Last week Bry, Lolo, Nate, and I traveled to the unknown world of Cleveland, Ohio, to meet Nate’s biological mother and sister.
We had met the pair before, nineteen years ago in a recovery room at the American Fork Hospital.
She was a young mother of a ten-month-old girl who was already walking and talking. Someone had bought them a package of Double-Stuffed Oreos that the toddler refused to share with my four-year-old, Lolo.
The meeting is a blur, despite the many times I’ve thought of it over the years, even though I described the day in a letter I wrote days later.
The adoption was a closed one, and the young mother and toddler flew back to their life in Ohio, and we began ours as a newly made family of four.
My family was complete. I had a daughter, and I had a son. Every once in a while, I would have to clarify my children with words like biological and adopted, which I would say, “I have a biological daughter and a cardiological son,” but that was only every once in a while. We were a happy family.
I never saw my son as anything but that—my son, my child. He was just like my daughter was, my own. They were, and are, my kids. However, as the years wore on, I noticed an emptiness developing within Nate. Something was missing. I suspected he had a hole in his soul shaped like his birth mom. So, I started searching for her. A month before Nate’s eighteenth birthday, I found her.
Phone calls, text messages, and photos between me and his bio-mom and between her and Nate and Nate and his bio-sister were exchanged.
I never felt threatened, never felt insecure about my position as his mother. After all, my son and I had spent nineteen years developing a relationship. What did I have to fear? Still, I worried.
What was the expectation his bio-mom might have for Nate in terms of a relationship? How much would she want from him? What if it was too much? What if it wasn’t enough?
I wanted to develop a friendship with Nate’s bio-mom, an added layer to help cushion, help strengthen, help protect him from any type of burden. It was an easy development, one his bio-mom seemed more than happy to be a part of.
Nate and I planned to fly to Ohio over Spring Break 2020. Then Covid hit, and we were grounded.
More phone calls and a thumb drive of every picture ever taken of Nate were exchanged. The relationship between her and me grew stronger. As did the one brewing between Nate and her and his bio-sister.
Finally, after another year and a few months and Covid inoculations, Bry, Lolo, Nate, and I decided to fly to Ohio for our family vacation.
Bry and Lo were scared, sure that their familiar station would be superseded by blood and their son and brother would vanish. I thought they were silly. Overreacting.
“What’s wrong with letting more people love Nate?” I wondered. I couldn’t wrap my head around their fear until the moment we drove our rental car into her driveway.
She must have been waiting for us, biding her time, watching out the window for the instant an unknown vehicle pulled up.
She burst out of the front door, with her daughter and husband at her heels, and ran down the front steps, arms held out.
Nate was already bounding out of the car before it was put into park. I was barely able to reach for my phone and snap pictures of the reunion. That’s when I saw it.
Her beautiful face, shining with pure love as Nate’s grinning face was pressed firmly between her two hands. And they were staring into each other, melting into each other, fitting together like two missing pieces of a picture.
Just like that, I felt it—the hollowness inside my son was beginning to fill, just as a chamber of my heart seemed to wither away. I couldn’t swallow. The way they came together took my breath away, took my self-assurance away, took away my sunlight, and forced me into a shadow I didn’t expect.
It wasn’t malice. It wasn’t mean. It was the purity of the situation, the permanence of it all.
We spent the next several nights visiting with Nate’s bio-family, meeting aunts, grandparents, cousins, a great-grandma, and uncles. I sat back and watched, numb.
I saw the way each person talked to Nate and how he responded. I saw his mannerisms coming out in these strangers. The way he spoke, his voice quality, how he tilted his head, the slow spread of his smile across his face at the realization of a joke coming. The curious way he always walked, one foot directly in front of the other, as if he learned walking via a tight rope. I had assumed his gait came from playing soccer, kicking a ball in a line as soon as he could walk. I guess not.
I saw Nate everywhere, in his bio-mom, his bio-sister, the uncles, the cousins, his bio-grandma and grandpa, and even his bio-great-grandma. There he was in every corner of the house, dozens of Nate replicas.
I had naively believed that nurture had equal billing to nature until that moment, or rather, the thousands of interpersonal interactions happening simultaneously. At that, I realized, I knew nothing, nothing at all. And my assumption that I was his Mom-mom, the one and only, began to crumble.
I don’t think his bio-family has any intention of taking Nate away from me, from us. But knowing that it is no longer just the four of us that make up his family now is terrifying.
What if my son, this man I’ve raised, who I love as my own, blends more easily, feels more freely like himself among people who share his DNA?
What if hugging (what his bio-family easily and readily does, constantly, to everybody) doesn’t come naturally to me? What if hugging, what I do awkwardly for compliance, not to connect, is the deal-breaker? What if it is something else?
Maybe I should have served more rice in Nate’s lifetime over my preferred potatoes? Would that have bonded us more closely, tightened us together more perfectly? Maybe. Maybe not.
After thinking everything over, I am glad to have had this experience which has brought as much peace to Nate as it has brought insecurity to me.
It’s essential to say that I do not regret Nate meeting them. I am dedicated to developing a more substantial relationship with them. The problem is, what does that mean? I feel so selfish in worrying how his relationship with them will affect his relationship with me from this moment onward. Where will I fit?
I also wonder will the bond we built together among the four of us be strong enough to stretch and encompass all the other people we will now share him with?
I hope so!