I can remember, as early as four years old, sitting in between my mom’s legs on the living room floor while she plaited my hair adding barrettes, having conversations about how I came to be hers. “You’re my baby, but I didn’t have you,” she’d say. “D gave you to me. That’s why you’re so special.”
I’d simply reply, “Okay mom.” And special is how I always felt.
I never felt “adopted.”
I never felt an emptiness or the desire to search for answers like many adoptees experienced. It was never a secret. It couldn’t be, because my birth mom was always around.
I was born the fourth of seven children. My birth mom, D, and my mom are first cousins, raised like sisters. From what I know, D was a partier (that’s who I get my dancing skills from). She was slim-thick, beautiful and chocolate, and a sweetheart. But at the time, she was more attracted to going out than being at home.
D would often leave me in the care of my grandfather, who was blind in one eye with glaucoma. My mom checked in on him often and helped him care for me while she was there. From the moment she saw me, she says it was love at first sight.
My grandfather did his best to care for me, insisting D would return, but time passed and after a conversation with my aunt (D’s sister), my mom suggested she take me off of his hands for a few days. He obliged and on July 4, 1991, at five months old, I left my grandfather’s house with a onesieon my back, on the hip of my mom, and was hers from that day forward.
My dad, who was my mom’s boyfriend of six years at the time, accepted and loved me immediately. They broke up when I was around 8 months old. But, he had me every weekend and they coparented. My childhood was glorious. My dad spoiled me, literally. I had all the material things one could imagine: diamonds, custom trench coats, a princess themed room at both houses, toys galore.
More importantly, I had an abundance of love.
They both took me to school every morning, together after a hearty breakfast at a local diner. We took photos together, celebrated holidays as a family – the whole nine. It was like they never broke up.
As the story goes, D called one day before I turned two and told my mom that she was on her way to get me, permanently, but my mom refused. After that, my mom officially filed paperwork to legally adopt me. My dad brought receipts to court to show that they were caring for me. The judge signed off. But, the angel that my mom is, never blocked D from having contact. She gave her open access to me. As a I grew older, I’d ask why. “I love her because without her, I wouldn’t have you. One day, you’ll understand.”
As time passed, D picked me up from school often and I was able to spend time with my siblings. I even stayed with her at times. Things were fine. It wasn’t until around middle school that I started to feel resentful. I began to notice that when D picked me up from school, she’d tell the other parents that she was my mom. That irked me. I didn’t know how to verbalize how I felt when I was younger, but now, I can say that I don’t feel she had the right to claim that title.
She gave birth to me, but she wasn’t my mom.
I’ve always been the “let go and let God” type, even as a child, so that’s what I did. After one of many breakdowns, my mom finally left it up to me to determine whether or not I communicated with my birth mother and her family. I decided to step aside and if any relationships would form, it would have to be on my terms.
I stayed in my own world for a long time. That changed my junior year of college when my mom called to tell me that D was having a serious and potentially fatal surgery. My mom insisted I call, always reminding me, “I wouldn’t have you if it weren’t for her.” I then called her to tell her that I loved her and prayed her surgery went well. Thankfully, it did.
After that, I tried to establish some form of a relationship, without everyone else’s interference or input. Something about that phone call created a form of an epiphany for me. After all, she did give birth to me.
So in 2017, we started talking a lot more often.
In August of that year, my mom and I went to a birthday celebration at my aunt’s house. Just as we pulled up, D was leaving. I asked her to stay for a bit and we ended up spending a few hours together, drinking, talking, and taking pictures. There was a feeling of nostalgia – of peace – I thought to myself, This is how it should be. Little did I know, that would be the last time I’d have that opportunity.
The next month, I got a call from my aunt one Saturday evening. D had a stroke and she told me that it wasn’t looking good. I went to the hospital and we were told she wouldn’t make it through the night. She did.
The next three weeks were filled with hospital visits and meetings between my siblings and I with various doctors. I wasn’t expecting that my siblings would involve me in decision-making regarding her health since we weren’t raised together, but D always told us, “You’re brothers and sisters.” It must have stuck with us, because for the first time, I felt included.
I took on a role of silent support. I only gave my opinion in terms of what should be done medically when asked by my siblings or when I felt a certain treatment would not work. Otherwise, I tried to tend to my younger siblings, as they were the ones she raised and needed the most support.
She passed away on October 25, 2017.
Once things were all said and done, I had time to process things. It was the most confusing time I’ve ever experienced. On one hand, I was regretful and felt guilty about all of the years I closed D out. On the other hand, I was grateful for the last time we spent together and how my siblings rallied around me in a time where I expected the complete opposite.
It was hard to openly vent to people about how I truly felt about her passing. I had my parents of course, and my boyfriend and my sister were amazing. But at night with my own thoughts, I felt alone. I realized that in this instance, I’d have to do some deep soul searching, rely heavily on God, and truly heal myself.
I spent a lot of time thinking about D not as my birth mother, but as a woman.
How hard it must have been for her to pass me along to another caretaker and watch me flourish while trying to figure out where or if she belonged in my life. How perplexing it must have been at times for her to try and enforce relationships between her children when she didn’t necessarily have that authority to do so, but knew that it needed to be done. She, like me, was just as confused trying to navigate this modern family that was created.
It was agonizing some nights. But I eventually found peace knowing that her love for me was magnified by 1,000 by her choice to give me not one, but two chances at life when she gave me to my amazing mom.
My mom used to always tell me, “One day you’ll love her as much as I do because she loved you enough to give me you.”
That day came.