Dear Ma,

Pardon the informality. I’m reticent to call you “Mom” or “Mother” for a lot of reasons. For one, we only met once, at birth, before the social workers and hospital employees took me. For another, I’ve been raised by another woman, whom I’ve called “Mom” for over 30 years now, so it feels inaccurate and disloyal to use that particular moniker in addressing you. The last reason is that, in my mind, you are too young to be an actual mother. You remain timeless in a memory that I don’t actually have: Sixteen and scared and too unwilling or unable or unfit or unsuited or unhealthy to marry your life to mine. I don’t know the exact reasons that you chose adoption, but I can certainly piece together a narrative based on the little that I know.

But all of that is irrelevant, as this is my story.

So, let’s see. Since birth, I guess a lot has happened. I’ll try to be brief and just give the highlights. My parents adopted me from the orphanage in Tenleytown after my caseworker, Rosa, took me to weddings where I was held by and giggled adorably for her relatives. I went to live with my parents in suburban Maryland, and my grandparents came quickly from the south to meet me. My mother got pregnant after thinking that she never would and never could. She had a son 10 months after I was born. Over the years, he and my father and my mother became very close.

My parents told me that I was a good sleeper as a child, that I’d often leave the room and put myself to bed without ever telling anyone that was what I was doing. I always wonder if it’s because no one ever rocked me to sleep. I don’t mean to sound sad or to make you feel guilty, these were just the facts. I slept fine; most nights I still do.

I spent my early years the way most lonely kids do, getting stung by bees in rosebushes, scratching my chicken pox until they bled, playing in the woods, and getting thrown up on by boys that I’d later hold hands with in middle school. But the big things were good. The television was always on, and dinner was always around the corner. When I got older, I’d love school, especially burying my nose in stories and collecting BookIt points to bring to the local Pizza Hut. Much later, I’d be told I was pretty, and I’d get all sorts of attention from boys and grown men who had nothing appropriate to say to me. I became an angry teenager, rebellious and blue-haired. I was pretty pissed off at you, to be honest. You’d abandoned me to a family where I didn’t fit in. You’d left me alone to figure out a strange new body that attracted too much unsettling attention.

I dashed through high school and jetted off to college to study feminism and social structures, searching for a reason as to why a woman would feel it necessary to leave her child. Was the root of our estrangement poverty? Inequality? Domestic violence? Lack of access to welfare? Coincidentally, I spent a semester in a dorm room that overlooked the courtyard of the orphanage where I lived for the first few months after we parted. In my last year of college, I wrote a thesis and a research proposal about the universal experiences of womanhood. That proposal was accepted and it took me halfway across the world away from my family, and from my bad boyfriends, and from all that I knew, all the way to Morocco.

Like we all eventually do, I learned to put my angry adolescence aside and came to accept that where I came from was less important than where I was going. I began to write, really write, about all of the things that I saw and felt. I fell in love with a man. He is very good, funny and smart and successful. We got married seven years ago, on the fourth of July. I was 24 and it was much too fast, but it’s turned out for the best.

A few years ago, my husband and I got pregnant for the first time. That baby died. Another baby after that died, too. I remember my mother told me through tears: “I never expected this to happen to you. Your natural mother was so young. She had no trouble getting pregnant.”

Finally, a pregnancy took and I got big and swollen (did you gain much weight during your pregnancy?). Nine months later, I fought through a tough labor and had an emergency c-section (was childbirth easy for you?) My son spent a few days in the NICU (were you ever scared I’d die?) and breastfeeding was hard. In the end though, my sweet boy came home healthy. (How did you feel when you went home without me?)

I remember distinctly the moment that I realized what it meant to be my son’s mama. It was 3 a.m., and we had been home for just a few weeks. We were nursing and it struck me: the magnitude of it all. I was forever tied to this tiny, perfect human. I’d always be his mama, and he’d always be my boy. I’d be responsible for feeding, clothing, caring for him. I’d have to teach him about books, and life, and feminism, and how to be a good man. There was no backing out. I felt terrified, but also peaceful. I guess I can’t explain it other to say that I felt God.

A moment later, I was shaken from my peace, and I thought about you. Did you want to be something other than a mother? Because, I have to tell you, you could have done everything. I don’t know your situation, but I do know that no matter how long the days with my son are, children aren’t chains. I have never felt so stretched thin or overwhelmed or stressed as I have since becoming a mother. But I wouldn’t make a different choice. I have found ways to maintain my sense of self despite it all.

When I tell people my story, they often ask me if I want to meet you, and I usually tell them no. I mean, what would we even have to talk about? You made a choice for us a long time ago, and I trust that it was the right one. But sometimes, I look at myself and the person that I’ve become, and I think about the family that adopted me and all of our differences, and I wonder.

When my son was born, he became my only blood relative. I wonder if he is like you. I wonder how he will feel about me in 30 years. I wonder if you two will ever meet. I wonder if it matters.

Your Girl

Guest post written by Pamela Savage. She is a work at home mom to sweet baby Raymond and forever-puppy, Buddy. She is married to a handsome, adventurous ER doc whose work schedule drives her nuts. Pamela is a counselor, yogi, runner and writer who has lived in Morocco, Philadelphia and Chicago. She and her family live in Baltimore, Maryland (for now).

Photo by Amy Melissa.