Pain is inevitable in life. I know this, but it doesn’t make walking through the fire any easier. I can’t quite decide which hurts most, though – the emotional or the physical. They both take their toll, and I consider myself lucky if I’m only dealing with one at a time.
As someone in my forties I’ve experienced my fair share of aches and pains, breaks and recoveries. But there are some moments you can’t prepare for. The ones that stop you in your tracks because it hurts too much to breathe.
I had one of those moments with T-man last month.
We have an open adoption with T-man’s birthmom. Some people have commented on this, questioning how it’s possible to be comfortable maintaining a relationship with our son’s biological mother.
Comfortable? That’s not exactly the word I would use for this relationship. It’s more like digging down deep, shoving aside my insecurities, and forcing myself to act like a responsible grown-up. Because maintaining this relationship is important for T-man, so that means it has to be important to me, too.
When T-man came home in second grade carrying a Star Student questionnaire with blanks I couldn’t fill, it was my urgent e-mail to his birthmom that made it possible for him to return to school and proudly hang his completed page on the bulletin board. It was also his birthmom who helped without hesitation when I needed a more complete family history for T-man’s physician.
And these are only the bumps we’ve hit so far. As T-man gets older he’s going to have questions, ones that I won’t necessarily be able to answer, and having access to his biological family will be priceless.
Yes, maintaining contact can be tricky. But this isn’t just some person from T-man’s past. This is the woman who carried him through a pregnancy and brought him into this world. She’s the woman who raised him for almost ten months before finding us through the adoption agency, and she’s someone who has expressed clearly from the beginning how important an open relationship is to her.
We know this is what’s best. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Occasionally we get together for visits. We’ve done all sorts of things – visit a park, get together for lunch or dinner, go to a museum. T-man enjoys spending time with his birthmom, and Bear’s come to see her as another aunt. Generally speaking, the kids get pretty psyched when they see a visit go up on the calendar.
So we all got together last month to hang out and then grab some dinner. The kids were having a blast, but I was starting to field some uncomfortable questions from T-man. Not because he was doing anything wrong but because, at 10 years old, it’s impossible for him to understand the complexity of our relationship with his birthmom. The intricate balance of too much versus the right amount of information. The impossible counterbalance of too little versus too much access.
Sometimes the whole thing feels like a minefield.
Our dinner was a roaring success with both kids leaving the restaurant in a great mood. It wasn’t until we’d reached our cars that T-man spoke the words to his birthmom that shattered my heart into a million pieces.
“I wish I could go with you.”
I actually think I stopped breathing. All eyes flickered toward him and then to each other in a microsecond’s time, trying to figure out what on earth would be an appropriate response to that longing remark.
And in that moment my selfish heart ached for me.
I choked up that this thought would even enter his mind. No matter how much fun these visits with his birthmom are, how could he want to leave us? I love this child to the depths of my soul, the very thought of losing him makes my chest tighten and eyes cloud over with tears, and he knows that. What does he mean, he wishes he could go with her?!
Later on, after I’d had a chance to breathe, I was able to look at it with clearer eyes. Once I’d moved away from my own shock and distress, I was able to feel compassion for T-man’s pain at being separated from his birthmom over and over again. We all look at his coming home as such a blessing; I’m trying hard to remember that on the other end of that spectrum is the grief of leaving his birth family behind.
It’s not that I think T-man doesn’t want to be with us. I think he alternately likes and dislikes us as any typical 10-year-old boy would, but I do think this evolving relationship with his birthmom probably evokes some confusing emotions. I’m sure at some point we’ll have some pretty hard conversations about all this.
For right now, I’m trying to steel my heart for the tough moments.