I think fondly of the birth moms I know. The many women who have grown a child deep inside them, delivered the child, and entrusted that child to new hands. Some moms parented for a while, and others chose to place immediately after birth. Some moms wait through the pain and heartache of the foster care system, while others make an adoption plan. The stories are so different, no two just exactly alike; however, #ShesAMom in every story.
Wracked by violent domestic abuse, she may have spent years hiding the truth in fear of what her partner could do. She may have had addiction issues, and things at home may have been bad for the kids. It is easy to judge from the outside. It is easy to have answers when we aren’t in her shoes. And, it is also true that children should always be protected despite their parents’ chaos. She may have battled long hours, struggled, made progress, and fell back again. She may have left him with nothing but what she had on her back; bare feet, pounding the pavement, away from the abuse. She may have had a judge tell her she will no longer be the legal guardian of her child, or she may have realized this never-ending cycle was not working and willingly signed the kids into foster care, kinship adoption, or to a transfer of guardianship. She may have tried hard. She may not have been able to overcome. And still, #ShesAMom.
Moms are so unique. Each one has their own talents, likes, and dislikes, each with their own gift to give to this world. One thing that has really resonated with me on our adoption journey, and our commitment to openness, is how each birth parent has some unknown gift, something I was totally unaware of. Still, when it presents itself, I am in awe. Artistry, dance, diving, and soccer–just some of the things we have discovered about a birth parent that we had no idea was in their past. It is buried sometimes, often tucked in amongst painful memories and a difficult past, but it is there, like buried treasure. To know this person who gave your child life is one thing–to really know them is to understand what makes them uniquely THEM. #ShesAMom.
A teen, or young woman, barely into adulthood, may have struggled immensely. She may have tried to figure out how to make it all work; bills, high school, post-secondary education. The birth father might have flown the coop or even been supportive. She may have been incredibly torn, totally unsure up until the last minute. Or, she may have known from the first moments, the first inkling this pregnancy was true, she would place for adoption. The birth father might have put up a fight, he might have run away, or he might have said it was ultimately up to her. It might have been many sleepless nights of not knowing how she would do this, or it could have been a relief to think, to dream of placing her child in the loving arms of another. There is no right reaction or emotion–there is no wrong way to move toward adoption. It is all just a journey: any which way, #ShesAMom.
Many birth moms arrive at the place of adoption in different ways. Some may have received loving support as she came to this decision, or she may have felt threatened and like this was her only choice. Some birth moms walked the difficult road of having child protective services make the adoption decision for her if her life circumstances could not provide a safe, stable, loving home for a child. She may have held her baby in the hospital, and maybe not. She may have tried to do all the court-ordered things she needed to do to regain custody of her child but was unable to do so. It doesn’t matter, #ShesAMom.
Birth moms might have looked through profiles of potential adoptive families and felt overwhelmed. She might have made immediate connections or felt the choice was impossible. A birth mom may have wondered and dreamed…what could each family provide? How would things turn out in each particular family? There is no way to know. There is only now, and the choice of today. A birth mom might have sat in a courtroom and listened to a judge warn her that she would forever lose the right to her child if things didn’t change. She may have raged, or cried, or given up–and then came the day her child was placed on the foster care adoption listing, waiting for a forever home inside of a foster family. Even still, #ShesAMom.
Adoption always starts with pain. The loss of familial connections, the loss of the natural order of things, the loss of the ability to connect with the humans that were biologically responsible for creating you–the child of adoption. Loss of the primary attachment, the way things were “supposed” to be. Adoption means there was a tearing, a ripping apart. All birth moms will describe this differently and will feel it in different ways. While adoption is now celebrated and talked about openly, adoption should always be respected as partly a product of pain. #ShesAMom and she will always grieve that loss.
