I Want Her to Have You: A Letter to Biological Parents Everywhere

Hey Momma,

She's five today.

You know this.  I feel sure that you've spent her last five birthdays mourning the loss of your child as we've celebrated her with cake, presents, and balloons. 

 Photo by icon0.com from Pexels

Photo by icon0.com from Pexels

Every year, I notice more wonderful qualities about her.  She's smart, inquisitive, artistic, kind, compassionate, physically stunning, and athletic.  I did not give her these things.  I have given her a home and have done my best to provide for her needs along the way.  You gave her most of the characteristics that make my heart swell with pride when I look at her.

Sometimes I don’t understand her.  She sees the world through different lenses than I do.  Sometimes I don’t understand my biological daughter, either.  The amount of times that that child can spill something and get dirty in a day mystifies me completely ... until I listen to her father tell stories of when he was a child and did the exact same things.  When I hear about his upbringing, I can make sense of her behavior.  

I don’t hear such stories about my foster/adopted child.  So when she’s shy around new people, or meticulous about her drawings, or afraid of all costumed creatures, I don’t have any explanations for the way she operates.

I want her to have so many things.  I want her to have great friends, a happy childhood, loving teachers, faith to call her own, a man who loves and provides for her, and healthy children (eventually).  I want her to have this beautiful life, but at the end of the day, what I really want her to have is you.

I don't say this because I don't desire her or love her but because I do.  Sometimes I love her so much it hurts.  Even so, I know that you love her differently.  Not more than me, not less than me.  But you can give her a certain kind of love that I can't, because she came from you.  You two share things that she and I never will.

I’ll be honest; when I say that I want her to have you, I’m not totally sure how that is supposed to look.  Every situation is unique, and a large portion of her relationship with you is out of my hands.  In an ideal world, there would be no adoption or foster care.  I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to be “mom” to the children in my care, but the necessity of this system implies that we live in a broken world.  I get to live with and love on these kids, but certainly not because of any merit of my own.  This is not the way things should be.

What I am sure of is that a child can never have too much love.  She won’t be crushed under the weight of having two moms or dads, or extra siblings or grandparents.  And so, I want her to have you- healthy, healing, and whole- because she was yours first.

Gratefully,

A Foster and Adoptive Mom

A Few Thousand Diapers Later: A reflection on my daughter's adoption

When my oldest daughter was ten months old, I bought diapers for her for the very first time.    

Ten months!  Do you know how amazing that is?  I'm not even sure that I do.  We never paid a dime.  Her diapers were gifts.

More so when she was an infant but even now, too, Piper's teachers comment on her cute outfits and extravagant hair bows.  

"Where do you get all of her clothes?" they ask.  Well, let's be honest.  They come from her grandparents.  They come in big brown boxes on the porch from her family in Texas.  They come in little pink bags, tied with fancy ribbons and a note that says, "Just because," from coworkers and friends.  

I rarely buy her clothes, and her closet is still overflowing.

I was humbled as we began the adoption process, when money would literally just show up on our doorstep or in our mailbox.  There were days when I would find myself in tears, unsure of how to respond to such generosity but very sure that we didn't deserve it.  Almost a year after bringing Piper home, I was once again overcome by the goodness of our loved ones.  I know that diapers are seemingly insignificant, but I also know that most parents don't wait ten months to buy them.  We were, and still are, so blessed.

The night that Piper was born will always stand out to me above all others for many reasons, but one thing is still particularly striking.  My parents had already waited for hours to see her, and when they finally were able to come upstairs at the hospital, my mom burst into tears.  In fact, I don't think she really stopped crying all night.  At one point, I said something like, "Mom, this is a happy day!  You don't have to cry!"  She responded,

"I know.  I have prayed for so long that I would love her just as if she were your biological child, and I really, really do."

She was always meant to be part of our family.

I knew it during the adoption process, I knew it the moment she was born, I knew it when I was buying diapers for the first time in ten months, and I know it today as she is opening her weekly mail from her family in Texas.  As her parents, we would love Piper regardless of any circumstance, but the continual outpouring of kindness from those who are dearest to us has proven to me that she belongs.  She's our daughter, but she's also a granddaughter, a great-granddaughter, a niece, a cousin, and a friend.  She is partly loved by others because we are special to them, but she is also loved because she is special to them.  

Whenever we tell people our story of infertility, we often get responses such as, "That must have totally sucked.  I'm so sorry."

