I’m not an adoption professional. What I am is an expert on how it feels to be adopted. I’m an international adoptee. I hold a wealth of knowledge and understanding about living in the skin of adoption.
I was born in England. Not in London, but in a smaller place known as Bury St Edmunds. Bury St Edmunds is a town in West Suffolk on the River Lark.
It is of an ancient ruin and is said to have been the site of a Roman villa and later a royal Saxon town. Bury St Edmunds is named for Saint Edmund—king of the East Angles—killed by the Danes around 870, and is buried there.
I tell you this not because I’m a historian, but because I hold a deep sense of pride in where I am from and from where I was adopted.
My bio mother delivered me into this world on a cold January morning. My bio father wasn’t at the delivery. He didn’t see the tears my mum cried; tears streaked with the heavy emotion of a mother preparing to relinquish her daughter to foster care.
I wasn’t taken from my mum there at the little hospital in Bury St Edmunds. No, Mum cared for me for several days after my birth. Imagine, holding your baby, rocking your little one to sleep, touching tender-soft skin, smelling the sweet scent of your new child—all along knowing there would soon be a difficult goodbye.
Imagine, feeling the touch of your mother and then having that taken from you. A child remembers these things, from a central and core place within. The severing is never forgotten.
From the arms of my bio mother, I was placed into the arms of my foster mother.
I have notes from my foster mother that I read to this day. Notes that are written in blue ink, on soft blue paper, neatly folded and placed into matching envelopes.
My foster mother wrote of how I didn’t like my baths but loved being outside. She noted that I seemed to be content dressed in the beautiful sweaters and booties that my bio mother had knitted, during the months that I grew inside of her.
My foster mother’s role was a temporary one, but also a critical one—offering stability and love to children like me who didn’t yet have a family to call their own. I’m told that she shed a tear when I was taken from her care. I’m told that she said she would miss me.
Removed from my foster home, I was placed into the arms of an American woman who would become my forever mother. So many changes, yet I had finally come home to that place called family.
I look back on my life as an international adoptee, and through all of the heartache, confusion, and pain—I see love. The love of three women who were there for me is the reason that I am here today.
I’ve received incredible life-gifts from each of my mothers. My bio mother has shown me the importance of holding my head high, no matter what life may throw my way. It’s a life-gift that I replay in my mind each time I read these words by Maya Angelou, “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”
My foster mother has shown me the importance of kind consideration and thoughtfulness. Her written words remain a critical link back to a fragile and pivotal time in my life. She didn’t have to take time to observe these moments—she chose to. I often wonder if she knew how much her letters would mean to me someday. How they would help to fill the hollow places in my heart as I journeyed to discover and embrace the truth of who I am.
I never saw my foster mother again, after the day I left her home. I remain forever grateful for her loving and thoughtful care.
My adoptive mother has shown me the power of loving beyond the borders of a bloodline. She seeded within her children and her grandchildren the profound beauty of family-building through adoption. She has reminded us of the responsibility we each hold to care for the most vulnerable among us. It is her example of living with kindness and grace—and the philosophy that “there is always more room for love”—that has expanded my own ability to love and to be loved.
My life has been greatly influenced by these three women—and, they are all my mothers because they have mothered me and they have molded me into the woman I am today. They live within me and to deny their roles in my life would be akin to denying myself.
As I grow and mature, I see my life coming full circle. I’m no longer that little girl in need of a home. I am a woman who, through her journey of foster care and adoption, has become keenly aware of the contributions made to me by each of my mothers: bio, foster, and adoptive.
In each of their arms, I was given the gift of seeing love through an imperfect and broken lens. Nothing and no one is perfect in this world. It is the imperfection that draws us in and urges us to be better, to stand stronger, and to love deeper.
Perhaps, you might look upon the real, imperfect mothers in your own life with a new and different gaze, today. What have you learned by watching their imperfect journeys? What are the transformative gifts awaiting you that you currently may not be seeing?
Recognize the gift.
Adoption is not perfect. I’m grateful that it’s not.
It’s the imperfection of adoption that keeps teaching me invaluable lessons on living, loving, and rising.
Michelle Madrid-Branch is the author of, Adoption Means Love: Triumph of the Heart.
Real and raw, the book explores the many experiences and emotions of adoptees, adoptive parents, birthparents, foster youth, and foster parents.
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