The Missing Key

Habi and I moments before giving birth to the twins after giving him a birth story book to honor our journey together as mother and son.

I was in a dead sleep when my phone flashed with a message:

My name is Andrea. I’m an adoptive parent to Ethiopian kids and I run an organization called Beteseb Felega – Ethiopian Adoption Connection. We are a nonprofit advocacy organization that helps adoptees gain access to family history and reconnect to their birth families. Our work began when over the course of many years we realized that Ethiopian families who placed their children for adoption were not receiving post-placement reports or status updates on their children. Families expressed a great deal of heartache, particularly because they had been promised updates. I’m writing on behalf of your child —–‘s Ethiopian mother —— and cousin ——-. They contacted us and would very much like to communicate with you and ———.

I was shaking. You see for some people this kind of message may have taken them off guard – shaken them even. But not me. I have been waiting for this. I had known it was coming. It’s not that there had been any actual facts to let on that this message was en route, or that this connection was even possible given the circumstances of his adoption, but rather something from inside of my heart, inside of my soul, had always known that like a lighthouse; she would be back to beckon him back home.

Because I was so very young when I adopted my son, I was without enough self-actualization or understanding of how adoption worked to know just how deep that trauma could cut or how complex adoption really is.

As shameful as it is for me to admit, it would not be until I birthed two babies; almost a decade after that adoption that I was able to truly personalize and internalize what it really meant that another woman, half a world away, carried my child inside of her body for the greater part of a year, that she birthed him in a field behind her mud hut, and that she breast fed him until he was almost two years old. I had always honored her and her decision to relinquish Habi as he was starving and she could not find a way to feed him. I have always believed that her circumstances were such that it was clearly the in “best” interest of her child to choose to relinquish him and give him a chance at survival, and an education, and a family that could provide opportunities she could not. I saw it as self-sacrificing, and the most incredibly loving choice, and so insanely brave, but I never really got it.

Even in writing these words…ugh…the tears in the recognition of just what that really means. The emotional gravity of what it means to feed your child from your breast; to hold his tiny little body against yours with his eyes locked into yours, his little chest rising and falling as he sleeps next to you – the intensity of that connection…the love…oye the love. It is truly unlike anything else in the entire universe. I play through the day she dropped him off at the adoption center over and over in my head. I have the video of the day they put his tiny little body with his distended belly onto the doctor’s table as he looked wide eyed at a room full of strangers the day his mother left him there. That wide toothy grin happily taking in his new world – the same way he smiled the entire plane ride to America…never letting onto any loss or any pain. You can see it in every photo of him taken since that day – the love, the light, the joy. He came to me that way….she made him that way….it is her inside of him…and I am just the lucky woman who got to call him mine.

And I have spent the better part of the decade since his adoption making sure that he always knew that he was mine, and I was his, and that biology had nothing to do with the love and the connection we had with another. And because I was always so focused on the ways we belonged to one another, I often minimized the ways he was hers; from her, and of her, and the ways she always remained in him. I honored her, and I loved her, but I never really understood what she gave up.

The moment they placed my twin baby girls into my arms after birthing them was truly one the greatest of highs life has to offer. I remember looking down at their crinkly faces as they started to latch onto me and something inside of me aching….in that moment it was her face that flashed inside of my mind   – Habi’s birth mother – and I saw the two of them together just like this…. and in that moment I felt such sadness for what was lost for him. I got it in a way I could never have before. I could truly understand for the very first time, and it is heartbreaking let me tell you. Oh the loss…oh the loss.

Possession is a strange thing. I can see it in my babies now with their toys. The way things are “mine,” and just how complicated belonging really is and how innate it is for us all to search for it. We all just want to know where we belong. And I have wanted so desperately for my adopted children to always know and feel that they belong to me and with me….but that is really just scraping the surface of what it all means.

If you have read my blog, then you know I have my own maternal losses, my own aching for the protection of unconditional love and compassion that only a mother can provide…but in that moment I recognized the differentiating factor between my sons loss and mine, I acknowledged that he could never really belong to me, as he would forever belong to US – two women- half a world away – one black and one white – one American, one Ethiopian – connected forever by the love we shared for this beautiful baby boy. Our souls share a space and a connection that is so powerful and profound that words could never do it justice.

But this week, as the photo of her dressed up in a blue dress and white shawl, gripping the photo of baby Habi and a map of where we live hit my inbox; looking at her reaching out into the universe to tell her son how much she loves him and wanting so desperately to know that he is happy and that he has the kind life she sacrificed so much to give him…. well that my friends is God. That is what life is really all about.

The political discourse in this country is so complicated and there is so much being said about protecting what is ours, and so many things dividing us – how we are different; our skin colors, our socioeconomic influences – the lands and divides and worlds that separate us and make us not belong to each other – but let me tell you something, love is love – and we all want the same things – we all simply want a place we can belong and the best for our children. We all just want to protect those we care about; we all just want a place we can call home.

And me and this woman, well, we are soul mates. Our souls were brought together on some crazy spiritual playing field that I can only credit to destiny and to God and to divinity. The experience is what has given me faith and belief in something so much bigger than myself.

And when it comes to my beautiful boy – and what he felt when he saw her photo and heard she was looking for him? My beautiful boy with his big wide toothed grin that smiled that day at the orphanage and the entire way to the United States…that boy who never lets onto the pain so matter how many time I have dug, and how many times we talked about it all?

I have never in my life experienced such primitive howling and crying from another human. I have never heard someone release such deep emotion of joy and relief and overwhelming gratitude for something in my entire life. I have never been so humbled to my knees in emotion. I have never been happier for someone having something they have so deeply desired in my entire life.

Sometimes we stop wanting for something when we don’t think we can have it, and sometimes we don’t even know what is missing until it is found.

Sob…sob….it’s like I found the missing key. I just never thought this could be. Sob…sob. It’s like the missing key, the missing piece is here. I look like her. It just feels so good to be related….sob….sob….it’s like I found the key.

 There is truly no place like home. How blessed are we…..

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