Yes, it did "totally suck", in more ways than I can begin to articulate.  But no, I'm not at all sorry.  Had I become a mom at 22 like I wanted to be, I would not be a mom to Piper.  The timing of life events is commonly beyond our grasp, but it is always perfect.  Somewhere in Oklahoma in 2012, a teenager had to become pregnant, and simultaneously, we had to be waiting for a child instead of already holding one in our arms.  The waiting was excruciating, but I do not have an ounce of regret in retrospect.

Biological children are wonderful, cherished, and exciting.  I know this because I have one, and she is everything I had hoped she would be.  But there is something unique about adoption.  Piper is loved from so many angles, and it is precisely because her birth mother loved her so much that she was able to put her into another woman's arms.  I hated the writing of her story as we were going through it, but now, I'm so grateful that the Author penned it the way that he did.  Not everyone gets to experience the beautiful gift of adoption.  We did, and we will never be the same because of it.

A letter to my daughter's birth parents

November is National Adoption Awareness Month, and every year, I think about posting something different on the blog than the following paragraphs.  But every year, I keep coming back to the fact that this is some of the best, most raw writing I've ever done, and this is a story that needs to be told.  So, once again, I'm posting this letter to my daughter's birth parents that I drafted over four years ago. 

Though we have an open adoption, we haven't had contact with Piper's birth father since 2013, and we only connect with her birth mother a couple of times a year (on her terms).  Despite rarely seeing them, the feelings below remain the same.  We will always love Piper's birth parents for choosing life for their daughter and choosing us as her mom and dad.

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national adoption awareness month

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Dear Amanda and Conner,

I have no idea if you'll ever read these words, but I have to write them.  I have to hope that, even if you never stumble across this blog or open the card that we sent on your court day, you somehow know the way that we feel about you.

I remember getting the call that you were at the hospital, Amanda.  It was June 28th, the day that we would meet our girl.  I had simultaneously anticipated and dreaded this day since May 16th, when I first heard your voice on the phone.  Although I was grateful to be allowed in the delivery room when Piper was born, I was also unsure of myself.  

Would I say something stupid?  Would I pass out at the sight of a live birth?  Would I be able to convey my excitement about bringing home Baby Girl without rubbing salt in your wounds?

 At least our case worker would be there to help us know how to navigate this situation that most people never face...

Except that when Andrew and I arrived at the hospital, you only wanted the two of us back there with you.

 Panic.  

I was honored that you and Conner trusted and loved us enough to let us experience something so special, but up to this point, we had depended on Bonni to help us know what to say to you and how to act.  Andrew put his arm around my shoulders, and I quickly prayed for the kind of strength and wisdom that could never come from me.  

Please don't act like an idiot, please don't act like an idiot.

When we walked in the room, my fears were gone, and I immediately felt at home.  "Hey guys!" you grinned.  Even in labor, you were beautiful and calm.

In a few minutes, the nurse came in to check you.  She looked at Andrew and me, hinting with her eyes that we should step out.  We took the clue and started to leave the room when you, Conner, stopped her and said, "No, it's okay.  They're family."  

I wonder if you know how much those words meant.

Time seemed to stand still as we spent the next hour or so talking with both of you and trying to wrap our minds around this huge thing that was about to happen.  Though we had met you before, those moments in the delivery room were especially precious to me as we actually got to know the parents of our little girl.  In the moments away from the agency, the paperwork, and the caseworkers, you became my friends and not just the couple who had chosen our profile book.   

When the nurse came back later, it was "go time."  Andrew and I stood awkwardly at your head and stroked your hair as we tried to think of something to offer other than, "You're doing great!"  Conner, you were a natural.  You knew exactly what to say and do to help your girl.  And Amanda, wow.  You made labor and delivery look like a walk in the park.  I honestly expected so much anger and frustration, but all I saw in that situation was love.  

I wish there was a way for you to have stood back and watched the scene like we did.  Your relationship with each other is inspiring, and your affection for a baby who you bore for someone else is, frankly, earth-shattering.  Those words that Conner whispered as you pushed, "Come on, Amanda, this is the last thing we can do for her," melted my heart in more ways than you'll ever realize.

Just 30 minutes after you started pushing, Piper was here.  I cried the happiest tears of my life as I took in her thick hair, her chubby cheeks, and her perfect little body.  Then I watched as the two of you held her, and my heart broke.  

This was the reason why I had been so afraid of our time together in the hospital.  You clearly loved her as much as I did, yet you knew that she wasn't yours to keep.  

You said that we deserved her, and I knew that wasn't true.

The nurses came in and out to check on Piper as the four of us bounced back and forth in our conversation between the trivial and the significant.   Andrew and I left for about an hour to pick up some food and to give you two time alone with Piper.  We got back to the room and ate dinner together, and I found myself wishing (though I knew the impossibility of my idea) that there was a way for the five of us to be the little family who lived happily ever after.

The hospital prepared a room around the corner for Andrew, Piper, and me, and we slowly collected our belongings to spend our first night as a family of three.  Before I went to bed, I walked down the hall to refill my water bottle.  Your door was open, and I stopped.  Conner, you were headed out for some fresh air, so I sat down in a chair next to the bed for some "girl time."  Amanda, as I listened to you share your hopes and dreams, as you talked about your friends, and as you revealed your plans for college in the fall, I felt connected to you in a way that few people will probably ever be able to grasp.  

Though we didn't always talk over the past nine months, we were in each other's hearts as we shared this journey.  We have a unique bond: I wanted so badly to be in your place (to be pregnant), and you wanted to be in mine ("established" enough to raise a baby).  There is no way to explain those feelings to anyone else, but I think you know.

The night passed uneventfully, and I began to think about how the two of you would be going home to a new "normal" in just a few hours.  I started dreading those last moments in the hospital.  Finally, around 2:30 the next day, both of you came down the hall.  This was it.  Andrew and I stepped out of the room to give you the space that you needed with Piper. We held each other tightly and prayed for the words to say as we waited for you to come out.  About five minutes later, the two of you entered the hall with Piper, and all the tears that I had been holding back came flooding out as I looked at your faces.  

 I never guessed that goodbye would be so hard.

Amanda, I've thought that you are unbelievably strong throughout this entire journey, so seeing you dissolved by emotion was almost unbearable.  It would have been wildly inappropriate to take pictures in the moments that followed, but the scene will forever be captured in my mind as you handed Piper to me for the last time and as you, Conner, hugged my husband like there was no tomorrow.  In those moments, every word I had rehearsed was gone.  Each of us knew that there was nothing to be said which could possibly convey the feelings we had.  In shaky voices and through blinding tears, we all said how much we love each other.  Amanda, you asked me to "take good care of her," and I promised that I would.  Then the two of you went around the corner and back to your lives.

I still cannot fathom how a day can be so joyful and so gut-wrenching at the same time.

Andrew and I walked downstairs to the hospital's chapel, where I buried my head in his lap, and we both sobbed.  I had thought that I would be filled with guilt when you two went home without a baby, but really I was overcome with profound sadness.  I was sad for you because of the difficulty of your decision, and I was sad for us because I felt like we had just lost two people who, in a matter of days, had come to mean everything to our family.  

"Be still and know that I am God," the walls of the chapel read, and this is ironically the verse tattooed on the wall of our bedroom at home.  Both of us found it difficult to "be still," because our hearts were so heavy for you.  We prayed over and over for God to give you peace, and I still pray every day that you've found it.

As I got ready to go home the next morning, I burst into tears all over again, and I wondered how many days would pass before I woke up without crying for you.  In the weeks since we have been home with Piper, time has slowly eased the hurt, but I don't think of you any less.  I have never once doubted that you would change your minds about the decision you made, but I have felt an unexplainable stillness in knowing that if you did, I would be okay because as much as I care about Piper, I care about the two of you equally.

Every night before bed, we tell Piper how many people love her, and the two of you are always at the top of the list because you will always be her parents, too.  

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I can't wait until she is old enough to ask questions about the picture of the four of us on the wall in her room, until she wonders how she got her beautiful black hair, and until she makes the connection that her middle name is the same as her birth mother's.  I can't wait for that day because then I get to tell her, once again, the story of two people named Amanda and Conner who loved her so much that they made the greatest sacrifice two people could ever make.

People say that you can't understand true love until you have a baby.  Although I don't fully agree with that statement, I do believe that I've experienced a fuller and deeper kind of love because I met you.  In your words, Conner, this situation was just "meant to be."

Through our whole adoption journey, I have been the most worried about our relationship with our child's birth parents, and that has actually come to be the most beautiful part of it all.    

You named our sweet girl Grace when she was with you for nine months, and grace has absolutely been the theme of our song.  "Thank you" seems so inadequate for expressing the gratitude we daily feel for your selfless gift, Piper.  Somehow I hope you know just how much you mean to us, not just for giving us a daughter who we could never have on our own, but because of the truly strong and special people that you are.  I love you and respect you both, and because of you, my heart is full for the first time in years.

Love,

Mary Rachel

She doesn't look like me.

My daughter is beautiful.

I get to say this because I'm her mom, but I also get to say it because it's true.

Since she was a minute old, Piper's dark hair has been the envy of everyone she meets.  She never had "baby hair"; her locks were always thick and long.  As my hairdresser's youngest client ever, my daughter got her first haircut when she was six months old.

Piper's olive skin tans quickly in the summer, and I already know that her big, brown eyes and full eyelashes will never need any mascara (though I'm sure she'll beg me to wear it).  She has her birth mom's dancer legs.

All of Piper's features stand in stark contrast to my fair skin, light hair, and blue eyes.  

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No one has ever told me that she looks like me.  

Most days, that's fine.  She doesn't look like me.  I know this.

But there are days when I wish that she did, not because I'd love her any more than I already do, but because there is this perception that she would "belong" more to our family if we shared some of the same outward characteristics.

Our biological child, Caroline, is a "mini-me" as far as looks go.  She inherited my wild, blonde hair and my pasty ghost skin.  No one has ever questioned that she is a Fenrick.

More so when she was an infant, but even now that she is four, people ask me of Piper, "Is she yours?"  

I hate this question.  Even though no one has ill intentions when asking, it represents a misconception.  Of course she's mine.  Have you seen how stubborn this kid is, how many peanut butter sandwiches she eats, or how much she loves reading?  Though our outward traits differ, many of the inward ones are exactly alike.  

She calls me, "Mom," but she resembles her birth mother.  That brings a twinge of sadness on both ends.  However, maybe it's God's gift to us, as well.  No one can ever take away how she looks, and no one can ever change how she acts.  She will forever simultaneously be a Fenrick and a Carson*.  

I wouldn't alter Piper's appearance for the world.  My adopted daughter doesn't look like me, but I don't really need her to.  She belongs, despite what the mirror may reflect.

*last name changed

Postpartum Depression After An Adoption: Yes, it's a real thing.

*I originally composed this entry about a year ago on Blogger, but I'm reposting it here because I think that postpartum depression following an adoption is still a real and relevant issue that needs to be brought into the light.*

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postpartum depression after an adoption

I have put off writing this post for awhile.  Partly, I didn't realize until recently that I was haunted by postpartum depression for the better part of a year following Piper's adoption.  The bigger reason for my delay, though, is that I was afraid to admit my struggle.  People discuss postpartum depression in general, but not typically following adoptions.  Well, it's time for that to change.

When Caroline (my biological child) was born in August 2015, I struggled with some semi-expected "post-baby blues" for a solid three months.  During that time, I held onto the hope that the things which were causing distress and insomnia would one day return to "normal," if only I could ride out the waves.  

And things did return to normal.  My hormones quit freaking out, I didn't cry at the drop of a hat anymore, the pain and swelling subsided, I got my pre-pregnancy body back, Caroline learned how to sleep, we found a solution to reflux, and Piper remembered that she had been potty trained at some point before her baby sister arrived.  We continued making daily adjustments, as adding a person to the family seems to somehow multiply the craziness of parenthood, but was am able to successfully navigate the difficulties as they came instead of being overwhelmed by them (most days, of course).

Flashback to June 2013 when Piper (my adopted child) entered the world.  The depression hit me like a ton of bricks before we even left the hospital.  Instead of dissipating in three months as it did following Caroline's birth, the despair worsened.  Piper's birth brought changes which were gut-level and permanent.  I wasn't dealing with a recovering body or out-of-control hormones; I was plagued by intense emotional trauma which people who haven't adopted have difficulty understanding.  Nothing would ever be "normal" again.  

I am not a doctor, but I am convinced, from personal experience, that postpartum depression after an adoption is a real thing.  Four years ago, I was in the throes of this depression and didn't know it.  Thankfully, I have now arrived at a healthy place in which I can objectively look at that period of my life and attempt to explain some of the reasons for my depression.

  • Regardless of how an adoption story unfolds, the emotions leading up to the addition of a baby or child to a family have been all over the map.  Coming back down from the highs of being chosen by a birth mother and the actual moment of taking that baby home in the carseat for the first time can be likened to running a marathon.  At the beginning, adrenaline carries you.  In the middle miles, supporters come alongside you to encourage you in your weariness of the process.  The last haul to the finish is practically unbearable, and you keep reminding yourself over and over that this is something you wanted to do.  Then, there is a glimpse of the finish line that drives you to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  Finally, it's over.  You did it.  You ran a marathon.  (You adopted.)  Elation surges through your veins as you take in the fact that a dream just became reality.  But then, after they hang the gaudy medal around your neck, after the photos, after the many pats on the back from friends and family ... it's usually a Sunday and so it's back to work the very next day.  Your muscles are sore in a million places that you didn't know existed, and even though life will never be the same for you, everyone else has already forgotten and moved on, because it's another random Monday, and that's what they're supposed to do.  In a marathon, and throughout the adoption process, adrenaline can carry you quite a long way.  And then the actual thing happens, and maybe it is what you expected, or maybe it isn't, but either way, the adrenaline subsides, and you can hardly find the strength to get out of bed in the morning because that thing you just did took all that you had.  
  • Watching Piper's birth parents walk out of the hospital empty-handed left me with a profound sense of guilt that I couldn't shake.  For weeks after Piper came home with us, I would cry at even the thought of Anna (her birth mother).  I knew that there was nothing in me to make me more deserving of raising a child than she was, and yet, I was the one who was holding this sweet baby in my arms ... the baby who she loved and carried for nine months.  I was supposed to be happy, and I was, but I have also never hurt for someone else more.  I hated that my joy was, to a certain degree, connected to her sorrow.
  • Sometimes, when people become parents for the first time (or the second or fifth), it brings them closer together as a couple.  This was not the case for Andrew and me.  Communication has always been a struggle in our marriage, and then we added the difficulty of raising a child, causing each of us to put walls up and seek comfort within ourselves.  He was a great dad, and I was an okay mom, but the two of us began slowly drifting apart like continents.  It wasn't noticeable at first, but after several months, the slight separation became a chasm that neither of us had the resources to bridge.  This part was not specific to adoption, but it played a part in my depression nonetheless.  (Counseling helps.)
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  • "You got that thing you wanted, aren't you happy?  Isn't motherhood wonderful?"  I came to dread these two questions, or any variation of them, and they bombarded me constantly.  All I could do when asked them was nod weakly and give the response that people wanted to hear.  The real answers, "Yes, but I still feel empty," and, "Yes, but motherhood is plain hard 90% of the time," were too messy, and I began to believe that my most genuine, raw emotions needed to be hidden from the world.  I especially felt that I could not share any of these thoughts with our adoption case worker.  During our home study preceding Piper's birth, nearly every aspect of our lives had been opened up for outsiders to scrutinize.  The most minuscule of offenses, such as a traffic violation from high school, could have been used to determine that we were unfit parents.  We had both spent weeks upon weeks trying to prove that we were worthy of raising a child, and even after we brought our daughter home, there was still a period of six months during which Piper belonged to our agency and we were not her legal guardians.  I was always careful to portray the "right" image to everyone out of fear that someone would realize that there were better moms out there for my baby.  Y'all, it is exhausting to constantly have to feign perfection.       
  • "What did you most consistently feel throughout the adoption process?" a friend recently asked.  Fear and anxiety.  Those were persistent.  There were moments of joy and excitement, but I'm convinced that even people with complete trust in the providence of God experience doubt about the unknown.  Will I be able to handle an open adoption?  Even after the baby is born, the birth mom can decide that she wants to parent.  Will we get to keep our baby?  Is someone ever going to look at our profile and think that we are enough?  Will I bond with this little person?  These people know more about me than my husband does.  How will this child fit into our family?  What if ... what if ... what if ... ?  Adoption is risky, and the anxiety surrounding all of these question marks kept me up at night, which certainly did not help with my mental state.
  • When Piper was born, we had struggled with infertility for almost three years, and then we endured for another year and a half before we were blessed with the miracle of pregnancy.  (Doctors had said that IVF was our only option.)  Four and a half years.  In the grand scheme of life, I know that this is truly the blink of an eye, but infertility feels like an eternity when you're wading through it.  I thought that becoming a parent for the first time would take away the pain of not being able to have biological children.  Don't get me wrong: I loved Piper immensely from the moment she was born, and she could not have felt any more "ours" than if I had carried and given birth to her.  I know this because the feelings for our adopted newborn were exactly the same as the ones for our biological one born two years later.  Piper was and is the most precious girl on earth.  But she didn't take away the sadness and anger that we had experienced leading up to her birth or the questions afterward.  What is still wrong with us?  

I love adoption, and I think that everyone should be aware of the need for it.  But people also need to know that depression is a very real possibility that could come with adoption.  I hadn't expected this, and I've never felt more alone than I did after we brought Piper home.  

If you're an adoptive parent reading this blog and wondering if you're crazy because no one told you how hard and isolating this whole experience could be, you're not.  You're not crazy, you're not alone, and this really will pass (with lots of help).  

If you know someone who is adopting or has adopted, keep walking with them.  Ask the tough questions, and listen to the real answers, not just the ones that are easy to hear.  

Postpartum depression after adoption is, I would guess, far more common than most people realize, but the fog does lift.  There is hope.