The album that hasn’t been torn. Victoria Dini Photography

The album that hasn’t been torn

I never wanted a baby, but when I was thirty-six, I became a mum. A fifteen-year-old teenage girl. I met her by chance, working as a social worker, and I realised there was no choice — I had to pick her up and raise her, because I could see that she was mine. 

She really was mine. In some ways she was very much like me, she also had the artistic personality, and we even share the same orientation — although I only understood and accepted mine gomosexuality after daughter’s coming out, trying to accept her. The stereotype of “homosexual parents have homosexual children” was confirmed in our family, only in reverse.

I became her fourth adoptive mother. One of her previous foster mothers had once, in a fit of rage, torn up her childhood photo album with the photos from when she was still in the orphanage. Years later my letters to the orphanage requesting copies were refused. 

During my “maternity leave” I could only take pictures of my daughter (I had no energy for the rest) — and I did it as if it were an alternative album. 

When the children finally find themselves in a safe relationship, it’s as if they defrost and go through the stages of childhood all over again. All the unaccomplished bits and pieces. And all the trauma, of course. That’s why we had in a family a teenage girl and a junior high school girl, and even a baby at the same time, and they were all my 15, 16, 17-year-old kid.

I taught at the same time the rules of safe sex and how to distinguish between vowels and consonants, how to make tea and how to distinguish between feeling hungry and feeling cold, and feelings in general. How to understand your emotions, how to count, how to calm down, what the rules of safe sex are, how to buy food, hygiene and going to the doctor… And a lot of the consequences of trauma, and the ingrained belief “I can’t do anything and it’s not worth trying”, and so on and on and on…

One day at 18, my daughter — her name is Cassia — wrote: “I probably won’t stop pinched in the chest when I look at my childhood photos. I can’t help feeling like my peaceful childhood has been cheekily stolen by someone. I know that a smile in the photo will be followed by a harsh scolding for some prank. I never stop swearing to myself that my children will have the best memories of those years.I have learned to pick myself up… and rock… and pity. I have lived all my years with my mum anew. In short form. I’m learning to forgive. But it’s bloody hard to do. And I can’t stop shrinking, recognising in my gaze the longing found in every system child”. 

Sadly, there is no happy ending to this story. At her twenty-one daughter has cut contact with me. It was common to her before, to idealise people, then to flip them into the black; now it’s me in the black for her. 

I taught her to see, to think for herself, to be creative, to take care of herself and others. She lives now in a threesome in a one-bedroom with people who give her orders, calls her peer “mother” and seems happy about it. Can we change something, or should we accept and consider a person’s need to obey if one grew up in an orphanage system where one were bossed around from birth? Is it possible to outgrow attachment to a group? Can anyone give up the concept of blaming everyone and the approach in which the world owes you? 

Maybe it takes much more time to have a good childhood. Maybe it takes a personal desire to grow through one’s own traumas.

Now I don’t understand if any of this was necessary and whether it made any difference in her life. What I do know is that I couldn’t have done it any other way. And I did my best. And my motherhood was, and still is, exactly like that. 


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