“What is the name of my real mother?”
When I heard these words, my stomach sank a bit. I said playfully, “You know what our names are Mommy and Mama.” I completely understood what he meant, but I was stalling. I was trying to give my racing heart, time to catch up with my more logical head.
As an adoptive mother, I knew this conversation would happen. I expected many like this one, but I expected these questions to be thrown at me during the tween years, maybe after he was angry about a decision that I had made; keeping him from doing something that all the others were allowed to do and he wasn't.
I paused, as we both were surrounded by the dark, I told him the truth.
He lay in his bed, in his room that he had always felt safe and comfortable in, and didn’t respond right away.
After what seemed like forever, he asked, “Are you adopted?”
I responded, “No. I'm not.”
It wasn't hard for me to figure out what was coming next.
“Is Mommy adopted?” I explained that she wasn’t either.
My mind raced. I could actually feel my eyes darting to different parts of the room as if somehow I could discover something, anything, that would help me in that uncomfortable moment.
I started to say too much. I attempted to fill the space with all of the positives about adoption. I frantically listed all of the people that I know that are adopted. I continued to talk to the point where I could hear myself repeating myself and then I paused, waiting for his words.
He didn’t speak.
In reality, I know people who are very secure with the fact that they are adopted; however, I also know people who have been tormented by the questions and the idea that someone could let them go, even at the very beginning of their existence, at their most vulnerable time.
I never want my son to be one of the latter.
On this night, he didn't need or want more answers. In reality, we only have limited information to share with him when he does.
My son has always known that he was adopted. We share the stories of those first days with him, trying to explain the emotions and joy that was hard for us to contain. Getting THE phone call that waiting adoptive parents want to receive, seeing your child for the first time, and holding him such that you know that your life is never the same. Walking in to the hospital as a couple and walking out through the doors as a family, these are the life-changing memories that I won't forget and that I hold tightly to, but I know there will come a time where these pieces won't be enough for his inquisitive mind.
My son knows that there were conditions that made it impossible for her to keep him. He knows that she wasn't able to parent the others that came before him, but the facts are complicated and difficult even for most adults to understand.
As adoptive parents, we have questions too. Some, prompted by strangers, commenting that his father must be a tall man. Others, brought on by school assignments interested in family heritage or blue eyes vs. brown eyes. It's not uncommon for us to leave certain parts of his medical forms incomplete since our family medical history means nothing in these times.
Yes. In many cases, there's some level of mystery that lingers with adoption.
When I think back, about this particular evening in my son's room, I wasn't really surprised by the question, I was thrown by the words “real mother” even though I knew what he meant.
After all, she is the one that gave him life, held him, and looked into his beautiful eyes first; however, we are the ones that have been there, just days later, for the good, the bad and the 4-year-old tantrums which could easily be referred to as “the ugly.”
To say that the words “real mother” didn't hurt, I would be lying. I don’t know if any adoptive mother is ever completely okay with hearing the other woman be called the “real mother.” It left me feeling a bit insecure and even threatened, though I know that I shouldn’t.
When I think about the conversations that are ahead of us, I have to remind myself that some of these are unique for adoptive parents, but many are not. If you choose to parent, there will come a day for tough conversations, complicated ones, and I know that we all do the best that we can, in that moment.
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