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The Thing About Regret

It happened as it has so many times before. A close family friend was asking questions about my daughter’s other family. It’s natural, I assume — this curiosity people have about where she came from, particularly about the woman who carried my daughter for nine months and then handed her off to me.

People always want to know who she is and why she made the decisions she did. And while hers isn’t my story to tell, I try to always make it clear that her decisions were not borne from a lack of love. If anything, the opposite is true. She sacrificed in ways I will never be able to comprehend, specifically because she had so much love for this little girl.

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But it was during one of those conversations with this close family friend that she asked, “Do you think her mom regrets giving her up?”

And I cringed. Both because I had no idea how to answer such a question and because the way in which it was phrased absolutely gutted me.

Forget the straight use of the term “mom.” I realize that I am the one who creates the confusion there, forever referring to her as my daughter’s “other mom.” Because — she is my daughter’s mom. It’s just that I am too. We are both her mother, in different ways. And I try diligently to always be the one who respects that, which means I also try not to get my panties in a bunch when someone else drops that “other” I so consistently use.

I can’t expect everyone else to understand the intricacies of a relationship that confuse even me from time to time.

Let’s even ignore the “giving her up” part of the equation, despite the tensing reflex that phrasing will always incite in me. Because she didn’t “give her up.” She chose me. She handpicked the person who would serve in the role she didn’t feel as though she could, for reasons that were all her own. She made the best decision she could in the moment, and it was a decision borne from a pure and selfless love I will forever be in awe of.

My daughter was not abandoned or thrown away. She was not “given up.”

She was loved.

In reality, no matter how right an adoption may be — there is loss there.

Still, it was the question of regret that truly knocked the wind out of me. Because the problem is, I’m not the person who should be answering that question. And if I am being perfectly honest, I don’t even know that it is an answer I personally want to hear.

The thing I never could have fully prepared myself for with the adoption of my daughter was the guilt I would feel in regards to her other mother. In my head, before actually living through it, I had always believed that adoption could be this beautiful unification of a family, where everyone involved got what they needed in the end.

In reality, no matter how right an adoption may be — there is loss there. And as my heart soared in the delivery room, holding my little girl for the first time against my chest, I was painfully aware of the heart that was simultaneously breaking right next to me.

Knowing there was nothing in the world I could do to ease that hurt.

More than once in the week between being asked to take my daughter and her actually entering the world, I asked her other mommy if she was sure. I offered to help her find programs or ways to keep her little girl, if that was what she wanted. I implored her not to think about me or the connection we had quickly formed in the making of this decision, but to instead think about what she truly wanted, and what she would want five, 10 and even 15 years from now.

It wasn’t easy. From the moment she asked me to adopt her baby, my world lit up at the possibility of finally becoming a mother. It would have been extremely hard for me to walk away at that point. But I think, even then, I knew it would be harder to one day feel responsible for another woman’s regret. So I needed her to be sure. For both of us.

The thing was, she had her reasons. And after plenty of long talks, it became clear she was resolved in this decision.

So I stopped asking, instead choosing to embrace the blessing that had literally fallen into my lap, even as the joy I felt stood in stark contrast to the grief I knew she was experiencing. How do you navigate that? How do you process the fact that your greatest joy is coming at the expense of another human beings greatest loss?

When I look in my daughter's eyes and feel my heart swell with love and pride over the amazing little person she is becoming, I am reminded of the fact that her other mommy has to miss out on those moments.

She told me once that there was a point in the middle of pushing, with me standing there holding her hand and waiting for our little girl to enter the world, that she thought to herself, “Maybe I’m making a mistake. Maybe I could do this. Maybe I could keep her.”

It was a moment that passed quickly enough, as she got through the pain of labor and reminded herself of all the reasons she had decided on adoption. But that moment was there. And I can only imagine that there are times, even now, when she still wonders ... what if?

But does she have regrets? And if she does, do they have more to do with feeling as though she is missing out on pieces of this little girl’s life? Or do those regrets revolve around me — around the times when I may not do things as she would have, when I may not live up to the mother she had hoped I would be?

I don’t know the answers to those questions. I don’t know if I want to.

Adoption is complicated, in a way I never before could have really understood. And every day, when I look in my daughter's eyes and feel my heart swell with love and pride over the amazing little person she is becoming, I am reminded of the fact that her other mommy has to miss out on those moments.

And I can’t imagine there wouldn’t be regret there.

So, yeah. There may be regret. And there is probably sadness and hurt and anger, frustration and jealousy and ugly feelings that probably come out more than I will ever know or see.

But I can’t speak to any of that because I have never walked in her shoes. I have never experienced what it is to be on the other side. And those feelings, whatever they may be, are hers. Any analysis I may attempt to make would be only pure speculation.

Because there is no simple answer. No matter how many times the question may be asked of me.

The only thing I know for sure is that there is love there. And beauty. And loss. And joy. And heartbreak.

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Adoption is complicated.

But I will never stop being grateful for the ways in which it has changed my life.

Or for the woman who chose me, despite how difficult that choice must have been to make.

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