Lea Wait, here. As many of you know, I was single most of my life, and in my early thirties I adopted four daughters. I was thrilled to be able to adopt older children, especially girls, but being a single working parent was sometimes a lonely struggle. The process of adoption itself, and then adjusting to a new role (and helping my children adjust to a new country and family) was often frustrating, complicated, and exhausting.
To ease that burden on myself and other single adoptive parents (ninety percent of whom are women,) their children, and prospective single adoptive parents, a friend and I founded a support organization that provided information on single parent adoption, connections to other families like ours, and social events so our children knew other families like theirs. During the years my girls were growing up that support network was very important to my family, and to many others.
Somewhere along the line female eider ducks became my personal symbol. I hung antique and modern prints of eider ducks in my home, and, when I started writing fiction, I inserted the ducks into my stories.
Why eider ducks? I’d seen female eiders and their chicks off the shore of Maine since I’d been a child, and been fascinated by them.
Rarely had I seen a male eider. They lived at sea, and only came near shore in early spring: mating season. (I’ve since seen them – they’re the dramatically marked birds in the pictures. Females are a drab brown.)
After mating, male eiders head off shore. The females build their nests alone, often on islands. They pull feathers from their breasts to line their nests and cover their eggs — the “eider-down” that in some places and historical periods has been harvested to fill human pillows and quilts. After their chicks are born the females join other new mothers, and raise (and protect) their chicks together.
In July and August it’s common to see three or four female eiders corralling a couple of dozen chicks through waves along the Maine coast. A group is called a “raft” of eiders.
Raising my girls alone, but connecting with and having the support of other adoptive parents (most of us women,) I identified with the eider duck mothers who ensured their own survival, and that of their chicks, by creating a community.
My daughters are now grown. Three of them have children of their own. They don’t live in Maine, and I don’t see them often. When I miss them, which is often, I remind myself that, like female eiders, my goal was to raise my children safely, and equip them to live independently. I succeeded.
And every time I see a raft of eiders, I mentally raise a glass to the female eiders who value the support of others like themselves, and who, together, protect their chicks and teach them how to survive rough waters.
And eider ducks still appear in my books.