My [foster-to-almost-adopted] daughter, Clementine, will never hear me tell her that she was ‘born in my heart.’ A new adoption book by Berta Serrano is being published called Born from the Heart, and I was quite surprised that the title wasn’t already taken. I’ve heard the term for years now, and it’s always made me cringe. My first thought was “I’m really glad my [adoptive] parents didn’t pull that born-in-my-heart crap on me.”
I was adopted at birth and was given the direct “You were in another lady’s belly” line. It worked for me. It also worked for all of the other adopted kids I grew up with, none of whom have identity issues, drug abuse problems, or violent criminal records. My adopted peers are all boring, well-adjusted adults who look at me quizzically when I ask them about adoption themes such as this. They aren’t reading about adoption; they are pursuing other endeavors.
I, however, am doing the adoptee-adopting thing, so I’m trying to be mindful and stay up to date on what is most helpful when explaining to children that they are adopted. Unfortunately, there aren’t any controlled experiments about adoption revelations compared to adult outcomes (e.g. high school graduation, incarceration, relationship happiness); I pity the researcher who ever tries to code such nuanced talks. The advice on what to say and what not to say to adoptees continues to expand miles down the bookshelves. Berta Serrano (who, by the way, I found incredibly endearing during her interview on the book’s promo video) described a situation in which her 5-year-old son had a meltdown when he found out he didn’t come out of her physical body. I don’t doubt her, but I think such a response is rare.
Carefully, very carefully, I propose that sometimes it might be the adoptive parents who are more hung up on the adoption than the kids. By hung up I mean stuck, nervous, and fearful of how the adoptive child will feel and think about their adoption status. Most often, adoption is a parent’s second choice of bringing a child into their family. And that’s okay. Like, it’s really okay. As in, that’s something many adoptive parents carry around and children born into adoption, like me, are oblivious to it. I know this is contrary to everything that is out there on the damaged, traumatized adoptee being ripped from their maternal soul. What can I say to that? I smile politely and offer to pass your concern along to my therapist. Otherwise, I’d rather say, “Take it down a notch.”
There’s more to me than being adopted. Another study I’d love to see done would involve asking adoptees to make a pie chart fill with words and percentages of which they identify themselves. I wonder if “adopted” would even be granted a slice — I doubt it. Being adopted at a very young age, and being reminded in age-appropriate ways over the years, led me to only understand my adoptive mom and dad as my ‘mom’ and ‘dad’. They are my definition of a mother and father, I know nothing else.
As an aside, the phrase ‘born from my heart’ would have driven me nuts as a youngster. Kids can be quite literal, and I was no exception. I argued with my mom for weeks about washing the towels. You’re clean when you use them; why do they ever have to be washed? I can’t imagine what kind of image I’d have in my mind of a fetus inside a beating heart. Surely I would have gone through a period in which I asked people if they came from their mom’s vagina or heart. Around 4th grade I would have had done the obnoxious “Ewww, YOU were born from your mother’s private parts, while I came from my mother’s HEART.” In junior high school (and finally allowed to roam the library alone), I would have sifted diligently through the card catalog to find books with photos of babies born from human hearts. It could have taken years to undo my confusion.
Clementine will get the straight facts. Short and simple when she’s young, and more detailed over the years. She was in another lady’s belly, came out through her vagina, and the the lady called me and said, “Come meet your daughter.” She loves you very much, just like I do. She needed help taking care of you and asked me if I would be your mommy. It was the happiest day of my life.
Other posts from Rebecca this month include: