The invisible guest


Today I cut some lilac blooms, filled a bud vase with water and tucked the fragrant blossoms inside. I placed the bouquet on the table set for a Mother’s Day lunch. The vase sits in silent tribute to the unknown, but very real guest at our table: my youngest daughter’s birth mother.

Although she is not visible to us and we do not know where to find her (or if she is alive), I have an idea of  what she looks like:

I see her when I run my fingers through my Girl from the East’s quirky, wiry hair that only grows in one direction. I see her when I look into my girl’s wide, ink-black eyes, watch her expressive brows bounce up and down as she talks, and hear her infectious giggle. I see her when I examine my girl’s distinctive ears. These ears are a physical feature that I am certain will help us track her birth family should we ever embark upon that quest.

Not from us, but from her birth parents, come her elegant pianist’s fingers, her nimble dancer’s legs. She is born of acrobats, gymnasts and athletes. Whatever her biological origins, no matter how humble, her lineage speaks of beauty, strength and grace.

I  love my girl more than life.  Most days I just see her. I don’t see the physical differences. It’s only when someone outside the family asks: Is she yours? Where did she come from? that my bubble is burst and I must face the birth mother, who’s always in the shadows.

Without question, I love my Girl from the East with the same fierce devotion as I love the child who grew inside me, my Girl from the West. I mourn the severed bond between my youngest girl and her birth mother. I cannot image holding a newborn and then watching her vanish from my life. I wonder: Does her birth mother think of her? Would she want a reunion? The simple answer would be: of course she does. But this is a conclusion based on my culture. My culture is not the birth mother’s culture.

I used to feel threatened when my girl so easily slipped into the arms of her pretty, young Mandarin teachers. I felt inadequate, feared that my girl noticed the differences between us and wanted the familiarity of a Chinese face, a voice that spoke in tones she knew before her birth. Today, I am grateful that she has so many Chinese-born women in her life.

I had the privilege recently  to meet a woman born of Chinese parents but raised by Caucasians. Later, she found her birth family. What I learned from this woman is that even though her Caucasian parents don’t look like her and couldn’t do much to teach her to be Chinese, they are bound by love. She is grateful to have a link to her past, but would not want a different life.

While it is difficult for us to do, we take time to acknowledge the woman who made it possible for Girl from the East to be a part of our lives. We recognize that this came about through a tragedy beyond her control. While my daughter brings infinite joy to our lives, she left behind a landscape of sorrow.

We know that in the coming years the birth parents, particularly the mother,  will take on an even stronger presence in our home. Our girl will ask pointed questions. We will find honest answers. There will be tears. We cannot hide these parental figures in the closet. They must have a place at the table, just like the bouquet of lilacs.