Yes, I’m His REAL Mom

The other day on AnnArbor.com, I wrote this post about Christopher sending a handmade Valentine’s Day card to his birth mom — and made the exact same card for us.  Three adult adoptees wrote in comments on the article, each of them affirming that I am indeed my children’s “real” mother, and that one day Chris and Sarah will come to see me not as their “adoptive” mom, but simply their “mom.”

I wish I shared their confidence. One of the down sides of open adoption (or any adoption in which the child is old enough and has the means to get in touch or stay in touch with his or her biological parents) is that distinguishing labels are almost inevitable.  And of all the labels bandied about within the adoption triad — “adoptive,” “birth,” “first,” “natural,” “forever,” etc. . . . the one that is most likely to create hard feelings is the word “real.” As in, “Are you his REAL mom, or was he adopted?” As if the two facts are by definition mutually exclusive.

The other day I mentioned to a church friend that there had been a death in the family, and that my kids seemed to be having a strong reaction to this. “Why would it bother them?” she asked. “It wasn’t anyone in their REAL family who died . . . ”  She wasn’t trying to be cruel. It just never occurred to her that my children would have such strong feelings about my extended family.

As I’ve been researching the history of adoption, especially here in the United States, I’ve come to realize how much the nature of both childhood and adoption has changed over the years. For example, while couples today typically seek healthy infants, in the late-19th to mid-20th centuries it was typically older children — in particular, older girls — who were most in demand. Younger children simply required too much attention, and contributed too little to the family upkeep. Girls, however, could be useful in the home even from a relatively young age, so long as they were properly trained.  Children were valued for what they contributed to the family’s physical upkeep. For unwed mothers, adoption was about the only way to ensure the child would grow up without the stigma of illigitimacy, obtain a useful trade, and become a contributing member of society. Childhood was perceived to be a transitional state between dependent infancy and useful adulthood.

Times have changed. Childhood now tends to consist of a prolonged protected state of dependence in which relatively little is expected of the child (apart from contributing to the emotional well-being of the parent).  And because single parenthood has become so widely accepted, women who would have once made an adoption plan, for the child’s sake, are either aborting their children, or raising the children themselves — whether or not they are in a position to be able to parent successfully. Unfortunately, this has created different but no less stigmatizing effects on their children, who are less likely to suffer ostracization because of their mother’s marital status, but far more likely to be affected by poverty, abuse, and neglect.

Where once the identities of birth families and adoptive families were sealed for the protection of all concerned, adoption has evolved into something so “open,” it has permanently altered the meaning of “family.” A child could conceivably (if you’ll pardon the expression) have five “real” parents: two to supply genetic material, a surrogate “birth” parent, and adoptive parents. (Plus godparents, as Christopher frequently reminds me.)

The same thing happens with siblings:  When the children from Family A are adopted by Families B, C, and D; then Family C adopts children from Family E and F, Child AB and Child AC remain siblings. Child AC and FC  share adopted parents in common. But how about Child AB and FC (who share sibling AC in common, but have neither birth or adoptive parents in common)? 

Is it any wonder that some of us are left grappling for boundaries, or wondering how it all affects our children?

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3 thoughts on “Yes, I’m His REAL Mom

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  1. Great post – we are moving towards a more open adoption and have been grappling with these questions. We think that a more open adoption will be better for our child and the birth mom. I’d love to hear from moms who have some experience with open adoptions – and also the thoughts of adoptees themselves.

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  2. Well, I just wanted to comment that as an adoptive mom of a beautiful 7 year old girl, this is a sensitive issue, especially for us adoptive moms. I always pray for my daughter that she won’t be traumatized by the fact that she is adopted as she grows older. She’s known since she was very young but by traumatized, I mean that it won’t be something that wounds her traumatically for the rest of her life, that she won’t feel that sense of “not belonging”, or any of the other very sad feelings that seem to plague many adoptees and that the fact that she is adopted will not define her entire self-identity–but rather that she will accept it as a fact about herself that is just part of who she is–like the fact that she has blue eyes.
    Frankly, I think we adoptive moms need to remember that while our children do have birth mothers, that doesn’t lesson the authenticity of our motherhood, even in the worst case scenario of our child’s rejection of us as “real” parents. Sometimes I think that my child could sense my own insecurity if I do not truly believe within myself that I am her true mother.
    Honestly, as a Catholic christian, I believe with all my heart that God knew from all eternity that this child’s birth parents would not be in a position to raise her, and that He chose my husband and I to do this. It is an honor and a privilege and it is real and true parenthood despite what all the critics say, even if our own children should ever outright reject us, we can unite our cross to His and live in peace, no matter how painful it may be, trusting in His mercy.
    Lastly, my two first cousins are adopted and one of them even forgot she was sometimes, even when she was speaking to an adopted friend. She never doubted who her real parents are. For both of them it was actually just a non-issue. Sometimes I think we hear so much about adoptees who are struggling with these issues but very little from the countless thousands who are not, or at least not to the extent that they are traumatized or paralyzed. I am sure the promoters of the culture of death in this country and in the media love to emphasize the negative adoption experiences.
    To all the adoptive parents out there, I say, believe you are the “real” parent, your child needs you to be.
    And pray, pray, pray.

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  3. Mrs. C — Have you read Patricia Dischler’s “Because I Loved You: A Birthmother’s View of Open Adoption”? It really opened my eyes to what birthmothers experience, and how the “adoption triad” can function in a way that is positive for all concerned.

    TotusTuus — I’m so grateful you took the time to share your experiences. I pray that you and your daughter will remain close. I agree with your idea that God knows what our children need, and prepares us to be ready to help them.

    My children have also grown up knowing that they were adopted (there was really no getting around that, as they were both preschoolers when the adoption was finalized). They have stayed in touch with their birth mother through cards and e-mails, and look forward to meeting her again someday. I agree with you that prayer is vital to the process — God can operate in our children’s lives far more effectively than we can ourselves!

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