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The Other Woman I See in My Daughter’s Eyes

Image credit: Leah Campbell
Image credit: Leah Campbell

There is a picture that hangs in my daughter’s room. It features her biological mother and I, displaying her proudly in the moments following her birth. It is a beautiful photo that I truly cherish, but it also speaks volumes to the dynamics at play.

In it, I am seated closer to the camera, while my daughter’s other mother is leaning back on the bed, inches behind me. I am glowing, the aura of a new mother already taking place. While she has a sad smile plastered across her face; a clear representation of the joy over finally meeting her daughter combined with the grief over knowing that “hello” and “goodbye” would be one in the same. She has an arm placed around my back and another on our daughter’s head, holding the three of us together with her strength and unprecedented composure.

She is the glue that binds us together. Then, now, and every day moving forward. She is the one who wove us into a family.

I’ve often thought about the story being told by that photo. It certainly is not the best photo I have ever taken — the fatigue and worry built up from watching another person bring my child into the world, evident for all to see — but it is still one of my favorites. Purely because it is such an honest portrayal of what took place that day.

Of how a family came together. And how complicated and beautiful and heartbreaking and amazing it really was.

I talk to my daughter about her other mother a lot, in a way that has always come naturally and from the purest of intentions. I was brushing her hair the other day, when I heard myself saying, “You have such pretty hair. Who gave you your pretty hair? Was that Mama Rebecca?”

She nodded at me and said, “Becca.”

Then she took my hand, walked me into her room, pointed to that picture and said it again, “Becca”.

She’s been doing that a lot lately. One night while I was rocking her to sleep, she pointed to the picture and said it again,“Becca.” Clear as day.

My little girl is only 2. Knowing how to navigate these conversations, how to explain who Becca is to her, isn’t something for which there is any rulebook I can follow. Much of the time, I feel as though I am stumbling through unknown territory. Surprised myself, at how often I am reminded of Mama Becca’s presence. Of how often I see her in my little girl’s eyes.

Biological parents likely recognize the same thing in their children all the time. They inadvertently see pieces of themselves in their child every day. Their smile. Their hair. A certain look they give. But with adoption, the pieces of yourself that you see in your child are less obvious.

I think my daughter got her love of music and photos from me, for instance, because these are passions I share with her. So when I see her pull a photo album off the shelf and pour through it, I think, “That’s part of me.”

Those pieces are still there, beneath the surface, though I have to be looking to see them. But it’s the surface stuff that I am routinely smacked in the face by — the reminders that this child I love with all my heart, carries pieces of someone else with her all the time.

And again, it is complicated and beautiful and heartbreaking and amazing all at once.

My little girl is gorgeous. I have often joked that I, with my fair hair and pasty complexion, could never have made a child as perfect as her. I don’t grieve anything about her, and I am thankful for the pieces of her other mother that she carries with her. But sometimes, it’s just hard to be caught off guard by the reminders that she isn’t all mine. That she didn’t come from me.

And that another woman had to grieve and lose in order to bring her into this world.

Still, up to now, that recognition has been all mine to bear. So it has been catching me off guard a little lately, watching my daughter start to clearly identify this woman she has realistically only been around a handful of times since her birth. Don’t get me wrong — it makes me very happy, just because I am grateful for the opportunities open adoption has afforded us. But it also makes me wonder how much she understands.

For a little girl who experienced a fair amount of stranger anxiety, she was never nervous around her other mother like she was around other people she saw infrequently. There were never some of those barriers that exist for her with others. During every visit we have ever had, she has always gone freely to her other mother. Lovingly. Without fear or question.

I can’t help but wonder if there is a part of her that has always recognized at least some form of connection. And if (or I suppose, when) some of those deeper conversations are going to happen.

I sometimes forget that picture is even there, hanging in her room. It was one of the first I hung in the nursery, and I see it so often that it starts to blend in with the scenery of life. But to have my daughter now expressing an interest in who that person is, perhaps to have her seeing pieces of herself in “Mama Becca”; it has me suddenly hyper focused on the similarities once again.

Not just her complexion or her hair. But her eyes. Her dimples. Her smile. All of it comes from Mama Becca.

Navigating that, helping her to understand and process what it all means, without letting my own feelings and insecurities get in the way, can sometimes be hard. And confusing. And because there aren’t any road maps or precise instructions on how to do it right, there is this flooding mix of emotions when you start to watch your child realizing that she isn’t all yours. Even as that realization comes slowly and in small bursts.

Children of adoption will always have a connection to their first family, regardless of how open or closed that adoption may be. It is a connection they will see, at the very least, every time they look in a mirror. I can only hope that I am doing all the right things when it comes to normalizing that connection for my little girl.

Even when I can’t possibly prepare for the ways in which she will start to recognize that connection herself.

And even as I yearn, every day, to see the pieces of me in her as well.

Image credit: Leah Campbell
Image credit: Leah Campbell
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