Last week our adoption class was introduced to two birthmoms. Their situations were very different, but both were impressive and strong young women. One had placed a son just under two years ago, and brought her mom for moral support. The other placed a daughter 8 years ago, and is now studying social work and counseling other young birthmoms. Both have remained involved in the children’s lives, and have a strong connection with the adoptive parents. Listening to them speak was intense, and left us with a lot to digest. I know their stories are one extreme. Only birthmoms who have continued a connection to the child they’ve placed, who don’t mind re-living the experience of placing them, would want to come speak to a group of prospective adoptive parents. So I took what they said with a small grain of salt. But as I sat there, imagining their words coming from our future birthmother match, the feelings I came away with were strong.
Almost immediately I was struck by the language they used. The first few times they refereed to “my son” and “my daughter”, I felt a sting. Isn’t it the adoptive parents’ son now? Isn’t that how it works? She let’s the child go, in title and in spirit, right? But the more I listened, the less it stung. I started to hear how much she loves her child, yes her child. She carried him, gave birth to him, of course he’s her son. Then she made a comment about her son‘s parents. There’s a different between being a mom and being a parent. It’s the age-old nature vs. nurture debate, and the bottom line is both are important. I won’t get to be my child’s natural mom, that label will belong to someone else, and she deserves to keep it. But that won’t make her my child’s parent.
Both the women we listened to will forever be birthmothers, but neither wanted a title in their child’s life. In both cases the children simply call them by their first name. One woman explained that she knows she will always be her son’s birthmother, but she’s not his mom. I think that is worth repeating. She’s her son’s birthmother, but not his mom. As someone who is often frustrated when people get caught up in semantics, I am now realizing how the vernacular in this particular situation can harness so much. And beyond that, I’m realizing that charged words don’t have to mean chaos. Just because my child will be someone else’s son or daughter doesn’t mean I won’t be their mom.
My husband was struck less by what the women said, but rather who they were. Before we went in to the class I asked him how he felt about hearing them speak. He said he expected it to be sad. But listening to them was quite the opposite. Both had such strength, and were very comfortable with the choices they’d made. Again, this is one extreme, I’m sure not all birthmoms are so poised. But listening to these two women, we were struck by how down to earth and, well, normal they were. The infamous, scary birthmom came to life, and wasn’t so scary when brought into the light.
Above all else, meeting these two birthmoms reinforced that nothing about this will be “typical”. Natural parenthood is the path we’re accustomed to. Our path is different. At this week’s class we were addressed by a man who had been adopted at birth in the late ’40s. His parting advice for parenting an adopted child was to “honor their story.” We can’t force our situation into the “typical” mold. But why should we?