Underneath a picture of a beautiful teenager and her "mother," is a headline "A teenager stolen from hospital as a newborn baby has been reunited with her birth family after the woman she thought was her mother was charged with kidnapping." For all Kamiyah knew, Gloria Williams was her mother. In the courtroom yesterday, Kamiyah told her "I'm praying for you. I love you."
I've spent the last day perseverating and obsessing about this teenager, feeling pain deep in my heart as I read and re-read the details. I consulted with a friend - a white adoptive mother who has a daughter she adopted from China - and she replied right away, with compassion helping me to unpack exactly why this particular story felt triggering to me. She said "This girl basically had a closed adoption where the adoptive mother did not tell her she was adopted." She was right. Like many well-intentioned adoptive parents, Kamiyah's "mother" did not abuse or neglect Kamiyah, in fact many neighbors recall them getting their hair and nails done together, and working outside in the yard. However, she did contribute to the damning trauma of not allowing her to know her true identity.
After the arrest, Kamiyah was allowed to spend a few moments with [her mom]. She cried out "momma" while reaching through the caged fencing of the jail cell that separated them. Authorities are now encouraging her to begin a relationship with her biological family, who understandably are overjoyed and in shock knowing that she's alive.
Being adopted has undoubtedly shaped my worldview in many ways. One specific way is my belief that being a mother does not solely depend upon childbirth, genetics and biology. I equate mothering with actions, commitment, showing up, stability and dependability. To me, "mothering" is a verb. An action. Ms. Williams was a mother to Kamiyah in the verb sense.
This distinction shan't minimize the role of a birth parent, as when we allow for openness within adoptions, we allow birth parents the ability to play an active role in their child's life, too. Whether that's through phone calls, letters, texts, Skype, in-person visits or adoptive parents working to keep their child's biological parents' spirit alive in some other fashion. This, too, reflects "mothering" as a verb. There is room for both!
My adoption was closed, however not knowing my identity was not predicated on a lie - or a crime, but rather the inability of social workers (in that era) to understand the lifelong impacts and importance of helping my birth-family and I stay connected. Once I began a relationship with my birthparents, I had a steady rock of support from my [adoptive] parents, and had spent time processing and preparing for the moment, working through all the possible "what-if" scenarios. To imagine this young girl being thrust into new relationships without the support of the single person who raised her feels to be a society-approved re-traumatization of the victim. I worry for Kamiyah - the only mother she knew is now being raised behind bars, and is being shamed by the entire country. Although, her "mother" committed an egregious, crime, throwing her in jail does not help her daughter as she begins to process the trauma of living a lie, perpetrated by her mother.
Kamiyah's "mother" kidnapped her, without providing any truth to cement and anchor her true identity. This is not too dissimilar from a closed adoption, or from the years when we sent pregnant, un-wed women away to give birth in private, secrecy and shame. It's not too dissimilar to how we turn a blind eye, when hearing stories of parents smuggling children out of the country, or trafficking children for profit. Forcible, black-market crimes against children are happening all around us, and are as upsetting as Kamiyah's kidnapping.
One report stated that Kamiyah's birthmother would wrap a piece of birthday cake in foil and put it in her freezer on her birthday each year. Years ago, her birthmother told reporters "I wonder, 'what does she like? What kind of food? What kind of colors? How smart is she? Does she have long pretty hair? Does she have my eyelashes?" If only Kamiyah could know that her biological mother has been actively mother her all her life. If only all of the biological parents who have been denied a relationship with their children could be seen as mothers - the verb.
I am continuing to grieve and process this story, but am fortunate to have finally identified my trigger. It's the fact that people I know have legally adopted their child, but are currently raising their children like Ms. Williams. And it's legal.