How many children do you have?
Not a trick question, right? But it is a tricky one for me.
Publicly the answer has been an easy “three” for twenty-nine years since I bore Jacob, my third following Zach and Colleen back in 1987.
But behind closed doors, when asked, I would falter. The gynecologist would look at my chart and say: “How many pregnancies? Number of successful deliveries?”
Do I lie and say “three”? Does it really matter for my medical history?
Or do I tell the truth and say “four”. Then hold my breath and hope I won’t have to explain why I gave the first one away.
Every doctor’s appointment was a little flashback to my 17th year. The year the rabbit died. The year of seasick mornings and solitary trips to the Medicaid clinic. The year of the swelling belly and iron capsules to choke a horse. Remembering being ostracized by my family and terrified by the little life inside me.
Sitting on the examining table in a hospital gown, I would recall the mysterious being who kicked and elbowed and crammed their little self into every little square inch of me.
And every year, September 28th, on her birthday, I would think of her and wonder where she was. I would beam powerful positive thoughts in her direction — to her unknown location. And I would permit myself a melancholy moment or two, stuff it down, and then move on.
Stretched, so stretched beyond my teenage capacity.
She gave me my very first stretch marks. A badge of honor.
So serendipitous that we reunited on this Celtic feast. As an adoptee, in a sealed adoption, Rebecca’s “non-identifying information” identified her biological maternal family as Jewish.
Uh, no. Def got that wrong.
DNA and Ancestry.com identified a healthy dose of green blood. Irish. Definitely Irish.
Somehow deep down in her bones, Rebecca intuited this all along. All three of her children: Bella, Jude, and Meir are all steeped in Irish step dancing.
On my visit in March, I tagged along to their class at a dance studio in a nearby town. Kids of all ages in comfortable clothes and special shoes shuffled and kicked to Celtic tunes.
Parents, meanwhile, and by “parents”, I mean mostly moms crowded into the windowed little waiting room. Kindly one mom gave up her seat so that I could sit up front and see.
As other moms came and went, Rebecca introduced my unfamiliar face. Some already knew our story and some did not. Those who knew smiled and nodded. One very sweet mom even made us a celebratory strawberry tart.
But for those not in the know, Rebecca would quickly try to catch them up, starting with,
“This is my mother.”
Startled by her words, instinctively I looked over my shoulder and thought:
“Where, where is your mother? OMG, she means me!”
A singular mom sitting by the door had a quizzical look on her face — which compelled me to explain myself. I spew forth my teenage tale, circa 1972.
I didn’t need to do that. Or did I?
And I wonder about all of the moms in the room and what their stories might be. I wonder about the maternal ghosts and mothers in abstentia – who haunt this waiting room. Rebecca’s mother. My mother. Adoptive mothers. Birth mothers. Grandmothers. Stepmothers – both evil and good.
I wonder about all of the overlay and layers of expectations that our culture slathers onto maternity.
From our very first December conversation, I wanted to be especially respectful of Rebecca’s mom — the one who parented her so wonderfully. And I wanted – and still want – to be especially careful not to offend her in any way.
Rebecca, 44 years old, reminded me that she is a fully functional grownup. Ha! And that it is hers alone to manage these relationships separately. I need be responsible only for my own.
And Rebecca has taught me that it is okay to say that I am her mother. That is biologically and verifably true. “Biomom” is what she most appropriately calls me.
Six months have now passed since Christmas. Rebecca and I talk, text, and email with some frequency. We have a loving relationship, a rippling relationship that now ripples throughout my family: with her siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins, and even cousins many times removed.
I now include Rebecca on all family emails, both the good news and the bad news. And when I send an email to “my kids”, I simply sign it “mom”. It was just too wonky and weird to qualify it as bio/mom or biomom/mom/Joani. And it seemed really silly to leave it blank. Its just an email for heavens’ sake, right?
It really is more though, isn’t it? Yes, I think it is.
And so back to the question:
How many children do you have?
No longer a tricky question, I answer “four”.
One in VT. One in NYC. One in D.C. One in NC.
All rocking adults.
And I am happy to answer any questions, if you would like to know more.