Saturday, May 7, 2011

Happy Other's Day

No, that's not a typo.  Officially, the Saturday before Mother's Day is Birth Mother's Day.  I understand that the intention was good -- it was created by a group of birth mothers to recognize their role as mothers at this time close to Mother's Day (not that all birth mothers buy into it!).

But relegating birth mothers to the day BEFORE Mother's Day, as if we want to "honor" her and get it over with before we get to the REAL holiday for the REAL mom?  That strikes me as the "othering" of birth mothers.  She's not a MOTHER unmodified, whose motherhood can be celebrated on Mother's (Unmodified) Day, she is, as I've written before, "the Other:"
These representations of foreign birth mothers [as uncaring] allow us to divorce ourselves from the experience of these birth mothers, to minimize their pain, and to justify how much better off our children are with us than with them. So that we can continue to ignore them even as we internalize how painful the loss of these children would be to us, their relinquishment has to be seen as wholly voluntary, desired, accepted. We have to believe they have moved on, that they feel no pain. They are "the Other," the person who is understood only according to their difference from ourselves. It becomes very easy to do when the birth mother is from another country; we have a long history of "the exotic Other" as justifying all sorts of Western colonial intervention. "They" are just not like "us."

But we do it in domestic adoption, too, with birth mothers raised in the good ol' U.S. of A. We say, "She is a saint, she showed the ultimate in mother's love;" and then we follow up with, "I could never have done that." As Brian Stuy puts it, "Personally, I could not imagine ever giving up my child to another to raise." I don't think it's meant as a compliment -- it's not that she's so much more noble, so much more saintly, so much more loving than I, that I could never do that. She is different from me, she is less than me, she is "the Other."
We'll be celebrating all the mothers important to our family on Mothers' Day -- my mom, Zoe's birth mom, Maya's birth mom, Maya's foster mom, and yes, ME!  (No, moving that apostrophe isn't a typo, either.  I like Nick Kristof's suggestion that we celebrate all mothers, making Sunday Mothers' Day instead of Mother's Day.) 

On a much more personal and profound level, our Mother's Day has to be Mothers' Day. It's simple reality.  My children have many mothers, each important, each REAL. Even without knowing who they are or where they are, my daughters' birth mothers are an integral part of their lives. I'm not interested in creating a falsehood, that I'm the one and only mother in my childrens' lives.  On Sunday, on Mothers' Day, we will honor all our mothers, unmodified. No Happy Other's Day for us.


Jeff and Madeline said...

Totally agree. Madeline has three mothers, they all have a special place in her heart and role in her life. Why are some people so afraid to share a day? You share it everyday, so why not add more to the celebration instead of tucking the truth away or shushing inside the heart of your child.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing this. It's got me thinking. This is our first real Mothers day (we had just arrived back from Korea last year so everything was a bit frantic.) how are you honoring your kids' birth mothers specifically? I was thinking of buying her a card and putting it in my son's box. What else?

Anonymous said...

While I agree, I find this sort of stuff from international adoptive families sort of hollow. So many talk this great game about honoring firstmothers but never actually encounter them. It's very easy to talk about adoption and all parents when it's a one sided game that you control. You don't share the day with her firstmom, you make some gesture to a mythical figure. It's much easier when it is an abstract.

What's hard is actually sharing the day with real people - those in open adoptions, foster care, step-families, kinship adoptions, guardianships. It's messy and fraught with deep emotions for everyone. That is where the people are really slogging thru it.

I don't challenge your right to speak and I do think you are doing the right thing in your world but I think it's a fallacy to not acknowledge how much simpler what you are doing is.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's simplier for IA families becasue even though it's messier in the situations you mentioned, our kids have to live with not knowing. I think it's easier (but NOT easy) to deal with what is than a fantasy about what might be.

Additionally, I don't think all IA kids want to acknowledge their bith/first/natural mom on this day. It might feel forced upon by the AP, especially if the child is experiencing a lot of anger about being adopted/why they were abandoned, etc.

Jeff and Madeline said...

