Last week I was at a function with my family when an older woman came over and asked about my children. She knew one of my daughters was adopted and she whispered into my ear, “Does she know?” I didn’t think she was being rude, just curious. She is from a different generation and culture than I: a time and place where children often aren’t told they were adopted, and parents are encouraged not to tell, not to talk about it.
I nodded and whispered back, “Yes, she does.” The old woman smiled and patted me on the shoulder, “It’s better that way, don’t you think?” Then she walked away.
Secrets…perhaps she has her own.
I sat there for a while after she left and looked at my young daughter, mulling over the question in my head, does she know?
Does she know? Yes, she knows she was adopted. She will tell you, if it comes up, “I am adopted.” We have conversations about adoption, have read a few books that explain it, and, many nights, as we lie together, I tell her the story of how her dad and I flew far across the ocean, wrapped her up in a pink blanket, and took her home to a big party of waiting siblings and excited relatives. But does she know? Does she truly know what it means, this word “adoption”?
No. How could she know? She is young, and busy with more important things, like trying to figure out how to cross the monkey bars and how to ride a bike and how to count to one hundred. Her head is full of birthday cake and colorful crayons and soft lullabies, and that’s how it should be. She knows we love her, her siblings love her. She knows we wished for her on a star and flew high above the mountains and across the ocean to get her. She knows her family, those far away and those close by, helped us. She knows about the country she came from, what they eat, how they speak. She knows a word, “adoption,” but it’s abstract to her. She doesn’t really know all of it.
She doesn’t know about the never-ending sorrow that must have filled a faraway woman’s soul as her belly began to grow, making room for the mysterious little arms and legs that were budding deep inside.
She doesn’t know about the rivers of joy and sadness that flowed together in the woman’s heart every time the child inside of her moved and danced, a tiny foot sending ripples across her tightly stretched skin.
She doesn’t know about the spirit of sorrow and loss that hovered like an unwelcome messenger in the sticky summer air, warning the woman that, as the pangs of labor grew longer, her time with her secret was growing shorter.
She doesn’t know about the millions of tears that were shed and the hundred of kisses of joy and sorrow and thanks and love that were showered upon her before the woman finally wrapped her in a blanket and handed her to another, saying goodbye.
So, she knows the word, “adoption.” Yes, but does she truly know?
It’s a hard truth, a harsh reality to take in, that love and pain can be so connected, so entwined. When will she truly know what adoption means? When will she finally learn the whole truth of what this word means?
I think…when it is her turn. Her turn to hold her own child, be it through the miracle of adoption or the magic of biology — then she will know. When it is her turn to gently kiss her child’s soft cheeks, gaze with awe into her sleepy eyes, and breathe in her sweet wonder, then she will know. When it is her turn to wrap her child in a soft blanket and bring her home to meet her family, then she will know. When her heart rises up and she cries a thousand tears of thanks and joy and sorrow and love, then she will know, finally, truly know what adoption means.