I stare at the photo, breath caught in my lungs.
It’s my daughter in 20 years staring back at me.
Same beautiful eyes and wide smile.
Same long and lean body; so different from my own.
The light and laughter there makes me want to reach out and pull her from the photo.
I dream that night of meeting her.
We smile and reach out for each other; familiar despite having never met.
I wake up still feeling her slender back under my hands.
It is the little things that make me wince; that dig a well of grief in the middle of my joy at finding her.
The way she describes drinking olive juice from a jar and the look in my daughter’s eyes when I tell her, the only one in our family who eats olives.
The way she loves so many of the same things my daughters do. Banana muffins, horses, music and nature.
The way she tenderly recounts sewing in little waistbands and what my children…or hers…or ours…were like as babies and toddlers.
I am unprepared for this grief.
This abrupt encounter with so much gain…and so much loss.
I am unsure how to hold my joy in my hands…while looking down and realizing it all came at her expense.
How do I justify all I have when I know the tables could have so easily been turned.
It is beautiful,
I look at them differently as they smile into my eyes,
seek out my affection,
come running to me with their latest drawings, stories and ideas.
I know as they bring me their caterpillars and create ant homes and worm habitats that she would be so much more delighted than I am right now.
I think of her finding a huge caterpillar in her garden, or her stories of helping turtles safely cross the road.
I wish she were here to enjoy their dirty faces grinning cheekily at me.
I tread unsteadily on the fence line of guilt and gratitude,
haunted by what she might do and say were she here.
All her words have been laden with grace and dignity and humility.
I have her permission to love without guilt, yet that in itself speaks a thousand words and almost makes it more difficult.
I feel like a heroine and a traitor.
I wonder at the world.
The world that separates mother and child,
that pulls unsuspecting teens into spirals of addiction and compromise with no warning of all they have to lose.
The world that offers so much pain and loss and heartache to one,
while another trips almost effortlessly through and lands in so much joy and blessing.
I reach out for more of her, knowing that as I learn her favourite colours, TV shows, hobbies, fears, regrets and joys…I am putting together the pieces of my children.
I scroll through her photos, feeling the weight of loss as I see family and friends that were meant to be part of my children’s lives…but aren’t.
It’s not that there’s a hole…it’s just that I know this was meant to be theirs.
We schedule chat sessions and eventually, our first meeting.
She’s even taller than I imagined and so graceful as she slides into the seat across from me, dressed in a pretty aqua top…my daughter’s favourite colour.
We stumble awkwardly yet enjoyably through a dinner conversation…most of which I cannot remember later for the butterflies in my stomach.
My husband bridges the gap between us…two mothers…and I’m grateful for his casual conversation.
I leave with anticlimactic memories and a picture of the two of us, arms slung around each other, smiling side by side.
I know it’ll be an important image for my daughters as they grow into this relationship…the picture of what was and what is simultaneously, tethering them to reality.
We fall into patterns of texting and chatting online, slowly letting in a new normal.
I casually laugh about a conversation we had, a photo she sent or a story she shared.
My daughters get used to it; their two mothers being acquaintances and then slowly…friends.
I love the way I think of her randomly, or can send off a text whenever I want.
I love the way I can share those special moments with her and know that she’ll care…because she’s a mother.
I love the way I can see more and more clearly the similarities between mother and daughters, and the shy adoration I see in their eyes when I notice them and comment.
I love the letters that get sent off in the mail with lovingly braided bracelets tucked inside.
I love the forging of our lives.
Loving my daughters’ birth mother is loving them.
They reflect so much of what I say and project about her onto themselves.
She is and always will be a part of them…and therefore a part of us.
I both love and hurt watching them reach out in fragile innocence for the affirmation she offers.
It is humbling to watch them flower beneath her tender care in ways that I can’t provide.
I see clearly the holes I cannot fill, and I’m grateful she is there and willing to fill those.
I imagine she feels the same, and once again this is one thing we share.
I know so many people don’t have this story.
They don’t have this happy ending.
But I’m so grateful for this woman we call Mom.
Her integrity, humility, determination and beauty has added depth and colour to our adoption story that we never could have imagined.
“A child born to another woman calls me mom. The depth of the tragedy and the magnitude of the privilege are not lost on me.”