“Digesting Her Adoption Story, a Piece at a Time”

As my daughter grows, she slowly and sweetly puts together the facts of her birth and adoption.

One evening, I was puttering around in the kitchen, clearing the counter-top, when my five-year-old daughter, Hanna, came to me with a drawing in her hands.

“Mommy, will you drive me to China?” she said. With my hands full of papers, I squatted down to look into her eyes. This was one of those questions.

“Why do you want to go to China?” I asked.

“So I can give my mommy this picture.” Hanna held her picture up for me to see.

Her drawing showed a woman with straight, black hair and a triangle-shaped dress. She had a green heart and a dark-haired baby in her tummy. In bold letters, Hanna had scrawled across the top: I LOVE YOU, MOMMY.

A pang shot through me. Who am I? Was my mothering in the last four years not enough? Quickly, I brought myself back to the conversation. No, this is good.

The Earliest Pieces

Hanna has heard the story of her birth and adoption since she came home from China, nearly five years ago. She and I have read picture books about birth mothers. But this was the first sign of her longing for a connection. Though I had not expected this question, I knew that Hanna would ask more about her origin. When she was younger, her questions were simple, couched in fantasy. She would ask, “Mommy, how come you took so long to come to China to get me?”

“Hanna Banana,” I’d answer, “I came as fast as I could.”

“Did you run?” she wanted to know, and I don’t think she was kidding. China, to her, was about as far away as her preschool down the street.

At age three, Hanna began to notice differences in our family. Her sister Kathryn and I had yellow hair, while hers was brown. Once, when we were coloring, she looked up and said, “Mommy, I have yummy chocolate eyes. You have blue-sky eyes.” She looked thoughtful for a moment and returned to coloring. She never asked why.

I read once that a child may know the facts of her adoption and seem fine with them, but that, as she develops, she will understand those facts differently, and will feel different about them. This stuck in my mind. Over the years, I have watched my daughter, waiting for her to grasp the meaning of what she knows.

At age four, Hanna saw a mother nursing a baby. She wanted to know if she drank milk from my boobies, as her sister did. When I said no, she put her hands on her hips and asked, “Did Kathryn drink it all up?”

And now, Hanna has drawn herself inside another mother, one who looks like her.

A Complete Picture

I could see more questions coming, reflecting a deeper understanding. “Why was I born in China? Why did I have another mother and father? Why did they let me go?”

But that evening, all Hanna asked was that I drive her to China. Back then, she drew pictures for everyone: me and Daddy, her ballet teacher, her friends, and, suddenly, her mommy. To her, it was a simple question that needed a simple answer.

“China is a long drive,” I said. “You have to cross an ocean. We would need to take a plane.” Hanna frowned, wanting more. “I do not know if we can find your mommy, I continued. But when you are ready, I’ll take you to China.” At this, she smiled and walked away.

Everything I have told Hanna is true, but I haven’t told her the whole story. She will have to build her understanding in her own way. Hers is not a story I can give her. It is one she must take, a piece at a time, when she is ready.

Later that evening, Hanna and I lay side by side on my bed with a snow globe between us. Silently, we watched the sparkling flakes fall inside the glass dome. In the quiet, she asked if it was her birth mother who left her beside the red wall. I told her a bit more of what I know.

In the weeks afterward, Hanna would say gleefully that she was made in China, like her toy guitar. She asked if we could hear her crying when we came to “buy her.” One night, she sighed and wished aloud that she had been “made in my tummy.”

She has big questions and wishes for a child who stands belly-button-high, whose tiny hand barely fills my palm. I have learned to listen, when to give her answers, and when to just hug her, so she feels safe. Sometimes I have to stifle my own fears about not having the right answers or not being sufficient as her mother, while knowing that deeper questions and desires are still to come.

For now, I hold her hand in mine and take her questions to heart, trusting that love is the answer she needs.


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