My brother Joseph and his wife Amy have a baby girl, Helen Rose. She is nine months old now, but I wrote this poem the day after she was born. It’s not for her, exactly. It’s for her Dad.

I’ve been thinking a lot of my brothers and sisters, and how many of us are raising our children when it seems to me like we were just children ourselves. I have fourteen nieces and nephews. Another will be born next week. Another in April. One of my sisters will welcome a child adopted from Poland in the coming year. Then there’s our second child via domestic adoption, who is either a day or a year away (who knows?).

That will make 19 cousins on my side of the family. The world is full of beautiful things, and these children are truly beautiful.




If we’r e taking stock,

I’d say this is what we have:


The summer we dragged a mattress

To the creek, floated it above the falls

And rode like Huckleberry Finn

Over tadpoles and strings of rocks;


Also sunburns and burnt marshmallows—

We dug holes in the backyard

When no one was watching,

And built fires to roast potatoes;


Built earthen pots from clay we found ourselves,

Dug it up by the creekbed and it was always

Under fingernails and dried up in our hair;


Slung boards fifteen feet up and nailed them in

The tree, climbed up ladders to read or be alone—

Looked down between the slats at the lawn below

Until it seemed like another world;


We climbed over the swingset when it had no swings,

Leapt from bar to bar like the last children and thought up

What the world was like when things were new,

Flashing with hope and the cry of warming winter bulbs.


Barefoot children in a world of hurt,

We sung like mockingbirds

And cut the Easter lilies for our mama,

Cradled them like babies of our own.


All around us, the shining worlds of joy and work,

The autumn fells, the winter flames,

The first strong and hopeful cry

Of each new child that wove us together.


I’d say these are the things we have:

The shining primal hurt,

The love we can’t escape

Or throw away or price too low.


The happiness of recognition,

The weight of our sorrows

And the gold feathered sheen

Of sunshine on a row of jeweled lights.

Love Poetry: Mother-Mother

August 24th, 2010

Last week, I inaugurated a Tuesday series on my favorite topic, love. I started with a poem. So I will continue to write or find snippets or poems or meditations on the many different kinds of love in my world. I’ll call the series “Love Poetry.”


*written December 2008*

She haunts me more and more as we move further into our adoption process. She is beautiful, I’m sure of it. I dream of her. She’s the other woman, the one I don’t know. The one I may never know.

She is the mother of the baby we will adopt. But how do you say it? I can’t think of anything that won’t offend me, or her, or someone. Birthmother sounds like she only has one function–to give birth. I especially don’t like the custom of the greeting on “Dear Birthmother” letters. As if she has already made her final decision. As if she doesn’t have the right to change her mind. As if “birthmother” is her one identifying function in regard to us. I know customs are customs and most people repeat them unthinkingly. But I loved and appreciated one sample letter our agency director showed us; it started:

To Someone Special

I liked that. On ours, we wrote Dear Expectant Parents. Because we have this thing about fathers always being left out of the picture. And yet. That seems cold and distant, not quite right.

Another thing I saw at our adoption agency: a birth announcement that called her first mother. I liked it for a while. But does that make me second mother, with all the frailties of the one who isn’t first? Does that make her the one who came BEFORE, but who no longer exists?

Then we have natural mother & biological mother. Same problems. So am I unnatural? And who wants to be known as the biological mother? This reminds me of genetic code, and anatomy charts. Also cellular walls and mitochondria. I’m not into it.

Words have power. And they strike each of us in different ways. I’ve met mothers who placed children for adoption who were perfectly fine with the term “birthmother.” And another who rages against the word. I understand both. But what will my child call her? The one who first loved her?

The one who grieves?

I don’t know. I’d prefer just Mother. She’s mother and I’m mother. Mother-Mother. But I know that’s not practical–because the way we think of things, a child wouldn’t understand that. I don’t think, at least. Maybe she’ll go by her first name in our family. I know people who do that. But like everything else, it doesn’t seem quite right.

Is all this linguistic waffling a sign of guilt? A sign I haven’t begun to work out even the basics of adoptive parenting? Yes, and yes again. Also a sign that I love this woman I don’t know. I don’t know how I love her or why. But I do.