On a chilly night, Mia and I are left alone for the evening. My husband has taken the three older children to an event at their school that will end well past her bedtime. At 4 years old, she's usually asleep by 7:30. I cheerfully promoted the evening to her all day in an effort to reduce her disappointment about not going with the others.
We'll have a special time together. You and me. Just the two of us.
She picks her favorite book from the stack on the hearth. I read to her, aware of the time passing, eyeing the clock as it creeps toward seven o'clock, when I'll take her upstairs to get ready for bed. It has been a tiring few weeks-I want to go to bed early myself.
"I want to see her," Mia says.
Her comment pulls me back into the moment.
The book we are reading is about a little white terrier named Fergus. In one illustration, he stares at his owner during dinner, putting a paw on the man's leg to indicate a desire for scraps. We had been laughing at the picture that follows that one-Fergus' face smeared orange, with bits of spaghetti clinging to his fur.
"See who?" I ask.
Mia turns around in my lap and looks in my eyes.
"I want to see the lady whose tummy I came out of."
I close the book.
When Mia was 8 months old, she sat on the edge of her birth mother's lap for a photograph. That morning, both of them had their blood taken so that their biological relationship could be confirmed. We had photocopies of that picture. The moment I first saw it, before even meeting Mia, I knew it was one of the most important pieces of paper I owned. I knew it would be of great importance to my daughter someday. I'd last mentioned the picture to Mia several months earlier, after we had been talking about how babies grow inside their mothers' bodies.
"Theo came out of your tummy," she had said.
"Yes, he did."
"Isabel came out of your tummy."
"Yes, she did."
"Ian came out of your tummy."
"But I came from someone else's tummy."
"Yes," I'd said, "and we have a picture of her. If you ever want to see it, I can show it to you."
That night, months ago, she hadn't asked. Now she asked.
"I want to see that picture," Mia says, still looking in my eyes.
I leave her on the chair and find the firebox in the basement that contains all the documents related to her adoption. There it is. The cover sheet is from a lab in the U.S. and states that maternity has been established. On the next page, the photographs.
I stare again at the unfamiliar woman holding her little baby, a baby she hadn't seen for several months. Not since a few days after she gave birth. The woman's brows are drawn together. A deep crease divides her forehead. I bring the papers upstairs, sit again in the chair, and lift my daughter onto my lap. I hold the page in front of her and she looks at it, silently, for a very long time.
"I miss her so much," she says, beginning to cry. I pull her close to me and tell her it's all right. She hugs me and then turns again to the page, eyes locking on the image. She tells me that she was confused when they took the picture. "I didn't know what was going on," she said, studying her baby self in the photo.
We talk about the circumstances her birth mother faced and the hopes she had for Mia. I tell her how brave her birth mother is, and how kind. Later in the evening, I make a photocopy of that piece of paper, cut out the image and put it in a frame. She runs upstairs and puts the frame beside her bed, the picture facing her pillow.
Mia's birth mother conceived her, carried her and gave her the gift of birth. Her blood beats in my daughter's heart. Her ancestry, temperament and high hopes for Mia mysteriously form the person my daughter is and who she will become.
Mia's foster mother cared for her for the first nearly year-and-a-half of her life, keeping her healthy and, just as significantly, teaching my daughter, with her attentiveness, that her world is a safe and nurturing place.
And I am her mother, delighting in her, teaching her, and building a family and life story with her every day.
Our lives, the women who have been Mia's other mothers and me, are tied to each other. We three have been braided together to create something new and stronger than we would have been on our own.
We have been forever connected in love for one little girl.
Jennifer Grant is the author of the memoir, Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter. She is at work on a second book to be released in August 2012. Find her online at jennifergrant.com.