We walked, side by side. Slowly. A close friend was going through a divorce when he sighed and said, “I think God meant for children to be with their biological parents.”
Heartbroken at being separated from his daughters, he’d become keenly aware of the inherent—seemingly unavoidable—wrongness of the bind in which they’d all found themselves.
His personal musing struck a deep chord in me, as an adult who was adopted as a child. Could it be true? I’d never heard the narrative of separation and loss and belonging narrated in quite that way. That was really God’s good plan?
The statement unnerved me a bit.
Reflecting on it, later, I came to suspect that those born into mostly-secure circumstances must know this intuitively.
To me, though, it came as an entirely radical notion.
The story I’d been told growing up was that my biological parents had “given me up” because they loved me. It was a very good story. It worked for me. It was a story that allowed me to construct a world in which I wasn’t loved by just two parents—like all the other kids—but by four. When my adoptive parents divorced and remarried other people, I was loved by six. Then, later, seven! I had no idea, in my deep places, that the love of six or seven parents doesn’t necessarily trump that of two.
As I was about to graduate from college, my precious friend and roommate became pregnant, out of wedlock. I knew she loved her child. Had she chosen to relinquish him for adoption, my optimistic worldview could have stayed in tact: that I had been deeply loved.
She didn’t, though. She decided to keep her baby, to raise him.
I would quickly come to discover that there was more to the story I’d been told.
The protective shell with which I’d guarded my heart suffered its first, irreparable, rupture.
Holding Geni’s precious son in my arms during his earliest days awakened a deep wondering about my own beginnings. Just a few months after his entry into the world, when I contacted an international registry for lost kin, my birthmother and I were…again…connected, for the first time since the week my umbilical cord had been cut. We came to know each other, in a different way than we once had, when I was twenty-two—exactly the age she’d been when she bore me.*
Welcoming baby Isaiah into the world, coming to know my birthmother, and her deep unwavering love for me, had opened up this space where I could at last face the real losses I had endured, in both my biological family and my adoptive one. I could finally be real, acknowledging both the blessings and losses of adoption.
Like the Velveteen Rabbit, heart broken a little bit, I got my fur worn off in the process.
Had I been given the choice, I wouldn’t have chosen to face the hard parts of my story. I would have continued to live with the candy-coated illusion that the singular story of my life was that I had been “chosen.” I had still been chosen, of course, but before I was chosen, I was relinquished.
I’ve come to believe that the two stories cannot be pulled apart.
Per my friend who was divorcing, I think God did mean for children to be secure in the love and daily presence of the parents who conceived them. When that’s not possible, I think that children need to hear from the adult faces they trust, “It’s not supposed to be like this. I’m so sorry, baby.” That is not to deny the fullness of life a child can have with adoptive parents, or with a single parent, but it is to recognize a child’s loss. It’s to reflect what is deeply true.
It is a gift to a child.
Margot Starbuck is the author of The Girl in the Orange Dress: Searching for a Father who Does Not Fail, her memoir about adoption, among other titles. Visit her at margotstarbuck.com