This is a completely non-political post. The other day Bambina and I were in the car talking about the day her new baby cousin was born. She first asked "what does 'being born' mean?" I answered that it was the day the baby comes out of the mother's tummy and enters the world; that it's your birthday. Then. "Will Baby Cousin stay with Aunt and Uncle forever?"
Oh God, here it comes. "Yes, my love, he will. When a baby is born, some different things might happen. Most times, the baby stays with the birthmother and father forever. Other times the baby goes to live in an orphanage or foster home. Other times, the baby is adopted by a family who becomes the baby's forever mommy and daddy, forever."
"Why?" Okay, how to make this make sense for a 4 year-old? "Well, sometimes when a baby is born the mother and father might not be able to take care of the baby for lots of grown-up reasons that have nothing to do with the baby herself. And so, in China for instance, the mother will put the baby in a very busy place to be found right away, and that is how a person in China would make sure that her baby is adopted and loved and taken care of by a forever family." Oh god, I'm sucking at this!
And then it happened. The question I've been dreading, preparing for, anticipating since 2005:
"Mama, why did my Chinese mother not stay with me forever? Did she want to stay with me forever?"
That sound you heard was my heart breaking inside me, looking at her sweet little face asking such a huge, adult question.
We've talked before about the rules in China about one child, and just in general about how having a baby in your tummy doesn't mean always that the mommy is able to be a forever mommy. But I still tried to come at it like we were starting from zero. In effect, I went into prepared speech mode (don't lie, don't appear taken aback by the question, keep it age-appropriate) and did okay, I think, but damn if I didn't cry my eyes out later that night:
"Well, Sweet Girl, I don't know. But I bet she did wish she could stay with you forever. I bet she and your Chinese father thought and thought about what to do, and I bet it was super hard for them to say goodbye to you. In China, the only way for babies to be adopted is for the parents to put them in a busy, busy place to be found, and that is what your Chinese mother did for you. You were found right away, and that is how Mama and Dada ended up getting the call from China saying that we could be your forever Mama and Dada."
I was expecting a follow-up question, but not this one: "Where did she put me?" I answered her, and she seemed okay with it. As I frantically searched my mind for other prepared speeches, her next question turned the tide: "Can you turn the music back on please?"
With that, my daughter told me she'd learned enough for one 4 year-old day, once again demonstrating that she's the one guiding ME through all of this. I know that we will converse about this again in different ways as she grows, but I find myself working it into conversations more and more now as I see her mental gears turning, figuring out that her story is a little different than her friends' stories, and trying to make sense as a child of what is a very adult situation.
In any case, whether you are an adoptive family or not (maybe especially if you are not), you can help Bambina and other kids who were adopted by talking to your kids about adoption as simply another way families happen. Feel free to NOT put words like "abandoned" and "gave up" into your child's adoption lexicon, opting for terms like "placed for adoption" or "made a plan" to have the baby adopted instead. Because seeing my sweet Bambina's face asking if her Chinese mother wanted to stay with her forever--and imagining what any mother would feel as she said goodbye to her brand new infant daughter--I simply do not believe that "abandonment" played any role in it. My daughter was placed where she would be found quickly. It's that simple, and I suppose, it's precisely that complicated.