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Forgive, But Never Forget: Reflections On My Daughter’s Birthmother

By Aileen Donato
Published in Resolve for the journey and beyond, Winter 2009

Our daughter, Gina, just entered kindergarten this past September, another milestone that prompted me to reflect on our amazing journey to her.

Like so many adoptive parents, my husband and I spent several years in the clutches of infertility, until we finally reached the point where we realized that we wanted to be parents more than we wanted to be pregnant. The past five years have been a complete validation of that realization: I may have missed out on the pregnancy-and-childbirth experience, but I can’t imagine it being any better than the experience of being Gina’s mom has been.

It was six years ago that we got The Call and were matched with her birthmother, a pregnant woman in her thirties, already raising several older children on a limited income. That was Christmas Eve, 2004 (what a gift!), and Gina was born three weeks later on January 13, 2004, in Southern California. We picked her up on the 15th, and ten days later we brought her home and started our life as a new family.

Our little girl has truly completed us. (We’ve thought about adopting again, but the more time that goes by, the more complete we already feel as a family of three.) I won’t say that I can’t remember a time when she wasn’t here, because I do; I think the pain of infertility is like the pain of childbirth in one respect–it’s pain you don’t easily forget. But like childbirth, it’s pain that in the end is worthwhile because it brings us a child we can’t imagine not having.

Part of me wants to remember the pain I felt before Gina arrived, because I think it can give us some common ground with my daughter in the years to come. One day, she and I will talk about her adoption, and perhaps we will bond over our respective losses. I wanted and waited for so long to be pregnant. I wanted the morning sickness, the cravings, the kicks, all of it. Andy and I happily speculated about whether our child would look like him or me, and we dreamed about the day we’d rush to the delivery room to find out. We finally had to let those dreams die and grieve those losses.

Gina, on the other hand, will grow up and realize that her first mother—the one who carried her for nine months and to whom I will be eternally grateful—could not bring her home with her; and she will grieve that and the fact that she may never see what she or any of her biological relatives look like. I understand the need she may have to grieve those losses. I will help her do that if she needs it and I’ll help her search for her birth family if she wants to do that.

I’ve learned that the lifelong adoption journey requires faith and trust. Faith that we will end up with the child meant for us (I’ve seen far too many eerily perfect matches for me not to believe this) and trust that the love we give our child and the love we receive in return will satisfy his or her need for familial love. A search for birth relatives, I can only hope, will simply be a search undertaken out of curiosity, a curiosity I can certainly understand.

The grief and confusion Gina might feel over being “abandoned” by the woman who carried and gave birth to her is certainly more complicated. I hope and pray that she will express those feelings to me, and I hope to help her process them. And I can only hope that she comes to feel what I do for her birthmom: an overwhelming sense of gratitude and forgiveness.

What do we need to forgive her for? For her absence. For the fact that she did not want to meet us or have contact with us at the time of the adoption. For the fact that five years worth of pictures and updates are still sitting at our agency. You might think that’s a relief to us. But instead of comforting me, it makes me sad. Yes, we can explain to our daughter why we think she was placed for adoption. We can tell her that her birthmom was in no position, financially or emotionally, to raise her. We can tell her that she did what she thought was best at the time. And hopefully, Gina will be comforted by our words. But we know that what would mean the most to her would be hearing those words from the woman who handed her over to us. But that woman, for her own reasons, feels like she can’t tell her story.

And I need to forgive her for that. I choose to instead focus on the gratitude I feel toward her for proceeding with a pregnancy she could have easily terminated, and for watching over our precious daughter for those first nine months. My gratitude has quite naturally grown into forgiveness for what appears to be a distinterest in our daughter, and I can only hope that Gina will eventually grant that same forgiveness.

I so often hear adoptive parents say that they come to love their children so much that they forget that they are adopted. I myself can’t say that. Because I think about that fact every day. At least once a day, I think about the woman who brought my daughter into the world. I have grown to love our daughter more than life itself, and I will be eternally grateful for the gift that this faceless woman has given to my husband and me and to our respective families.

I pray that we, or at least our daughter, will make some kind of contact with her some day so we can all thank her. But in the meantime, I pray that she is comforted by the fact that Gina is in a home where she is surrounded by a love that knows neither biology nor boundaries.

Aileen Donato has been a member of RESOLVE since 2002. She and her husband and daughter live in Lynbrook, New York.