Unexpectedly in Sync
My daughter formed a swift, intense bond with her four birth sisters. The surprising love I felt for them blindsided me, but now it makes perfect sense.by Liza Carens Salerno
The three girls buckled into the backseat of the blue rental car had never sung together, but their voices blended so harmoniously they seemed to form a single, perfect tone. Earlier that day, I'd watched them frolic on the beach, burying each other in the sand and bodysurfing in the rollicking swells of the warm Atlantic. Their relationship was less than 24 hours old, yet they were behaving like, well, sisters.
Tim and I adopted our daughter, Meghann, at birth. We’d met both of her birthparents at the time of the adoption, but had lost contact with them. And as our only child approached adolescence, her curiosity about adoption and her birth family grew steadily in intensity. Just before her twelfth birthday, Meghann asked whether we ever received responses to the annual letters and photos we sent them. When we told her that there had been no contact for many years, she commented: "That stinks."
Then, three weeks later, her birthfather, Gary, unexpectedly sent a letter, sharing news about his second marriage, to Annie, and Meghann’s four biological sisters. Over the next two years, we developed a cautious relationship via letters and pictures. Eventually, it seemed only right to introduce our daughter to her other family. As she said to me, "Mom, it just seems like they are distant relatives whom I’ve never met."
Two Fathers’ Day
We planned the trip to visit our daughter’s birthfather months in advance, when winter winds were howling and a getaway to a warmer climate seemed ideal. We planned around the calendars of working parents, as well as "end of middle school" festivities and summer camp. It was only after flights were confirmed, accommodations arranged, and plans were shared that we realized our meeting would occur on Father’s Day.
When I brought the Father’s Day coincidence to Tim’s attention, he shrugged and said, "If that’s the day we meet him, I’m fine with it. Let’s just make sure that it’s OK with Meghann." When I mentioned the date’s significance to her, her response was: "Wow, Mom. How do you think Dad will feel?" With a smile at their concern for each other, I realized that this would probably turn out well.
When you raise a child with the joy and devotion that Tim has displayed for the last 14 years, it doesn’t matter how your child came to you—you become secure in your status as a parent. The willingness with which he embarked on this re-introduction to Meghann’s birthfather, regardless of the day’s implications, stems from his desire to enrich our daughter’s life in every way possible.
And it is clear that nothing will stop Meghann from adoring Tim and identifying him as her father. On Father’s Day, and every day, she is free to love anyone who comes into her life.
Faces of Love
She did fall in love with this new family. Actually, we all did. From the beginning, the whole thing just clicked. Tabitha and Joanna, the sisters closest in age to Meghann, immediately hugged her, chatting away in their soft Southern drawls. Emily, age four, stared worshipfully at this new big sister. It was the next day when Ainsley, the oldest sister, arrived home from a church trip. Then there were five.
I can’t state this for a fact. But I know, at the visceral core of me, that all moms, adoptive or not, feel the same way about their children. They are the essence of our hearts, the embodiment of our souls. I accept these feelings for my daughter for the pure, unadulterated love that they represent. But what I didn’t anticipate, and am thrilled with, is the love that I feel for Meghann’s birth sisters. This emotion rode in like the tide at the beach, on that first day, and grew over the course of that week.
For two years, we developed a cautious relationship via letters and photos. Eventually, it seemed only right to introduce Meghann to her other family.
One evening, after dinner, Tabitha walked over and put her head on my shoulder, and I dropped a quick kiss on her dark hair—a kiss as instinctive as one I would have deposited on Meghann’s lighter locks. When Jo draped her arm over my shoulder at the beach one day, I laced my fingers into hers, while I continued to silently fuss over 16-year-old Ainsley, asleep in the sun. I knew that her fair skin is as fragile as Meghann’s.
Each day, as I watched Meghann playing and laughing with her sisters, I never tired of gazing at them, of tracing the similarities. I see her birthfather in her square face, the distinct shape of her nose, her sturdy build. She favors him as much as any of his four other daughters do. But even more than these physical similarities, what struck me most over our week together was how quickly the girls bonded, and how I felt myself bonding with each of them.
Our Growing Family
All of the adults seemed to feel the same urge to record as much of this shared heritage as possible, and we took dozens of photos of our girls posing together. But, my favorite shot shows everyone—Tim, Meghann, and me, her four birth sisters, Gary and Annie, standing together on the steps of the vacation condo. Every digital photo we took over the week exploited the biological link we all found so fascinating, but this one authenticated what is growing into a larger family.
Since last summer’s vacation, our relationship with Meghann’s birth family has become long-distance again. We wait impatiently for the next e-mail, letter, or phone call. Meghann’s bedroom bulletin board is filling up with pictures of the girls, and she celebrates each of their successes—a softball victory, making the soccer team, earning honor roll—over the phone with them.
Such emotion goes into raising a child, with a different set of complexities when that child arrived through adoption. For the most part, however, my only real regret as a parent was that, for myriad reasons, my daughter ended up being an only child. To be sure, there are bonuses to being an "only"—more attention, more confidence, more toys, and less competition. But I grew up as one of six children in my family, Tim as one of eight, and it is human nature to be nostalgic about your experiences from childhood. Watching my daughter grow up as an only child amidst our expansive family tree of aunts, uncles, and cousins, I regularly worried that Meghann was missing something. Now, my daughter laughs as she explains our expanded family to new friends: "I’m an only child—but I have four sisters."
In all the years that our girl has been the center of our lives, Tim and I have accepted the bond that she has with her birthfather and birthmother. But we failed to anticipate her connection with her biological siblings. Our week together changed that. Meghann is undeniably linked to her entire birth family. Through our love of her, Tim and I are related to them, too.
Liza Carens Salerno is a freelance writer and a recruitment manager for a national retailer. She lives with her husband and daughter in Massachusetts.
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