J, B, and I just got back from our first long vacation as a family of three, and we have lots to share, though it may be a few days before we have time to write about it. Luckily, we have something lovely to offer you now: Breaking Into Blossom’s first guest post! I’m not sure when Heila started reading BIB, but I know how happy I became when she first started commenting and sharing her story with us. I asked if she might write a guest post because her subject position – her way into motherhood – is so unique. Here, then, is her story. Enjoy!
I have never been a girly girl. I never dreamed of having a great big wedding, or kids. But at the age of 33 I fell in love for the first time, with a wonderful man and his adorable two and a half year old daughter. There was a twist to this tale. She wasn’t his, biologically or legally. O had been married to her biological mother E, whom he met when little D was only 11 months old. They had intended for him to adopt her, but then E died when D had just turned two, and before they did the paperwork. O was D’s dad in all the important ways, she had never known another and he was the anchor that remained in her life after she lost her mom. Unfortunately not all the biological family agreed, and there was a court case pending to decide who gets to adopt D.
Dating a man with a toddler who is missing a maternal figure can be a minefield. We were very responsible about it. We decided that she would initially only be exposed to me once a month until we knew which way this relationship was going to go. Of course it never worked out that way, because what is a single parent going to do with his kid every time he wants to spend time with his girlfriend? I quickly integrated into their little family and D and I had a strong bond almost from the beginning. Within a couple of months I realised that, for her sake, I had to make this relationship permanent or get out. It placed a lot of pressure on fiercely independent me, but in a gigantic leap of faith I agreed to marry O.
By this time the legal proceedings were well under way and we had a wedding with the sword of Damocles hanging over our heads, not knowing if our family was going to stay intact. The Monday after we got married we changed the adoption application to include me as well. I won’t bore you with the details, but after a lot of heartache, stress and tears the case was settled and we adopted D. The adoption went through when she was four.
Being a mom was weird initially. I felt like an impostor, and compulsively told people that my daughter is adopted in case they could detect something strange in our relationship and wondered about it. Of course this was all in my head, we loved each other like any other mom and daughter out there and nobody could tell the difference. One of the worst things for me was taking her to doctors where she had been before and having to explain that her surname has now changed and although I have the same surname as her biological mother had, I am in fact someone different… I think we left a string of very puzzled receptionists in our wake.
Another real challenge has been the social pressure we were under to produce a biological child. (We decided that one kid is enough.) I was, and still am, offended by the question But don’t you want one of your own? My daughter is my own. Who else’s would she be? Our relationship is not inferior just because I didn’t give birth to her and I resent that implication to the point where I’m probably a bit oversensitive about the issue. Luckily now that I’m 40 people have stopped asking – a great benefit of being older!In April this year I wrote the following comment on blog post Feminist concerns about the natural childbirth community: I’ve been a mom legally for almost 6 years and effectively for 7, and I still sometimes find myself insecure in my role. I tend to think of my daughter as belonging more to my husband than to me, as he has known her longer than I have and was married to her bio mom. I know this doesn’t make sense but then feelings often don’t. I love my daughter and will protect and nurture her with everything in me but I must also admit that parenting is HARD. There are days when I feel I might have been better off without this challenge. I’m not proud of these feelings. I’m pretty sure that at least some bio parents also occasionally feel this way. But in the back of my mind there is always a question about the quality and intensity of feelings, positive and negative, in bio vs NGP.
I don’t feel like that every day, or even most days, and it does depend on my state of mind at the time. Talking to other parents on a regular basis helps to keep me grounded in the reality that parenting is hard for everybody. That the issues we have are by and large not unique to adoptive families. That it’s ok, and even healthy, to have your own life separate to your child’s as well. I’ve learnt that kids are resilient, and even if you mess up big time you always get another chance to set things right. I’ve also learned not to sweat the small stuff. The challenge is sometimes deciding if something is small stuff or not!
There is of course a huge upside to being a parent. Nothing compares to the feeling of having her arms slide around me, looking into those big brown eyes and hearing I love you mom. Joy is D crawling into bed with us on a weekend morning, bringing a cat and a book, and spending some time snuggling, reading and playing. It’s a privilege to coach her through issues like being bullied, or a fight with a friend, and see her handle the situation successfully. It’s beautiful to see how much our parents love her and she loves them back, especially my father-in-law who is her “partner in crime”. When she was preparing for her first ever exams I found her furiously making notes and when I congratulated her on her study methods she said but that’s what I’ve seen you do mom. It’s humbling to realise that your example counts more than your words every time. It makes me want to be a better person, for her sake.
We are raising a bright, confident and competent child and watching her grow into herself and knowing that we are helping to mold the woman she will become is the most amazing thing… scary, and awesome and the most important work I’ve every done.