“They’re letting her come to the social.”
Leah’s words pulled me out of my daydream and back to the picnic bench where the two of us sat.
“What?” I said to my classmate, with a puzzled look.
“Avery,” she huffed, adjusting her uncomfortable uniform skirt. “They’re letting her go to the social. But she can’t sit up front.”
My curiosity was piqued. “Why do they care where she sits?”
Leah rolled her eyes at me. “They don’t want anyone to see, you know, her stomach.”
I let out an annoyed groan.
Avery had had to leave our private, religious high school earlier that year because she had committed the “ultimate sin” for a girl our age. She was pregnant.
Avery had not been kind to me throughout the years. When we were in middle school, she relentlessly teased me on the school bus. In high school, when I became nearly as popular as she was, Avery smugly pretended that I was invisible. I often wondered whether she treated me this way because my existence was somehow offensive to her or because I was one of the few girls at school who didn’t care about what she thought.
As Avery’s stomach grew, my indifference to her melted into inexplicable compassion. I felt a strong need to defend her when people gossiped behind her back. I internally railed against the school administration who asked her to sit in the back of the room at the senior social. When the baby’s father was lost in a tragic accident while Avery was still pregnant, I went to the funeral and wept bitterly for their tiny almost-family.
When I reached adulthood, I was finally able to understand why my feelings toward Avery had changed. As an unmarried, unprepared, and pregnant teenager, Avery fit the description of my own first mother, for why she couldn’t keep me. Though Avery did not make an adoption plan, she became a symbol of my first mother. And when people looked at Avery, it was clear they thought she should be ashamed. I imagined people looking at my own mother’s swollen belly and wondered how someone can be ashamed of the mother without also being ashamed of her baby.
My mother and father always spoke highly of my first mother, a woman they had never met. They also never uttered a negative judgment about my biological father. Knowing some of the things my biological father did in his life, the thoughtfulness they managed amazes me to this day. My parents couldn’t keep me from observing how unkindly many people treated others, especially girls like Avery, outside the walls of our cyan blue home. But what matters most to me is that my parents were — and are — kind people.
I sometimes tell this story to original parents and adoptive parents who ask me how they should share difficult information with an adopted child. As my mother once told me, “We told you the details of your pre-adoption story that we knew. We were careful never to speak as though someone you are related to is a horrible person. We wanted you to know the truth without your coming to the conclusion that you are horrible, too.” They hadn’t been advised on how to explain adoption. They simply made a choice and hoped it was the right thing to do. I finally made sure to tell them it was.