It is not flesh and blood but the heart which makes us fathers and sons. — Johann Friedrich von Schiller
Mine and my husband’s pride and joy, our bouncing, rambunctious little boy, came to us through the miracle of adoption.
People throw the word miracle around a lot. So much so, that it’s lost some of its meaning. But a miracle, by definition, is a highly improbable or extraordinary event. It was highly improbable that my husband and I would ever have biological children. We became parents because of the choice that a pregnant woman and her partner made — to plan an adoption for their unborn child.
My husband and I saw our son’s birth mother a few times before he was born. We met at the OB/GYN clinic and at the adoption agency. We shared our hopes for the unborn baby. We laughed and cried and tried to etch every moment into our frazzled, pre-parent minds to share with “the baby” (as we called him for months and months) when he was old enough to understand.
And we spent time talking with his birth mother the day our son finally came into the world. Me hanging on her every word, memorizing her voice, her expressions, and her face while simultaneously trying to wrap my head around the idea that I was about to become a mother. And she, his first mother, in physical and emotional pain, yet chatting amicably with the couple she had chosen to raise her son.
Those were sacred hours.
I catch whispered reminders of her from time to time even now, four years on. I see her eyes mirrored in my son’s face. I remember the thick, wavy ponytail she wore when unruly curls sprout atop my son’s head before a much-needed haircut. I recall her smile when my son’s face lights with joy.
She’s a ghost, not always fully present in my consciousness, but here nevertheless. When I catch these glimpses of her, reflected back at me through my son’s very real, very physical presence, I remember that I am my child’s second mother.
But his birth father? We’ve never met. He’s a stranger the courts sought out before the adoption was finalized. He’s a shadow somewhere on the horizon, whispering over uncrossed miles and lapping at the edges of consciousness only now and then when I stop to think about the very beginning of our son’s life.
As my husband and I navigated the interminable adoption process, social workers would patiently remind us to address letters to the birth parents rather than the birth mother. They reminded us that the baby we were waiting to adopt wasn’t conceived through immaculate conception and didn’t spring from a void. Two people created our son — a birth mother and a birth father.
Some may be indifferent. But many of these men — these first fathers — grieve, too. They regret. Perhaps they look over their shoulders for years, searching for ghosts of children discovered only after tense conversations or painful goodbyes.
These are the forgotten fathers — the men who give life but are often overlooked. They matter. Our son’s birth father matters.
I catch myself wondering whether my son’s solid-as-a-tank little body and passion for music came from his birth father. I think about where he lives and whether my son will want to search for him someday. I wonder whether he has other children and if he’s healthy. I’m curious because I love my son. I care because I love my son.
I’ve heard dismissive comments over the years — people referring to our son’s birth father as “the sperm donor” or grumbling about “taking responsibility”. I understand — truly I do. It’s easy to judge people when we see only the consequences of someone’s actions. It’s easy to point fingers and whisper about the children they failed to care for.
But the truth is, none of us knows what is in another’s heart. We have no idea what trials came before, what words were spoken, or whether hearts were broken.
The only thing I know for sure is that I’m grateful to my son’s birth father for one very simple reason — my son would not exist without him.