I was caught off guard one night when I was nine years old and my extended family had gathered in the dining room for a Rosh Hashanah dinner. Blithely ignorant of the adult conversation around me, I froze when one comment demanded my attention. "I remember when you were pregnant," Aunt Marilyn, my father's sister, said casually to my mother. I studied my mom's face for a reaction, but found none. Why didn't she correct Aunt Marilyn and remind her that Steven and I were adopted? I fiddled with the kasha varnishkes on my plate, but couldn't bring myself to eat any more. My brain was struggling to make sense of what Aunt Marilyn had said. I visualized a younger version of my mother with a full belly and a pregnant glow. What had happened to the baby inside her?
After dinner, I approached my mother as she was scraping the dinner plates clean.
"Mom, can you come to my room? I have something I want to talk to you about," I said in as mature a voice as I could muster.
I studied the bright, floral pattern on my bedspread as my mother made room for herself on my platform bed.
"Aunt Marilyn said something about your being pregnant. I didn't know you were ever pregnant," I said tentatively. I hugged my favorite stuffed animal, an oversized bunny rabbit who wore a goofy felt smile.
"Yes, I was pregnant a couple of times, but I had miscarriages."
My eyes welled up with tears, which I soaked up with the sleeve of my burgundy velvet dress. I wasn't sure exactly what a miscarriage was, but I gathered that it wasn't good.
"The doctors couldn't find a medical reason for it, but I knew I couldn't go through another miscarriage," my mom said softly. "Your dad and I always felt comfortable with the idea of adopting. Now I'm glad that I had the miscarriages or else I might never have had you."
It hurt to hear that if it weren't for my mother's miscarriages, my parents wouldn't have adopted me. Aside from my celibacy theory, I must have subconsciously wanted to believe that adoption was their first choice.
I don't remember a specific moment when I was told I was adopted. I like to think that I always knew. It was never presented as a secret, just a fact. My older brother and my childhood best friend had also been adopted, so it seemed commonplace to me. None of my classmates seemed to think that being adopted warranted much of a reaction -- I was neither taunted, nor handled with kid gloves. Since it was such a banal topic, my adoption wasn't something my family discussed much, with one notable exception. I routinely egged my parents on to tell the sob story of my early days.
"When you were born, you weighed only four pounds and eleven ounces. By the time we brought you home at five months, you still weighed less than ten pounds. You had a layer of dirt caked onto the soles of your feet that we had to scrape off. Dad would proudly show your picture around his office, but people must have thought that you looked like a concentration camp survivor. To us, you were beautiful." My mom lovingly recited the tale, like a favorite bedtime story.
"What did the doctor say about me again?" I wanted every last detail, every time.
"The doctor who examined you surmised that your foster parents boiled your formula for so long that it had lost all its nutrients, which explained your inability to digest food and your malnutrition. He told us, 'Don't get too used to her.'"