“Mother” is a loaded and complex word in a birth mother’s vocabulary. Someone is always criticizing birth mothers. The world says that birth mothers should look a certain way and that they should have stepped up when faced with an unplanned pregnancy. So let’s dissect what it means to be a mother and who is the mother when it comes to adoption.
Nature Versus Nurture
There is an age-old question: what makes us who we are? Is it simply buried in our DNA like some blueprint to life? Or is it our environment that shapes us into who we are? There’s a famous adoption poem called “The Legacy of an Adopted Child” that explains this notion well. Here is an excerpt:
Once there were two women
who never knew each other.
Two different lives
Shaped to make yours one.
One became your guiding star;
the other became your sun
And now you ask me
Through your tears,
The age-old question
Through the years:
Heredity or environment
Which are you the product of?
Neither, my darling—neither,
Just two different kinds of love.
– Author Unknown
I only quoted some of it because some of the language is not positive and the poem as a whole is dated and not fully relevant to modern adoption. However, the last phrase always sticks with me: “Neither, my darling—neither, just two different kinds of love.” As an adoptee who grew up in a closed adoption, I never knew my birth mother until I met her at age 22. When I met her, I was disappointed because she had made some really unfortunate life choices that put her on a difficult path. Fast forward 11 years to now, I recently found out that the man I thought to be my birth father likely is not and that my birth father could possibly be one of two brothers. Both are extremely unsavory characters. I was overwhelmed with shame because both of my biological parents were such sketchy characters and I thought that my biology had affected my character. I knew deep down that those thoughts came from shame and that my character hadn’t been affected, but in those moments it was hard to reconcile the truth. Soon after I found all of this out, I called my grandfather, my birth mom’s father, and he shared with me how proud of me he was and that he always prayed that I’d have the life I did. He reminded me that there are many people with hard backgrounds that turn out to be outstanding people and there are many people with outstanding upbringings that turn out to be awful. The point is he knew that my biology did not define me; it’s just a part of me. Just like my nature, how I was raised doesn’t define me; it just gives me substance that I either retain or let go of.
What Makes a Mother
Mothers are selfless, they love fiercely, they sacrifice for their kids time and time again, they prioritize their children over themselves and others, they provide for their children, they protect their children, and they bend over backward to make sure they have a life full of opportunities and joy. What have you heard about birth mothers? Some of the stigmas that I have heard are that birth mothers are selfish, come from crisis situations, and don’t love their babies. According to these stigmas, they forget about their babies after they place them for adoption and they placed their baby for adoption so they could keep living their life. These are polar opposites compared to the definition of mothers I shared before because this is the reality of how people think of birth mothers in comparison. I will quickly debunk a few of these stigmas to show you that birth mothers line up with the first definition of mothers. Also, please note that there are circumstances that differ from what I have to say below, but they are few and far between.
They are selfish
Birth mothers knew during their pregnancy and their adoption planning that adoption is a forever commitment. Not only do they forever commit to not watching their child grow up and not getting to help raise them, they forever commit to an emotional journey consisting of grief, loss, unknown answers about their child, or only glimpses of the person they love more than anything—their baby.
They must come from crisis situations
Most birth mothers are typical women living normal life. While there are some circumstances that involve drugs, homelessness, criminal backgrounds, or other harder stories, such circumstances are rarer in comparison to typical teenage rebellion or a woman who just wasn’t in the right place to parent at that time. I will say that from the beginning, women who are in this situation are up against a great deal; however, the lack of available resources to give these women a hand-up makes parenting an unrealistic option. I was faced with this situation twice, and I knew both times that I was not going to have enough resources to get my little family where it needed to be for my children to have the life I dreamed for them. So while not all situations are related to a crisis, the lack of resources to empower women to parent is certainly critical.
They don’t love their babies
This is far from the truth. The sacrificial love birth mothers exhibit by putting their children before themselves is the embodiment of love.
They forget about them after they place them for adoption
Birth mothers most certainly do not give away anything, first off. We make a well-thought-out and intentional plan for our child. We have to live with that loss of life with our child for the rest of our lives, but we made that choice with the strength we did because we knew that it was for the best.
