Adoption Stories Two girls in dance uniforms. The younger girl has dark bobbed hair and a blue and yellow top and matching hat. The older girl has glasses, a low ponytail, and a black and white outfit.

Published on October 4th, 2022 | by Jody Kesiner


She’s Both of Our Daughters

Adapted from Under My Bed and Other Essays (University of Nebraska Press).

“I don’t remember you being pregnant.”

In the waiting room of my older daughter’s dance class, a woman I hadn’t formally met was staring at me and then back at Amelia, asleep in her car seat. The adoption caseworker told us to expect other people’s nosy questions. Questions about blood and swirling strands of DNA. I thought I was ready, but as the woman’s eyes settled on my flat stomach, heat flushed my cheeks.

“Is she yours?” she said.

If there had been a vinyl record playing instead of the muffled pop music from the stereo in the next room, the needle would have screeched to a stop. The other dance moms and what I imagined were their biological daughters turned their heads to look at me. 


Forty-two years earlier, my adoptive parents took me home from a Catholic Charities office in a makeshift bassinet fashioned from a cardboard box. Until the moment when the dance mom outed me, I’d foolishly believed I would slide gracefully into my new role, a gold-star adoptive parent who also happened to be adopted. Adoption Times Two. I’d been adopted during the Baby Scoop Era, the period between post World War II and 1975, when three to four million infants were adopted domestically. The adoptions were closed, and birth mothers, like mine, were not told the identities of the adoptive parents. Adoptive parents were given only a fragment or two about the birth parents’ health and the stilted information one usually finds on a driver’s license: height, weight, hair and eye color. 

I wanted our baby (if we were chosen) to grow up knowing their birth family, which I hoped would lessen the psychological trauma of being separated from the birth mother, what many in the adoption community call a primal wound, something I felt deeply. Before Amelia was born, my husband and I attended a year of open adoption education classes, met frequently with our caseworker and other adoptive families, filled out multiple questionnaires that required intense self-reflection, and read dozens of books like Hospitious Adoption and Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew. We knew what to expect, or at least what to hope for. The birth mother would choose us a few months before the birth, beginning what would be a lifelong, if unconventional, family dynamic. When it came to openness, contact, and togetherness, we’d (mostly) agree. Birth parents, adoptive parents, and baby: We’d become a (nearly) perfect triangle of modern love. 

I got The Call while I was at work. The caseworker said we’d been chosen! But also: The couple wanted a closed adoption. Also: Their baby girl had been born three days ago. Also: We had less than three hours to come and get her. Adoptions that happen after the baby is born and usually within hours or days of the birth are called “stork drops.” Jon and I had laughed about the cartoonish improbability of this during an adoption education class, and now it was happening: A baby was about to fall out of the sky and drop into my arms. What about meeting the birth mother beforehand? What about setting up the nursery? Oh my god, what about formula? Diapers? Clothes? 

Packages of Pampers diapers
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

My husband and I did what any prospective parents would do in this situation: We abruptly left our places of work without telling anyone why. At home, we stopped moving only long enough to embrace. “Can you believe this is happening?” we kept saying to each other. We’d anticipated picking out a name with the birth mother, so we didn’t have one. The caseworker said the birth mother loved the Harry Potter series, and since I didn’t want to burden our daughter with the name Hermione, I Googled “minor female characters in Harry Potter” on my iPhone. Amelia: a witch and Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Amelia: our newborn daughter. It was magical, like a giant orb of possibility and light had opened in the sky.

After picking up our oldest daughter from school, we raced to the adoption agency, elated and stunned. Well, I thought, at least I’m prepared emotionally. I would know how to share my baby with another mother. Things would be different. 

As a child, when I asked my mother questions about my adoption, she would cry, hug me close to her bosomy chest, and say, “I don’t even think of you as being adopted.” I learned to stop asking questions. (Plus, I was muffled by her breasts). I didn’t want to make my mother—who was softhearted and loved me fiercely—cry. But by the time I was a teenager, my desire to meet my Other Mother outweighed my desire to remain loyal to the mother who’d raised me. To make a long story short: I reunited with my birth mother when I was in college. The reunion began what would be a lengthy, complicated process of healing for both of us.

Afterward, I sat in my mother’s car outside of the restaurant where for the first time I’d met someone I shared genes with. She leaned over to hug me, still belted in, tears running down her cheeks.

“It’s just,” she said, pausing to blow her nose. “I think of you as my own.”

