Birthmother: Seeing me

By Birthmother – Passing on my genes

One of the blessings of choosing open adoption is that I get to see and hear some of the details about my children as they grow. Each year I take a look at the latest set of pictures and marvel at the newest changes in their features or their personalities. What still surprises me, though, is when I look at the pictures and see a little piece of me shining through. This family resemblance is something that many adoptive parents envy – they wish they could see their own genes passed on to another generation.

Ironically, one of the reasons my spouse and I didn’t want children was the fear of our genetic background. True, we don’t have any major genetic diseases, but no one’s heritage is perfect. Our ancestors had their share of alcoholism, mental illness, heart disease, etc… and we certainly have our own struggles with that they’ve passed down to us. Frankly, we don’t like ourselves very much, so why would we ever want to reproduce?!?

When we did get pregnant, we carefully selected adoptive parents with healthy lifestyles in the hopes that positive nurturing would outweigh any genetic factors we might pass on. In my mind, nurture was so much stronger than nature. How could a child raised thousands of miles away, a child who I would only meet a mere handful of times, bear any resemblance to me?

Well, one way or another, those resemblances do shine through and no one will let you forget it. It starts as soon as the baby is born. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, who sees the baby becomes an amature geneticist. “Isn’t that your nose?” “Isn’t he the spitting image of your uncle Don?” If a particular trait cannot be categorized or easily referenced, people are so discomforted! For instance, my daughter has blonde hair. I do not have blonde hair. The biological father does not have blonde hair. Unthinkable! Even if I mention that my mom’s hair was blonde when she was young, people look at me as if major trouble must be brewing. They want to account for every feature on the child’s face, every personality quirk, and every disease.

As I watch my children grow and learn about the imperfections they’ve inherited I find myself experiencing incredible guilt. When I see how tall my daughter is I remember being the tallest person in my grade school, always sticking out, and I remember the frustration of having enormous feet that match my height. I was devastated when I learned that my son has an extreme peanut allergy; I know his allergies must have come from my side of the family. Or, worse, what if something I ate (or didn’t eat) when I was pregnant triggered these allergies? Did I eat too many peanuts? Not enough? The responsibility of having so much influence on another person’s development is terrifying. Yes, there can be pleasant moments (seeing that my son has my soft brown eyes, hearing that my daughter has my affinity for speaking intelligently and empathetically to new people). I hope that, in time, I will focus more on the positive traits and be less terrified of the negative.

I try to keep in mind that every gene is easy to see when looking at young children – nurture hasn’t had time to make an impression upon nature yet. Staring at a baby is like staring at raw genetic material. As my children grow the days and hours and years spent with the adoptive family will make my genetic contribution seem less pronounced. I can’t wait to see the personalities and habits of the adoptive parents imprinting themselves upon the canvas of genetic code. Will my son learn the hands-on skills of his adoptive father? Will my daughter catch some of her adoptive father’s flare for off-color humor? I love the fact that every single person who contributes to the lives of these children has a chance of manifesting in their habits and personalities.

Every person who influences our lives becomes a part of us forever. This is especially true of every single person who shows us love.

The adopted individuals I’ve known were often difficult to identify as being adopted, so great was their resemblance to their adoptive parents. They shared hobbies, quirks, physical features, and a million other smaller details that no gene could ever account for. Their family bond was so strong, I would never have thought to question their origins.

Maybe where we start from isn’t as important as where we end up.

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