"Dear Other Mothers"

My greatest joy, becoming a mother, happened because both of my children lost the one person no child should have to lose.

author Shelly Roy with her son as an infant and her family now, with her son as a teen

Dear Other Mothers. First Mothers. Birth Mothers. Thank you. And I’m sorry for whatever situation it was that led up to your not being able to parent. I am sorry for your trauma history, for the poverty, for the culture that doesn’t support single parenthood. I’m angry at the broken system that made it somehow make more sense for my children to lose not only their birth family but their birth language, culture, and country. But most of all, I’m deeply saddened by my children’s pain. And I’m conflicted. Conflicted because my greatest joy, becoming a mother, happened because both of my children lost the one person no child should have to lose.

I’m conflicted because my feelings about adoption are a complex mix of joy, pride, sadness, and loss. I believe whole-heartedly in adoption. Adoption permeates my life. My children were adopted. I make my living working with adoptive families. My mom was a birth mom as a teenager, long before she had me. So, you see, adoption is part of who I am. And yet most days, most times, I don’t think about it. I walk around making those everyday decisions that parents make, living life, working, eating, sleeping, laughing, crying. Not thinking too much about it. But it is always there.

And even though I studied adoption in college, continue to read about it, write about it, and advise parents on how best to support their children through the feelings related to “it,” I continue to be humbled by its convoluted lifelong effects. When my 17-year-old, who has been picking a fight with me all day on his birthday, tells me this day is always one of the worst of the year because he is overcome with a sadness he didn’t understand until just a few years ago, when he says that he wonders if you think about him or remember the day he was born or even keep track of how old he would be…when he says his birthday is a constant reminder that he “sucks” and “wasn’t good enough” (even though he knows logically this it isn’t true, he can’t get those feelings out of his heart)…well, the pain takes my breath away because I know it’s a wound too deep for me to fix. And so I listen and I cry with him and I tell him he is allowed to feel however he feels. And I tell him I love him. And I share that every birth mom I have talked with or learned about or read about says that she never, ever forgets. I tell him this not to take away his pain, because I know that won’t happen, but just to share…and because a small part of me still really wants to fix the unfixable.


My thankful heart

I feel wonder and amazement almost daily. I look at my beautiful kids, my children who came to me through you, because of you. I can’t help but be curious…I know you are beautiful because my children are stunning. I know you are talented and creative, because my children have inherent gifts—dance, athleticism, speed and agility, creative expression—talents that permeate every ounce of their being and simply must be a part of their DNA. I see expressions on their faces and I wonder if you raise your eyebrows in the same way as my daughter, or tilt your head when you laugh, like my son. And I am so thankful. So very thankful. I can’t imagine my life with children other than my children…than your children. My blessing is because of your loss.

Every dance recital, holiday meal, softball game, scraped knee, nightmare, bedtime story. Every family vacation, rainy Sunday in front of the TV, school picture, broken heart, late night crying on my shoulder. Every “you’re grounded,” pace the floor waiting for you to come home at night, worry and wondering if I’m making good parenting decisions—all of this has been possible because of you.

So thank you. I hope you have found peace. And I know you remember, know you keep track of how old they would be. I want you to know I love them with all of my heart, that I will do whatever it takes to keep them safe, healthy, and whole.


Our own paths to walk

After more than 15 years as an adoptive parent, after all the reading and studying and helping and supporting, I’ve finally figured out that this really is a journey. That none of us adoption triad members are ever really done processing and thinking about and evolving surrounding adoption. We’re all walking our own paths, on separate intertwining roads. Our journeys are joyous and beautiful and painful and exciting and overwhelming. And although I can try really hard to be prepared and in control, all that planning and forethought doesn’t change the fact that I am really mostly just going to figure it out as I go along.

I need to always remember my children have their own paths to walk. That sometimes I will hold their hands, and that often they will walk alongside their mentors, their friends, their teachers, or other adoptees. And no matter how hard I try to prepare them, they will mostly just figure it out as they go.

And although I know in my heart that the same holds true for you, that you are also on your own path, you remain abstract to me because you—the other mothers, birth mothers, first mothers of my children—are a half a world away. At the same time you are completely concrete to me because my children literally embody you. So I’ll say it one more time…thank you.

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