Keep in mind that not all IA adoptions are closed, so for many families we do share our day with them on the phone or via email or Skype.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I'll bite. I have a child adopted via IA and a child adopted domestically (US). The IA adoption was closed tight as any adoption in the US in the 50's/60's and the US adoption was one privately arranged by the birthparents against the objections of their own parents who wanted them to parent their child. They met us on the recommendation from someone we both knew (we were planning on IA again) and asked us to parent their child as we had much in common with them. They wanted closed adoption, were adamant about it. We sent letters and pictures to the agency "in case they ever wanted to see them" they assured us they never would, and they so far have not. They told us our child could look for them on the 18th b-day, but no contact as
"we picked you to be the parents". They did provide complete medical info and we have an OBC for our child as well as contact information which I asked for.
For those who claim IA parents only pay lip service to birthparents: not a day has gone by without me thinking of our childrens birthparents and what they have lost (knowingly or unknowingly). We talk about birthparents, and I let my kids know that no question is off limits (but that some questions can only be answered by their birthparents, and it wouldn't be right for me to guess or make up an answer). I actually just paid a searcher money that I really don't have to find and notify our oldest's birthfamily that the child was adopted and asked them to consider contact with us if they were willing. An entire extended family was found: they told us the reasons for adoption, we learned some new things about our child and they have a sense of peace. I hope to build a relationship with them that will last for our entire lives, and I hope this will be something our child finds postitive too. My children have many "real" parents, there's no competition here. Adoption is never the ideal option, but sometimes it is the only option for people, and so we must all learn to work together and try and bring healing to all parties.
Anon for this, but speak for many APs that I know.

Anonymous said...

You don't share the day with her firstmom, you make some gesture to a mythical figure. It's much easier when it is an abstract.

^ I agree.

malinda said...

"You don't share the day with her firstmom, you make some gesture to a mythical figure. It's much easier when it is an abstract."

I can understand that it seems that way, and maybe that perception is reality, too. But part of what I'm doing is trying to make that figure less mythical and more real for my children. What's the alternative you'd prefer? Doing nothing?

And I'll concede that "the abstract" is different from having a known birth mother involved in our lives, but I can't concede that it's easier. Not when my children feel pain because of the abstraction.

Anonymous said...

You ask:

What's the alternative you'd prefer? Doing nothing?

Well, there is no "best" alternative. The point is that this "birth mother" is someone you, in all reality, will probably never meet.

Anonymous said...

"While I agree, I find this sort of stuff from international adoptive families sort of hollow. So many talk this great game about honoring firstmothers but never actually encounter them."

So, because we will never have the opportunity to encounter firstmothers our words and actions are empty and mean nothing? Yes, open adoption has a lot of "messy" emotions and "strings" involved, but does that make the honoring of those firstmothers more sincere?

Anonymous said...

So, because we will never have the opportunity to encounter firstmothers our words and actions are empty and mean nothing?

No, what the other anon and I have been saying is that it's easier to say/do all these things for an abstract figure as opposed to going overseas and meeting the person and looking them IN THE EYES.

It's like when people say "I love you." It's easy to say the words because you say them every day to your kids, your spouse, your pet, whatever, but just saying them isn't enough. You have to prove it through actions.

The actions in the case of sending wishes to a "birth" mother are mythical gestures because you're sending them off into an abstract. You wouldn't have to deal with looking into their eyes and knowing you got to raise the child they birthed. On some level, yes, sending wishes into the abstract is easier.

I've read blogs where adoptive parent do these types of things (send prayers, wishes, light a candle), and then it becomes one of those rare, rare stories where the "birth" parents are actually found.

And then it's like "WHOA I wasn't expecting this! Now I don't know what to feel, because they are a REAL, LIVING, BREATHING PERSON."

Well, obviously. It's going to make a profound difference in "I hope your birth mother has managed to find a life of happiness and let's pray for her" as opposed to "Would you like to see a picture of your birth mother and maybe talk with her on QQ Messenger?"

Because all this time the mother has been in the abstract. They're this mythical ghost who rose from the unknown.

Sending stuff off to some remote location on the other side of the globe just isn't the same as being in direct contact with the person who has your child's origins, their very essence of being.