A Mother's Story Of Her Son's Adoption: 'My Greatest Accomplishment & Deepest Regret'

May 8, 2016
Originally published on May 8, 2016 8:38 am

Open adoptions are can be an "awkward choreography." In this excerpt from "Modern Love: The Podcast," a story about one woman's relationship with the son she isn't raising.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

It's a common thought. Parents who think - I can't imagine my life without my children. Well, this sentiment resonates a little differently with Amy Seek. She wrote about her experience becoming a mother for the Modern Love column in The New York Times. Here's actress Sarah Paulson reading Amy Seek's piece for "Modern Love: The Podcast."

SARAH PAULSON: (Reading) I wanted my son to become the kind of person who appreciates the beauty of the world around him. So I smiled when, at 6, he asked to borrow my camera in case he saw something beautiful. We were taking a walk in the woods outside Boston, and following behind him, I was surprised by how much he moved like his father. We spent that afternoon showing each other icicles and hollow trees, breaking frozen patterns in the river ice, inching too close to the water to get a better view of the bridge above. When we arrived home, Ben said that the reason he wanted to go for a walk was to spend time with me. It had been three months since I last saw him. I smiled sheepishly and stepped into the living room where the woman who had adopted him six years earlier sat reading the newspaper.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PAULSON: (Reading) I spent the evening chatting with her while avoiding direct interaction with Ben, for fear I'd showed too much affection - or too little. Open adoption is an awkward choreography. I am offered a place at the table. But I am not sure where to sit. I don't know how to be any kind of mother, much less one who surrendered her child but is back to help build a Lego castle.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PAULSON: (Reading) It is a far cry from the moment he was born, when my 23-year-old body seemed to know exactly what to do, when I suddenly and surprisingly wanted nothing more than to admire him nursing at my breast, when after a drugless labor, my surging hormones helped me to forget that I was a college student, that I lived in Cincinnati, that I was passionate about architecture. During those days, I was roused by the slightest sound of his lips smacking, innocent newborn desire that offered my deepest fulfillment.

In the months before I gave birth, when my boyfriend and I were just getting to know the couple we had chosen, I was able to comprehend the coming exchange only on the most theoretical of levels. But it seemed like gentle math - girl with child she can't keep plus woman who wants, but can't have child. Balance the equation, and both parties become whole again. During those months, my son's mother, Holly, observed that birth mothers have to accomplish in one day the monumental task of letting go that most parents have 18 years to figure out.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PAULSON: (Reading) I signed the papers on a hot, August day in 2000. My pen rested at the intersection of two vastly different futures, and I struggled to see into the distance of each. It was such a small gesture, but it was the first sketch of my life without a son.

(SOUNDBITE OF BABY COOING)

PAULSON: (Reading) One of the exercises I was given in adoption counseling was to envision the hours immediately after the adoption. What would I do after signing the papers? Pick up the towels that had been tossed in the corner when my water broke? Pack up the extra blankets I'd been given by the hospital workers who touched my shoulder and prayed aloud that I would find the courage to keep my son? I had spent my entire made without a child, but I was newly born that night, too, and my old self disappeared. I could no longer imagine how a mother could give up a child and live. Adoption was not simple math. A new mother cannot know the value of the thing she subtracts. It is only through time - when my son turned 4 and I was 27, when he turned 6 and I was 29, when he turns 10 this year and I am 33 and ready for children - that I begin to understand the magnitude of what I lost and that it is growing.

The comfort is seeing my son with his family, whom I can no longer imagine him or myself without. He is an earnest child who seems to kick hard to keep his chin above water in the world. But his mother has a certain lack of sympathy that is good for him. I am ever astounded that I was able to see in her something that would still feel so right so many years later. The greatest proof of her commitment to openness is that she talks about me when I'm not there. When my son was a baby, I was surprised that he always remembered me, even after long stretches when I couldn't visit. When he was 7 and we were playing a computer game, he told me his password was Cincinnati because his mother had told him he was born there. I know that Holly represents me to my son in my absence and always encourages him to love me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PAULSON: (Reading) I love Holly for sharing such things with me, sentiments that show she's devoted to our relationship, and not because it is easy for her. And I have told her that a pivotal point in my grief was the moment I was able to say aloud that I wanted my son back, though I knew it was impossible, when I realized that his adoption had been both my greatest accomplishment and deepest regret. When I returned home to New York after my visit, I looked at the pictures Ben had taken with my camera - fragments of arms and legs, blurry close-ups of leaves caught in ice - evidence, to me, that although he has his father's distinctive gait, he shares my need to grasp and hold onto beautiful things - to document and to somehow preserve them forever - things he can't possibly keep.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLOCK: That's Sarah Paulson reading Amy Seek's essay "Open Adoption: Not So Simple Math" for the "Modern Love" podcast. It's a collaboration between The New York Times and NPR member station WBUR in Boston. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.