The first time I was pregnant, I googled local abortion clinics. I debated scraping myself clean, making my body an empty vessel with no child to screw up, no one to pass my adoption issues on to. I had been an unwanted creature, lodged in the mechanical gears of adoption before I was even born. I was told countless times that my Korean mother gave me up because she loved me so much, which I took to mean mothers who loved their babies didn’t keep them. What would it mean for me to keep my own child? As a woman who did not know her birth family, I was a wounded animal, tailed by my impending motherhood. But an abortion would have also been another reason to hate myself—salt in the wound, heavy pressure on a blooming bruise—so I crawled to the brink of a cliff and looked down. In the chasm I envisioned the smoking remains of a life I loved, a marriage in ruins, guilt I could not fix. I backed from the edge and stood up, dusty hands shielding my eyes from the proverbial sun. I braced myself, waiting for something to come for me.
It was a lonely nine months as I longed for a mother to talk to, to share symptoms and advice. My adoptive mother had no experience with pregnancy symptoms or infants, not since she first laid eyes on me at Dulles International Airport after I was relinquished and flown to the other side of the globe. I avoided telling her about my morning sickness and swollen feet. In exchange, she could keep imagining I kept her up at night with heartburn, gave her cravings for sweet, dripping melons, and how, after laboring for twenty-two hours, I emerged red and screaming from between her legs. We could pretend I hadn’t been delivered to her thirty-eight years ago, a fat foreign baby with a bad case of lice, like greasy pizza exchanging hands at an open door. The silence between us swallowed me whole.
The birth buoyed me, a beautiful surprise. She was the first biological relation I intimately knew. I was enraptured by her familiar features: the freckle we shared on the same shoulder, the same curve of her face. I held her tiny body to my chest and whispered through tears, I will never leave you. Three years later I clasped a 6-week-old strawberry seed in my belly, the beginning of a sibling for my daughter. And although I knew there would be no amending of the injustice, I was compelled to remedy my separation from five older sisters; I wanted to give my daughter another biological connection she could call her own.
Grief haunted me in early daylight, waking me up, demanding my attention. She took my hand and stroked it, gently telling me I’d never be a good mother when my own mother didn’t want me. She whispered I was undeserving, weak, passing on a legacy of trauma. I wandered to the edge of the cliff again, toeing loose rocks, taunting my balance with the pit below. Days, weeks passed while I anticipated the worst—some strange cramping, a rush of blood in the toilet, a fall down steep stairs, an odd tone in my doctor’s voice—and I wondered if it was better to lose what’d barely been given to me. Was I strong enough to bear the beauty and sorrow of having another baby when my daughter’s birth had been a reminder of everything I lost? Her infant face gifted me the painful souvenir of my relinquishment and subsequent months in foster care, the tides of paperwork and money that swept my infant body far from home. In the early, quiet months with her, I held my breath, waiting for her to become real, the way I became real when I arrived in the United States at four months old. It was as if I was waiting for someone to take her away, to tell me she wasn’t mine, and only after that magical period of four months would we truly belong to each other.
I recall my friends’ miscarriages and rounds of fertility treatments, how they confessed to crying in the car before work, their bodies still soft from the first months of pregnancy. I have been witness to the self-blame and guilt crawling around the corners of their faces like spiders in the dark. For a second, I notice how news of my pregnancy darkens their eyes. Your pregnancy isn’t a weapon, my partner reassures me. But, I tell him, for me, it is not simply a peaceful, joyful thing. I try, though; I consider if it may not be a weapon but an act of courage.
Still, with the way I carry it, I worry it will hurt someone or hurt me. I can’t shake the feeling it’s dangerous. My pregnancy proceeds, and fear and grief careen closer, flitting to my insecurities like flies to rotting fruit. I’m waiting for their wings to slice with a sound that stings my ears, to land lightly on my skin and rest in the tender hollow of my throat. I’m waiting to see what it all becomes.
Sara Streeter (Hea Sook Han) is a transracially adopted Korean-American, recovering interior designer, and biological mother. She is writing her first novel and has words in or forthcoming in Fatal Flaw Literary Magazine and Hippocampus Magazine. Find her at sarajstreeter.com.