Friday, January 24, 2014
The Mother Who Knows
Well, there are a lot of things I don't know as a mother. But I have been thinking lately that there are a lot of things I do know. I know my daughter is healthy, and happy, and safe. I know she has a roof over her head, enough food to nourish her, and access to all of the education and activities she wants. And to know that is no small thing.
I saw the movie "Philomena" last week. Have you seen it? It's based on the true story of a woman who, on the 50th anniversary of her son's birth, decides to look for him. She'd become pregnant as a young girl in the 1950's, and was sent off to a convent in Ireland where she was forced to sign away the rights to her child and required to work at the convent for years to pay off the cost of their keeping her there. It's a very poignant story, with humor and charm, and lovely acting (as always) by Judi Dench.
But I found that I had tears rolling down my face through most of the movie, watching the story of how quietly tormented Philomena was by not knowing what had happened to her son. Was he homeless? A drug addict? In prison? Was he even alive? Had he had a good childhood? And the question that plagued her: Did he ever think of her, and of his homeland?
As the adopted mother of a child from China, I am always aware that the luck and delight I feel at being able to parent my daughter comes at the expense of a woman I'll never know. She is far away on the other side of the world, and I have little idea of what her life was like when she gave birth to my daughter, or what it is now. But I do know that because of China's one-child policy as it was in the early 90's when my daughter was born, so many women had no choice but to give up their babies. Maybe my daughter wasn't ripped out of her arms, but chances are pretty high that she felt utterly hopeless and without any other option when she placed my baby girl in a well-traveled spot on that bridge in Chongqing where someone would find her and take her to an orphanage. I don't know what her circumstances were, or how long she was able to keep the baby with her after she was born, or whether she had her at home or was able to go to a hospital. I don't even know whether the day we celebrate as my daughter's birthday really is her birthday. The orphanages tended to guestimate, and while our daughter's age and development seems pretty on-target, I know others whose daughter's assigned ages were definitely off by a year or more.
But what this movie has made me remember is that the stuff I don't know is nothing compared to what my daughter's birth mother doesn't know. I think about her every single day, I really do. I wish I could let her know that her daughter is healthy and happy and safe, and how well loved, and cherished she is. I wish I could thank her for the tremendous gift she's given me, and how my whole life has changed in ways I never could have imagined because of her. I'd tell her, too, how I'm aware that some of my daughter's traits -- her creativity, her curiosity, her quick wit, her stubbornness -- tell me something about what her birth parents might be like. I'd tell her that my daughter and I talk about her, and that I remind my daughter that she probably knows a fair amount about her birth mother just from looking at herself in the mirror.
I like to think that she can, somehow, feel the cosmic thoughts I send her way. But I guess I'll never know.