Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
It’s Official

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Every night, five-year-old Taylor sends up requests and thanksgiving, giving voice to her heart's sighs and desires: ". . . And I pray that the bad guys would be gone from all over the world . . . and God, please help Peyton's birth parents be happy, even though they don't have her . . . and thank you that tomorrow Peyton's adoption is final and she's ours forever . . . and thank you for tuna casserole for dinner . . ."

That particular night, Taylor's earnest words reminded me that even though less than 24 hours later a judge would pound a gavel declaring Peyton no different from our natural-born child, there was a woman in Chicago keenly aware of a difference -- because Peyton is her natural-born child.

Two months have passed since our adoption finalization hearing, and it's been a year since we brought Peyton home. With so much time and so many milestones passed, it's easy to forget the primary differences between Taylor and Peyton. Peyton walked before she was ten months old, just like Taylor did. Peyton prefers an empty paper towel tube or the TV remote or my arms over baby toys or anyone else's arms, just like Taylor did. And, of course, both girls are loved with all our hearts. Pledging under sworn oath in a court of law to treat Peyton the same as Taylor seemed superfluous.

Since Peyton's birth parents surrendered their rights when she was less than two weeks old, the recent hearing merely formalizes matters of the heart. But however natural this all seems to us, the fact remains that Peyton is adopted, and this may well be more than just a legality in her mind. I prepare myself now for future conversations, knowing that she will have questions and concerns that I haven't anticipated.

But here's what I do know: I will tell Peyton that Angela*, her birth mother, loved her. But I will not tell her, "Because she loved you, she placed you for adoption," however neat and true a sentiment it might be. The adoption books say some children misinterpret this and think their loving adoptive parents might also "give them away" some day. (I should note that Peyton's birth father asserted no preferences regarding her placement, except to say he would respect Angela's wishes.)

The adoption books also rightly recommend language such as "placed you for adoption" instead of "gave you up for adoption." But when speaking of adoption, "gave away, gave up" tends to be most people's default setting. "She's so beautiful!" they say. "I can't believe someone would give her away." As if a child's appearance has anything to do with such a heart-wrenching decision.

Honestly though, I include myself in that "they" to some extent. I do find comfort in the fact that Angela followed through with her decision even after seeing her baby's face, even after naming her. I convince myself that this somehow proves Angela's determination, her level-headedness, that she is not at this very moment regretting a now-irreversible decision. That I have not "taken away" another woman's child, causing her to despair. But for all I know, Angela could very well be regretting and despairing over her decision this minute, legalities be damned.

Angela's age is another source of flimsy comfort. She is not a young (and possibly confused) girl, as people often assume upon learning that Peyton is adopted. She is a few years older than me, and much older than my 18-year-old mother was when I was born. Angela also has two other children. This may be difficult to explain to Peyton, why she was placed for adoption and her biological siblings were not.

I want to be ready for these hard questions. I want to strike a balance: loving Peyton as mine, but respecting that her adopted status will be more than just a legal formality to her.

But in the end, even the legal stuff was heart-filled. As my husband, Mike, and I gave our testimonies at the finalization hearing, Peyton shrieked and ran around the courtroom to the delight of family and friends gathered to share our special day with us. Our attorney had to compete with her to be heard.

After the judge pronounced us "husband-and-wife-and-daughter," Taylor got to pound the gavel, to make it official.

Earlier this month, we celebrated Peyton's first birthday, and, like a biological second child, she got the shaft. Her first birthday party was a fraction of what Taylor's was -- a fraction of the cost, of the guests, of my energy. I believe, however, that this and other types of second-child short-changing is more than compensated for by the fact that Peyton enjoys the benefit of a more experienced, less neurotic mother. Besides, despite fewer hours spent videotaping her every sigh, and reduced maternal angst over the color and consistency of her poop, the love is there, in full measure.

Deesha Philyaw’s writing on race, parenting, gender, and culture has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, McSweeney’s, The Rumpus, Brevity, TueNight and elsewhere. The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, her collection of short stories about Black women, sex, and the Black church, is forthcoming from West Virginia University Press in fall 2020.

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