As an adopted child who was always aware of my biological mother and subsequently born half-siblings, I commonly felt like the "other" child -- the one who was different. In my mind as a young child, it just didn't make sense: Why couldn't I stay at home in Northern Ireland with my family, too, and why were my biological siblings somehow "lucky" and able to stay with our mother?
Now as an adult, my family situation is no less complicated: My ex-partner and I legally co-parent our son. Right before our breakup, my ex became the biological mother of another child, a girl. Ultimately, I remarried and became the stepmother of my wife's daughter who is the same age as my son. Now I wonder: Does this youngest child -- the biological child of my ex-partner and the one we speak less about because the legal boundaries of her primary parent are more clear -- feel like the "other" child? Does she feel, as I once felt, that the rules that govern the rest of the family don't apply to her? Does she feel like an afterthought to the older siblings who claim so much adult attention?
As an adult, I have come to appreciate the circumstances that made my own adoption necessary. I know now that the greatest gift and sacrifice my mother ever made was the day she signed the papers and "gave me up" for adoption, as I was afforded many, many opportunities that just wouldn't have been available had I stayed in Northern Ireland. This truth, along with the gift of getting to know my biological family in my later years, has brought my life full circle and I am truly blessed to know and love and be loved by my wonderful families both adoptive and biological.
But what about a child's perspective? I know my understanding was the hard-won product of many years. Now the third child in our family must have some similar feelings -- at least that's what I imagine. My other two children move between homes according to the legal parameters that all parents agreed to and the court ordered. This other child is always welcome in my home but, of course, her presence -- or absence -- is dictated solely by my ex, the legal parent, who can give and take away her time with us. Although this is certainly the right and prerogative of her only legal parent, it is also a slippery slope that offers the potential for the child to become a pawn in the adult battle.
Equally as dangerous is if this child carries the "story" of the failed relationship between the adults, and comes to embody this conflict. Then she can never quite be seen as simply the child, instead always in shadow, and always the one to remind everyone of the relationship failure and the ensuing and enduring conflict between her mothers.
In this third child's seeming impermanence of being trapped in the space between two mothers, I see my young self, floating between the concepts of my adoptive and biological mothers.
We're trying our best. Recently, my wife and I gave up our home office space to make a room for this "other" child, a room she was able to shop for and plan. It's pretty pink! She seemed so happy. After hosting a "reveal" for her older siblings, she closed herself up in the space -- finally in her own domain -- and wrote a song. She sang, repeatedly at the top of her lungs, "I love my two moms, I love my MarMar (her name for my wife), I love my brother, I love my sister, I love my pets, I love my room!"
I swallowed my pride and asked my ex for a regular overnight schedule -- knowing full well she had the legal right to say no -- and, lo and behold, she agreed. We hope this agreement allows our third child to have a permanent space in our lives, just as she now has a space in our home.