This morning, I watched you live on the TODAY Show, returning for the first time after two months of maternity leave. Two months spent enjoying your new baby girl, Haley Joy.
As you shared the story of your adoption journey with the world two months ago, every word you spoke brought more tears to my eyes. You see, I was sitting on my sofa cradling my own baby girl, adopted just six months ago. As I tenderly ran my fingers over her rounded cheeks and fed her, I listened to the tremble in your voice; a tremble I recognized.
I know what it feels like to get a life-changing phone call that says, “She’s here.”
I know the collision of beauty and pain.
I know the emotions that flood your heart when you’re handed a baby who isn’t biologically yours, but is still fully yours in every way.
And I know the fears, challenges, and moments of sheer happiness that come with being a family formed by adoption.
After I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease 10 years ago — one that could make pregnancy dangerous for both me and a baby — my husband and I chose to adopt. Today, we have four beautiful children, each joining our family at just a few days old.
But I still remember the emotions that came with our first child like it was yesterday. Emotions I’m sure you’re having at this very moment.
It’s interesting how quickly you’ll forget your child is adopted. Not because you don’t acknowledge or celebrate adoption in your home, but because your baby is simply yours. But then someone reminds you, with a glance, a comment, or a question.
Last week, a woman I met was speaking to me while my 5-month-old daughter cooed in her stroller. The woman finally burst out, “I just have to say this! The whole time I’ve been talking to you, I’ve been thinking how great you look for just having a baby!”
I glanced down at my skinny jeans and V-neck tee, and then smiled. “I appreciate the compliment, but I didn’t give birth to my daughter,” I told her. “She was adopted.”
Funny moments like these remind me how blessed I am to have been chosen to raise my children, and that sometimes sharing our story, and my own journey to become a mom, is an honor.
But there are other times … when the comments aren’t so kind. In these moments, you’re Mama Bear instincts will kick in. Like when you’re asked intrusive and inappropriate questions about your daughter’s “real” mom. We have been asked assuming questions ourselves: Like if our children’s birth parents were young, on drugs, sexually promiscuous, poor, or all of the above. Once, a cashier exclaimed, right in front of my oldest two children, “I don’t know how someone could give away such beautiful children!”
Comments and questions like these, they sting. But you too will find a way to combat them. Because not only do I know you love your daughter with every fiber of your being, but I know you will also come to be fiercely protective of her story — and her first family. After all, we mamas-by-adoption acknowledge that our babies have first moms, and we are the seconds. And our children are forever part of both of their families. To judge and demean our children’s “firsts” is to inflict harm upon our children.
There will also be those who mean well, but are ill-informed. We’ve been asked if our children are in foster care (no) and what country they are from (um, America) more times than I’d care to count. We’ve been approached by strangers who see our family, obviously built by adoption, and gush to my husband and me, “Thank you for giving these children a good home! God bless you!” And, “Your children are so lucky to have you as their parents.”
You and I, Hoda, we both know that in fact, we are the lucky ones. That our children weren’t victims who needed rescued. Their adoption stories are sacred and filled with all-things-bittersweet, and we are the protectors of those stories. As you shared so eloquently this morning on your show, those of us who adopt are the ones who are thankful, grateful, and blessed. We were chosen. It is our privilege and our joy to raise our children.
This morning you said you’ve been waiting for Haley your whole life. If you ask me, no truer words have ever been spoken about adoption. When you look back over every life event — the numerous disappointments and disruptions, the diagnosis, the aches in your heart when you received another invite to a baby shower or gender reveal party, and the waiting (the years and years and years of waiting) — there is simply nothing more monumental, more life-changing, than being told you are now a mom. Just like that.
And then when your child is placed in your arms, you realize that your journey had a purpose after all. That the tremendous pain you experienced wasn’t in vain. Every single hardship culminated, delivering you to this moment.
Haley Joy has already rocked your world, but I’m here to tell you she’ll continue to do so. You will fight for her. You will love her authentically and recklessly. You will relish in every milestone. You will ride the motherhood roller coaster of emotions, all the while reminding yourself that this adventure, this honor, is more incredible than you ever could have imagined it would be.
The way Haley came to you wasn’t traditional, but it is nevertheless beautiful. And now you are on a new journey: the one called Happily Ever After.