I went to a workshop a few years ago where we had one poster, six markers and five minutes to tell our life story. I drew a book, which looked more like a butterfly, and told the story of my life in one-sentence chapters. A book worked as a metaphor for the assignment, but I think our lives are really more like libraries than books: books get added and checked out, characters change over the years, and we find ourselves revisiting favorites from time to time, always getting something new out of a re-read.
If my life is a library, I have a whole section for adoption. Every year for my adoption day, my parents gave me a book inscribed with a message of praise and gratitude that I came into their lives. The first book I remember is a pen-and-ink picture book of a monkey at a birthday party with a trombone. And there’s the one my father read aloud to us after dinner that had my name in the first sentence. The small book of poems about nature that made me start writing. A cookbook I’ve used so much that the pages stick together with floury glue. Novels, nonfiction; cardstock, coffee table; banal, beautiful. To date I have 37 books scattered between my home and my mother’s house, each a thank you note for the miracle of adoption in our family.
Another metaphoric shelf in my library houses the books I was reading when I was unexpectedly pregnant and looking for a family for my birthson. The week after I discovered I was pregnant, I bought What to Expect When You’re Expecting, the classic book for mothers-to-be. I no longer have the book—I gave it to a friend after a few years—but I can still see the picture of the pregnant woman on the front, reading and smiling in a nursery rocking chair. I was glad to have a book about pregnancy, but felt ostracized when I couldn’t find any books that dealt with the challenges of placing a baby for adoption. At least not books with positive messages. There was a definite empty space on my shelves for books that could have helped me weather the challenges and emotions of becoming a birthmother.
So what section of the library am I in now? I’m in the waiting room. My partner and I are waiting to adopt a baby of our own. Although it’s only been eight months, it feels like an eternity when you’re waiting for a baby. It could happen any minute. And it could happen five years from now. As we wait, the books are piling up. Our mahogany hope chest is full of baby books: two copies of Goodnight Moon, books about sea turtles to use in the bath, books about animals and trucks and children and nature and everything we want to teach our children. And books about adoption. Right now we are living in an age when people can talk about the adoption process without shame or stigma. There are books on how to talk to other people about your adoption journey, the specific challenges and joys transracial adoption brings, advice for staying in touch with your children’s birthmother, how to find adoption groups so your kids can have play dates with other adoptees, how to talk to your kids about other kinds of families.
The world has really opened up about adoption in the decades since my adoption and since my birthson’s adoption. I’m fortunate, and my children will be fortunate, to live in a time when adoption is simply one of the many ways of creating a family. In any library, you’ll find books about single parent families, grandparent families, gay families, foster families, stay-at-home parent families, divorced families, blended families… Each of us has an internal library, space for all of the stories of our lives, and more and more we can find ourselves represented on actual shelves.
I want to acknowledge everyone who has an adoption story — adoptees, birthparents, adoptive parents, family and friends. We know about joys and challenges and strength and grief and diversity and acceptance. Adoption is a library full of stories, and each story unfolds differently for each of us. May all of our adoption journeys be books that bring us peace in the present and leave a library of understanding for those who follow.