acting out some sort of inner adoption struggle? How much is adoption, and how much is living? Would it be better to celebrate his uniqueness or focus on his sameness? Does he care? Does it hurt? How often does he think of his birth mom, and how can I help him?
He lives in the shadow of what he has left behind him in Thailand. He has photos of his birth family in his bed. They are wrinkled and creased, frequently wind up under the mattress or behind the dresser, and resurface. He treasures them. He doesn't yet fully understand that he lost his family, and he lost the language and culture of his birth, but someday he will. As his momma it hurts me that someday, it might hurt him.
I also parent under the shadow of the quiet scrutiny of others. People are curious about us, and about him. They watch us. Sometimes, they ask questions. Most of the time, I don't remember that this shadow exists because most of the time I forget that he is brown and we are white, and thus noticeable in public. I catch people giving us double takes, or looking at us closely and I think, "Is there toilet paper stuck to my pants? Do I have something on my face? Is my boob hanging out again?" But then I realize, it's just Matthew. Those polite Canadians. Looking and not asking. And looking again. Pshhht. But once I am aware that people are watching, it gets awkward. Every interaction is proof of love. Demonstration of stewardship. I own this boy and he owns me: we are family. I feel like everything I do is a small shout, "Yes the love is the same!" "YES HE IS MINE!" But only when I'm aware of being watched, which isn't often. Thank goodness. For that shadow is heavy.
All parents worry about their children's well being and future happiness. There's just an extra layer of worry shadowing the adopted mom. And a lurking desire to demonstrate proof. Proof of love, proof of having earned the right to raise this baby, proof of legitimacy as a mom. Proof of health, balance, emotional stability, parenting mastery. But who "masters" parenting? My BF says anyone who acts like they have all their shit together? They're faking. It's all a lie. We none of us get it right all the time.
She's right. No parent gets it right every time. Adopted moms feel a heavy burden of responsibility to get it right, and do it well, because there's that added shadow of grief and identity that awaits their child as they grow up. If we mess up, the consequences are bigger. We do the heavy manual labor of parenting and are questioned and scrutinized at every turn. When really, what we do? It's magic. We graft a stranger into our hearts and make them family overnight. It is brilliant, beautiful, gorgeous, breathtaking. Adoption grows our hearts in impossible ways, and pulls us inside out to wear that growth on the OUTSIDE OF OUR BODIES, walking around all naked and soft. For our babies.