In my post on adoption, I wrote that having kids is a crapshoot no matter which way they come into our lives, via adoption or via our own personal uteri. I consider myself supremely fortunate that my children found their way to me and that they are such amazing and lovely young women and a part of my life.
I wasn’t always sure that they would be in my life. Their other mother and I went through a particularly acrimonious split and subsequent custody battle when the girls were just two and six (nearly 20 years ago), sparking a years’ long wrangling over a workable parenting plan. Because we had each adopted both of the girls, we were both legal parents, but because we were lesbians who at the time could not get married, we were an enigma to the legal system. No one quite knew what to do with us. The lawyers, so happy to take our money, seemed befuddled and bemused.
I remember so many days spent weeping in my therapist’s office, certain that I would never see the kids again, afraid that I did not have the financial or emotional resources required to secure our future together. After all, technically, I was the parent who had left the family home (because I wasn’t an owner and because we weren’t legally married, and because I was young and didn’t know any better), and the lawyers and guardian ad litem put a lot of weight on maintaining a consistent environment for the girls.
I became despondent about the final parenting plan and at the thought of not having equal custody, having to be an every-other-weekend parent. I considered just leaving altogether, but my therapist (who deserves a medal for hanging in there with me, btw) encouraged me to take the long view. She somehow knew that if I hung in there, if I continued showing up against all odds at the kids’ school events, soccer games, concerts, doctor visits, that we could continue to be a family. She promised me that Anna and Taylor would come back to me as adults.
Keeping that long-term perspective as I missed out on so many childhood milestones and moments challenged me. I was supremely insecure in my role as a divorced lesbian mother (the invisible co-parent)—I had no role models. There were not any other mothers in our community in my shoes—half the time no one knew who I was or what my connection to the girls was. Teachers regarded me with suspicion—or assumed I was a stepparent. No one had a frame of reference for me in those days—I made it up as I went along.
Shame haunted me, too. I felt marked as a bad mother by my inability to win custody—felt like I had committed some horrible parenting faux pas, like I was wearing the bad parent equivalent of the scarlet letter. All I’d done was run out of money. At the time I was teaching freshman composition at the local community college and reading student essays about divorce. So many 18-year-olds wrote about how their parents had squandered so much money on custody battles, how they’d ended up with the parent they didn’t want to be with, how they loved both of their parents and hated being pitted against them.
I’d like to say I took all of that to heart and became King Solomon-like in my detachment from the process, but I at least heard it and internalized it somewhat. I did decide to quit fighting, to preserve my own mental health if nothing else. I knew I couldn’t be a good parent at all if I were to allow myself to be destroyed by the process, either emotionally or financially. As it was, it took me a good decade to recover on both fronts.
I wish I’d been more conscious in the moment, had been more aware of the potential for damage to the children. I said this to my therapist the last time I saw her, about five years ago now. She grew teary-eyed and looked me in the eyes and said, “Pam, you fought for what was best for those girls with everything you had. You did it the best way you could at the time. You could not have done anything differently or better to change the outcome.”
I can’t second-guess the pain my children experienced, but they are still in my life. They did, after all those years, after all of those cobbled together holidays and every-other-weekend visits, come back to me. For this I am grateful.