Her real mother

We got the call in early July. The agency had told us in February that we should expect to wait six months to a year before a baby would be available for adoption, and so we had driven from New York City back to Kansas to visit family and tell them that maybe by Christmas there would be a grandchild. But here we were, getting lucky in only five months, speeding back to the city taking turns reading aloud from Dr. Spock.

Our daughter was two months old when we brought her home. The first morning – a Sunday – I awoke at 6:30 to soft grumbly noises from the other bedroom and realized there would be no sleeping in for a long, long time.

We named her Genevieve, after my mother. She had pale blond hair and blue eyes; I’m half Italian, with dark eyes and hair, so people who saw the three of us usually remarked, “Oh, she looks like her daddy.” The social worker told us that if we had any questions about our daughter’s birth parents, she would give us the information, but in our dazed, new-parent state, we couldn’t think of a single question. This was our daughter; what was there to ask? The paperwork took six months, and then it was final. Genevieve Marie Peters, our little girl.

She was a quick study, good in school and at any kind of physical activity: gymnastics, dance, ice skating. We had this model child until the age of fifteen, when our lovely daughter vanished and was replaced by a smart-mouthed, big-haired, blue-eyeshadowed hussy (my mother’s word) who knew the names of every rock band member but couldn’t remember to turn her homework in. This new model was alternately sulky and highly verbal, specializing in screaming hysterics when she didn’t get her own way, often stomping up to her room while spitting out that accusation most feared by adoptive parents:

“You’re not my REAL mother!”

Thankfully, the drama of the teen years passed. When she was twenty-one,

my daughter had a daughter of her own, and I had to smile whenever I would get a call: “Mom, can you take Cheyenne for a couple of hours? She’s driving me crazy! You can’t tell me I was ever this bad!” No, I thought, not at age two. Just wait a dozen years.

One day Gen called me with the question I’d been expecting for a long time. “Mom,” she said, “would you be upset if I tried to find my birth mother?”

I told her no, that I’d give her all the information I had. But I was apprehensive. What if the birth mother wanted nothing to do with her? Beneath her tough exterior, my daughter was a marshmallow. I couldn’t bear the thought of my daughter getting hurt. Even scarier: what if the birth mother was rich, and famous, and overwhelmed Gen with gifts? But I got out the paperwork, and the little dress she’d worn that day, pale blue with “Sweet Girl” hand-embroidered on the tiny pocket, and gave everything to her, hoping for a happy outcome.

Genevieve’s birth mother had registered several years before with an agency that matched adoptees with birth parents. A few days later, my daughter called again, her voice shaking. She’d talked to her birth mother (I’ll call her Joanne); there were no siblings, and Joanne, who lived in upstate New York, was eager for a meeting.

Gen made the trip. My fears, it appeared, were unfounded; Joanne had never had other children, which meant she was overjoyed to find her daughter and granddaughter. Over the next few months, there were more phone calls and visits. Joanne lived in the country, and had horses and dogs (Gen loves animals), while I, now divorced with a job that required considerable travel, had a tiny apartment.

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Her real mother