Bright, Shining Light
I imagine some day I will tell my daughter about how, when she occupied my womb, I ate foods I believed would make her strong. I will tell her it must have worked because before she was a month old, when lying on her tummy she could push herself up and turn her head. When I tell her these stories of the earliest days of our time together, there will be a part of me that aches; the blank space at the beginning of my own life expands each time I realize all that I do not know.
Sometimes my mind sketches my birth mother in the hospital during delivery, pushing me out of her as my home. I am whisked away without a goodbye, cleaned up and never brought back. I am simply a transient occupant.
The gurgle whimper that my daughter let out as we welcomed her to the world transformed her from an abstract concept in my head to a vulnerable tiny human I was determined to keep alive. Holding her on my chest during the first few hours of her life is one of my most vivid memories, it’s as if my mind determined to make it extra precise to compensate for the uncertainty of where I was and what I was doing when I was hours old.
It felt like my daughter and I were a team when she nursed and nursed and nursed during the first few days of her life, ensuring a steady milk supply, signaling to my body that although she no longer lived in it, she still depended on it.
When we returned home from the hospital my husband brought meals to me in bed. I could not walk down the stairs to the kitchen as I healed from a cesarian section delivery. My daughter stayed close to my chest, feeding frequently—when she nursed from my right breast and I looked down at her, she looked just like a baby sea turtle to me. My world did not expand beyond my bedroom in the first four weeks of her life, in the weeks of my recovery from the surgery that drew my daughter out of me and into the space my husband and I had taken months to prepare.
I am told I lived in a foster home before I was adopted from Korea and flew to the United States when I was six months old. SIX. MONTHS. OLD. Before I became a mother I didn’t think about how significant six months of life for a baby can be, is. When my daughter began smiling, laughing, and humming I wondered if I did the same during my stay at the foster home. Who was witness to my tummy time? Did anyone sing me lullabies? How often was I held? When I try to conjure a story about that half year of life, nothing materializes. Nothing is the placeholder that I develop a complex relationship with through the years.
My daughter’s first birthday comes and goes, we are well into the teething progression that my mom has documented in my baby book. “You got Mommy’s magic smile,” my husband tells our daughter. I regret that I don’t know how far back the smile goes, if it’s something we share with either of my biological parents, any of my biological grandparents.
My daughter is named after my grandmother, the one who would hold my little hand in hers and tell me she loved me. The one who lost her own mother when she was very young. The one who made me feel like I belonged, so kind and smart. I could reside in my memories of our time together forever.
The internet tells me that my daughter’s name means “Bright, shining light.” It confirms what I’ve experienced and continue to, when I catch myself in the space where my role as mother overlaps with the uncertain reality I have as an adoptee. A shadow is cast that follows me around, constantly juxtaposing intense love and joy with deep sorrow for the loss of knowing the woman who lent me her womb to grow strong in.
Megan Sound is the author of The Struggle for Soy: And Other Dilemmas of a Korean Adoptee.