Jonah, our youngest, spent the day in the water again. At 5 he’s already an exquisite swimmer, diving for coins our Provincetown neighbors throw into the tide for him to fetch. Now we’re lying in his bed together waiting for him to fall asleep, and he’s thumping my stomach like it’s a beach ball.OK, shall we count the ways this is so very wrong? How about a 5-year-old who doesn't know his birth mother's name? Like his older sister isn't going to tell him? A birth mother who is only a belly? A belly that is equated to the whale's belly that the "hand of God" delivered the child, Jonah, from? A belly with a name not shared with the child? A belly that is only a pass-through to the adoptive mother? An adoptive mother who can't accept that "anyone else had anything to do with" her adopted children? An adoptive mother who answers "who knows" to whether her son cares about his origins? An adoptive mother who has made it harder for her son to "begin making his own version of the narrative?"
“Are you going to have more babies in your belly?”
“You know I’ve never had any babies in my belly,” I tell him.
“Well, whose belly did I come out of?” he says.
My girlfriend, Molly, and I have always been frank about the fact that Jonah and his brother, Sam, were adopted, though until recently they’ve really only shown interest in the few details that feel glamorous: for instance, Jonah enjoys knowing that he was born on an island. The rest of how the kids came to us is so complex and adult, we’ve so far opted to leave it alone.
* * *
[Jonah's bio sister, adopted by another family] said, “You didn’t come out of your mommy’s belly.”
“Now isn’t the time for this conversation,” Molly told her.
“You didn’t,” Sister continued, “you came out of the same belly as me. Her name was Cheri.” For Jonah, that belly never had a name before. That name was so revelatory you could almost see a light bulb in a thought bubble hovering above Jonah’s head. He began crying louder.
To Molly and me, our children are so completely ours it feels impossible that anyone else had anything to do with them. But for Jonah, who knows? Some would say, for example, that it was the hand of God that saved his namesake, the original Jonah, from the belly of the whale; others, that it was luck that caused the beast to spit him out.
So here I am in the bed with our youngest boy, telling him the truth as I see it: “Some babies come out of their mommies, and some come through other bodies to get to their mommies. My body couldn’t make babies, so we had to find another way to get you here.” I’ve told him this before, but the story no longer satisfies the way it once did. He may be only 5, but it’s time for Jonah to begin making his own version of the narrative.
“Whose belly?” he demands.
“Her name was Cheri,” I say, affirming it for him.
“I should be there with her,” he says.
I take a breath. “No,” I tell him. “Wherever Sam and your other mommy and I are, that’s where your home is. That’s where you should be.” And in a sure sign he knows that what he’s hearing is correct, he begins to cry hard.
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