Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What is a "real" mom?

Cassi at Adoption Truth describes what a mom is, and what an adoptive mom should be:
I don’t fall for the argument I see so often from adoptive parents. The justifications they throw out, repeating themselves and others like an old skipping record. The one that always starts with the same words . . .

“I am my child’s real mom because . . . “

This is always followed by some variation of . . . I changed their diapers . . . stayed up with them at night when they were sick . . . helped them with their homework . . . etc, etc, etc.

My first reaction to this argument is . . .

“So what?”

Those are all actions. Something a nanny or babysitter can, and often, does. Yes, that means you are providing for your child’s basic needs but that, to me, is NOT what makes you a mother. That makes you a good caregiver.

So what is a mother then? What is it that I believe some adoptive moms understand that others don’t?

To me, being a mom is based first, and foremost, on unconditional love. It is the realization that no matter what might have happened to bring a child into your life, the minute you hold your child in your arms, it has NOTHING to do with a need they are fulfilling in you and EVERYTHING to do with their own needs.

* * *

It’s about giving them the capability to love and believe in themselves. To know their feelings will be validated, understood and never discounted. That our own nsecurities or emotional needs do not restrict or hold our children back from finding and being who they truly are.

And, unfortunately, so often in the adoption world, I find adoptive moms who don’t seem to understand the importance of this. They want to find a way, with everything they have, to deny that their child will EVER face issues from being adopted, instead of putting that same fight into giving their child the confidence and trust that they can go to them with their feelings about adoption, no matter what they might be.

* * *

But, as I said, there are others. Those who keep me grounded when I want to lash out at all because I’m hurt or my son is hurt. Those who seem to be rare but do exist.

To me, these are moms. These are the women who offer true unconditional love to their children. Who love them with all their heart and want only what is best for them and their lives. They aren’t digging those holes, burying their heads as far as they can go. They are, instead, doing whatever it takes, fighting whatever battle there is, being everything they can for their children. Because that is truly what it means to be a mom.

I am honored, together with Margie at Third Mom and Dawn at This Woman's Work, to be included on Cassi's short list of adoptive moms whom she thinks meet this ideal! Thank you, Cassi. All I can say is, I try. And your post will encourage me to try harder. Reading what birth moms and adoptees have to say has been a true education for me.


Cassi said...

I responded on my blog with a whole long answer about my own denial so I won't repeat myself but I just wanted to say in addition to that, I think it is important we ALL learn from each other. We might not agree on EVERYTHING when it comes to the world of adoption but as long as we agree to listen, to learn and to be the best we can, wherever we stand, we will benefit our children, which tend to be the ones so often forgotten in this world of adoption.
And thank you. As I said, though it might not make a lot of sense, you and the other ladies I mentioned, have, with your words, done a lot to keep me from drowning all over again in an anger that knew no boundaries.

malinda said...


I was so disgusted when I read your "Dear Birthmother" post about the truly awful things adoptive parents have said on public adoption forums. I wish I could say I was surprised that some adoptive parents would say such things.

Just so you know, for every one of those ignorant, intolerant adoptive parents, I know at least 10 adoptive parents from China who would give ANYTHING to have a relationship with their children's birth mothers.

And I hope lots of other adoptive parents will read your blog!

Mei-Ling said...

Malinda: If you could have a relationship with Zoe's other mother... what would you do/say?

I see this sentiment expressed so often - "I would love to have contact with my child's birthparents and to encourage a healthy relationship for my child's sake" - but I wonder... what exactly it means.

If you could meet her face to face, would you be able to say anything? Or would the language barrier only allow a simple "thank you" if that was your motivation?

Cassi said...

I could never answer for Malinda since I have no experience in her area, but the question about language barriers did strike an understanding cord with me as one who married a man whose mom moved to the states from Germany when she was only 19 and whose German Grandmother's english consists of only once sentence for all her grandchildren . . . it starts with holding their chin between her hand, saying "OH (their name) he's okay" and following with a overdose of kisses all over the cheeks.
So, for me, so stuck in my English language I get laughed at even when I try the limited bit of spanish I know, I have NEVER been able to understand a word his grandmother has said to me. And yet, I know she loves me and is the kind of sweet, caring woman we all deserve on our in-law side. And I only know this because of her actions (grabbing my cheeks and kissing me)her tone of voice when she talks to me and her ability of knowing that, even though I dont' understand a word she is saying, she still says everything she feels to me in German with the understanding that I might not understand the words, but I understand the feelings and the sentiment.
Of course, this in NO WAY tries to say how Malinda would handle meeting her children's first/natural mother and I can defintely see where this would be something that you would be curious about. I would most definitely be curious about this too and now makes me wonder how those barriers will be handled for so many international adoptions from here in the states.
This was just a self-indulgence sharing on my end about the language barrier and how, for me and my husband's grandmother, it has actually been a surprising experience in understanding each other without being able to understand a word that is said.

