As I got to my school classroom one morning, two kids, April and Ben, came over to me. This wasn’t the norm because I wasn’t that great at making friends. I was pretty excited to see what they wanted. They weren’t interested in being friends though, they wanted some answers. Answers to questions, that I either hadn’t yet thought of, or hadn’t been brave enough to ask.
April asked, “Why are you adopted?” Ben followed that question up with, “Yeah, how come you don’t live with your ‘real’ mom?”
I tried to answer with what I had been told. “My ‘real’ mom couldn’t take care of me, so my mom adopted me because she wanted a little girl.” This wasn’t enough for these two. April immediately asked, “Why couldn’t your ‘real’ mom take care of you?”
These questions were making me feel uncomfortable, but I didn’t want the kids to go away either. I thought maybe we could be friends. Fortunately, the teacher told everyone to sit down so that class could begin and they left to go to their seats.
As the day went on, I kept thinking about what my ‘friend’ April had asked. ‘Why?” Not why was I adopted. I needed to know why my ‘real’ mom couldn’t take care of me. I decided to ask my mom.
Later that week, my mom and I were sitting at the kitchen counter eating dinner. I took the opportunity to ask her the big question. Why?
“Why couldn’t my ‘real’ mom take care of me?” There was no working into it casually this time. I wanted answers so I could tell my friends what they wanted to know.
As usual, my mom didn’t seem mad at me for asking. She said, “Well, she already had two little girls to take care of and she couldn’t take care of another one.”
“But, why couldn’t she?” I still didn’t understand.
This time my mom seemed a little more annoyed. “Because,” she answered. “Sometimes that’s just how it is. Babies are a lot of work and they cost a lot of money. She just didn’t have it. She wanted you to have a good life so she gave you to me.” My mom’s voice softened as she said the last part. Her voice got almost chipper as she continued, “You should be happy. You’re lucky! Don’t you think you have a pretty good life here?”
“Yes,” I answered a little timidly. “I’m happy.” I wanted to assure her that I was. I didn’t mean to make her think I didn’t love my family and living here. I did. I just needed some answers for my friends. And myself. I wasn’t sure I had really gotten the answers though.
I kept trying to imagine my ‘real’ mom tired from the work of babies and poor from no money. She didn’t seem like that the times I had seen her. She seemed so beautiful, and had nice clothes. She also didn’t seem tired. She was always happy to see me.
I couldn’t make the two images match.
I wasn’t sure that I wanted to share this story about my ‘real’ mom with my friends when they asked why I was adopted. I didn’t know if I wanted to tell them about my poor, tired ‘real’ mom. I decided to focus on the ‘good life’ part of the story when my friends asked questions. I would just tell everyone how lucky I was to have such a good life. I thought it would make my ‘real’ mom seem nice and I knew it would make my mom happy. I figured it’s what would be best for both of them.
I set out to share how happy and lucky I was. But on the inside, I was sad. Sad that my ‘real’ mom had felt so tired and poor. Sad that I couldn’t be with her and my sisters. And sad that I couldn’t just be happy like my mom said.
I hadn’t thought of asking these questions, but plenty of other people didn’t mind to put me on the spot and ask. The answers weren’t easy to come by either. My parents wanted to focus on the positive, but that didn’t answer the very tough question of ‘why.’ And when the answers didn’t make sense, it became very easy to start blaming myself. ‘It must be my fault.’ ‘I must have been bad.’
All the sweet sayings and expressions in the world such as “you grew in my heart, not in my tummy” won’t take away the hurt, pain and inability to understand why.