I'm writing this from Lincoln Memorial hospital in Springfield, Il., where Mom is recovering from post-radiation surgery to remove cancerous tumors. Thankfully, the director of the writing center was very understanding about my leaving town and my teaching duties mid-week even though the semester just started. As I spoke with her on the phone, trying to figure out how I could rearrange appointments and/or get someone to cover for me, she said, "Go. Just go."
Her next words threw me for a loop:
"You only have one mother! Right?"
Um...well, not exactly.
"Y-yes," I cringed and said, to keep things simple and move it along. Her question kept creeping into my thoughts during the 9-hour drive to Illinois. I do have two mothers--my birth mother, who gave me life and relinquished me into foster care/adoption, and my adoptive mom, who raised me. I wondered whether my birth mother has ever had major surgery, and I was sad that I didn't even know the answer. I wondered whether I would jump in my car and drive 9 hours if my b-mom were having surgery. I think I probably would, if I knew she wanted me there--but sadly, it would take more consideration. I'm just not as close to her, and sometimes I feel that our relationship is strained. I always try to recognize and validate her role in my life, but truthfully I am much closer to my a-mom. We've had many more years to work on getting along and growing a lasting connection.
I wish it didn't have to be this way. I think the relationship is difficult for my birth mother. How could it not be? At its root is heartbreak, loss, a relationship established and terminated almost immediately post-birth and restarted 25 years later. This is the nature of adoption.
As I watch Mom's painful recovery from a surgery not unlike a Cesarean birth, I think of the pain my birth mother must've experienced when she gave me up. Someday my birth mother and I may be closer, I hope. I have always thought of her and loved her from afar, and she has said it was the same for her. Perhaps all that thinking and loving an absence can make it hard to bring a relationship to the "reality" realm, the in-touch/in-person world. It may take a few more years before both of us are ready to drop everything and meet the other in the hospital.
So, the answer is "no," a simple "no." I don't only have one mother. They are different, they have occupied different spaces in my life. But in the end, my love for them is the same.