Diane said...

Malinda – Thanks for this. In our family my girls each have three very ‘real’ mothers- Their first mother, their foster mother and me. I will go read Cassie’s blog.

Mei-Ling- I know you addressed this to Malinda but I will stick my big butt in ;) As you will soon find out- there is so much emotion conveyed through the eyes and body that defy the language barrier. I was really afraid of the language barrier when I was entering into adopting my then 8 year old. It was difficult but much less so than I anticipated.

If it is possible to meet my girls’ first mothers I am sure we would hire a translator unless we have a considerable amount of Mandarin under our belts by then. With that said, there are some cultural nuances and differences that will get lost in translation. But, having spent time with my girls’ foster family twice in China (they raised my youngest for 2 years and my oldest for almost 8) I know that we were able to navigate these things pretty well.

Spending time with the foster family was about embracing them as a part of our world and vice versa. Spending time with my girl’s first mothers would be the same. Physically embracing them into our family although they are already very emotionally present.

Mei-Ling said...

"Spending time with my girl’s first mothers would be the same. Physically embracing them into our family although they are already very emotionally present."

I am not trying to pick on you or present myself as being deliberately obtuse - but could you be more specific?

Like, what would you want to do or say to them? Would you go out shopping, would you sit down and watch subtitled movies, would you take turns cooking different foods, etc?

malinda said...

You've raised a really great question, Mei-Ling.

Without a common language, I think it will be difficult to have an authentic relationship, but we can communicate with the help of a translator. And I think initially we'll have lots of questions for each other. I want to know all about the family, what her pregnancy was like, what the birth was like, how the decision was made to abandon, who did it, how it happened, did they watch until she was found, etc. I would really be thrilled to share everything Zoe/Maya ever said or did up to that point!

The thanking thing is awkward from my perspective -- it makes it seem like a willing gift of the children, but of course it was anything but willing.

As to an ongoing relationship, I'd like to spend time learning how the family lives, and yes, that means shopping and cooking and whatever else that means. And I'd like to bring them to the U.S. to see how the girls live.

And all of this will depend, of course, on what the girls want and need.

Thanks for the question -- it's great to think about it in such concrete terms!

I hope others will keep sharing their vision of what the first meeting/continuing relationship would look like!

Lisa said...

"The thanking thing is awkward from my perspective -- it makes it seem like a willing gift of the children, but of course it was anything but willing."

The assumption is "not willing," but please remember that many birth parents and birth mothers very willingly decide not to parent their children.

It's not that they are bad people, it's just that they were not able ("not willing") to.

I realize that is painful for adoptee's to grasp, but in many instances it is the hard truth.

malinda said...

Lisa -- I don't disagree. But I think to an extent it is a definitional thing. You say "not able ("not willing")" to parent. But I don't see "not able" and "not willing" as equivalent.

Even "voluntary" reliquishments, therefore completely legal, are rarely unconstrained choices --the relinquishment happens because of stigma, lack of support (both emotional and financial) for parenting, poverty, the one child policy, fear, etc., etc., etc. Yes, it is possible for someone who isn't stigmatized by the pregnancy, who is given every support for parenting, whose pregnancy isn't "illegal," to decide they do not want to parent a child. But I don't think it happens that often!

I feel awkard especially in the China situation, where there is no "making an adoption plan," no "voluntary relinquishment of parental rights" in court, no transfer of the child from the birth parents to the adoptive parents, talking about thanks for the "gift child." And that doesn't even include the awkardness of the "gift" part, which seems vaguely commodified.

I'm not saying that relinquishments that are not coerced, but are hampered by lack of other options, are involuntary in the legal sense, nor am I claiming a moral imperative on the part of adoptive parents to cure those problems for all relinquishing mothers. I'm just concerned that gratitude and gift language masks the realities.

I can certainly thank my children's birth parents for giving them life and for making sure they continued to live by abandoning them in places where they would be quickly found. But thanking them for giving me a child doesn't fit for me. As always, your mileage may vary!

Mei-Ling said...

Lisa, you said:

"The assumption is "not willing," but please remember that many birth parents and birth mothers very willingly decide not to parent their children."

Like Malinda noted, 'not willing' and 'not *able*' or even 'not -permitted-' are very different things.

