Nonfiction by Gretchen M. Packer
December 13, 2007
Dear Ana Lucia,
Hi my sweet girl! It’s been an exceptionally busy day and every ounce of my being is exhausted. I just changed you, gave you your pacha, sang an off-key lullaby to you and put you down in your crib. I’m beat.
Still, I am compelled to write because this day was a monumental one in your life. For that matter, in my life as well. I want you to read this knowing it was written today, the day I first laid eyes on your birth mom. And the day your birth mom first laid eyes on me, your Mom. I hope when you read this, many years from now, my words will convey the enormity of today’s events and the undeniable fact that you are much loved, Ana Lu.
This was the day I met your birth mother. Wow. I. Met. Your. Birth. Mother. Today.
Ana Lu, I can tell you with absolute confidence that your birth mom loves you more than you will ever be able to imagine. I saw it. I saw it in her eyes, read it on her face and felt it in my heart; she loves you immensely. Love that only a birth mother can know.
I moved here about a month ago, to a country thousands of miles away from the familiarity of home, for an undetermined length of time, so I could raise you. Now I wake up to those delightful little dimples of yours every day. Love that only an adoptive mother can know.
Guatemala is still recovering from a bloody civil war. It has an astonishingly high crime and murder rate and it is not uncommon to walk down the street and see people carrying guns, being mugged or street fights. Many things here are foreign to me-a country with different laws, a different language, an unfamiliar currency-to name a few. Before I relocated here, I had never spoken more than 200 words in Spanish. I had never heard of a Quetzal. I had never lived without a car. I had never been the racial minority. I had never been a mother, much less a single mother. I was scared when I first moved here. And the truth is, sometimes I am still scared. Yet, I will continue to embrace it all to be here with you. Love that only an adoptive mother can know.
How did your birth mom and I meet? The Guatemalan government requires any child placed for adoption be brought to a health clinic for mandatory DNA testing. The clinic performs the test and then takes a picture of the child and birth mother together. While the health clinic we went to today is nearby where you and I are staying, it is important for you to know that it was not easy for your birth mother to get here. Here in Guatemala life is much more demanding. Your birth mom had to take a day off from work, which put her at risk of losing her job. Bosses frown upon special requests, and this was a special request. In Guatemala, jobs are scarce and workers are plentiful. So your birth mother risked losing her job coming to the health clinic today. Love that only a birth mother can know.
Your birth mom also had to arrange a ride to and from the clinic. She drove 3 hours from rural Guatemala to the city, waited 2 hours in the clinic, met your adoptive mother and then drove three hours back to her home. She did all of this for you. She went through this entire process and consequently heart wrenching experience so that she could place you “officially” for adoption. So that you could begin your life with your adoptive parents and have all the opportunities living in the United States has to offer. Love that only a birth mother can know.
Your birth mother and I traveled far for you, Ana Lucia. And your Papa has as well. Right now your Papa is living in the States. He is working to support our family so that I could come to Guatemala to raise you until the adoption paperwork is finalized. You just saw your Papa for Thanksgiving; he will be back in a few weeks at Christmastime; and then he will visit us every other month for a two-week period for the next four months. Thanks to modern technology, we can call him via the computer nearly every day; we can see him, and he can see us. It’s so fun watching him watch you! He watches in complete awe as you show him your newest trick, rolling from front to back. And although we are so fortunate to have this technology, I can see in his eyes and hear in the catch of his breath how much it pains him to be separated from us, but it is what has to be for now.
I digress. This morning, intimidated and self-conscious about meeting your birth mom, I was comforted by the feel of you nuzzled against me in the Baby Bjorn I was carrying you in. The health clinic was filled with Latina woman. Half of the women are birth mothers and the other half are the foster mothers bringing the infants they are fostering to be DNA tested. It’s very rare to have an adoptive mother here at the clinic so mine was the only white face in the crowd. It was such a great experience for me to sit there, as the minority. I had to learn to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Interesting, huh? I distinctly remember thinking this is how minorities must feel all the time. I wonder if this is how you’ll feel as you grow up. And I wonder if you’ll talk to me about it. I hope you do. I will do my best to ensure you have Latina role models in your life that you can talk to about such things, but sometimes I worry that may not be enough.
Not being fluent in Spanish sometimes makes things very difficult for me when we go out in public. I will take Spanish classes once I’m here for another month or so, when I feel more settled. I plan to speak Spanish to you in the States because it’s really important to me that you grow up bilingual. But of course that means I have to master it myself first! However, today, there at the clinic, high school Spanish is all I had. It is what it is, so I spent most of the day nodding and walking in whatever direction someone pointed me.
