Today is Birth Mother’s Day. Our family is one of the lucky few who know the miracle of adoption. Here is a letter that I would send to the woman who our family honors today.
Dear Woman who gave our family life,
I can’t begin to estimate the number of times I have thought of you over the last 23 years, 5 months, and 19 days. As an adolescent, I thought of you in fear. I feared you would come back and try to take your child, our lifeblood, away. I knew that would end in one of two ways: my dad would kill you, or we would flee the country. I did not want my Dad to go to prison (jokes on me, instead he worked in them), and the number of countries that we could assimilate in were limited. Some people think I stuck with French class because I loved the language. Heck no, I took French in kindergarten through college so that we could add France and Canada to our list of possible safe havens from you.
As I grew into an adult, my fear of you turned into adoration. Perhaps it was because I figured that if you hadn’t tried to take her at that point, we were safe. More than that, I learned in my early twenties that the treatments given to treat my cancer as a child had left a huge question mark inside the check box labeled, “Can safely/actually conceive, carry, or birth a child.” I was still in the thick of enjoying my college life, but became fearful of the future. I was devastated to think that I couldn’t have children of my own. Then, I remembered that my children would have an aunt who was also adopted and I would probably make her carry my children for me anyway.
I spent my undergraduate career studying (well hearing lectures when I went to class, and not actually studying) about the arguments for nature v. nurture in human development. I am a firm believer that who we become as humans is a perfect mix of both. There are things about that life that you carried in your uterus for 9 months, that I believe were heavily influenced by you, and I want to tell you about those things, and thank you. The child henceforth shall be called, “Molly.” I’ll call her that because that is what we called her. (During the 9 days between our finding out about her arrival and her birth, we decided as a family on a boy name and girl name. I was 4 weeks away from being 11, and I named every doll and stuffed animal, “Kelly.” I was a little miffed that my suggestion to keep tradition alive was shut down, because it was like I was getting a little doll after all. My brother and I both really thought of Molly as a dog name at that point. My dad pointed out that if we were going to strike down dog names, our list would be shortened. We almost always give our dogs human names. I liked Betsy, but we couldn’t name her after a dog that I had spent years re-enacting the seizure that led to her death for the entertainment of our friends and neighbors. Lucy was a favorite too, but it would have been weird to have a child and dog with the same names in the same house at the same time.) Sorry for the sidebar, one thing you can be sure of, is that Molly didn’t inherit my ADHD. Here are the things that I believe were influenced by your DNA:
- Molly was organized. You know how she was your first pregnancy and she came exactly on her due date? That stayed true throughout her lifetime. She always planned ahead, thought things through, and was never scrambling at the last-minute like the rest of us. In 4th or 5th grade, she knew what the big project was during the second semester. I think she started working on it the summer before. I would have done it the night before it was due, and our brother just wouldn’t have done it. She could organize a closet, room, or a whole apartment. She often did all three for me.
- Molly was tall. Well, my dad isn’t a shorty, but it’s clear that when he and my mom procreate, her gene is dominant. We aren’t anything that people stare at in amazement of our vertical challenges, but we certainly have to keep step ladders around and are known to climb up on any chair, shelf, counter, table, or box around to get jobs done. When I left for college, Molly was in 2nd grade. She was about at my shoulders. By the time I graduated, we were eye level. By the time Christmas came after my college graduation, forget it, I had to look up to her. Shortly after that, she would giggle when we hugged because she said I was like hugging a shrimp. She could reach things for us, and being visually impaired, I could always spot her in a crowd.
- Molly learned differently than my brother and I. I know that this seems weird to put on this list. I absolutely do not mean that in a negative way. She also got keen intellect from you, especially in science where my brother and I struggled. Because Molly’s brain processed text differently than the rest of our family, we learned so much about how to break things down for her, and how important it was to focus on all of the things she did well. She always had higher grades than Griffin and I, because she was organized and worked her butt off for them. Today, I am a special education teacher, and Molly taught me more about how to reach children who need extra help with learning more than any graduate course I took. I think of the tears of frustration she endured over her struggles, and I always think of that when I interact with my students about their academics. We celebrate small victories, because that’s what Molly did.
- She loved animals. Now, my family has always been a family with pets that we loved more than many people we knew. But, Molly? Molly took it to a whole new level. She worked at the kennel in middle school, literally scooping dog crap. Our parents did not believe in forced child labor, she begged to do it! Gross! She loved it though, because she also got to groom and love on so many dogs at once.