Everyone keeps saying about how Chinese mothers had a choice - to place for adoption.

Have you been reading around the blogosphere? A lot of birthmothers keep saying that they had the 'choice' of adoption - but that it felt like giving a child up to death. Which is really the only other alternative in the case of China - *actual death.*

That doesn't constitute much of a choice. It's like saying do you want to be hung, burned at the stake, or crushed between a bed of nails. Your "choice."

Lisa said...

Mei-Ling: What I am saying is to keep your eyes open - everyone's situation is different.

There are some birth parents that want to keep that door closed and DID willingly give up their children, which is sad for the children who want to connect with them.

We can't just "assume" that "everyone" was not willing to give up their child.

I get that your situation was much different, and I am sorry for you and your birth mother. But I think you only see your own perspective here.

I also get that other birth parents have suffered, and I am not dismissing them. How devastating to have to give up your child - either forced or not willingly.

But to globally say that "all" birth parents "were not willing to give up their child" is certainly not true.

Mei-Ling said...

[But to globally say that "all" birth parents "were not willing to give up their child" is certainly not true.]

I'm talking about China adoptions, not domestic. Domestic is an entirely different story where the government allows democracy and there aren't really social stigmas to the point of infanticide.

[There are some birth parents that want to keep that door closed and DID willingly give up their children, which is sad for the children who want to connect with them.]

I'm aware of that. But I think it happens a lot more in domestic adoptions as opposed to Chinese adoptions, and even then it's not as common as one would like to think.

People keep saying there are choices for people who relinquished.

Life = adoption
Death = anything else
(and then the alternative which includes just saying they don't want/love the child)

Those don't sound like choices to me.

Many people in this day and age in America CAN keep their children. And many of them do. But some of them can't and they don't have the resources or don't even know of said resources. Where is the choice then?

How many mothers do you think seriously, utterly, completely did NOT want their children?

How many mothers who HAD the resources (who were NOT mentally ill or incapacitated in some way) do you know or have you heard of that WILLINGLY gave up their children?

Because I bet the statistic isn't high.

Cassi said...

. . . The assumption is "not willing," but please remember that many birth parents and birth mothers very willingly decide not to parent their children . . .

I am a first/natural mom who gave up her son twenty-one years ago, I know many other first/natural moms all in different points of their journey, some just now experiencing the loss of their child, others living with it for years and I don't believe any one of us would ever see anywhere in our experience where we "willingly decided" to give up our children.
Just the idea of losing your child, losing those first moments, those memories, the ability to hold them close, to guide them and raise them, isn't something I think the majority of moms would ever "willingly" do and I firmly believe from my own experience and those of so many others I have come to know and respect along the way that "willingly decide" would be one of the very last ways we would ever use to describe what happened.

Lisa said...

Cassi- I have read your story, and my heart aches to even fathom what you have been through. I mean no disrespect to you or any other birth mothers. Mei-Ling, you, too, have suffered significant heartache and I find myself fumbling as I type hoping not to offend.

What I am saying is that some birthmothers, in China, US, Russia, wherever, WOULD decide WILLINGLY that their child would be better off parented / taken care of (call it what you want) in a different home. Period.

And, yes, I have physically met such birth mothers in my life and career. None from China, of course.

Which brings me to this point:
Do you really think that there are NO birthparents in China who just flat out thought they couldn't parent a particular child for a certain reason, and feel at peace with that decision? It happens, worldwide. And I think those who blog the heartache can't see that there are some birthparents out there who just flat out didn't want to parent their child or chose to abandon their child due to their own life circumstances.

Yes, on a social and moral level we can do what we can to help these families. But we can't eradicate adoption. That's extreme, and it gives birth parents who CAN'T or WON'T parent no options.

Mei-Ling said...

"Do you really think that there are NO birthparents in China who just flat out thought they couldn't parent a particular child for a certain reason, and feel at peace with that decision?"

I believe it happens.

I also happen to believe it doesn't happen enough to amount to a reasonable statistic.

Of course there are parents who just don't want to parent. I won't say I understand that, because aren't we - as human beings - created to feel the urge of wanting to love and raise children?

Not everyone does. But that's how we were created. That's what we were made to do. It's how the human race has developed, through the act of reproduction.

I think it's entirely possible that birthparents just don't want to parent.

I just don't think it's common enough to stand on moral ground, especially if they have the resources to parent. I find it hard to believe a parent from China would willingly break her own heart and suffer DECADES of numbing grief even if it was to give a child a better life. Even in reality, even if the child DID get a better life.

