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To be or not to be … a parent

by Erin Shanti Smith

Erin Shanti Smith

This story is part of a series in which transracial adoptees explain how that foundational experience has influenced how they parent. We encourage you to listen to the short audio pieces, each roughly 3-4 minutes long.

Listen to this story:

For most of my life I was convinced I lacked any maternal instinct. I was never drawn to babies like my peers, did not rush to hold newborns when they were brought to church, and was never eager to babysit. In all honesty, I felt uncomfortable around babies and toddlers, especially before they were able to communicate their needs through speech. A crying baby filled me with a sense of helplessness. I felt clueless to what they needed and powerless to provide it. I never had younger siblings so I tried dismissing my lack of interest in motherhood by chalking it up to lack of experience with babies. Nevertheless, I still felt embarrassed and like I was somehow a failure to my sex.

It wasn't until I began connecting with other adoptees when I was around the age of 30, specifically international adoptees who also spent time in an orphanage, that I realized how normal this is for us. We did not get to experience that primary caregiver attachment in our infancy and sometimes beyond so of course it would feel foreign to us.

I started therapy with a counselor who is also an adoptee two and a half years ago and began to work though some of my adoption grief. She pointed out that my feelings of helplessness around babies may stem from my own experiences being in an orphanage where the staff probably was not able to respond to the needs of every crying baby. With the help of a trusted therapist, I was finally able to acknowledge that I do long for my own family, to see my features reflected in a face for the first time, and to give my child all of the things I didn't get, especially in my infancy and toddler years.

Today I am happy to say I am 25 weeks pregnant with my first child, a baby girl. My fiancé and I are overjoyed to have made it to this point and cannot wait to meet our little girl. For the first time, I feel a connection to my birth mother. Knowing that my birth mother technically carried my daughter when she carried me in utero, since females are born with all the eggs they will ever have, gives me a sense of rootedness that I’ve never had the luxury of feeling before. I feel enormous pressure to enjoy every moment of pregnancy and shield my baby girl from my stress and anxiety since I assume my birth mother was not able to do the same when she was pregnant with me. I want to enjoy this pregnancy for the both of us. More than anything though, I want my daughter to be healthy. I want her to always know she is loved. I want her to feel safe and I want her to be happy.