Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Reality: The Making of a Family

This is an issue I knew I'd have to address, probably repeatedly, as my child grows up.  We chose this path- the adoption path- to start our family.  I knew it would come with trials and struggles.  But sometimes I am still shocked when it happens.

Last week, I was visiting my son's class to talk about his birth country.  They are studying world geography, and his teacher invited anyone who had traveled abroad to come in and share.  I had decided ahead of time that I wasn't going to attempt to explain how Son #1 came into our family through adoption- the concept is tough and they are only 6 years old.  I was just going to share the wonderful land that is Colombia and all the beauty and positive things about this gorgeous country we stayed in for 3 weeks.

When I walked in the room, one of the kids said, "Hey- what are you doing here?"  I said, "I am here to tell you guys about Colombia."  Immediately, a little boy sitting right next to my son said, "Yeah, because you're not his REAL mom."  Another kid chimed in with, "Yeah, you're not his REAL mom."

My chin hit the floor.  A few of my son's classmates know that we adopted him, but we really haven't broadcast that fact to anyone there.  His teacher knows, and I've mentioned it to a few parents. We don't have any qualms about sharing our story, it's just that it doesn't define him or us, so I don't just announce it all the time.

I stumbled to reply.  I explained I am his real mom, but that we adopted him.  I am his real mommy, I said.

I went on to do my presentation.  The kids especially enjoyed seeing pictures of my son when he was a baby.  Seeing us with him as an infant maybe helped them see he belongs with us.  But I left with an extremely heavy heart.

When I questioned my son about it, he said no one had ever said that to him before. I made sure he knew that what the little boy said isn't true.

You see, I wasn't upset or sad that this kid said that dreaded phrase.  I wasn't insulted by him.  I was upset because some adult in his life must've used those words at some point to explain adoption. And yes, it is sometimes difficult to explain.  But that is definitely not the correct way to talk about it.

Early in our adoption process, I tried to explain correct terminology to a friend.  I explained that the correct term is that I am not his "biological" or "birth" parent.  She said, "Well, when people say 'you're not his real mom', that's what they mean."

I understand that it's difficult to explain.  But just because something has become a "common" term doesn't make it right.  Think of all the terms used over the course of history to characterize people that we would never use now.

So let me clarify, once and for all.

There was a woman who carried and gave birth to my son. A younger woman who knew from the moment she discovered her pregnancy that she would not parent this child.  She took care of him as he grew inside of her, and she gave him life.  We are grateful to her and would never speak ill of her.

But as soon as he was born, his paperwork states, "She refused to hold him or feed him."

Those words break my heart for my son.  I would've given anything to scoop up that squishy, squirmy newborn and snuggle him close to me and feed him.  But no one did.  He was taken to the nursery, and a few days later went to live with a foster family.  He was cared for.  He was healthy.  But he never saw his birthmother face to face.

At 9 months old, social workers put him in my arms.  We signed documents (not the first and not the last) saying that it was our legal responsibility to care for him- emotionally, physically and spiritually- and we would be held responsible if something happened to him.

We fed him. Changed his diapers.  Rocked him.  Carried him in a Snuggly.  Played with him.  Laughed with him.  We did all the typical new-parent "Did you see the way he ate that bite of food? He's a genius!" gushing. Taught him to sit up, roll over, crawl, stand, walk, run.  I got up in the night when he cried and comforted him.  We gave him a new name and brought him into a family who had waited 3 years for this blessing.  They have loved him from the instant they saw his first picture.

I was there when he split his forehead open on the coffee table and needed stitches.  I was there for his first stomach flu (boy was I ever! puke all over me!).  I have been at every doctor's appointment, every parent-teacher conference, every play date.

We have poured out love for him every single day we've known him.  That's reality.

And when he first spoke the words, "Mama", he was talking about me.

I was there for all his hurts, all his victories, all his struggles and all his growing up.  I was the one who cried when I sent him off to kindergarten, and the one who prays daily (sometimes hourly) for the love of God to grow in his heart and that he'd become a strong, loving man who serves the Lord.  I will continue to be there every moment of his life.

So those words? They wound me.  They aren't just misguided- they are deeply hurtful.  I am not a stand-in or a babysitter. Our family also now includes his brother- our biological child.  There is not now, nor will there ever be, a distinction between the two.  They are brothers who entered our family in different ways, but let me tell you, they are REAL brothers.  And they both call me mommy and my husband daddy.

Again, I love his birthmother deeply and have prayed that one day we can meet her.  The prospect of that is slim, but if he wants to connect with her, I am all for it.

But I am his REAL mom.  I live it every day.  It is an honor and a blessing.  Please do not do me the dishonor of calling me anything else.