“Mom, I know you and Dad raised us with all the love in the world. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious about this woman,” my daughter Emily said.
We were on the phone, and at first I thought she wanted to make plans for my birthday the next day. However, Emily had something important to tell me.
I didn’t realize at the time that I wasn’t ready to hear it, especially with my birthday coming up and after all the years of dedication I’ve given her and her brother.
Several years ago, my husband Kevin and I decided to have children and tried to conceive for a long time. Unfortunately, nothing happened, and my heart broke every day, mainly because I felt unsuccessful. I knew it wasn’t just my fault because Kevin also had problems with fertility, but I felt terrible about it.
We were almost 40 years old when we started the adoption application process and surprisingly, a pregnant teenager chose us over all the other younger applicants. We were thrilled and ready to share everything with her about her child, but she decided that a closed adoption would be the best option for her, and we had to support her.
But we were shocked again when we found out she had twins, a boy and a girl. We took them both in without hesitation, named them Emily and Ethan, and raised them as best we could.
In our forties, Kevin and I were financially secure. We had built a business together that didn’t need much attention by the time the kids arrived, so we had plenty of time for our babies. It was perfect.
Yes, we were older, and it was hard some days, especially when we hardly got any sleep. But it was definitely worth it. I would never change that, and Kevin felt the same way.
Some days we would just hold our sleeping babies in our living room, listening to their steady breaths, and it was the most beautiful sound in the world.
“Madeleine, this is the best decision we have ever made. I would do anything for those babies,” Kevin told me at the time, and all I could do was smile at my dear husband because the love was bursting in my chest.
The children grew up beautifully. They were twins but couldn’t have been more different. Kevin always dreamed of playing baseball with his son, but Emily was the one who loved sports. She was good at anything that required a ball and eventually joined her school’s basketball team, winning high school championships left and right. Later, her talent earned her a full scholarship to UCLA, which was not far from our home in Pasadena.
Meanwhile, Ethan was a complete brain. He got A’s in all subjects, but math was his forte. He competed in math and chess tournaments, and because of his grades, he got into Stanford University.
Kevin and I gave them wings to fly, instilling in them all our values and reminding them that they would always have a safe place here.
Of course, Ethan visited them as much as he could, and Emily wasn’t far behind. When they graduated, Emily returned to Pasadena, and Ethan spent a few years in New York, pursuing his career. However, he eventually returned as well. We couldn’t have been happier about this as we watched them get married and have their first children.
Unfortunately, Kevin passed away when we were in our 80s, and that was the most difficult time of my life. Fortunately, Emily and her husband, Richard, were there for me, while Ethan and his wife, Susan, also did their best to make sure I never felt alone.
“Mom, you can always count on us. I love you so much, and I want my kids to have a happy grandma who smiles all the time and bakes cookies,” Emily said to me one day, just a month after Kevin passed away.
We were sitting on her back porch, watching her children run and play.
“Thank you, my darling. Don’t worry. It will take time, and even though I’ll never get over losing your dad, I’ll be the BEST grandmother your kids will ever have.” I said and she patted me on the arm.
All this time, we didn’t even think to tell them they were adopted. It didn’t seem that important to us. To be honest, I had almost forgotten. They were my children in every way possible. But maybe it was the wrong choice. Maybe we should have given them all the information earlier in their lives. Maybe that would have changed what happened later.
“But honey, it’s my birthday. Don’t you want to come with the kids? What about Ethan? He’s not answering his phone,” I contradicted my daughter’s words.
I wanted the whole family to be there for my birthday, mainly because my health hadn’t been the best lately. I was feeling even more fragile than ever, but I would never tell them that.
My hands were shaking as I held my phone in Emily’s silence. For some reason, my senses were heightened. Something had happened. She was too quiet. My daughter never acted this way.
“Mom, the truth is that Ethan and I were contacted by a woman today. Early in the morning. She said she was our birth mother and has been looking for us for many years. She even sent proof of the adoption and wants to meet us. I talked to Ethan, and he wants to meet her. But I just wanted to ask…why didn’t you tell us?”
I was stunned. I couldn’t believe it. The teenager who wanted a closed adoption had contacted them. I was glad Emily was honest. But I had no idea what to tell her. She was obviously upset, but it was hard to know if it was against me or the situation in general.
“I… I… Honey, honestly, I didn’t think it was a big deal at all,” I began, hesitantly, as my forehead began to sweat and my hands were still shaking. “I’m so sorry. I can tell you everything you need to know right now. But what does this have to do with my 86th birthday?”
“Mom, she wants to meet tomorrow because she doesn’t live in Pasadena anymore. And frankly, I’m a little mad at you. I wish we had known the truth. I think Ethan’s angry too. So I think we’ll meet with this woman and take a few days to make some decisions,” Emily replied.
“Emily, what do you mean by decisions? I can tell you everything about the adoption. I know it’s late, you and Ethan can come over tonight and we can work this out together. I assure you that your father and I didn’t want to hide it, but at some point we almost forgot that you were adopted. You are my babies. I feel it in my heart. From the first moment I held you in my arms. I swear I didn’t mean any harm,” I begged my daughter, tears in my voice.
“Mom, please,” she said, her voice almost choking. “I know you didn’t mean any harm, but I need time to think. I’ll talk to Ethan, but I don’t think we can see you today or tomorrow. Please understand. We’ll talk in a few days… I don’t know.”
I wanted to protest even more, but Emily was right. They needed a few days to think about it. As much as it broke my heart to think they might meet their birth mother instead of spending my special day with me, they had to figure it out.
