“Michael was born after an eleven-hour labor . . .”
“The foster mother described Michael as a good baby who enjoyed being talked to and who smiled and cooed . . .”
Michael Wear read this clinical report about himself when as a teenager he stumbled on a folder in his parents’ basement. A folder from Catholic Charities was a discovery of some of the answers, from the witnesses to his birth, to questions about where he came from, questions that other children naturally learn along the way, piecemeal. It was different for Wear, as it is for most children who are not raised by their birth parents.
Also in that folder was a loving letter to the parents who would adopt him: “Never be threatened by my being his birth mother. The longing I feel for him is so intense that I could never explain it to you, but I cannot go back on my decision. I know I have made the right choice.”
His birth mother continued:
The reason I am going into all of this is because I want you to try to love him without any reservation. You see, he has my love, but he won’t know that 1st hand. I have had to trust many people in this past year that I never would have met if not for my pregnancy and though I am a trusting person, this is different. This tiny life was in my care until just over 2 months ago. Now he is with people I don’t even know. The separation is difficult but the worry is worse. I am trusting him to you and I am sure you will make wonderful parents to him, but it’s not enough to give me peace of mind. What I have turned to is God. I am entrusting him first of all to God. This brings some comfort.
The four-page letter included this, too, drenched in love and heartache: “I sang to him a lot rather than talking to him. Maybe I was trying not to become too attached. I guess that didn’t work, huh?”
In an essay for an online magazine Catapult, Wear shares this and more. He discovered that day that, in their short time together, his birth mother loved to sing to him the song “You Are My Sunshine.” He writes: “I immediately thought back to the kindergarten assembly at which I’d sung that song. I thought of how my love of music eventually led me to Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, and a whole catalog of songs that my grandparents fell in love to. I sang so many of those songs with them; these were some of my most treasured family memories. How much of this love of music — one I had found and cultivated myself — was, in part, a gift from my birth mother?”
Wear’s essay is a reflection on hope. As the father of a newborn, he is still discovering things about the birth mother he has never met. Wear is making connections with her, as he holds his little girl in his arms. He writes, remembering the day during Lent last year when he and his wife discovered that they were parents of an unborn baby: “There is a profound connection between hope and parenthood. Hope requires an openness to possibility, to vulnerability and to potential disappointment.” And Wear adds: “Whatever I lack, . . . I have found that my history has not left me empty-handed. I, too, have a family legacy to share with my child—it stretches back to my beginning, when my birth mother would sing to me, an act of audacious, generous, and loving hope as she anticipated my arrival and our parting. It recalls countless car rides with my grandparents. I have carried it forward with the songs I sing to her mother as we dance, or as we do the dishes.”
Wear worked in the White House office of faith-based initiatives when Barack Obama was president and is the author of Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House about the Future of Faith in America. He himself is an instrument of hope, seeking to work on issues (adoption chief among them) that can bring people together, rather than tear us further apart.
It’s no mistake or coincidence that Wear’s reflection appeared during the penitential season of Lent, and at a time when we’re having some brutally graphic public debates about life in its earliest stages. Saint Fulgentius of Ruspe, a friend of Saint Augustine, early bishop and one of the fathers of the Church, instructed: “Let no one despair of the mercy of God, . . . but let the confidence of the person with hope seek the harbor of penance without faltering in such a way that the humility of the one with hope may drive away the deadly shipwreck of despair.”
In his sharing of some of the most intimate experiences of his life, Wear is recognizing our need for heralds of hope — he certainly is one, in that humble confidence Fulgentius mentioned. Rather than the prideful exuberance that our media and politics breed through their seeming omnipresence in our lives (which we allow by keeping the screens in front of our faces long beyond what could possibly be helpful to anyone), Wear offers something different, leading with gratitude about the heroic sacrifice of one woman, his birth mother, that has made every day of his life possible. The still-unfolding story of his life and the life of his family is a reminder and a gift to the rest of us that the health of our politics reflects the health of our lives. First things first, and there may be hope for our politics yet.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.