by Jennifer Patel
Sometimes, I miss how simple Mother’s Day used to be. I would tell my mom Happy Mother's Day and give her a card and a present.
I think about the long list of mothers I’ve added to be celebrated throughout the years. Since having children, I have added my biological mother to the list of celebrated women, a woman I never allowed myself to think about prior to motherhood. I don’t know anything about her, but I now know that her choice (or non-choice) to relinquish me could not have been an easy decision. To carry me into the world and to lose me, no matter the circumstances, is not something you get over completely with time. She was the first person I bonded with in this world.
I know that the odds of reunion are not good. Maybe this is what I have concluded to make myself feel better about the real possibility of never meeting her, of never hearing her side of the story. But is thinking of her from time to time and believing she also thinks of me from time to time really the worst thing?
As an adoptee who has spent more time than not looking for spaces where I feel like I fit in, I truly believed motherhood would be that space. I would be able to put aside all the things that have always made me different, ignore that nagging voice telling me I don’t fit in here. I just wanted to stand around at the playground with the other moms and empathize about how hard or easy being pregnant was and who our littles were becoming outside the womb we grew them in. As it turned out, motherhood, in the traditional sense, has proved to be yet another space I feel like an imposter.
Being labeled “infertile” is a tough card to be dealt as an adoptee. The overwhelming disappointment and loneliness such a diagnosis carries was nothing new to me. What was new: the fear of losing my dream of bringing children into this world who would be part me! They would be the first people I knew who were genetically related to me.
My husband and I decided to start the formation of our family through adoption. I could write 50+ posts about what I thought before, during, and post adoption process. I could confess all the mistakes I’ve made, the countless things I’ve learned. I could describe the fog I discovered I existed in until becoming a mother shined a light so bright, I would have never noticed the fog without it. But for now, I’ll keep it simple: We adopted our son from Korea and brought him to our home when he was 19-months old.
After settling in as a family of three and enduring a long, unsuccessful IVF saga, we turned to the last resort of hiring a gestational carrier. Thanks to her and a big shout out to science, she was able to carry our second son into this world perfectly.
Working with a gestational carrier allowed me to witness, in third person, the incredible bond between mother and newborn child… something adoptees will forever be affected by losing. It’s also a bond I have never experienced with either of my children.
After he was born, they bundled up my son and placed him in my arms. I wept the happiest tears as I gazed into his puffy little face, still not believing it happened. We spent the night in our own room and began the journey like any other parent in a hospital room—spending a sleepless night with our newborn. If anything was out of the ordinary, I was too emotionally drained to think of it.
The next morning, our gestational carrier came in before she was discharged to hold him and say goodbye. When she held him and started talking, his whole head turned toward her. He was quiet and still, but incredibly alert with eyes wide open as he demonstrated unfailing recognition of the mother he had just spent the last 38+ weeks with. Her children joined us shortly after and he showed similar recognition to the voices he had been hearing in utero.
Did my birth mother get to hold me? Even for one minute? Did I hear her voice? Did my oldest son's birth mother hold him? Even for one minute? Did he hear her voice?
In The Primal Wound, Nancy Newton Verrier explains, in great detail, the profound connection between birth mother and child and the trauma that ensues when that connection is broken. She says that even a baby who has to be incubated or separated from their mother for a short time will feel trauma in loss of connection, even if the baby reunites with the original birth mother. Bonding between mother and child begins in utero. A newborn is not brand new in their experiences.
As happy as I was to finally know a blood relative, I would be remiss if I didn't also acknowledge the continuation of accumulating loss. Our gestational carrier physically did the hard work of pregnancy and the emotional bonding, even with the knowledge that he was genetically our embryo. She left the hospital without the fruit of her work. I did none of the work, missing out on building the in utero bond with my son. It's a bond I will never know, no matter how much we are related. My son lost the bond with our gestational carrier.
This experience has given me many questions about my and my oldest son's birth day. I've been to the place where the babies stay before being fostered out in Korea. They lay in long rows, each baby separated by a partition. Volunteers hold and feed them throughout the day. We must have wondered where our mothers were, the women who carried us into the world? What must have been the circumstances our mothers relinquished us? It must have been so difficult.
As this Mother’s Day quickly approaches, I think about my unconventional journey to motherhood, my evolution as a mother. I cannot chime in with the moms at the park as often as I imagined. It wasn’t a perfect journey, but it’s a family and it’s mine.
My name is Jennifer Patel (she/her) and I am an international, transracial adoptee from Korea. I am married to a first generation Indian man and we are raising two boys. The oldest is an international, half transracial adoptee and the younger, biological born via surrogate. I live in Dallas, Texas and taught middle school for a decade before opting to stay home to enjoy every moment possible raising my family. I have a degree in Psychology from Texas A&M University that I have never used professionally. I don’t have any impressive credentials to my name and could be considered one of the most average people brought to America. In my spare time, I enjoy reading, writing, cooking, and working out. I like TV, but routinely fall asleep 10 minutes into anything these days. I have learned so much on my snaillike journey out of the fog, with a long way still to go. I am forever thankful for this community as they have made me feel more whole than I ever have before. I love connecting with and listening to the stories of other adoptees. It will never get old being in the company with people who have lived with you in the pieces of your life where you felt alone.