This is the longest pregnancy ever!" ~Uriel MacDonald, my maternal grandfather
In the early 1970's, my parents began the process that would eventually lead ME to THEM. From this experience, I always think of babies leading the charge; not the other way around.
In my parents' case, many adoption agencies wouldn't even accept their application because my parents were in their thirties. For the few agencies that deemed their ages "acceptable", they had to go to great length to not only prove their worthiness as parents, but to also prove they were incapable of having children biologically (my father contracted measles when he was in the Army, which was believed to have affected his fertility).
Once on the list, no estimation was provided for how long the process would take, but, in some cases, they knew there were more than 100 applicants ahead of them. This left them with little hope. So, in 1974, when they received word about my brother, it was utter joy and... chaos. With less than 24 hours to prepare, my brother arrived in his diaper... a bottle... and nothing else!
Due to their age, my parents felt lucky and satisfied to receive this beautiful, healthy... and extremely photogenic six-week baby boy. (My brother was the epitome of the "Gerber baby"...)
At this point -- ages 37 and 41, my parents were "over the hill" by the day's standards so they did not bother resubmitting an application for a second child. That's why it came as a surprise when my mom received a call from The Home for Little Wanderers the following year. Would she be interested in adopting a three-month old baby girl? My birth mother had attached religious stipulations to my adoption which had made finding a home challenging. My mother, overjoyed at the prospect of having "one of each" said yes without even consulting my father... which says a lot about how my mother rolls...
Since this was not on their budgetary radar, they had to scramble to come up with the money to adopt me. My paternal grandmother, Edna, graciously chipped in which led to my naming, "Sarah Milne" with the "Milne" honoring her namesake (maiden name) and shared with my father's middle name.
I don't remember not knowing I was adopted. As babies, my brother and I were reportedly introduced as adopted wherever we went. My dad would shake his head to my mother and grumble under his breath, "Sandy, you don't have to tell everyone!" But, she was wise in doing so. This is textbook what-to-do-when-your-child-is-adopted - keep no secrets and mitigate the trauma. Yes, "trauma". Even in the best of situations, trauma is an inescapable part of the adoptee's start:
The unborn child has, over nine months' gestation, established an intimate bond with his mother. He has listened to her heartbeat and voice...he knows her movements, her touch, her odor, and, most important, her feelings...he recognizes and tunes into his mother after birth, even if only for a few moments. When, in a flash, she is gone, the newborn feels disoriented, shocked, alone." ~ Thomas R. Verny, MD
Early adoption can go a long way in filling the void left from the birth mother. Adopted parents are often uniquely equipped with a deep-seated desire to have babies following a long emotional struggle. Nonetheless, the newborn experience casts a permanent cloud on the future, making adopted children particularly sensitive to issues of abandonment, rejection, and trust. Whether this materializes as parent-pleasing (or people-pleasing more generally...), antisocial violence, or self-destruction, decidedly common patterns emerge.
Perception can be the game-changer here. My empathy with my birth mother dissolved common feelings of abandonment, anger, or rejection, and stimulated feelings of gratitude and respect. I admired the sacrifice and courage of a 19-year old college student to carry out a pregnancy in the 1970s. When I reached that same age, I doubted that I would've been able to do the same... too selfish in my own life goals to verge "off-course" or to face a social stigma that was much less pronounced in the 1990s.
Adoption is one of the most selfless gifts a birth mother can give. And, appreciation for my birth mother grew as her granddaughter grew inside of me.
Despite my positive impression of adoption and the gratitude I feel toward each of my mothers for this life, I admit I wouldn't have considered adoption for my own situation. As an adopted child, I yearned for the experience I never had - a biological mother-child relationship. Without a strong "Mommy bug", I didn't want a child unless it came with my personal features and traits... things I was never able to see in my own parents' faces and personalities.
Here is an excerpt from my adoption case notes, 1975:
Your mother was 5'5", 120 lbs with 'wiry' dark red hair, brown eyes and a fair complexion. She was described as being 'attractive', 'small', and 'attractive'. [That's no typo...'attractive' twice!] She said that she was artistic and liked 'painting, sculpture, and writing'. Your mother was completing her second year of junior college where she was an Art major. She graduated that spring [during her third trimester].
Your grandmother attended college at a music conservatory and was working as an advertising writer for a newspaper at the time of your birth.
Your grandparents (on both sides) were supportive of your mother and her plan for adoption.
Your father was 5'10" with dark brown hair, brown eyes, and a fair complexion. Your mother described him as having a 'genius IQ', with an interest in film making, music, and writing. At the time of your birth, he had finished one year of college and was in Yugoslavia visiting his family, where your grandfather worked for the US Consulate.
You were born in Beth Israel Hospital in Boston after a full-term pregnancy at 38 weeks and an 'easy delivery', according to your mother. Your mother named you Star..."
And, as evidence from my birth papers, my love for writing was truly innate. And, therefore, write I must...
Children and mothers never truly part, bound together by the beating of one another's heart." ~Charlotte Gray