“I’m both of your daughters,” I said, gently. It was important to me that she understood.

“Yes, I guess so,” she said.


Now I was on the other side, and Amelia didn’t feel like mine. Not yet. Not in the way the woman at dance class meant—Is she yours?—and not in the same way my oldest daughter, who tore out of my flesh and bones after hours of labor, felt like she belonged to me—was of me. In those first tender weeks, while the rest of the household slept, Amelia and I were often by ourselves at night. I stared at her full moon eyes and tiny mouth and nose, and I wondered: Where did you get your nose? Your brown eyes? Where did you come from? She felt like my baby, so light yet solid in the crook of my arm, but she wasn’t my baby. Not fully.

Young girl in a pink knit cap hugs a baby in a blue knit cap against a backdrop of autumn leaves

She’d one day understand that my body couldn’t have created her, couldn’t feed her, couldn’t have made the moments that passed between us on its own. My age. My secondary infertility. I was aware this was the final time I could manage twenty-four-hour care for a baby, and it felt so entirely right. But there was a wrongness to any closed adoption. The birth mother, the woman who had Amelia’s cells intermingled with cells in her lungs, heart, and brain through a scientific marvel called fetomaternal microchimerism, was gone. The loss would be painful for Amelia. It had been painful for me.

Some days I worried about Amelia’s birth mother changing her mind and showing up on our doorstep, arms outstretched. I’d read in Hospitous Adoption that if this happened (highly unlikely but not impossible), I should respond like a “master of hospitality,” with “poise” and “grace” as I handed over the child. Amelia’s birth mother knew everything about us from the adoption profile letter we’d written and the official documents we’d signed, including where we lived. We didn’t even know her name. I tried to imagine how I would feel if she referred to Amelia as her daughter. Jealous? Displaced? Or sad, like my mother felt? I’d read babies recognized their mother’s scents and voices immediately after birth. Who did Amelia think I was? Were my smells strange to her? I felt like I’d done something wrong. Amelia was another woman’s baby, too. Would Amelia be happier with her biological family? Would I have been? Some questions I’ll never be able to answer. 

My mother did the best she could with the school of thought at the time, when adoption professionals believed secrecy created the ideal adoptive family. It doesn’t. Many adopted children experience enduring feelings of abandonment and loss. They need their adoptive parents to be accepting of their longing for their biological roots and the grief (and rage) that comes with the knowledge that you’ve been relinquished. For too long, I was afraid to question either of my mothers. Only recently have I started asking them the questions I’ve most wanted to ask. Like: Can you tell me the story of my birth? And: Were you ever jealous of the Other Mother? 

Six months after we brought Amelia home, we finalized her adoption in court. The state amended Amelia’s original birth certificate, which is now sealed along with her adoption records. This was also the last opportunity for a biological family member to oppose her adoption. No one challenged Amelia’s adoption. My name appears in the box for “mother” instead of the name of Amelia’s birth mother. I was eager to finalize, though the altered birth certificate disturbs me in the same way my own altered birth certificate does: One mother vanishes while another mother becomes. This vanishing, I remind myself, is only on paper. 

A girl of about five years old, with light brown skin and a dark brown bob, sits on a carousel animal

I vow to be Amelia’s guide when I can relate to what she’s feeling and soothe her when I don’t have answers. I vow to give her space to grieve. I hope she forms a meaningful relationship with her birth mother someday, as my birth mother and I have done. I know she needs both of us. Her two mothers. That afternoon at the dance studio, the dance mom’s question unearthed old, murky feelings surrounding my own adoption; old insecurities about who I am and where I belong. Old hurt, too. But I only needed a moment to steady myself and meet her gaze: “Yes,” I said to her and a room of curious onlookers. “She’s my daughter.” 

As Amelia nears her fifth birthday, I grow nostalgic for those early months, blurring together from sleeplessness and our nighttime bottle feedings. When I listened to the delicate baby sounds of breathing and sucking, feeling the warmth from her body. When Amelia and I were alone these nights, like I imagine centuries of others before us, an ancient language passed between us, skin to skin, mother to child. 

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About the Author

Jody Keisner is a writer, teacher, mother, first-generation college graduate, and ex-waitress. Her first book Under My Bed and Other Essays is available for preorder. Her essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Los Angeles Review of Books, Fourth Genre, Cimarron Review, and many other literary journals and magazines. She writes for AARP’s The Girlfriend, and is the Editor-in-Chief of The Linden Review, a journal of creative nonfiction focused on health.

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