Adoption, Surrogacy and Variations on the Theme
September 11, 2010
I was told at a very young age (young enough that I always remember knowing) that my dad is my biological dad, but my biological mother is someone other than my mom. My parents weren’t able to have kids of their own, and so a woman who wanted to have babies, but wasn’t ready to have kids, conceived (by some fancy scientific means), carried and gave birth to my brother and me. This woman remained unnamed—until a week ago-- and I didn’t know anything about her.
I grew up openly loved and with a definite sense of being wanted, but my parents were somewhat reluctant to address the story of my origination beyond this basic outline. They also discouraged me from sharing it with others to some extent (even explicitly). I understand, as an adult, that they probably wanted to focus on the family they’d so wanted and finally completed, rather than be reminded of the fertility struggles that preceded it. Still, I’d have played it differently, and maybe someday will (Aaron and I have talked about adopting our second child); when I was myself a child, I didn’t have any frame of reference for empathizing in this way, and instead perceived my parents’ reluctance to openly address the story of how I came to be—the beginning of my story—as an indication that I, in some way quite essentially, disrupted their story’s continuum, yet at the same time played a key role (and admittedly sometimes wondered if we were in effect playing at roles) in representing its continuity.
This was all very subtle, not a huge deal by any means. We went about our lives, and I grew up, and here I am. I had friends who were adopted—obviously adopted (like, Korean-American kid with white parents-style)—and was curious about their stories. Some of their stories began on airplanes. Some in orphanages. Some with biological mothers, with or without names.
I sometimes told other kids that I was adopted (half true), I suppose out of wanting to relate, or to be related to. I never felt my mom wasn’t my mom, but of course played that card once in a horribly insensitive and impetuous adolescent moment (it meant nothing. If your adopted/step/surrogate-derived kid says you’re not their parent, don’t take it to heart. They are testing the waters. They’re exploring their own space in a way that kids do only with their parents). I wondered and made up stories in my mind about who my biological mother was, and in late adolescence considered it a definite unknown, took ownership of that unknown; I took some pride in being “genetically engineered,” a truly distinct individual, free to be my very-own-self. Of course, we are all truly distinct and unique individuals, free to be our very-own-selves, but we also all have belly-buttons, and we have our stories, and find our way to our families through time and space in equally unique ways.
As I got older, my mom communicated that if I wanted to know more about my biological mother, she would pass her information along. I was curious, but my mom was the gatekeeper, and I didn’t want do offend or hurt her in inquiring after this other person. I wasn’t sure I wanted to pop that can of worms open, either, because… then what? I also didn’t know what was inside.
Then, when I was pregnant with Kaspar, I marveled at the thought that all of us begin in the same way, that all of us were babies first, inside of bellies and out. I wondered about my biological mother’s experience of me (fetal me). I wondered why and how she did what she did, and if it had any bearing on who I am. We are all distinct individuals, but we are also all connected, part of each other’s stories and one big continuum. I took a bit more interest in her part in my story, and my part in hers, and at the same time felt it wasn’t such a big deal after all… Then one evening, just over a week ago, I realized without provocation that my mom is an adult and can handle an inquiry (this story is, after all, a part of her story, too). And indeed, she handled it well, not hurt or threatened in the least.
She told me my biological mother’s name, and said that she went to Smith College. I went to Smith College, too. I logged in as an alumn on the school’s website and did a search for the name. I got an email address. I dropped her a line: “By way of introduction, I am the person you gave birth to in November of 1984. My name is Taylor… Thank you for giving me life!”
She wrote back. Just like that, “I know exactly who you are.” Turns out her husband’s been reading this blog. We’ve written a few times, and I’ve asked some questions. She has other kids. I’ve told her about my baby. I have no idea what this relationship is—I have a mom and am not looking for another—but perhaps it doesn’t need defining. In any case, it’s fun to explore it. She seems really cool, which I like, and really human, and I want to respect that, allow her that. She is now three-dimensional. She has her own life.
Anyway. Being a parent makes us more cognizant, no? Of our own experiences, our parents’ experiences, our childrens’ experiences. There’s no question in my mind that the woman who fed me, rocked me, taught me songs, cared for me when I was sick, wrote me letters at summer camp, encouraged me in pursuing my talents, gave me hugs and tolerated my teenage attitude, is my mother (I love you, Mom!). Being a mother, I know this kind of love and I know this connection, both ways, and it’s not biologically determined. But being pregnant in becoming a mother also made me aware that I came from somewhere-- from a collaborative effort no less-- and somehow made popping that can of worms open appealing and easy, even natural… inevitable. I’m really glad that I did.
Even though Kaspar’s coming-to-be story is more straight-forward than mine, I’ve learned from my own experience that kids are invested in their stories, and I will help him to celebrate his. I want to say “This is your story, and your life. Let it unfold as much as you can.”
Are you adopted (or half-adopted, or whatever)? If so, has this impacted or enriched your approach to parenting at all? Are your kids adopted, or did you use a surrogate? How have you presented their stories to them? How have you celebrated? What special joys or challenges have come with the experience? Looking forward to hearing your family’s stories!