Nevertheless, I am proud to post the video and essay that I read for Listen To Your Mother Spokane 2011. It was heartfelt - I left it all on the stage. The things I wrote about are not easy to hear, or to say, but they are my truth, so here you go (and be sure to check out the Listen To Your Mother You Tube Channel where you can see all the readers from all over the country - pretty damn cool) (and THANK you a million times to Ann for her fantabulous idea and execution and to SDC for being the idea woman, the mover and shaker, the one who suggests we go sky diving in the first place.)
Video below, essay below that:
It is the moment every adoptive parent dreams about – meeting your child for the first time. Jeremy and I flew to Ethiopia, took some kind of crazy stimulant to stave off the jet lag and here we were, at the orphanage. Where days ago there had been continents, oceans, courts and embassies between us and our daughter now there were only two doors and a hall.
We held hands and walked in.
When I first saw Zeni I cried. Not because I was overcome by love for her but because all of a sudden it was real. This baby, who we didn’t know, was ours. I cried because I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want another child. I didn’t want the responsibility. I didn’t know her – I didn’t love her.
I thought she was cute and small and felt sadness for her situation but if, at the moment when they handed her to me I had been given a chance to turn back and go home without her, I would have taken it and run for the airport.
We came home and fell into the routine of having two kids. Every once in awhile Jeremy and I look at each other:
“Do you love her?”
We ask and, while I want to reassure him (and myself), no matter what I say out loud the answer in my heart is always “not yet”, and then “please don’t let that turn in to not ever”.
Zeni has been home for 3 months and I prefer to be in the company of other people. It’s easy to pretend to care for her. I smile and coo and hold her and everyone assumes things are fine. No one knows the truth – that when we are alone I don’t want to play with her, or get to know her, or spend time bonding. When we are alone I want to meet her basic needs and then I want her to go away. She is 8 months old.
It feels horrible – like these feelings will never change and I will be pretending to care for her and go through the motions for the rest of our lives while I secretly prefer our first born. I am angry at myself, angry at Zeni, desperately sad for my family and most of all I feel so deeply ashamed that I am unable to bring myself to love this helpless baby who is dependent on me for her every need, who I worked so hard to bring home, and who didn’t ask to become a part of our family.
I feel like Zeni’s caretaker, not her mom. If I was caring for a friend’s child I would make sure they were bathed, fed, warm, snuggled. I do all these things for Zeni. I have great affection for her. I enjoy her. I feel protective of her. I feel like I know her fairly well. But I do not have that same deep, gut wrenching, would step in front of a speeding train to save you, love that I have for my son.
We are getting to know each other. I am learning that when she has her arms out at her sides and they are shaking up and down that she is scared or over stimulated and needs to be picked up. That she likes to sooth herself by sucking on her left index finger. That she loves attention from strangers, as long as she is in my arms. That she is as stubborn as I am. Each time I correctly identify what she needs and am able to provide it I feel closer to her. Each time I find myself irrationally angry with her because it is the middle of the night and she will not go back to sleep, I feel further away.
It is agonizing. The guilt it constant.
Zeni is one and I can see the light (the love?) at the end of the tunnel.
It started as she began sleeping better and, as I became less exhausted, I forced myself to play with her. Patty Cake, Piggy Toes, songs and tickling – things I did with Hayden without thinking twice about it. Zeni loves it. She looks at me and grins and drools. The love I feel from her has begun to soften me – as her attachment to me has grown, so has mine to her. She has started raising her arms for me to pick her up. I have started reading to her at night. I find myself giggling when she does. I tell her stories; about her birth mom, about me, about Ethiopia and how we will one day go back all together.
Yesterday, when we were at the pool, she got scared and hugged me tight around the neck. She has never done that before.
Things are getting better. I know there will be struggles ahead as clearly as I know that the way my family has begun to again feel complete, safe and easy was not a forgone conclusion but a combination of luck, personality, timing and grace. Jeremy asked me last night – “Do you love her?” And I answered, without guilt or hesitation or second-guesses, “Yes.”