“All right, sweetheart. But I’m here. Call me with anything. Any question at all. Any time, too. I’m here. I… love you,” I added, unable to keep my voice calm on those last words.
I could hear Emily crying on the other line. “Okay, mom. I’ll… I’ll see you later. Bye.”
My hand slowly lowered the phone from my ear, and my heart was beating too fast for comfort. Emily always ended her phone calls with the words “I love you too.” That was our thing. My daughter and I. And now she was doubting our relationship, and there was nothing I could do about it.
I got up from my couch and walked slowly to my room, where I sobbed into my pillow for hours until I fell asleep.
The next day was terrible. I woke up much later than usual. I’ve always been a morning person, and as an older woman, I usually got up at the crack of dawn. But not on my birthday. I woke up late and remembered last night. My phone was on my nightstand, and I checked it to find that I had no messages from my children.
A few friends and cousins had sent birthday greetings, but nothing from Emily and Ethan. I’m not going to lie. That’s what hurt the most. My kids were always the first to send me birthday messages, which was too painful.
I wondered if they were already meeting their birth mother. Were they in conflict? Did they feel betrayed by me? So many other questions ran through my head the rest of the day.
Before I knew it, it got dark and I still had no sign of my children, even though I tried to call. It didn’t make sense. Yes, I withheld some important information from them, but that reaction seemed over the top.
I decided to go to bed, although I am not tired. I hope to fall asleep to the sound of uninteresting TV shows. However, as I walked into my room, the doorbell rang. I frowned in confusion. No one had called me to come over.
“HAPPY BIRTHDAY !!!!”
I almost had a heart attack after opening the door. My in-laws were outside, and Emily and Ethan were holding a cake with the birthday candles lit and ready. Suddenly, they started singing, and I placed a hand on my chest as the emotion took over.
My eyes watered throughout the song and a few tears fell when I had to blow out the candles. Everyone clapped after that, and they slowly started hugging me, wishing me a happy birthday again. I couldn’t have been happier when they all walked into the house.
They also brought food and gifts, and all my grandchildren started running around making noise. It didn’t even bother me that I wasn’t dressed for the occasion. All that mattered was that my children and their families were there.
Then Emily pulled me aside and asked me to speak away from the others, and Ethan followed.
Before they could say anything, I looked into their eyes and apologized. “I can’t tell you how much I regret not telling you the truth. I thought you wouldn’t come to me today. Thank you, my babies!” And I hugged them as hard as I could.
They hugged me back, too, and I saw the tears in both of their eyes. “I’m sorry about the phone call last night, Mom. You shouldn’t regret anything. You did what was best for us,” Emily said, and Ethan nodded.
“Yes, I should have returned your calls, Mom. But I felt conflicted. There’s no other way to put it, but I needed time,” he added.
I was happy with their words, but I was still curious. “I thought you needed more time, and that you were meeting your birth mother today. Can you tell me what happened? ”
Emily sighed, and Ethan ran a hand through her hair. “It was a disaster, Mom. We don’t trust her,” he revealed, shocking me.
“At first, everything was fine. Her name is Amanda Collins. She was nice enough. She told us she’d been looking for us for many years, but now that I think about it, I don’t think that’s true. We were in the same town for years, except for college and a few years after for Ethan, but still. You were there. She could have contacted you,” my daughter began, shaking her head in disbelief.
“Maybe she didn’t want anything to do with us,” I countered, giving the woman the benefit of the doubt.
“No, I have a feeling that’s not it,” Emily continued. “After asking about our lives for a few minutes she started talking about herself. All the things she’s done. All of her accomplishments. Going to college. The places she’s visited. And that’s fine, but I thought she wanted to get to know us.”
“Maybe, she wanted you to know her,” I said, still not seeing why they didn’t trust her.
“Her stories went on for two hours, Mom. After asking only a few things about us. She didn’t want to know us. At least that’s how I felt,” Ethan added. “And then she said something that sealed it for me.”
“I don’t understand.”
“She’s sick, Mom. She has a bad liver, although I suspect it’s failing for other reasons…if you know what I mean,” Emily explained. “And she started asking questions about our health. That’s when I knew for sure that she hadn’t been looking for us for years. She wants something from us, and I mean, she could have faked it for a little while longer, right?”
I didn’t know what to tell them. I felt bad for them. “Darlings, did she ask you anything directly?”
“We apologized quickly, and she was taken aback. She insisted on giving us her phone number, and almost desperately asked us to call her,” Ethan explained with a shrug. “It was a ploy, Mom. She’s not interested in us, but in what we can give her.”
“What are you going to do?”, I asked as I looked between them. They didn’t look heartbroken about it, but disappointed.
“I don’t think I want to talk to her again,” my son said immediately.
But Emily was conflicted. She dropped her eyes to the floor, crossed her arms, and shuffled her feet. “I don’t know what to do with her,” she finally said, looking at me. “But I realized something today. We haven’t had much time to think about our adoption. It’s still new. However, I am sure of one thing. You are my mom. You are my only mom.”
Tears filled my eyes again, and I couldn’t stop the sobs that ripped through my chest. Emily cried as she wrapped her arms around me. And even Ethan, who was pure, stern logic most of the time, got misty-eyed.
“It’s true. A mother is the one who raises you, not the one who gives birth to you,” he assured me as he joined in our hug.
I knew then that everything would be okay. Even if Amanda tried to stay in their lives, their love for me would not waver, mostly because they knew my love for them was rock solid.