Mother's Day, every year I read the posts shared by the friends, family, mothers and daughters in my world. Motherhood is revered, we love our Moms. Motherhood encompasses many relationships beyond the traditional, there are single parent families both headed by a mother figure whether female or male, there are same sex partners and parents, adoptive, birth and step mothers. This is my story as an adoptive and step mom who has relationships with the birth parents of both of my daughters.
I am sharing my story and also my perspective from many conversations with young women who have been adopted and their struggles with their adoptive family and their birth family. Family relationships of any kind can be complicated. Adding more people in similar roles is even more complicated. I know, I have been and am a daughter, a stepdaughter, an adoptive mom, a single mom, a stepmom, a grandmother, a step grandmother on both sides and have relationships with both birth families of my daughters. My daughters have had so much family with birth parents, birth grandparents, birth grandparents, step grandparents, step parents. They have both half and step siblings. Throw in cousins etc. It is and has been wonderful but also complicated and overwhelming.
Because of a hereditary condition and medical concerns adoption was the route we chose for a family. Working with Social Services, many interviews, six years after we applied we received our first daughter, thirteen days old. We applied immediately for another child and almost ten years later received our second daughter only a couple weeks old as well. After waiting so long for a family with the ups and downs of possible arrivals and then not happening it is a roller coaster of emotions and doubts. Will you ever be a parent? How will you feel when you see the baby for the first time and become an instant parent? All the doubts fell away as soon as our daughter was placed in my arms, she was mine and I was her mother. It was a whole beginning for us as a family. Yet out there was a family she knew nothing about, her birth family who would always think and wonder about her. From the very beginning we told her the story of picking her up, her adoption story and answered her questions. We knew too the possibility of her birth parents wanting to contact her after she turned eighteen. As a new Mom with a baby that day seemed forever away and not real.
Fast forward to twenty years later when we receive a letter stating a birth parent is wanting to make contact. The range of emotions were wide, my role as a Mom, and being a single Mom, I felt I was about to be graded on the most important test of my life. As a Mom it was my place to be there to support my daughter in this huge event no matter my feelings. What mattered most was her, we spent time scrapbooking an album of her childhood for her birthmom before the meeting. In doing so we shared a walk down memory lane and that was my gift in this part of the reunion.
The reunion brought a whole family into my daughter's life, her birthmom looked like her older sister, they dressed very similar, wore birkenstocks and loved exotic cats. Nature versus nurture, a discussion we often had. A few years later reuniting with her birthdad's family as well. I welcomed them all and they welcomed me. We all were pivoting around my daughter, everyone trying to be respectful and aware of each others feelings with my daughter trying to navigate it all. Trips were planned and vacations shared with my daughter and her birth family. My head always saying whatever is best for her, my heart often unsure and vulnerable. We let our children know that each one is loved as much as the next, each in a unique relationship with us as parents. However sharing as a parent not always so easy.
There was no handbook, I signed us up for a course for adoptees, their adoptive parents and birthparents. I was the only adoptive parent on the course. I listened to the birthmoms on the calls some desperate to reunite and have a relationship with their birth children. I learned of the details of my daughter's birth and the time leading up to her arrival. I talked to young women who have a biological need to know their roots who have adoptive parents mostly their moms who are terrified and see it as a betrayal. Asking why do you need this in your life when you have a family already. They are scared that the child, the teen who slammed doors or walked off perhaps saying you are not my real mom will now be welcomed into their "real" family where they look like each other and discover other similarities. A fresh slate in an adult relationship.
What I do know is that being a Mom is beyond blood and having the same nose, likes and dislikes, they are important and you cannot deny those aspects. However when you are the one who has been there their whole lives and loved them with every fiber in your being, you are the Mom. If you close yourself off from an important part of their life you hurt your child and you damage your relationship with them. No matter what your heart feels sometimes you have to let your head lead, let your love as a parent be there for your child. yes you will probably mess up, give into the fears but pick up and start again, life is a journey just keep going.
Jump ahead a few more years and I am now happily married to a lovely man who brought six grandchildren with him, we now have four more added in to the mix. I am now a stepmother and step grandmother building relationships, embracing the little ones. My younger daughter has reunited with birth family, a different process but in the end birth family for her too. Her active role in the process was one she shared with me and I was filled with great admiration and love.
The birth of my daughter's children was the most vulnerable place for me in all of the reunion process. There was a FB group for grandparents as there were so many of us. Pregnancy stories, who the baby would look like, all of these stories were not ones I could share in. I could share those of my daughter's baby hood but it was a whole new world. I did not realize how I would feel, sitting waiting during labor, my heart with hers. Nineteen hours until my precious grand daughter arrived and on first glance she had my heart. The depths of my love and the vulnerability I felt in the unsureness of those first few days in the hospital threw me. I admittedly was not so willing to share as a new grandmother. Another year has past and another baby, I was in the delivery room for this precious arrival, cut the cord and watched my grand daughter arrive into this world. My daughter gave me the gift of a lifetime. These little ones have brought us closer together and all of our families, birth and step. A week after my daughter had her little one, my step daughter had a baby girl too and the baby girls, now cousins met as newborns.
Do I have it figured out, do we; no, life is a journey, with each new step comes questions and adjustment. My daughters both have wonderful birth families who love them very much. They come to visit them and me, I am very grateful for that and the relationships they bring. My husband's family are wonderful people as well and all of our grandchildren, all ten are ours and we have many family events with them all.
Love is about inclusion, it does sometime hurt and in those moments I have learned to look at what I am afraid of, what am I missing. no matter how careful we are we can still be hurt and hurt others. Try to talk about it, say you are sorry and always remember no matter what you are feeling, your child is the one who is in the middle of the family situation.
My advice when your child comes to you with questions about their birth family.
1. Do not ask why, try to answer as clearly and knowledgeably as you can. When my older daughter growing up would ask what I thought her birthmom was doing, I would estimate her age and say things like she is probably working after her degree.
2. No matter what you feel inside, take a deep breath and let your child know you will help. Your fears may be overwhelming, get some help, counselling to help deal with it. It may be something they will need as well depending on the outcome. In any scenario they need your loving support.
3. Do not make your child choose between you and the birth family, do not give ultimatums. You will hurt your relationship and do exactly what you are afraid of. Your child is adopted and the need to know about their birth family is something noone can control.
4. The situation at certain times will be more challenging than others, remind yourself of that and know this too will pass. If they choose to try a holiday with their birth family and break family tradition, feel your disappointment but give them the chance. There are many more holidays to come.
Remember most of all that the decision of a young woman gave you the most precious gift of all, your child, the gift of being a Mom.
Just listen. Just love. Be a Mom, that is what you are. That is who I am a Mom and Grandmom. It is that simple, it is all about love. Besides it takes a village to raise a child. :)
Happy Mother's Day!