I had seen your birth mom in pictures so when she showed up I knew it was her. She wore a denim skirt with a white top and her hair was pulled back in a scrunchie. There was a woman alongside your birth mom. At first glance I thought she was a taxi driver, but after seeing them together it was obvious she knew your mother pretty well. Having this other woman there was a blessing because she was very outgoing. The woman motioned to your birth mom to sit two chairs down from me and she sat between us. Your birth mom didn’t make any eye contact with me.
I know your birth mom and her friend were talking about me, but I had no idea what they were saying. Shortly afterward, her friend turned to me and while gesturing toward your birth mom said, “Ella es pobre.” (She is poor.) Then she said, “Ella no tiene dinero. Es porque no nena.” (”She does not have any money. That is why no baby girl.”) I believe your birth mom had asked her to try and explain to me why she placed you for adoption.
I had you out of the Bjorn and cradled in my arms. I lifted you upward while looking at your birth mom’s friend in my wordless attempt to ask if your birth mom would like to hold you. I asked your birth mom’s friend because your birth mom was very shy and was not comfortable making eye contact with me. Her friend asked but your birth mother declined, looking at her hands. Perhaps she felt strange holding you in front of me. I waited a few heavy, awkward minutes, glanced over at your birth mom, and again invited her to hold you. She declined. After a few minutes your birth mother looked to her friend and nodded. She was ready. So I passed you over to your birth mom’s arms. At first you fussed, but when she bounced you, you quickly settled and then got cozy in her arms. Your birth mom looked at you with such intensity, soaking in every aspect of your beautiful face and holding your hand in hers while stroking your little fingers. That is when you looked your birth mom in the eyes and blessed her with an enormous smile. Enormous smile! You are just so beautiful and when you smile, Ana Lu, you light up inside. That light is contagious to all of us who are fortunate enough to bask in your rays of sunshine.
Your birth mom was visibly comforted. There was an audible sigh of relief as if it was the first time she breathed since setting foot in the clinic. I saw her soul change. She was no longer apprehensive or picking at her hands in shameful fretting. She saw your smile and she was now content.
She needed you to tell her you love her. She needed you to tell her you will understand why she placed you for adoption. Your smile communicated all of that. And let me tell you, my sweet girl, usually you make us work for your smile. But today it was as if you knew, as if you knew that your birth mom would have peace in her heart if she could just see you smile. You’ve always been an “old soul,” Ana Lu.
As you became more comfortable in her arms and she more comfortable holding you, her embrace became tighter and tighter. I watched as she ran her finger gingerly over the cleft in your chin, your beautiful chin that looks just like hers. Then she cuddled you into her chest, put her head down and wept. I watched as your birth mom held you and hugged you one last time. The pain in her heart ran strong. It was clear she was savoring these last moments she would see and hold her daughter. Love that only a birth mother can know.
I felt the pull toward her injured heart. It was as if an enormous magnet pulled me toward her pain. I could feel only a part of that pain she was feeling, but was left crippled for hours. I will never be able to imagine the enormity of the pain she felt today. Nor the pain she will feel years from now when she knows it’s your birthday and she wonders where you are and what you’re up to. Just a glimpse of the inherent everlasting pain of a mother placing her child for adoption left me sobbing uncontrollably tonight after we got home. I cannot begin to imagine the wound left in your birth mother’s heart today after she got home. Love that only a birth mother can know.
There was a moment when I truly thought I should get up and walk out of the clinic. I had an overwhelming visceral response to the pain that I sensed among all of the birth mothers in that office. I felt tremendous guilt for having opportunities that your birth mom and the other birth moms in that room never had. All because I was born in the United States and they were born in Guatemala. What an injustice! I felt dirty and ashamed. I just don’t understand why we all can’t have the same opportunities. Ugh. There I sat in my prim white skirt, black top with matching shoes and you in the Baby Bjorn. The Bjorn is $120 and while could easily be one months’ pay for many women here in Guatemala. I had the urge to stand up and convey my respect to this room full of women with tortured, grief-stricken expressions on their faces. Ana Lu, I wanted more than anything-from a place deep, deep within my soul-to give my sincerest apology to them, to your birth mother, because I am blessed with opportunities. I thought about running around the room and giving one woman my earrings so she could feed her family for two weeks, giving another woman my sweater so she could feed her family for eight weeks. I wanted to give away everything. My necklace, my clothes, my shoes, the baby carrier, anything I had in my pockets until I stood there naked, shedding the skin I felt so dirty in. The skin that made me feel unworthy of sitting in this room among some of God’s strongest souls. I wanted to be naked. I felt I needed to be naked so I could feel an ounce of the vulnerability that I know birth moms feel; the vulnerability as a mother placing her child up for adoption; the vulnerability as a citizen being judged and persecuted by society for the choices she has made; and the intense vulnerability as a woman living in a male dominated culture where it would not be uncommon for them to have to walk this torturous walk again. I thought if I could give them all that I had, if I bared my body and my soul then maybe they would forgive me for being gifted opportunities that they never knew.
