One day while I was waiting for Thea, my children’s’ birth mother, one of her office-mates came up and asked if this was “Thea’s little girl.” I said, “Yes, Tori is our daughter.” The woman laughed and asked, “No, whose child is she really?” I answered, “She’s really both of ours.”
The woman looked flustered as she walked away, but I spoke no less than the truth. David and Tori really belong to both of us– to all of us. They happen to have three active parents, and the only way I would change things would be to add their birth fathers to our family.
I have been asked how I can refer to “our” children, including in our family a woman who chose not to parent the children. After all, she chose us to parent them and severed all her legal ties to them so that the children, my husband, and I could become a legal family– a “real” family. But here’s how we see it:
Thea is the mother of our children. She gave birth to them. Her genetics, her personality, is stamped inexorably into their very bones and marrow. Her past is their past; her family is their family. All the laws and fancy papers signed by judges and such can’t change that. I can’t change that, and I wouldn’t if I could. She couldn’t take care of them, but she cared– and cares– deeply about them. And I wouldn’t change that, either; in fact, I seek to foster it.
I am the mother of our children. I walked the floor with them midnights, stayed up with them when they were ill. I feed, clothe, and love them. I care for– and about– them. I mother them. The first time I looked into David’s eyes, he wound his soul around my heart in a bond that nothing could erase. Sometimes he lays back in my lap and gazes deep into my eyes and says, “I love you, Mommy.” And the words are not necessary because that love and adoration are written in every line of his body, in every facet of his gaze. With Tori, it took a little longer, about 2 weeks, for her to decide that I was an “acceptable” mommy– but when Tori claims anything as her own, her own it is and will stay. She became a psychic lamprey (and at times tried to become a physical one!), firmly attached to my heart and my life. She has a very different personality than David. She is also very much my daughter. In Tori, I hear my words and my intonations, but Tori’s voice definitely comes from her birth mother. In David, I see my mother’s smile.
My husband and I have the legal rights, privileges, and responsibilities. The three of us have moral, ethical, and emotional rights, privileges, and responsibilities, although they are different for each of the three of us. The children have two parents, but three adults active in their lives who love them: two mothers and one father. Thea doesn’t “parent” them, but that’s as it should be. If she thought she could have parented them, she wouldn’t have given the children to us to parent. She doesn’t mother them, but she “Theas” them– a different but fine and glorious thing in itself. We use the term “birth mother” to describe Thea’s relationship to the children. It is not her title, but it is a description of her relationship to the children. It’s not exactly a description of the role she plays in their lives, but we haven’t found a good one yet, so she is simply “their Thea.” For her, I think it is adequate. I’d like to find a better term, but there may not be one. English just doesn’t have enough relationship terms in it.
We use the term “adoptive mother” infrequently and only when we need to distinguish between which of the children’s two mothers we mean. I am not their “adoptive mother,” although I came into their lives and they into mine through adoption. Adoption is simply the legal mechanism. What I am is their “mother”– legally, functionally, by all the laws and powers of emotional bonds and love. I love them fiercely.
My relationship to the children is in addition to– not instead of– Thea’s relationship to them– just as it is in addition to, not instead of, my husband’s relationship to them. We do not replace each other, we augment each other.
I’ve used this line so often that it’s become trite, but is still none the less true– in this world, children need all the love they can get. I’m not about to deny them one source of it.
We are their mother.