Love and Forgiveness

Love and Forgiveness

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Tribute to Moms

Love and Forgiveness

To err is human; to forgive, divine.

Alexander Pope

I had only been home from the hospital with my newborn daughter a couple of days when my husband suggested I give my aunt a call. To anyone else, that request would seem perfectly normal. In this situation, however, it had a special meaning. I was adopted, and she was my birth mother. And she didn’t know that I knew.

Growing up as an only child, I had devoted parents. We were a close-knit family, and I never questioned their love, even when, at ten years old, I found out I was adopted. The rumor had come through some neighborhood kids from the daughter of a friend of my mom’s. My mother was devastated that she didn’t tell me first, but it meant nothing to me. So secure was I in my parents’ love that this revelation was completely irrelevant to my life. Yet even at that young age, I sensed how deeply it upset her. For some reason, she was sure this knowledge would change my feelings for them. Nothing I said persuaded her otherwise. So I tucked that understanding away in my heart, stopped talking about it, and continued to enjoy growing up.

As I became a teenager, I grew curious about my heritage. Who did I look like? Where did they come from? Did I have any siblings? These questions sent my imagination into overdrive and convinced me to investigate. So one day when my parents were gone, I looked through my dad’s files and found my adoption papers. That’s when I discovered the truth about my aunt. It was her name on the line for consenting mother.

I was, of course, absolutely stunned. For a little while I just sat there staring at the paper, unable to thoroughly grasp what this meant. Then slowly it became evident that this was a profound secret. Nothing had ever happened to raise my suspicions or cause me to even consider that I was adopted inside my family. More important, if my mother had been so concerned that I knew I was adopted, how would she feel if she knew what I had discovered? She and I had such an amazing relationship, and I loved her dearly—there was absolutely no way I was going to take a chance of hurting her with this. So I folded the paper, put it away, and determined never, ever to let her know I knew. And I never did. Our relationship remained strong and wonderful until the sad day she died eight years later from a cancerous brain tumor.

Now, two years after her death, I sat thinking about my husband’s suggestion. Maybe this was the right thing to do, to get the secret out. But I was terrified. I had never known my “aunt” very well because she had always lived in another state. She was always cordial, and I liked her. Yet, once the truth was out, would my “aunt” expect me to feel something for her that I didn’t? She might have given me life, but she wasn’t my mother. My mother was the person who had held me when I was sick, taught me to cook, encouraged me at every turn, and helped me through those emotional preteen and teenage years. I loved her so much. She was the one who I missed more than ever as I looked in the face of the grandchild she would never know. Yet, could this grandchild be the very reason the secret should come out? What would I tell my little girl about my being adopted? With those questions in my mind, I decided to make the call. I didn’t know what would happen, but I knew it was time to tell the truth.

When my aunt answered the phone, she was very surprised to hear from me, but she was kind, and it eased my anxiety. Then, after telling her about my daughter, I told her what I knew. She was quiet, shocked with my confession. Her first question was, “How did you find out?” I related finding the adoption papers, but explained that I never shared my discovery with my mom. Then I waited. It was apparent this was something she had never expected. I’m not sure now how I thought she would react, but her response was something I will never forget.

“You had a mom,” she said, “and it wasn’t me. I gave you birth, but I couldn’t take care of you. So I gave you to my sister, and she loved you. You are the woman you are because of her, not because of me. I promised her the day she took you home that I would never cause a problem and never tell you that you were really mine. And I had committed to keep that promise to her even though she is no longer here. She did something for me that I couldn’t do; she raised you, and I will always be grateful to her for that. I know that you loved your mom, and I don’t expect you to love me that way. But I hope that we can have a relationship in the future, because I do love you, too.”

I could hardly speak as the tears rolled down my face. It was such a relief to know that she didn’t expect me to love her like I loved my mom, and she had allowed me to have a normal life by unselfishly keeping her promise. I was so glad to know how she felt and to understand how deeply she had cared about me and my mom. It certainly eased my mind, and the doubts about my decision to call immediately faded. A month after we spoke, she came for a visit. It was a good beginning to our relationship, and she shared everything I didn’t know about the situation surrounding my birth. I realized even more the sacrifice she had made by giving me up.

Soon after that, I had another daughter, and many years later, I am now a grandmother. I’ve come to appreciate beyond words the relationship I have with my birth mother. We share memories and stories, and she’s been the grandmother to my girls that my mom couldn’t be. I’m thankful I didn’t allow unfounded fear to rob me of someone who means the world to me now. Yes, I had a wonderful mother, and now I’m fortunate to have my birth mother. We share an amazing bond for which I will forever be thankful.

Kim Johnson

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