There is no greater sorrow than that of a mother who has lost her child. Adoption hardly negates that - even for a mother who willingly relinquished and knew of resources.

Sure, adoption does serve a purpose. As long as poverty/disease/OCP/____ exist, adoption will be needed.

So adoption is OK as long as people continue to abandon their children by the roadside? It's okay as long as prospective parents continue to adopt? It's okay as long as the government continues to painfully claw its out of encouraging female infanticide? Really? That's "good enough"?

I believe adoption will always be necessary. I am opposed to it to an extent, but I do believe it will always be necessary. However I don't think it's OK to just sit back and say "It's good enough."

I don't think anyone *really* wants it to end. End the female abandonment? End the OCP? End poverty. End disease. Sure. But that would mean the end of adopting, wouldn't it?

[That's extreme, and it gives birth parents who CAN'T or WON'T parent no options.]

But this has to take into consideration if the parent WANTS the child, too. Does it not? Is there no moral ground for the parent who wants to parent but lacks resources to do so?

I believe a parent in China would have to feel pretty damn desperate if they felt they needed to resort to abandoning their child by the roadside. That in itself speaks volumes.

Wendy said...

I know this post is not in direct reflection of the last, but here is my thoughts on a relationship with first parents.

I am one of the ten families that Malinda pointed out would LOVE a relationship with their Chinese born child's first parents. We have been in active search for several months and have made (through another party) "initial contact". I can only say that it was true elation that spread through my heart when that phone call came. It has also been utter despair when things are progressing/not progressing as hoped or anticipated.

My daughter needs her first family. She needs to know who they are, the why's, the how's, the history. It is my belief that she will continue to need beyond the basic information at different points in her life and I so hope a real relationship can be established from family to family as it is with her foster family.
Our relationship with her foster family is as close as it can be over the massive miles--that is what computers, phones, and mail is for; not to mention visiting. Her foster mother and I initially were friendly and with time, conversations, and true caring we have become family. We are "sisters" and I am her son's "aunt" and my husband is his "uncle". They have given us these titles--which you may know is a HUGE honor in China. Let's just say she is currently handmaking us Tang outfits for our return visit in June and planning a celebration where we all our honored guests. She is involved in our celebrations and we hers. We talk of daily life, concerns, happiness, joys, and most especially "our" daughter.

My Mandarin is minimal (my daughter and I are working our butts off to learn and my husband tries and tries, but language truly does not come easy to him), my husband can't even count to ten in Chinese!, and my daughter is working her hardest, but is not fluent either--she is getting really good at vocabulary and can read pinyin (not always knowing the meaning of the words), along with a few characters and many songs and phrases. Does this detract from the love? No. Does it hinder the conversation? At times, computer translators are difficult, but we have a close friend who translates our three way calls and who will be with us on our journey. As mentioned earlier, body language, gestures, sentiments, and just being in contact go a long way. It took over a year to really get all of the answers to my questions and find out more of the truth due to translation issues and really just bringing our relationship to another level, but I see that as part of it all. It is an obstacle, but not impossible. Think of the Great Wall, people got through. I would see this as transferrable to her first family and that growing relationship.

As far as questions for her first family, I have a million, BUT I feel it is my responsibility to ask what she wants to know (she has a list and has had one since she was 3--it keeps getting longer). I do not see my role as many of the older domestic adoption and older international adoptees see their AP's roles; I see mine more as those who are openly adopting today. If the relationship is available and established when the child is young I cannot see how it cannot be a family to family relationship, I also see that in the child's best interest. We are not talking about an adult adoptee seeking answers and forming a relationship that they can navigate on their own (deciding when to make contact, what info to provide, what to say and not, whether they want to continue,etc.); it will become that as she ages. It will be me who will have to help her spell in her emails, go to the mailbox to send packages, and travel with her for meetings.

I am learning as much as I can from families who have made contact with first families in China and from open domestic adoption AP's on how to navigate these relationships. It does not mean I do not take advice from others, but I see my role and her position in a different place. It is in many ways unchartered waters, but that doesn't mean I will not get on the ship.

Sorry so long. I hope this adds to the conversation.

Cassi said...

Lisa - I have felt absolutely NO disrespect at all. In fact, I find this conversation has been very respectful and informative. These kind of back and forths, I think, are so important and do prove that it is possible for everyone to get together and have some tough discussions without allowing any kind of ugliness or cruelty.
Though I don't have any experience with international adoptions, the comments here have still helped me get a better understanding of things I never even thought about until now and another insight into adoption from others experience.