Maybe if I sent each birth mother in the room enough money to feed, clothe and get medical support for all of the children in that room, maybe I could spread some of the fruitful opportunity I’ve been so fortunate to receive. Maybe their lives would be different, maybe your birth mom could feel the joy in caring for you that I relish every single day we’re together. My heart was torn, a primitive response, to a once-in-a-lifetime experience. My heart ached from the weight of the conflicting moral battle going back and forth in my mind. I was losing clarity. I did not know what was right and what was wrong; nor what was destiny and what was irony. My mind started rapidly cycling through the possibilities, equally rational and irrational. I want to care for these women and children! But I don’t have the resources to care for all of these women and children! But I cannot benefit from such an injustice! But I need to find a way to make things right! But I cannot change the world! But she’s my daughter and I will not let her go!
And there we have it.
All of my confusion and doubt melted away within seconds as reality pierced my heart like the ease of a hot knife slicing through cool butter. In the end, I cannot change the world. In the end, you are my daughter and I will not let you go. Clarity arrived. As did Destiny. I whispered repeatedly to myself, “But she’s my daughter and I will not let her go. But she is my daughter and I will not let her go.” I reflected on the fact that there are many children in need of loving families and there are many families in need of loving children. But you-you, Ana Lucia Packer-are my daughter and I will not let you go. For everyone who wins, someone loses. And I will have to learn to live with that. Love that only an adoptive mother can know.
I sulked, sitting silently and cowardly in my chair with my head bowed and tears streaming down my face. I prayed for strength. I prayed that the women in that room, especially your birth mom, could feel the tremendous respect in my heart and that they would know that I sat there, humbled by their selflessness and their fortitude.
I prayed to maintain a healthy perspective of you and your birth mom’s future relationship. I felt many emotions when looking at your birth mom-reverence, gratitude, sorrow, guilt and at times, even jealousy. I wanted to be her. I wanted to be your biological mother so that you would know how deeply and truly you are loved. So that you would never, ever doubt my unconditional love for you. So that I too would have a chin cleft, beautiful brown skin and speak Spanish fluently. I fantasized that you were 5 years old and we’d look into the mirror together and I would proudly exclaim, “Mira! Tienes que de mi!” (”Look! You got that from me!”). We’d giggle as we played with one another’s hair and sang songs in Spanish together. I love you with all of my being and sometimes I just think maybe if you looked more like me you would never ever question my love and devotion. You would always know that you are my daughter even though when you look at me you see my blue eyes and fair skin staring back at you. Love that only an adoptive mother can know.
After all the tests were run we took a taxi back to the hotel. As I sat with you nestled against my chest and kissed your sweet little dark peach-fuzzed head, we were peaceful and content. I pushed my nose against your head and took a deep breath. I inhaled your sweet baby smell and giggled. Then a couple of teardrops fell. Filled to the brim with gratitude they dropped down upon your little head as I thanked God for choosing me, a completely imperfect person to be your mother. Love that only an adoptive mother can know.
I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the driver was watching us in the rearview mirror. When we arrived at the hotel he stopped the car, put his hand on the headrest of the passenger side, turned around and unequivocally declared, “You will be a good mother.” Those six words, from his prophetic heart coupled with his peaceful tone, sent a surge of relief to my core.
I am sobbing again. It’s time for me to change into my PJs and call it a day. I’d like to leave you with one last thought. Please know, Ana Lu, know that since the day you were born you’ve received love, an unconditional sacrificial love, that some will never, ever know. You’re cherished, you’re adored, you’re treasured, you’re celebrated. And my goodness, my sweet Ana Lucia, you are loved.
Love that only a birth mother and an adoptive mother can know.
Gretchen Packer adopted Ana Lucia in 2007 with her husband. She lives in Redwood City, California.