Thursday 7 March 2013


He wishes he had been born from my tummy - it's as simple as that.

I think he would get under my skin if he could. He tries to crawl under my shirt. He looks up at me and says Look, mummy, I in your tummy! 

 It makes me think of Nicodemus.

I let him do it - there must be some reason he keeps doing this -  but I make sure I talk a lot about pretending. Are you pretending to be in my tummy, Blue? 

He nods. He curls himself tightly up on my lap and says Look, Mummy, I have a 'tend umbilical cord! Now that's not a sentence you hear every day.
definitely too big for my tummy. 
Although, we do talk about umbilical cords a lot in this house. It came about because of Pink - she is crazy about her belly button. She gazes at it lovingly and pats it gently, like a kitten. Often, she sidles up to me, dips her head and looks up at me coyly through her giraffe-lashes.  Mummy, can you talk about my belly button again? 

We have a whole established patter about this. Here's how it goes:

When you were a baby, before you were born, you grew in your birthmummy's tummy and was it just you?(Noooooooo!)

That's right, it was Pink AND Blue growing in there together, because you are . ..(Twins!) 

And what happened when you were in her tummy? Did you get hungry? (No!)

Well what did you eat? Could you drink milk when you were in her tummy? (Nooooooo! I had a Bilical Cord!)

That's right! You got your food through a special tube called an umbilical cord, and when your birthmummy ate food, some of it turned into food for you. And  you got bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and then you got SO big that you wouldn't fit inside any more and you had to be born. 
And when you were born, the doctor said: these babies don't need an umbilical cord any more, they are born babies! They can drink milk now!  So he went  (SNIP!)(Dramatic scissor actions at this point, of course)

And then in a little while the rest of your umbilical cord fell off and what was left behind? (MY BELLY BUTTON!)

That's right! That's how you got your belly button! So when you see your belly button, you can remember about how your birthmummy kept you safe and gave you all the food you needed when you were in her tummy. (Teachable moment or what? High five, Mummy, I've been telling myself. My children are going to be so well adjusted about their adoption).

She loves, loves hearing about herself as a baby, and this is her favourite story. But these days, she barely lets me get to the end before telling me and then Mummy and Daddy came and got me and we went home on a Neroplane and now we are a FAMILY! 

Ummmmm, yeah, I guess we did, but that is totally not the point here, Pink.  This is supposed to be a story about the umbilical cord, not the Neroplane. Did you not get the memo about the teachable moment? But at the moment, she wants to get to the Neroplane as quickly as possible.

I don't want her to skip forward quickly. I don't want him hiding under my shirt. This is slightly surprising to me. I thought maybe I would.

I always thought that it would be me who had to remember not to pretend that they came from my body. I always thought it would be that way. But no, it's them who want to gloss over what came before and pretend there was never anything except for this, the four of us.

Pink doesn't seem particularly sad about what came first, just not that interested. But Blue hurts.

Maybe one day that hurt will become I wish I had stayed with her. But right now it manifests itself as I wish I had always been with you. I'm astonished to find that this is as painful to witness as the other one would be. My boy wishes that I had been there with him, and I wasn't. Never mind the physical impossibility of what he wants - he wishes I had been there, and I wasn't.

I believe wholeheartedly that an attitude of openness in adoption is always better than the alternative. But I didn't realise this openness would be so painful for them - and especially for him - at this developmental stage. Right now, I think he would honestly prefer not to know that he is adopted. He would prefer that we were all complicit in his fantasies. Why am I surprised by this? As a adult, I have had to work and work at having an attitude of openheartedness towards my children's other family, their early history, their other selves. I don't think that children are naturally open-hearted; I think children crave exclusivity. He has no desire to be part of two families, and why should he? I wonder if sometimes we adults superimpose our own understanding of what they should want onto how they actually feel. After all, they are only three. How can they possibly understand any of this? I am eleven times that and sometimes I don't.

He knows that he came from anther woman's body, but he doesn't want it to be true. He wants to make it go away. I think he's waiting for the day when I will cave in and say only joking, Blue! You weren't adopted You were always mine! 

He wishes that we had been joined by a real umbilical cord. Do I wish that? Not really, but I wish I could take away this layer of sadness from my sunshiny boy.

He wishes he had been born from my tummy - it's as simple as that.


  1. I love your umbilical story! I'll share mine: I always knew that I was adopted and never shy to tell people about it, so when I was 5 I had everyone in my kindergarten class CONVINCED! that I did not have a belly button because I had been adopted. I thought it was the best joke ever. I don't remember if adults caught on and corrected this misconception, or if I eventually came clean to everyone.

