A collage of childhood photos lay strewn across my desk as I held a pair of shears. I studied each photograph and wondered, What would my child want to know about me? After careful consideration, I selected a photo. Under the dim light of my desk lamp, I trimmed. Snip. Tiny slivers of paper fell like wisps of hair onto the carpet. Snip. I cut until I was satisfied.
I carefully positioned the photograph onto the scrapbook page and sat back to admire my work. My hands and back ached from cutting, gluing and pressing but I couldn’t stop since time was fleeting. Every photograph mattered. Each picture chosen was significant. The book would become my legacy. It was to become my parting gift to my daughter.
Inside the book was:
A baby photo.
A third grade class photo.
A music program from my first piano recital.
A picture of myself on the high school diving team.
A photo of myself as color guard captain during a marching band competition.
A photo of my high school sweetheart and myself at prom.
A photo of myself as resident assistant at my Christian college.
There the photos stopped. The scrapbook pages were full except for one. I tore off a blank piece of notebook paper and began to write, “To my daughter.” For months I’d procrastinated, dreading the letter. When my child asked her adoptive parents one day, “Why did my mom give me away?” I wanted her to read my words. A myriad of thoughts entangled my mind until I willed the words to flow onto the page:
Dear Baby Girl,
I love you.
I wish I could keep you.
But I can’t.
I can’t give you everything you deserve.
I must sacrifice my dreams of motherhood so that your dreams will be fulfilled.
You will always hold a special place in my heart.
I hope you can forgive me.
I hope one day we can meet.
Before my falling tears smudged the page, I signed the letter, “Love, your birth mom.” I cringed at the name “birth mom,” wishing circumstances could be different. Fear and self-doubt had enveloped me as I thought about raising a child alone, without support or stability. After months of agonizing, adoption became the only viable choice for my daughter.
A few days later, contractions began. I tucked the book inside my overnight bag and rushed to the hospital. For twelve hours I labored until a piercing cry filled the delivery room and I held my newborn for the first time. I kissed her forehead and watched time as it dwindled away. When the adoptive couple arrived and I had to say goodbye, I whispered into my daughter’s ear, “I will always love you.” Then, I pulled the book from my bag and tucked it beside my daughter as the social worker carried her away. I yanked at my hospital gown in agony. My sobs echoed loud in the hallways. I left the hospital carrying an empty hospital bag and prayed the book would somehow bind the two of us together.
Hundreds of seasons would come and go after I’d said goodbye to my daughter. Spring turned to summer, summer turned to fall, fall to winter and winter returned to spring. Year after year, I pondered the moments I’d missed with my little girl. Watching her take her first steps. Braiding her hair. Getting manicures. I wondered if she ever read the book. I hoped the book was well-loved and not covered with dust.
As the years passed, my home filled to the brim with children. I’d married my high school sweet heart, the father of my daughter, and given birth to three boys. Then, I adopted another son from a family friend. I nurtured each of my boys with utmost care. I made mud pies. I climbed trees. I read stories of fantasy and adventure. I drew pictures of superheroes. While I reveled in motherhood, I always felt another child was missing.
On a warm spring day, the phone rang. When I answered it, the voice on the other end sounded strikingly familiar, like a younger version of myself and I knew. It was my twelve-year-old daughter. After all these years, she hadn’t forgotten about me. When she asked if she could meet me in person, my heart erupted in joyous celebration.
On the day my daughter and her adoptive parents were scheduled to arrive, I waited by the front door, watching and wondering, Did she look like me? Did she know how much I love her? A car pulled up in our driveway and a petite girl with pale skin, long flowing blond hair and light blue eyes stepped outside. I marveled at her loveliness. Then, I ran to her and held her close, running my fingers through her long hair. I held her hand in mine and said, “I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you, too,” she said.
My husband embraced her and the three of us rejoiced over our reunion. We introduced our daughter to her siblings. The boys beamed with pride at their big sister and fought over who would sit next to her at the dinner table. Later, I found a quiet moment with my daughter and asked if she had read the book. “I know every page by heart,” she said softly. I silently rejoiced. She remarked how similar we looked as babies. She noticed we both loved to swim and dance. She memorized the words inside my letter.
I fought back tears when I had to say goodbye again two days later. I wrapped my arms around my daughter and assured her the love I’d communicated in the book had never ceased, and, in fact, continued to grow through the years. Despite my heartache to see her go, I had hope we’d meet again.
When my daughter turned sixteen, we visited her hometown and enjoyed a dinner together.
At seventeen, she visited our home where we explored the city and indulged in pedicures. I watched as my daughter and son bonded in my kitchen while baking a double-layer chocolate cake. They laughed while licking icing from the red plastic bowl.
At eighteen, my daughter came along with my sons and husband on a family trip to the Gulf Shores. We toured New Orleans, ate beignets and listened to jazz.
We had weekly phone calls, sharing about each other’s lives.
Today, my daughter is in college. While I cannot erase the years of separation, we’ve found ways to celebrate new milestones. Hiking in the mountains. Shopping for clothes. Watching movies. Sipping coffee and sharing stories. I am content knowing the book’s message of my unconditional love for my daughter has endured over the years. Its contents bound the two of us together in ways I never imagined. Instead of holding the book, I now hold my daughter’s hand.