I’ve struggled to understand love pretty much my entire life. I think it all stems from the strange juxtaposition that many adoptees are introduced to when we’re told about our adoption or when people comment on it. The juxtaposition goes something like this, “Your biological parents loved you so much, they gave you to someone else who could take better care of you.”
In the heads and hearts of the people who say those things, I’m sure those comments makes sense. But when you’re five years old and hear something like that for the first time, only one message truly registers in your mind — when people love you a lot, they let you go. Which likely explains why I cried and had stomach aches basically every day in first grade. I was afraid that my adoptive parents might love me that much too.
As I got older, I started registering the comments a bit differently. I was able to parse them intellectually, but my emotional understanding was still limited at best. I entered most relationships at arms’ length, waiting for the moment that someone would love me so much that they departed the relationship for my own good. And in some instances, my arms’ length approach was part of my effort to protect those people from me. Because I could too easily put people in compartments in my head and turn on/off my feelings for them. I mean, isn’t that what you would have to do when you truly love someone that much?
So, I developed a few close friendships, but allowed most people to leave my life easily. And I had a few romantic relationships, but sabotaged many of them when things got too serious. And I told people I loved them without really understanding the full import of what it meant. Luckily, I’ve encountered people who were willing to accept me as I am, and those relationships have lasted. But many others have faded because…well, if I am transparent about it, I’m a bit difficult to be in a relationship with. I’m rarely open to being vulnerable and too quick to let the relationship go when things are challenging, even when I truly care for someone.
I started to understand more about love when I met my husband, Jeff. He understands the challenges that come with loving me, and he just won’t let me push him away. He gets that I may come across as cold at times, and may not always want to hold hands, or snuggle, or express physical affection at all, but he soaks up the moments when I am affectionate without making me feel guilty for not doing it enough. And he never seems to question that I love him, even when I say it in ridiculous ways, like “If you ever decide that you don’t want to be with me anymore, just tell me and I promise I won’t make it hard for you to leave. Because I love you enough to let you go.” That gem came shortly after a friend’s spouse left him for another person. All in all, Jeff has taught me a lot about love.
However, things really started to change in my understanding of love when I began the reunion process with my (natural/biological/insert the word that doesn’t offend you) parents. And it wasn’t just because of them. It was because I started reflecting on love as found in its many expressions in the adoption and reunion process. And here’s what I’ve learned. Love is…
- A sister who sat with her younger sibling when she had to tell their mom that she was pregnant;
- A sixteen year old who laid awake at night, rubbing her belly, crying for and praying about the baby she would never meet;
- A grandmother who wrote a poem for her first grandchild on a small piece of yellow, lined notebook paper, and kept it for 36 years;
- Another grandmother who corresponded with her son’s pregnant ex-girlfriend and told her that if she had a daughter, she would want that daughter to be like her;
- A couple who, while having little money, knew they had plenty to offer another child;
- A foster parent who meticulously watched a little baby’s every movement so she could write “instructions” for the girl’s (adoptive) parents;
- A seven year old boy who darted off a school bus to see his new little sister on the day she arrived to their home;
- Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who never blinked an eye when a new family member was introduced to them via adoption, though it was unfamiliar territory for them;
- A mom who gave her daughter her first mother’s day card, even though she no longer had her child with her;
- A grandmother who marked a child’s birthday on a calendar with an asterisk each year;
- A mom who cried every time she saw an expiration date on a milk jug that matched her daughter’s birthday;
- A thirty-six year old adoptee who made a commitment to herself and to God that she would be vulnerable enough to search for her family;
- Two brothers who listened to their mom explain that they had a sister she had never told them about, and did so without passing judgment;
- A mom whose rapid heart beat was noticeable in the first hug she shared with her daughter;
- Family members who embraced a “stranger” on her first visit, treating her like she had always belonged with them;
- A dad who politely asked if it was okay to hug his daughter the first time he met her;
- A husband who encouraged his wife to ask her newly found mom to move to their home so they could establish a strong relationship;
- Two moms who sat on a porch looking at photos of their daughter on a hot summer day;
- Two dads who prayed over their daughter her entire life – one using the name he gave her and the other using the name he was told she was given;
- A mom who encouraged her daughter to call another woman “mom” too;
- Another mom who moved fifteen hours away from other family members to be with her daughter;
- Two sons who understood why their mom needed to move;
- A brother and sister playing cards together for the first time, and discovering they share common traits;
- Siblings, brought together by the death of their grandmother, who joined together to support their mom;
- A man and a woman who shared a rocky history, but were willing to meet in the present so their daughter could see her parents in the same room; and
- An adoptee who has fought to keep her commitment to be vulnerable, even when it’s been frightening.
I’m not going to pretend that my adoption and reunion experience has suddenly, magically, made me understand everything there is to know about love. I won’t even say it’s made me willing to be vulnerable at all times in all places so I can embrace love more freely. I am still who I am — thanks to genetics and experiences — and I remain somewhat reserved and protective of myself. But, I do understand that love can be wonderful and messy, amazing and frightening, awesome and intimidating. And that’s a part of what I’ve learned as an adoptee.
Becky was born in Memphis, TN and adopted as a baby. She reunited with her natural/biological family in 2012, and now her definition of “family” includes two moms, two dads, three brothers, two sisters-in-law, five nieces, and lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins. She also has a sister, brother-in-law, and nephew she has not met. Becky resides in WV with her husband, Jeff, and co-owns a leadership consulting business. In her spare time, Becky enjoys reading, golfing, and watching the WVU Mountaineers. To learn more about Becky, please visit: anadoptedkid.wordpress.com. You can reach Becky via email at rdms453 at gmail dot com.