I sat beneath an apple tree in bloom the last time I nursed my firstborn daughter. Sunlight streamed through petals and tears streamed down my face. In May, in Wisconsin, the world is in bloom. Spring comes with a particular force and sweetness after the long harsh winter. That year I feared the shift in seasons, watching the snow melt away and knowing that the beginning of spring meant the end of my pregnancy and the arrival of the parents who would adopt my baby.
I wanted to stay pregnant for as long as I could, holding tight to the intense intimacy and ability to care completely for my child within. I sang lullabies, read aloud and cried. I prayed. I played music. I spoke to the child within constantly, telling her how much I loved her and the reasons I had decided that adoption was the best, albeit hardest, decision. I asked her to forgive me. My due date meant the end of my pregnancy and felt like the end of the world.
On my due date, I was weeding peas on the hillside of my parent’s ridgetop farm when I went into labor. I gave birth to a baby girl that night. She was perfect, of course, in the way all beloved children are. I was raw, stunned, and in awe.
The adoptive parents flew across the country to meet their new daughter. We, the birth parents, had one week to meet her and to say goodbye. I stared hard into my child’s eyes as I nursed her, pondering the mystery between us.
The adoptive couple, who were and are extraordinary people, gave me space and brought me roses. They walked hand in hand with my youngest siblings across the farm fields, broke bread with us, gave my parents a tree to plant. We didn’t know what open adoption meant, exactly, but we knew that we were doing something new, planting the seeds for a new and different relationship. Our lives were growing intertwined, tentative and soft like the tendrils of pea vines.
A week passed and the court date arrived. We stood up, birth mother and birth father with baby between us, and spoke the words that renounced all claim upon our child, removed forever our legal role as parents in her life. We fought hard to speak clearly, to keep tears at bay. We wanted so badly to retain our dignity. We left the courthouse and drove to the concrete block office where we would give our daughter to her legal parents.
Outside the office was an apple tree, where I sat in sunlight on the deep green grass, with apple blossoms cascading as I nursed one more time.
Then we went underground, to a basement office which was dull and stuffy and so prosaic a place to do something as vast as handing your child to another couple. There are pictures of that moment. They are hopeful and strong, joyful and united. We are broken. We all clearly, fiercely, love that child.
We climbed those stairs back into the light without a baby, bereft. We walked away somehow, and kept climbing. We found the highest hill we could. Somehow it was still spring. The world was still beautiful, still in bloom. It seemed impossible. We looked out over the town and the world, feeling a vast emptiness. The enormity of our grief was beyond believing and yet, we shared a strong conviction that we had done the right thing. We had passed the test. We simply could not offer our child the life we wanted, so badly, for her to have- and those hopeful, faithful, and incredibly generous people holding our daughter at that moment? They could. They did.
The first year after the adoption was a blur of grief and darkness. Light returned slowly to my life. At first it was like the visible beams of light you see streaming down from dark clouds, sun piercing through shadow. My daughter was a constant presence in my mind and in my life. There were pictures, letters, and eventually visits. I saw their home, their family growing, and the trees they tended in the desert. They returned to my parent’s farm, braving a blizzard to do so. We gathered with our whole extended family around the table. I watched my daughter- our daughter- singing in the choir of our country church, snow falling softly outside. The roots of the relationship we were building, the family we were created, continued to grow.
Time passed and light poured in. I fell in love with tall and handsome man with an extraordinary soul. We met in the beginning of May. Our romance quickly blossomed, and a year later we were wed in the country church on the ridge. As we emerged onto the stone steps outside the church a group of girls threw blossoms in the air. My daughter, attending the wedding with her family, was one of them.
I believe in grace. The story of my adoption is beautiful. It’s also a huge part of who I am, intertwined with my life and being. The presence of this part of my life has become much more natural over the years. My husband and I have three beautiful children. The couple who adopted my daughter have seven. They are a continual inspiration to me.
In an adoption, something is rent, and mended in a way beautiful beyond imagining- but oh, there are still moments where you feel the tearing. The thing about grief, though, is that you can’t outrun it, or hide from it. A wise woman once told me that sometimes, you just have to be sad.
Each May when the world is in bloom, the world celebrates Mother’s Day, and I celebrate the birth day of the daughter that I gave away. Each year, I struggle.
This year, I was sad. Then a gift arrived- a picture of a beautiful girl, with blossoms in her hair, dressed for the May crowning of Mary. She is graduating from eighth grade and full of grace, suddenly blossoming into a beautiful young woman.
The picture was a reminder that the story of my adoption is not about what was lost but what has been made whole, in a manner beautiful beyond my wildest dreams. It filled me with gratitude for the blessing and generosity of God who made the blossoms and the fruit trees, gnarled roots and spreading branches.