needing a constant community.
While pregnant, I worried that the difficulty I had bonding hinted at a problematic future. I was afraid I would see this baby as an outsider.
I dutifully read the maternity books, but stopped when they moved past birth and into infant care. It was too peculiar a notion to wrap my head around. Babies are a foreign concept when your family photos and stories begin with a toddler in America.
"What if I don't love it?"
I asked my husband at least once a week. My parents had preached devotion to family, but I was still the daughter of people who had walked away. Perhaps detachment was in my nature.
When my water broke the morning of my due date, I sobbed. I wasn't ready.
But that delirious night in the recovery room, the bassinet seemed to emit a warm glow. I marveled at the swollen red face, the round head, the shock of black hair; he was healthy and robust, but as small as my two hands put together.
"You're mine, you're mine, you're really mine," was all I could think to say. Giddy and blithe, I faded off to sleep.
With my son's arrival came something magical: a blood relative I could hold on to.
Family, I know, is not about genes. When you are born in Asia and raised by white Midwesterners and have nine cousins with blue eyes and fair skin, you learn that families can be cobbled together.
But adoptees must believe in the power of biology. What else ties us to our mothers, our fathers, who left us decades ago? Shared biology allows us to tell ourselves that someone out there still longs for us, still weeps for us, still dreams we will figure out how to get home. We yearn for these shadowy figures and the answers only they can reveal.
At the heart of it, though, is the simplest of things. It would be nice to know someone who looks like you.
Those first months as a mother, I searched for my own features in my son's face. We shared deep brown eyes and inky hair, but no distinctive characteristics. "He looks Asian," said a friend, "but he doesn't look like you." I snapped hundreds of photos, but had none of my own to compare them with.
Then a few weeks before my first Mother's Day, while cleaning out my desk, I happened upon a forgotten black-and-white image: Perched on her foster mother's lap is a girl wearing a cap and a checkered wool outfit, just days away from settling in another land, another language.
Chubby-cheeked and full-lipped, she looks timid and bewildered. I knew that look.
I laughed, then cried, then cried some more.
The face is vaguely my son's. And in that moment, I understood that in him are echoes of my birth mother, my birth father.
In all these years, I have never searched for them, believing it would prove fruitless. Yet somehow they have found their way here.
My boy doesn't look like me. He looks like us.
Pharris is 6 months old now, shedding real tears when we part. Every morning that little face gets so scared and sad.
I pretend not to notice as I chat with the two women who run the day care facility, give instructions about feeding and naps, greet other children -- all to show him that this place is fine, that he is OK.
And that I will return.
I find that I am touched by my son's cries. They make me wince, but also give me a feeling that is strange and lovely. For he is my proof that a girl left behind who could not hug, could not fathom loving a tiny stranger, has managed to forge the strongest of bonds.
To him, I feel like home.