What It's Like To Be A Birth Mother With A 4-Year-Old In Open Adoption

Photo: Courtesy of Mariah MacCarthy
Dear Leo,

The first time I wrote you a letter, I was seven months pregnant with you. I told you I'd miss feeling you kick me. I told you I hoped things were nice in my uterus. I told you I wished I could take you home with me, but that your future daddies were awesome, and I was excited about this open adoption thing. I told you that I'd always love you.

And now...you are 4. Weird. How did that happen? You seem perpetually more self-possessed, more confident, more bursting with life, every single time I see you. You are far too tall for my liking. You are so handsome, I can't quite wrap my brain around it. You seem really, really happy. You seem to like me, and that makes me so happy it almost goes all the way around and makes me sad again. Your manners are awesome and your spirit burns bright; my compliments to your daddies on a bang-up parenting job thus far. (Well, except that time you said you wanted Trump to win because he has the best hair. That was...worrisome. But I suppose it makes sense, too, because Trump has a lot in common with four-year-olds. I'd vote for you over him.)

Today I will pick you up from school for the very first time. The last time I saw you, you laughed at that idea: "People would say, 'Who's that?' And I'd say, 'That's Mariah, my birth mother!'" But, you live in Astoria now, a 15-minute walk from me, so it was only a matter of time before this happened, really. I am a little terrified. I have no idea how to pick a child up from school. What if I can't find you? What if the other moms are mean to me because they don't recognize me? What if you run away from me and I can't keep up?

Today I will take you over to my apartment, and I will introduce you to my kitten, Sophie. I know you love kittens; you and I have had entire conversations in kitty-talk. The first time you wanted to meet her, I had just taken her home, and she was still so skittish and scared of everything. I felt awful telling you "no" — how can I deny you anything? I'm terrified all the time that you won't like me, which makes me want to give you everything you want; I hope you take your time realizing this about me.

You got me to buy you ice cream once, waiting until I had traipsed around the neighborhood to find an ATM before you mentioned that your daddies didn't want you to have ice cream, "so it's gotta be a secret." The responsible thing to do would have been to respect your parents' wishes and not get ice cream, but I couldn't bear the thought of having gotten you excited and then letting you down. (Also, I wanted ice cream, too. You've certainly inherited my sweet tooth.) I was impressed with how Machiavellian you were about it, scheming with me over rainbow sprinkles: "So, Mariah, what are you gonna do to keep the secret about the ice cream?" Then you blew up our spot almost as soon as your Papa showed up, after I'd been so careful in wiping all the sprinkles from your chin. It turned out he didn't care at all.

Today I will pick you up from school for the very first time.

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So today you're going to meet my kitten, and we're going to hang out at my apartment, and I'm going to pray you don't ask me for anything because I'm going to want to give it to you. Of course I want to give you everything. You are my son; having you was the single most defining moment of my life.

Sometimes, stroke survivors have to re-learn the things that you, at 4, have only just mastered: letters and words and walking. That's how it felt after I relinquished you. I had to re-learn everything, because I wasn't the same Mariah anymore. You changed me forever. Thank you for that. The new Mariah is certainly a lot more familiar with pain than the old one was, but I like the new one better.

Leo, why am I writing you this letter? My other letters to you have been chock-full of advice about how to live your life. "Respect everyone you have sex with, and everyone you don't." "Talk to your dads when you need something." I keep thinking of more things I want to tell you, and forgetting to write them down. I keep thinking that if I can just find the right words, maybe I can save you from a world of hurt down the line, when you start turning into a little man. Then I think, Wait, when did I ever listen to my parents' advice when I was a kid? When has any parent in the history of the universe ever been able to spare a single child from the pain of growing up?

So, no advice this time, just gratitude. Leo: Thank you for being who you are. Thank you for welcoming me into your heart so effortlessly. Thank you for using your manners and using your words and listening to your daddies, and thank you for reminding me that life can be fun for no reason other than that we decide it's fun. When I first relinquished you, I felt alienated because so few women had been through the same experience, but now my life is more full of love than it ever was before. Love for you, for your daddies and their families (both genetic and chosen), for the friends who I can somehow love more deeply because of loving you. Thank you for the world of love that you have shown me. Thank you for being so game as we continue to figure out this new and alien relationship together.

I'll see you in a couple hours.

Love,

Mom

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