We are no strangers to big questions around here, but lately they have been coming more and more from Remy. For a while they were anatomically-based: the benefits of having a doctor daddy and, more specifically, a doctor daddy who leaves his graphic medical journals strewn about our dining room table. More recently the questions have been of a different kind of personal nature. She wants to know more about her birth parents and her very early life in Ethiopia.
For the sake of Remy’s privacy, I will say this: there is a lot that we don’t know in her past. I had the privilege of meeting Remy’s birth mother briefly. Communication required two interpreters, and our interaction was brief, although reassuring, humbling, and warm. At the time, Remy was thisclose to coming home. We had one small hurdle to get through, which I now believe was more of a formality from the Embassy, but all I could think about was picking Remy up from her transition home and never letting her go.
When I spoke with Remy’s birth mother, I tried to be polite, respectful, I tried to show this woman, who had Remy’s best intentions at heart, how much we loved Remy already and how we would care for her and continue loving her forever. I think I succeeded at these things, but I failed at another: I didn’t think about what Remy would want to know. I didn’t ask some of the big questions that still remain, I didn’t consider how much and how early she would begin wondering, and that is a huge regret.
We took a few pictures of the two of us, and Remy has always had one on her dresser. Lately she has been bringing it closer, first to the radiator, then next to her bed. I made her a “my journey” baby book several years ago, and she loves reading it, hearing how we prepared for her arrival, seeing the photos of Joe and I holding her at the transition home, repeating the stories we have told her about our first visits with her.
There are constant, little reminders of the differences between her start in life and Elijah’s. Elijah was our first, so we have a million newborn pictures and dozens of videos from his first year of life. Some of this was simply due to the novelty of having a digital camera and a video recorder for the first time; some of it was due to experiencing the trippy and fantastical experience of watching a human being’s first year of life.
When we were looking at some of these home videos (in chronological order) around Elijah’s most recent birthday, Remy wondered where she was. We explained that she hadn’t been born yet and that she would appear in due time, but she quickly clarified: “Where are my videos when I was a baby?” We still have several videos from the transition home and from Ethiopia and from Remy’s first few months at home, but her newborn year is missing. We all feel that loss, we all wish we could have seen her as a small, baby Remy.
These questions have become earlier than I expected, I have to admit. I thought we maybe had a few more years. The questions about why our skin colors are different have already arrived, but those have a more scientific answer; my answers don’t rely on the intricate fragilities of her heart and trying to wade through what is age-appropriate and what is the “best” way to explain a complicated situation and complicated choices.
There is always grief in adoption; there is always loss. It is the nature of adoption. I know this, I knew this when we started the process. It is part and parcel of parenting a child who was adopted. I am prepared to help her grieve, I am looking forward to returning to Ethiopia with her to learn more about whatever is she wants to explore, I know there may be days or months or (gulp) years when she is frustrated and angry and sad and confused about adoption and our family. But I always hoped the grief in her life would be short, because I am her mom, and no mom wants her child to suffer. Remy is sunshine and love and (if I am going to be honest) a total badass who has always known exactly what she likes and who she is.
I am just beginning to truly understand that the grief will always be part of her as she grows, that it will disappear and resurface at times. It is an unsettling emotion as a parent, knowing that this journey and its obstacles lay ahead of your child, along with so many other unforeseen ones. The balm is in knowing that we’re right beside her, that she’ll travel it holding the hands of those who love her beyond measure.