More than anything, I want to be able to speak and understand and sing in my mother tongue. I want to be able to write poetry and love letters in Chinese. I asked my mom why I was never able to take lessons growing up and she said that it was because the Chinese classes that were offered were far away, maybe an hour’s drive, and it was inconvenient.
It hurts me that I wasn’t able to learn my birth language out of convenience.
I once read an article with research suggesting that there is something that activates in adoptee’s brain when they hear their native language that doesn’t activate for other people who didn’t grow up hearing that language as an infant. This means that my mother tongue lives not just in my bones, but also in my brain.
Yet, there has been so much holding me back. Fears like: What if I’m not able to learn Chinese? What if I sound like the white people who try to learn Chinese who don’t understand what tones are? Or what if it’s something that I can’t relearn? Maybe English has taken over so much of my brain I have no more space for that part of myself.
I stared at the form in front of me, tapping my pen. My legs shook. I cleared my throat and looked around the room. Swirly patterns of blues, greens, and browns surrounded me. Have you ever noticed how all hospitals and waiting rooms use the same neutral palette? As though, earth tones are going to help someone find their zen during a medical crisis. At that moment, the colors weren’t working.
The sterile scent of rubbing alcohol, the HGTV special on mute, the steady stream of indistinguishable chatter at the front desk…none of it helped my nerves. All 12 boxes on the form were still empty. I took a deep breath, and as always, marked every box N/A, then turned the page.
We sat in front of him, listening to the statistics of why we had a very low chance of conceiving on our own. All we could do was smile. That was it. It was the permission slip we were waiting for. The green light from a fertility doctor, giving us permission to pursue adoption. He gave us the facts about our treatment options and instead, we drove down the street and sat in on an adoption meeting for new adoptive families. Adoption had been on our hearts all along, yet we felt like we had to try everything else first. Like society expected that from us. Like we couldn’t announce our plans to adopt until we had exhausted every other measure. Like adoption was our Plan B.
My heart sank as I watched her walk out of the room. She had birthed this beautiful child and was leaving empty handed. I was completely unprepared for the wave of grief that hit me as I realized this may be the only time we would ever meet. This is adoption.
By the time we met our daughter, we had experienced 3 years of infertility and 1 year of a tumultuous adoption process. Our tender hearts had been shredded with the pain of waiting and felt the dull ache start to erode our hope. It’s common for eroded hope to turn into fear, which is part of our story.
Black, White, Just Right was the first book that I purchased when pregnant with our first baby. I wanted her to know from before she breathed her first breath that who we are as a family and who she is as a biracial child, was more than just right. I’m a Brooklyn girl born of Caribbean immigrant parents and my husband is meat and potatoes Midwestern boy born of farmers. It’s amazing how our love for children, especially those who have a more difficult beginning, brought us together.
She was beautiful. I fell deeper in love the moment the nurse placed her on my belly and I saw her for the first time; all pink and soft and beautiful. Over the next week while she remained with the agency’s foster mom, I visited and held her, committing every bit of her to memory. I told her everything I could, knowing she wouldn’t remember but explaining, nonetheless, about how much I loved her, and how I agonized over the decision to make the adoption plan.
As someone who lives a busy life, I consider myself like many people. Sleep often evades me because I’m running through my list of tasks for the week. Either that or my brain has decided to replay that embarrassing memory from first grade—one or the other.
Sleep didn’t start evading me for darker reasons until I moved away from my family.
Are you really going to share with all these people about your struggles with bonding with your daughter?
When asked to write this blog post, initially, I was so excited for the opportunity but then these questions crept into my mind. I found myself intimidated by my own inexperience and shortcomings. I thought there was nothing in my experience worth reading about.
Reflecting on my life over the last 6 years, some major events have taken place—four houses, three dogs, two children, and complete career changes for me and my husband. There is another significant event that also occurred, yet it is not visible or tangible like the others: a thought shift in how I view open adoptions.
When we began the adoption process almost 7 years ago, I wanted this clear-cut, simple, closed adoption. I longed to be matched with a birth mother who would have a baby, hand him or her over to me sweetly swaddled, and walk out of the hospital without wanting any further contact.I thought that would be the ideal adoption. It would be mess-free, drama-free, and easy to navigate. It would just be our little family of three.
It’s 4 am and I can’t sleep. Tomorrow, our family will go back on the list. Tomorrow, or a day soon after, I will become a mom to a child that I’ve never met. I’ve been here before, tossing and turning, listing in my mind all the things I would be doing to prepare my home for a child if I had the luxury of knowing their age, gender, clothing size, favorite breakfast food…I’ve spent sleepless nights like this before every new placement.