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Thoughts from a Real Mother

When discussing a title for this essay my editor suggested, “Thoughts from a Real Mother.” I loved it. I have struggled with my identity as a mother, and that title went right to the heart of the issue. However, the editorial staff expressed concern that it might seem “too negative,” which made me wonder: am I forever to be qualified as an “adoptive mother,” while (politically correct or not) my children’s birthmother remains the “real mother”?

Three weeks after uniting with my six-month-old son, feeling overwhelmed and unsteady, I attended a playgroup organized by a group of new moms in my neighborhood. The room was filled with first-time moms at ease with themselves, their babies, and each other. Their conversations revolved around birthing experiences and adventures in lactation. These women were warm and lovely to me, offering gentle bits of advice and encouragement, but instead of feeling welcomed, I felt like a fraudulent interloper. I thought if I’d given birth, my awkwardness wouldn’t have been so apparent. That playdate couldn’t end soon enough.

Two months passed before I returned to another new mommy gathering. By then the weather had warmed, and the group was meeting outside at a local playground. As I wheeled my sleeping son through the gate, a mom who I’d never met saw me and said, “Oh look … we have the same stroller! You know, he really should be reclined while he’s sleeping … do you know how to do it … it took me forever to figure it out, here, I’ll show you.” Fearing she’d wake my son, I tried to stop her as she reached down and eased the seat into a reclining position. While grateful to learn of this handy feature, I was embarrassed that I didn’t know how to operate my own stroller. Chatty Mom went on to ask a litany of questions. 

How old is he?

Where’s he from?

How old was he when you got him?

What’s his name? 

Last name? 

Is that your last name too? 

No? What’s your last name? 

Did you give him your last name for his middle name?

I explained that we chose to give him all three of his Korean names as his middle name, and felt we didn’t need to burden him with one more. Without blinking an eye, Chatty Mom said, “Well it doesn’t really matter anyway, it’s not as if you pushed him out of you.”

I mumbled that I had to go, and in a haze of tears, all I could think to myself was, “You’re not a real mother, you’re not a real mother, you’re not a real mother. And everybody knows it.”

I was secretly relieved when six months had passed, and I returned to work. My son was (and continues to be) a very easy-going little guy. He quickly adjusted to being with his wonderful new nanny, who in turn found tremendous joy in her time spent with him. I was envious of their relationship because (to be perfectly truthful) I white-knuckled my way through each day fearful that something would go wrong and I’d screw this kid up.

Then two things happened when my son was thirteen months old. First, he became very sick with an upper respiratory infection. This is significant because it was while trying to soothe him through the night and worrying about how sick he was, I realized that as much as I honored and respected his birthmother, I was the one literally losing sleep to care for this child. I was scared. I was exhausted.  But I was there. I was real. That moment was real. No other mother was going to show up. It was up to me to make him feel safe and comfortable while he struggled with his illness.

The second thing that happened was when our social worker called to let us know that our son’s birthmother had given birth to, and placed for adoption, a baby girl. She then asked if we were in a position to add to our family. It took my husband and me about a day to say yes. 

The next six months were filled with paperwork and bureaucracy before we were permitted to fly to Korea to meet our daughter. 

It was during those six months that I came to fully embrace motherhood. I found confidence and strength that I didn’t know I had. I admitted to my sisters-in-law (who have three children each) that there were times when I was frightened, unsure, bored, and angry. To my surprise they both assured me it was perfectly normal to feel that way. It was a revelation to discover that “real” mothers experienced those same feelings too!

So one year after becoming a first-time parent, I became a mother of “two under two.” When our daughter came home, it was immediately clear that she needed a great deal of stability and consistency to help her transition to her new life with us, so I left my job for good to be home with the children full-time. By then my son and I were attending a twice-a-week structured “mommy and me” class, and I was the first in that group of moms to have a second baby. 

“What is it like to have two?” 

“Do you love the second one as much as the first?” 

“How do you manage bedtime, bath time, diaper changes?” 

Suddenly I was the one with the answers … I felt like a Warrior Earth Mother Goddess!

It will be four years in April since my life changed and I began my journey as a parent. I still sometimes wonder if the biological moms in my life consider me their equal. I do know that what I experience in my life is real. Believe me, cleaning the messes, breaking up the fights, kissing away the tears, being smothered in hugs and cuddles, and hearing, “I love you, Mommy” is as real as it gets.

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