    And just hug Blue close and love him. Lots of us adoptees went through that phase while we tried to sort out the big, big world we were born into.

  2. Both girls are forever climbing under my sweater and I wonder if this is what's going on. Mara wishes she'd been born from my body and that I'd breastfed her, though she also wishes I had brown skin so I could look like her. It's so complicated and so difficult for little ones to puzzle out by themselves.

  3. Yeah, my girl went through that too. At first I thought it was because of my bio boys and her fear that because I had birthed them that maybe I loved them "more" than her. It seemed to me that she thought the boys and I were part of a club she didn't belong to, we had this connection that she was missing. I think her desire to have been born from my body was her wanting to be as loved by me as she felt they were. It helped a lot that DH is from another country and I made a big show of waving one arm all the way to the left saying "I had to go all the way to Europe to find DH" and waving my arm far to the right and saying "I had to go all the way to China to find you" and ending it with "I had to go all the way to XXX town and have the boys and now we're all here together." She got it. But she was still sad sometimes.

  4. That story you tell Pink is the most adorable thing ever.

  5. I'll give you a high five for that teachable moment.

    Those layers of sadness in our otherwise happy children - all I can do with that is just sigh. It's tough.

  6. Oh yes, we have that here. He wishes he grew in my belly. He wishes our skin matched. He wishes he got to drink milk from my breasts. And it is so hard because the thing that my brain knows will be best in the long run for him - openness and honesty - is so, so painful for him right now. We play about him growing in my belly and nursing, and a few years ago I would have thought a mom who did that had some serious issues of her own. But he seems to need it. I'm clear it is playing, but it makes him feel better about things and it usually ends with him popping a cuddly toy up his shirt to grow in his belly, which is pretty darned hilarious so at least this heavy, sad talk ends on a good note.

    And yes, your teachable moment gets full marks!

  7. You and your love for Pink and Blue are beautiful. In so many ways.

  8. i love, love, LOVE your story! You do tell the best stories. So when are THOSE coming out in the new range of hip kids' books? :)

  9. ,Regular reader/commenter but... Not sure how we're going to use that story, with an added "and your birthmother took bad medicine and you had some of that medicine through your umbilical cord and that means you were sick when you were a baby and we don't know if it hurt your brain too"

  10. Well done with the Nicodemus reference.

    My daughter, adopted as an older child, sometimes says (pleadingly) that she remembers drinking milk from my breasts. She will swear that she remembers when I changed her diapers, and that I used to carry her in my baby sling. She will spend hours looking at baby pictures of our biological children, and tell us that when we took that photo, she was having a nap, or at school, or in the bathroom. She so desperately wants it to be true... it's heartbreaking sometimes.

  11. Thank you. Love this. My girl is only 2 but I see we are also heading down this same path as she processes her grief.

  12. Really loved this post. Thought about it all night. My girls are 4.5 and have been home for 5 months. They have memories of their life in Ethiopia and family there, but I can already see a desire to forget that life and pretend it doesn't exist. It will be interesting to see what happens as the months go by, but some if where my mind goes breaks my heart. I am open and honest about everything, but I try to follow their lead.

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  14. My almost seven year old, home 8 months, sometimes says these things too. Her 8 year old brother never does. She also talks about how when their baby sister was born (she was one), her mom stopped breastfeeding her. Given her age, I have no idea if this is true, but she's mentioned it several times, and played it with her stuffed animals. "No, I have another baby now. You can't have any of my milk."

    Tonight I was cooking and she was playing quietly on the couch (Quiet Box!) and called to me, "Mama?" I nearly snapped, "Quiet Box!" but right now I'm trying to watch my behavior more than theirs, so I just said, "Yes?"

    "When I was in the orphanage, I really wanted a Mama, and I tried calling all the teachers Mama."

    I believe it. I remember the day we met, how she clung to my leg, how the first time I picked her up, she pressed herself against me and murmured, "Mama, Mama, Mama" dreamily over and over. I think it must be so hard to synthesize this intense desire for that specific connection and her loving but hurt memories of her birthmom. If she could just have been born from me, and been taken care of by me, and been lovingly fed from my body, it would all be so much easier.

    Such interesting thoughts you share here.

  15. YES YES YES the crawling into my clothes. UGH. And sigh. I suppose its sweet and I'm supposed to be all gentle and accepting and yet.... in public... with MY belly and... well.... HE's 5!! ok... i really do try to be all accepting. That also makes me a spectacle.

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