To My Daughter's Birthmother, On Mother's Day

I grieve that you won’t know her.
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Dear co-mother of our sweet little girl,

You and I are running an odd kind of baton race. You brought this bundle of energy and joy and exuberant determination into this world. You were there when she took her first breaths. You made what must have been the hardest choice of your life to leave her when you’d only known her for a short time. I have no way of knowing exactly why you made the decision you did, but I can make some educated guesses from what I know about the cultural, economic, and social difficulties of raising a girl with a cleft palate in China. Maybe all of my romantic ideas are false–whatever the truth is, for whatever reason, you passed the baton when she was very young, and you might never see the rest of this race.

The orphanage who took her in for almost three years did their level best. Those women loved our daughter. They thought she was precious. They laughed at her. They were good to her. I know it was hard, but you must have wondered what happened ― it was not ideal, not one of our homes, but it was a good landing place for those years.

In some ways, I picked up the baton that magical day when I first opened my email and saw her bright smile over the side of her crib in a picture from our adoption agency. That crib was her safe place ― when we went back to visit the orphanage, she ran as fast as her fat toddler legs could carry her straight back to her bed. She knew who she was in that small sleeping space. It makes sense to me that her smile was happiest in her crib in that first picture.

In other ways, our real part of running the race came when we brought her home from China, a grief-stricken, rage-filled ball of energy. An easy transition would have meant she might not ever love us because she had not been well attached to her caregivers in China. A fellow adoptive mom told me: the harder in the short term, the deeper the attachment in the long term. I cling to that idea. She was loved. She is learning to love again.

But oh, you’d be proud of her. The way she is learning and growing and changing. Faster than any kid I’ve ever seen, with a will to live and thrive that is impressive. She is driven and smart and funny and full of an innate joy that has to be hereditary. I wonder which parts of you I see in her ― the way she crinkles her nose, that quirky dolphin laugh, your eyes or cheeks. Even if you and I were to meet and become friends, I might never see the private things about you that I’ve learned from parenting our daughter. There are secret smiles a mother or father sees that no one else ever understands. I’ve seen that with my biological daughters and, in a new way, with this little one. Because I love those things about her, I love those things about you.

I’ve been surprised by my feelings toward you. I had a lot of book knowledge about adoption and birth mothers before I brought our girl home. I knew it was important to speak well of birth mothers and to stay connected if at all possible. I believe in the importance of open adoption and wish it were more possible for us. Though we’re going to try to find you, we know that there are difficulties for you legally and emotionally in a country that doesn’t have an avenue for you to relinquish care of your daughter and we want to tread lightly.

But I know I might never actually meet you face to face. That makes me only sad. I thought I might have some secret relief, some sense of a crisis averted, but I find now that I’m getting to know our daughter better, that all I can feel towards you is grief and a deep desire for you to know how much your daughter is loved.

We love this little girl within an inch of her life. I grieve the years that passed without me there. But as every day passes and she settles here more, I find myself moving into another kind of grief. This one will never go away.

I grieve that you won’t know her. I grieve that if you someday meet her, you will have some painful things to work through in order to have any sort of relationship. I grieve that I get to see the secret mother things you might never know.

I find I don’t resent you being in our relationship at all. In fact, you are already deeply a part of our family. You and the father of this daughter we share are as much a part of us as you can be with the little information we have about you. We don’t know your name, we don’t know the details of your lives, but in a deeply intimate way we know the best parts of you. What you did was courageous and hard and irreversible and for the rest of my life I will grieve with you on our American Mother’s Day. While I get to celebrate with the handmade cards, I will think of you and wish there were a way to share these tiny life moments with you. But whether we meet or whether you’re alive or whether you’ve moved to some place beyond my ability to discover you, I want you to know that you are never, ever forgotten. You are central to us. You are here in the heart of my relationship with my girl. I invite you in, not as a competitor or as a replacement or as an idealized fictional hero but as a co-mother with all your faults and quirks and beauty.

This daughter we share is extraordinary. When I look at her, I love what I see of you.

Thank you.