- Molly was a hard worker. As children, my brother and I were about as lazy as could be when it came to work that was not our idea. Not Molly, she would rearrange furniture before she was 5. I’ve already told you a bit about her diligence with school work, but it bears repeating. She worked so hard with her school work from preschool through her first semester of senior year. At one point, I was fearful she wouldn’t get into the college she wanted because school work was such a challenge, but she got acceptances from all the she wanted, including your alma mater. She also would help our friend do flowers for weddings before she was even a teenager. What 8 or 9-year-old will spend ALL day doing that intense labor? Molly. These weren’t like little dinky flowers that someone got at Pick N’ Save and said they did wedding flowers. The arrangements and masterpieces that our friend who she helped creates make the flowers from the Royal Wedding look lackluster and boring.
- Molly was an artist. The only class in college that made me cry was an art class. Instead of struggling through the misery of remembering that I suck at art, I just let my sister do my projects. She was in 4th grade. My professor was shocked at how much I improved. Molly could draw and paint; she also could color in the lines way before I could. She helped me with that. In high school, she even made a quilt with a hand-stitched monogram! Our mom has incredible artistic skills too, but clearly Dad’s inability to legibly write his own name was the dominant gene there. So, I have to believe that her talents were a mix of nature v. nurture between you and our mom.
- Molly was Molly. She was a friend to all, loving, compassionate, serving, generous, humble, creative, silly, outgoing, mature, child-like, and so much more. She had faith that could move mountains, and she did. She brought people to Christ in Mexico and in Kenya, not by her words, but by the joyful spirit and light that she emitted without effort. She rode horses, she won state championship rings in tennis, she loved getting dirty, she went mudding, she liked to get all dressed up and fancy, she adored making fun of our parents and grandparents with us. All of these things could easily be attributed to just nurture, but she was so dynamic there has to be more. You played a part in her too.
If you look back at the list, you will notice that the verbs are past tense. I’m mad at myself. When Molly died, I said I never wanted to talk about her in the past tense. But, as Justin Bieber says, “Never say never.” Molly was all of these things and she IS all of these things, because her heart still beats in mine. One of the things I remember knowing about you is that you kept your pregnancy a secret from your family. We told Molly everything about you that we knew. She said that she didn’t care, but I think that was just to make us feel better, and I know that on some level she wanted to know about you. We told her how smart you were. We told her how brave you were. We told her how you taught us that blood isn’t what makes a family, love is. We told her that God knew she was ours from the beginning. We told her that my cancer was a blessing, because if Mom had been able to have more biological children, we might not have had her. We have only one regret when it comes to making sure Molly knew about you. We didn’t tell her that you kept your pregnancy hidden. We didn’t tell her that you were so brave and strong that you got pre-natal care…. We didn’t tell her….
I promise you that our family is not one of those families who judges people. We even used to get letters that we were so liberal, God struck me down with cancer and made my brother hit a stucco mailbox. We believe in mistakes, and we believe that God makes good things out of bad situations. Perhaps that is so ingrained in our DNA, that we did a poor job of explicitly explaining that to Molly. So, tomorrow, Molly will celebrate her 6th Mother’s Day in heaven, with your two granddaughters, Mary and Martha. It’s funny, we all, including Molly, would forget she was adopted. We compared her weird toe to my brother and dad’s weird toes. I’ve even put on a medical form that I have anemia in my family history because Molly had an episode with anemia. Since Molly and the twins died, I have said, “I would have raised those babies. I would have loved them more than my own. They are the flesh of my flesh.” Really, all three are the flesh of yours.
I know that when you entrusted your child to the hands of complete strangers that you envisioned a long life for the the one you created. I am sorry that we let you down. While the number of years were too short, I can promise that she was given and gave more love, joy, and life experiences than many people experience in a lifetime. We have been broken and will never heal from losing her, but we promise that we are trying to make sure that the impact that she had in 18 years will continue by starting a foundation in her memory that helps families have open conversations about everything. I even hope to help coordinate adoptions one day so that other families can experience the miracle that our family experienced.
I created a video for a presentation I did for our foundation. It has pictures that span her life, beginning with the day she was carried through our door. I hope you can see that her spirit was unmatched.
As Molly taught us to say…. “We love you more than meat loves salt,” for giving us the creature that showed us what that meant,