They place their baby for adoption so that they can keep living their lives
I’m sure to those who have never been in the situation a birth mother has that it’s an easy assumption that our baby was an inconvenience, so we found a way to go back to how things were. However, there are two main things wrong with this stigma. The first is that we didn’t choose adoption because it was an easy out. It’s the hardest thing any of us have ever done. It’s painful and it is a loss of motherhood. And like I mentioned before, it’s something I will always have to live with. The second is that it changes us forever. Things will never go back to how they were before. Any mother that gives birth knows that her life does not go back to the way it was before she had a child. We are deeply impacted by the love for our child, the loss we experienced in choosing adoption, the limits on our adoption plans, and so much more. As we move forward in life, we will face emotional triggers—heartache on birthdays, complexities on Mother’s Day, or missing family members on Christmas. We are changed.
So now let’s add the word “birth” before the word “mother” on my definition above and see if it is still fitting. Birth mothers are selfless, they love fiercely, they sacrifice for their kids time and time again, they prioritize their children over themselves and others, they provide for their children, they protect their children, and they bend over backward to make sure their children have a life full of opportunities and joy. Seems to still bear a striking resemblance, right? Of course it does because no matter how much we dissect this concept, birth mothers are by definition mothers.
Which brings me to my next thought: why do we have so many motherhood titles? In the adoption world, there are so many titles that honestly are confusing and inconsistent. We have first mothers, birth mothers, expectant mothers, adoptive mothers, hopeful adoptive mothers/parents or HAPs, bonus mothers, etc. Following is a list of common motherhood titles along with an explanation of how not all of them paint motherhood in the best light.
I personally hate this title for several reasons: it diminishes the value of the woman raising my child, and it sets us up for comparison as two mothers (or more) in our child’s life. The birth mother may have been the first to know the baby as she carried him or her in her womb, but the adoptive mother was the first to catch the baby as he or she began to fall from taking his or her first steps. It’s a never-ending cycle that seems so insignificant when the core of what matters is that both mothers are irreplaceable to the baby.
There are many inconsistencies with the use of this word. Most importantly, a woman considering adoption is not a birth mother until she signs relinquishment papers and fully decides to place her child for adoption. Why is that so important? Because until that decision is set in stone, she is still an expectant mother who is considering her options. Her choice is empowered by not labeling her as a birth mother until she makes that decision after birth and after signing legal papers because, up until that moment, she can change her mind.
This one is complicated too because expectant mothers can be women who are pregnant, women who are pregnant and considering adoption, or women who are considering adopting a child. It’s helpful, for clarity’s sake, to add the intentions behind the title such as saying, “I am an expectant mother who is considering placing my child for adoption.”
When I share that I am a birth mom I am in awe of how many times people think that means I adopted a child. Again, there are so many inconsistencies and little education provided on the different aspects of adoption that cause this to be confusing. Adoptive mothers are women who have gone through the legal process to adopt a child. This is the most celebrated title of mother in the adoption world, but I hope that after reading this and gaining more knowledge of the power a title can have, you celebrate birth mothers just as much.
HAPs or Hopeful Adoptive Parents
These are couples or even single people who are hoping to adopt a child. Even when a couple or person is matched with an expectant mother choosing adoption, they are still hopeful because just like with the expectant mother, the adoption is not set in stone until the mother signs those papers.
This is my personal title as a birth mother. Both of my children know that they are adopted, that they are siblings, and that my love for them is limitless. In my opinion, calling me Katie is just the easiest thing and my name, so it seems the most appropriate thing to call me. My title doesn’t define the worth of who I am to my kids, nor does it define the value they add to my life as my children.
So when faced with the question, “Who is the mother?” my answer is simple: we both are. We are both selfless, we love fiercely, we sacrifice for our kids time and time again, we prioritize our children over ourselves and others, we provide for our children, we protect our children, and we bend over backward to make sure they have a life full of opportunities and joy. There is no comparison necessary, there is no competition, and there is no limit to our love. We can both exist as mothers for our children.