I haven’t really posted much about the emotional side of adoption since we brought Olivia home. It was really emotional beforehand because of everything surrounding her joining our family, but the truth is, the transition has gone remarkably well.
I remember wondering, before we ever knew about Olivia, how I would respond to being a mom. How would it feel? Would I have what it takes? Would we bond? So many questions, and man did I have a lot of time to think.
The day we brought Olivia home was kind of surreal because it had been such an emotional journey and we were already exhausted. Just about done. I was so thankful that we were in the middle of a holiday weekend so we had a couple days to just be a family without having to deal with work stuff too. We adjusted to a crazy sleep schedule and having someone else in the house. A week or so later Chris’ parents were here so it was more adjusting and it wasn’t really until after they left that I felt like I could just be with my daughter so we could really get to know each other. To develop some sort of routine.
Since then we have and I’ve realized I love being a mom. I realized just how much I love being Olivia’s mom this past weekend. On Sunday we went into Port to go to church and then to a birthday party. From the moment we got in the parking lot at church we found ourselves surrounded by people that had been a part of Olivia’s story, part of her coming to us. It was great to meet some that I hadn’t and to see others that I had. At the same time I was caught off guard emotionally by much of it.
Chris and I had decided long before we ever talked with John about adopting that we wanted a closed adoption. The reasons are mostly centered around the issues that we know could arise if the birth family found out where we lived. I don’t like that it’s this way here, but it is and it was something that we needed to factor in. When we first met with John about adopting he brought up the subject and his recommendation was the same. He’s been here for a long time and is aware of the same issues that we are. Chris and I know Olivia’s story, we have pictures of her birth mother and we know where her birth mother is. There are many people that are connected to her and because of that we know how she’s doing and so on.
Many of the people that we saw on Sunday were part of Olivia’s story and are also in contact with or know her birth mom. The thing that caught both Chris and I off guard this weekend was just how close we are when we had always wanted distance. It was sort of that thing lingering in the backs of our minds. It was hard for me, I’ll admit. Not because I was afraid of someone taking my baby or anything. I know that’s not an issue. It was more that I didn’t want the peace that we had known or the amazing little thing that we have within our family jeopardized.
In the midst of all those feelings there was something else that started to bubble up to the surface where I could see it – this incredibly fierce love for my daughter. I think I knew it was there, but the extent of it had eluded me. The other thing that really hit me as I looked around at all the people that had been a part of Olivia’s life was that out of all of them, out of all of the people on this planet, Chris and I are the ones that know her best.
We are the ones that know that certain cries mean she’s hungry and others mean she’s ready for a sleep. We are the ones that know her very distinct poop grunt. We are the ones that have seen her crankiness after her vaccinations and the joy she has when playing with something as simple as a burp cloth. We are the ones that laugh at her when she’s on her change table kicking her feet like a crazy person. We’ve been the ones to watch all of her little developmental milestones and be excited about them. As we saw others trying to get Olivia smiling and cooing I realized that she was holding back for them and how easily and freely her smiles are given to us.
On Tuesday I was down at the Pierre Payen hospital to get Liv’s second round of vaccinations done. As I sat in the waiting area with several other parents the conversation about why I, a white woman, had a black baby, came about. One of the reasons that Chris and I wanted to adopt while living in country, aside from the fact that we just wanted to love a child, was to challenge people’s understanding of adoption. My understanding of adoption and the average Haitian understanding of adoption are often very different thanks to the restavek system. I’ve written about this before so I won’t go into great detail, but basically a restavek is a child, either relative or not, that is sent to live with another family because their parents can’t afford to care for them. The understanding or belief is that the child will be cared for and given a chance to go to school, but unfortunately that isn’t usually the case and the child essentially becomes the family slave. They often don’t eat the same food as the rest of the family, wear the same clothes, or do the same chores in the home. And, very rarely do they get to go to school.
As the conversation started I was actually very thankful that everyone felt comfortable enough to ask their questions because usually this is hard with a white person. After I explained that Olivia was adopted I was asked if I knew her birth mom. I explained that we didn’t know her, but I knew where she was, I had pictures of her and we know the whole story of how Olivia came to our family and that when Olivia was old enough to understand we would tell her all of it. We want our daughter to know where she came from and that her birth mother made a very loving sacrifice. Then one of the men in the group said, with a big smile on his face, “So, she knows you are her Mama,” as a statement, not a question. I smiled and said, “Yes, she knows I am her Mama and my husband is her Papa.” I was encouraged that they seemed to understand. Another thing that recently surprised us was when Jean, one of our workers told Chris that rather than having more children he had considered adopting like we did. The thought of it makes me want to cry. I see the influence we have on our staff and we believe that the biggest way we can witness to them and encourage life change is by setting an example. I don’t think either of us ever expected it to be about something so big.
Many people have asked us about bonding issues. I think when Chris and I went into this we just made the decision that it wouldn’t be an issue. Because we wanted a newborn we also knew that would be an advantage. I look at us now and see how bonded we are. Olivia is our daughter and we are her parents. I know that as she gets older and understands more about adoption and what it means that there will be issues that we need to deal with, but right now she is healthy, happy and connected. I feel very blessed by that because I know that the transition could have been very difficult. Sometimes I’m amazed at how easily Chris and I have taken to parenting. It really does blow me away.
So, all this to say that over the last week the fact that I am Olivia’s Mommy has sunk in. It has become more real to me than it was before. I cherish it and revel in it. I love the quiet moments we have together where we get to look into each others eyes and she gives me her silly little grins, knowing that I’m sopping it up like a sponge. I love it when she wants to chat with me, even though I have no idea what she’s saying. The joy on her face as we talk to each other is more than enough for me. I love that I can comfort her and that I know her deeply enough to know what she needs when she needs it. I feel blessed to be a parent.
I am and forever will be Olivia’s Mommy.