How Could She? An Adoptive Mom’s Question to Birth Mother

At turns, I am furious with her and stomp my hate around kitchen cabinets. How could she? How could she not care more about satisfying the cries of her babies than satisfying the next hit? How could she float in and out of reality for so long she didn’t notice they were gone or know, according to courts, she was no longer their mother?

I sit through the waves of another meltdown and curse a woman I’ve never met for the trauma that will now shadow my sons for the rest of their lives, because she could not be safety and softness. How could she?

I trace the shape of my sons’ eyes, entire worlds in tiny faces, and tumble into the galaxies of glistening black within. They are such beautiful eyes. Are they hers?

My husband dreamt of these eyes. Two sets of round orbs draped in curtains of lashes. After almost two years into foster placements but no adoptees, I cupped his dream next to my longing heart and stroked it as precious and hopeful as downy feathers on a baby canary. It was a promise we would adopt. Not just a promise, but details of who it would be.

Adoptamos dos hermanos Latinos. El sueño dijo que era la verdad.

I look at my two sons and give thanks for those eyes once only seen in my husband’s dream. They look at me expectantly and I wonder if she has given them her eyes and a chance to live. My anger melts and turns to compassion.

I wonder what horrors of poverty and domestic violence and temporal escapes through substances she has endured. I wonder if she herself was just a child trying to survive. I know no facts about her life so I give her a story. Maybe the story is fiction, but the themes of generational poverty and hardship are common enough. The point is to allow empathy into my frustration.

I see her at five in her first classroom hungrily eyeing lunchboxes the other children bring. I see her at twelve being told not to tell by the “uncle” who holds his gaze a little too long. I see her at seventeen on a swing set gripping a forty and an entire lifetime of confusing anger and abuse for love.

My brittle heart shatters and I think: How could she? How could she endure it all? How could she bear the knowledge she would always be their birth mom, but never be their mother?

It isn’t fair. Life wasn’t fair to her. Yet, it still isn’t fair to her babies I now call sons.

They should have had someone tuck their newborn heads into that just right pocket between chin and chest. They should have had someone sing softly while they nursed and cheer when they took their first step. They should have had someone giggle on the grass while teaching them to play.

They should have had a parent tell them “no” in kindness for their developmental benefit. They should have had a bath day and bedtime and structured safety.

They should have had a mother. Instead, they had a gap where they collected monsters in the dark.

How a heart can hold both tender empathy and ember of anger, I do not know. But that is the deep purple glow thrumming in mine. I am furious and I am tender. I am all nerves aflame toward birth mom.

I look again into the eyes of my sons, these answered prayers and answered promises.

One question loops repetitive: How could she?

2 thoughts on “How Could She? An Adoptive Mom’s Question to Birth Mother

  1. I’ve asked this question many times about my own mother who had a life long substance abuse problem.

    In the end, she couldn’t help it. An addiction is more powerful than love, loss, your own life, and in the end…the lives of your children.

    Your boys are lucky for you both. While they have heartache (insert a world of other challenges) now they have a strong chance at a wonderful life later.

    • What a vulnerable and beautiful comment, Elyse. Addiction is such a monster. I know there is no such thing as a mother not loving her child, even if addiction overtook everything else.


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