But what about the terrible moms? Can we say that? Can we talk about the moms whose own souls were twisted and black and did unspeakable things to the vulnerable children they were meant to protect and cherish? We don’t want to. It’s too hard. It’s too horrible. Mother’s Day cards often speak of the perfect mother, the only mother with the skill, ability, and love that there is out there. For these children of mothers that were more like monsters, it is an affront. It is a slap. It is a gut-wrenching pain that is lived over and over in cellular memories, trauma reactions, and scars, both physical and emotional. For some children of adoption, #ShesAMom is a sucker punch that comes out of nowhere, again and again, as memories crop up or as something is said to trigger the past. A smell, a photograph, an object–anything can take you back, no matter how hard you try to avoid it. To say the title “Mother” is abhorrent. It was not earned. It was not deserved. I know. I know, and I hear you, and I see you. Maybe she’s a mom, but never a mother. Or something. Something that takes away the gift bestowed in the precious title. This is a pain many children of adoption must come to terms with, and may we continue to hold space for them.
#ShesAMom. She might wonder when, if ever, she will get to reunite with her child. She might be patiently waiting for openness or allowing her heart to hope at the start of new openness. She might enjoy current openness but live in fear that she could do something wrong and make the adoptive family run. It is so fragile, and the adoptive family holds all the power–may they wield it and treasure it for the precious gem it is. Birth moms might be waiting, ever waiting, for someone to acknowledge that, biologically, they are a mom! They may never have been given the title or heard the title entrusted to them. Birth moms might be waiting for someone to say, #ShesAMom.
There is a gift here, a role to play. If we, the families of adoption, can bridge that gap, if we can lay down preconceived ideas, old judgments, and stereotypes, maybe we could be the first to say #ShesAMom. Maybe we could start a fresh root growing in the heart of a birth mom by acknowledging her as a mother. Maybe we can set an example in our communities, our churches, and our networks by talking about adoption and the “First Mom” in our child’s life. So many times, we let the pain of adoption take over. Will the kids be able to handle it? Will it hurt? You know, it probably will, no matter what you do. Remember, adoption started with pain. But could the pain be used for more? Could it be used as a building block to create something of beauty? Could we become a generation that does adoption differently? We have come so far, from shame over adoption, from hiding, from lying about our roots (from refusing to tell children that they are adopted and keeping it a secret). We have created a society where we can talk openly, but we still get weird about birth moms. Can we lay down the feelings of being threatened by their connection to their child? Can we lay down our “right” to silence and our right to never feel discomfort? I know I am talking way out of the comfort zone of some people. I know some people think I am wrong and think children of adoption are better off not knowing their birth parents. That’s okay; I like an open dialogue. And I like to talk about all of the beauty and good things we have had come our way by being willing to say, #ShesAMom. She is his mom. She is her mom. And so am I. This child has two families: a birth family and an adoptive family. It is true. You don’t have to like it, be ready to sit with it, or want to talk about it, but that makes it no less true.
I have a challenge for you. The next time you see or hear of a birth mom–in person, in a movie, in an article, or anywhere else–think to yourself, “#ShesAMom.” Think it a couple of times. It is like coaching a child learning to recover from a trauma response: we coach them to say, “I am safe.” It is a way to accept a new way of doing things within the body. Same here. Thinking #ShesAMom will help us recognize another facet she may have had to keep hidden for a long time or one she seldom acknowledges. Thinking #ShesAMom will also help you promote positive adoption language–no more “Who is the real mom?” Birth mom and adoptive mom, maybe, but there is no “real” mom. There are two moms with two different kinds of love. Children cannot have enough people in their lives to love them and root for them. Children of adoption need us to be secure enough to say #ShesAMom, and they need us to tell them it is okay to hold a special place in their hearts for their birth families. Children of adoption need to know that we don’t hold it against them for loving their first families. Let’s set an amazing example of love and commitment to grace by being the first to acknowledge the others in the adoption triad. Let’s be the first to reach out and say, I see you, I acknowledge you, I accept you as a human being. We hold the power of life and death in the words we say–I truly believe that. Words either build up or tear down. I have torn down more often than I’d like to admit. I’m human and make mistakes–we all do. But that doesn’t mean we stay in that forever. We rise up, and now that we know better, we do better. Therefore, I challenge us all to look at women, women who have carried a child for a very short time (carrying to term alone does not make us mothers), women who have lost a child, women who have placed a child, women who have had a child removed, women who raise their own children, and women who raise other people’s children (foster moms and adoptive moms, inclusive), and say, #ShesAMom.