From the editors: this piece was submitted by Erin X. To continue the conversation with Erin, leave a comment!
I always wanted to be a mom. I was changing my siblings’ diapers and rocking them to sleep by the time I was nine, and it suited me. I have had friends who did not feel that way about children at all, but when it happened to them they said “oh yeah, I was meant to do this,” and I felt pangs of envy that became stronger in my mid-thirties.
When the idea of adoption entered my radar, I felt an internal struggle that I couldn’t quite explain. I had to challenge my own assumptions about marriage; I had just figured that it would happen for me someday, and then I could have children. In the span of a few months, random conversations about the possibility of adopting a child on my own started to creep into my consciousness. One of my high school students told me that she wished we could go back in time, and I could adopt her. Friends at a poker party mentioned some friends of theirs who had recently adopted a baby, and I found myself hungry to learn about the process. I began to yield to the possibility and believe that someone might give me a baby even though I was not a celebrity with lots of money, and that maybe I could raise a child by myself.
As I began to feel confidence in the idea, I noticed outside resistance from well-meaning friends and family. Some asked, how will you afford it? how can you do it alone? how will you ever find a boyfriend if you adopt a kid by yourself? Do you think you could love a baby that wasn’t really yours? It was hard to explain to them that I was not asking for their advice or blessing, I was just sharing my plans. In retrospect, I know that there were supportive voices as well, but all of the questions made me feel like I was not enough, but I wanted it so much that I moved forward in spite of my fears.
Little Big Man came to me through foster care weeks after he was born, and I had only been licensed for a month. I am grateful that I was so naïve about the complexity of “legal risk” because I may not have had the courage to adopt through foster care if I knew. Essentially, I was agreeing to raise him, but the courts could give him back to his biological parents at any time. In the first eighteen months of his life, I was able to live in the moment in a way that I have not done before or since. In my memory, our early months together are suspended in time. Not everyone likes the demands of a newborn, but I relished every moment. People often asked me how I could risk the loss of a baby that was not really mine, but I knew somewhere in my soul that he was worth it. Our life together had value no matter what would happen next. He and I talk now about how he did not grow in my tummy, but I was waiting to be his mama the whole time.
Although I experienced great joy with Little Big Man, I did find the challenge of caring for a baby who had been exposed to drugs in utero daunting. The frequent trips to the doctor’s office and occasional hospital stays took their toll in those early days. When he was almost 2-years-old, I started to imagine him having a sibling. I desperately wanted another baby, but a part of me wondered if it was fair to expect Little Big Man to go through the risky process with me. I thought about it for a long time, and it was watching the way he loved other children that made me willing to try. He was about to turn three at the time, and I told him that we might take care of a baby who needed our love. He was all for it. As much as everyone loved my sweet boy, many expressed wonder that I would risk my heart again to adopt another child, and many questioned my ability to “handle” two children. However, they stood by me when I had a baby placed with me only to be reunited with birth relatives a few months later. In my weakest moments Little Big Man provided solace that I never imagined such a tiny creature could contain, and I began to heal. In spite of the grief I experienced, my heart and my home were still open two years later when Baby came along.
The road has been rockier for me and Baby, and I am facing my demons about that. He joined our party when he was two, after time with his abusive biological family and a temporary foster home, and he is still not my legal child a year and a half later. I imagined that I would love my children the same, and although I am deeply connected to both of my boys, so much that I sometimes wonder where I end and they begin, the time that Baby and I were not able to share has made the bonding process slower and more unsure, but we are making progress. The sensation I had the other day when he told me, “I love you too much, Mama,” gave me such hope for our future. He has suffered so much at the hands of the people who were supposed to protect him, and I stand awed in the face of what he has survived.
In the car this afternoon Baby was talking about a stuffed animal his biological mother gave him at a recent court-mandated visit. He asked me, “Mama, why did my ‘new mother’ give me a stuffy?” Before I could answer with a catch in my throat, Little Big Man said, “No, that was your old mother. Erin is your new mother,” and I had trouble seeing the road through my tears. The truth is that I am not enough. It is in my lack, in my inadequacy, that I am reshaped by my children into the mother that they need me to be.
Erin holds a Master’s Degree in Communication from Northern Illinois University and has been teaching since 1995, including Northern Illinois University, Springfield Technical Community College, and Westfield State University. She is the mother of two energetic boys adopted through the Department of Children and Families.
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