Questions I get about my Korean daughter:
- “Do you know anything about her real mom?”
- “Do you think she’ll ever find her real mom?”
- “Are you her real mom?”
(People often italicize this word in case I am a bit slow on the uptake and don’t catch their meaning.)
- “Yes, in fact, I know everything about her!
- “She should have no trouble because they live in the same house.”
- “Yes! Our mailman is Korean.”
I know, I know. I should be nicer about the whole thing, and mostly, I am. I understand that by “real,” folks are trying to say “biological” or “birth.” They don’t have the proper language to wrap around a complex relationship. Still, it hits me sideways every single time.
When my girl uses it with me, as in “Will I meet my real mom when we go to Korea someday?” it doesn’t just hit me sideways. It hits me like an arrow to the heart. Bull’s eye.
Yet I know she doesn’t mean to hurt me. I said the same thing to my mom years ago.
Where does this come from, this use of the word “real” to describe biology and genomic links?
I for one would like to call for a halt to this word in this context. Because I do not think real means what you think it means.
Real: Actual, Physical, Material, Factual, Tangible, Existent, Genuine, Authentic, Valid, True.
How does that not describe the ways we moms are with and for and there for our children, 24/7, actually, tangibly, and genuinely?
The antonyms of “real” are even worse:
And don’t get me started on “natural” (‘Do you think Phoebe will ever want to search for her ‘natural’ mother?’).
“That word makes me think of organic, gluten-free, dairy-free…,” said my friend Sheri, pictured above with her daughter, Nkia.
I know an adoptive mom who makes her own vegetable dye for use in cake decorating. She’s feeding her family food that is organic, gluten-free, dairy-free–everything on the above list, also adding grass-fed, rBGH free etc. She may also be a sprinkler of flax seed and whey.
(We don’t do whey, knowingly, but curds, yes indeed! If we’re talking about cheese curds, mind you. And frozen yogurt.)
She’s a natural, wonderful mother, but apparently, according to many people who perpetrate the word “natural” in this circumstance, is mothering her children on some sort of “unnatural” pretense.
Yeah, the word “natural” has gotta go, too.
Or at least, we should be using those words to describe both biological and adoptive mothers, especially the word real.
So, a couple of days ago, I just had it with the “real mom” comments, and in my feisty way, wanted to go all postal on the word and anyone in the universe who dared use it “wrong.” On Facebook, I proposed a hashtag campaign called #Iamherrealmom #Iamhisrealmom, and I received tons of support after my rant, er, post., including photos from Robyn, adopted from Russia…
And the Inions, who live in Mexico and have nine children, five biological and four adopted.
But (insert groaning sounds of growing pains here)…
Let me just say, I am thankful people feel safe enough on my feed to offer a dissenting voice. This one, from Cassie, a friend and birth mother, made me realize there are two sides to this “real” issue:
“Wow. I’m on the other end of things, as my oldest I gave up in an open adoption situation & honestly, hadn’t considered this whole aspect of the process. Undeniably, his adoptive mother and father are his “real” parents, though it’s not fair to say I’m not, either. As a “real” mother to three daughters, I can see what you mean, of course. I’m sorry it’s even a thing–the stigma and misunderstanding in society, but I’m grateful for my role in the family life my son has been able to experience, as it probably wouldn’t have been so had I made a different choice.”
“As an adoptee,” said Melanie, a therapist and an adoptive mom, “I see both of my mothers as a “real” part of my life story. Referring to one or the other as “real” does the entire triad a disservice.”
Thank you to both women for their wisdom, and for saving me from myself on this one.
I may be over-caffeinated, but hopefully I am teachable.
So, per “real,” let me give credit where it’s due. To birth mothers, including mine and my girl’s, who step up in an extraordinarily real way for their children, thank you forever and ever. Most of you made a brave choice to relinquish your child to another to raise and love.
Whether or not you ever have a relationship with your child, your journey together continues through the years, through love, prayer, thoughts, and yes, DNA. Speaking for adoptive moms everywhere, we think of you always and tell our children you love them and did the best you could.
You are real moms.
And to adoptive moms who have been told over and over again, in ways subtle and blunt, that your role in your child’s life is somehow a fraud, a fake, as artificial as a popsicle formed from red dye and chemicals, you know better.
You are real moms, too.
You are the actual mommy who soothes her crying baby, banishes monsters from under the bed, and calms her fears in a thunderstorm. You are the factual mom who sits in frozen arenas and soggy soccer fields, cheering until your voice goes croaky. You are the authentic, valid, and true mom who takes the call from the principal, the friend’s mom, maybe even the police.
The first real mom gave your child life, and now you are shaping it. Nothing could be more natural. Nothing could be more real.
And my beautiful family: Doyle and I, Ezra, Jonah, Phoebe, and June (she’s adopted, too!)
P.S: Non-Snarky Answers to the questions at the top of the blog:
- “Yes, we know a few things, and hopefully we will learn more someday.”
- “We talk about and pray about it. Korea keeps good records so I am hopeful someday we might find her together.”
- “Yes, I am. And so is her birth mother.”
Our mailman is a woman.
Janine Nieuwenhuis says
Beautifully written Lorilee! Love how you bring light to this topic. Thank you!
Thanks Janine! I admire your “light” as well.
David Capp says
Thanks for sharing this post. I get the snarkyness, and appreciate it too. Dawn and I are blessed with two birth daughters, but we both have close friends, even family who have adopted. And it is so beautiful to see these families, some of whose children are good friends of Hannah’s, who are bringing these wonderful gifts of God into their lives and homes. Thanks for the good reminder to be careful of wording for our friends who are adoptive parents.
BTW, it’s also interesting to be assumed to be your children’s grandparents… I don’t mind uncertainty, as I realize I have peers from school with grandchildren older than my children… but come on folks!
Good reminder, and thanks for sharing.
Thanks, Dave. You make an interesting point about people’s “grandparent” comments. Ha! I guess adoptive parents aren’t the only ones who get strange comments. 🙂 I was asked if I was Phoebe’s nanny one time. That was a new one!
As someone who is adopted, it actually drives me a little crazy when people ask me if I want to find my “real” mom. I always tell them I don’t have to find her – she’s been with me all along. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate my bio mom and the tough choice she made for my benefit, but my mom – the one who raised me – is the only mom I know so to not refer to her as my real mom seems just weird to me – and inaccurate. Thanks for this post! 🙂
Rosanne, I like this: “I don’t have to find her. She’s been with me all along.” Thanks for this!
Margot Starbuck Hausmann says
Growing up as adoptee I heard “real” but haven’t heard it as much as adoptive mama.I’m surrounded by lots of other adoptive fams, and it’s not one we use.
Thanks, Margot. “Real” should be relegated to the “oldies” file forevermore! And thanks to you for writing “The Girl in the Orange Dress.” That book was pivotal for me in understanding my adopted self!
People are obviously aware that the person raising the child is the “capital M”, ‘Mom’, or else they wouldn’t bother coming up with any adjective to describe another kind of “mom”.
“mother” or “mom” is obviously the word to describe the woman who gave birth to a person and also the woman that raises a child. So some would say “she’s not my MOM, cause she didn’t raise me” and I get it, but still the child has two moms. Even though you don’t like the way it is stated, I actually think this is a bit over the top.
Hi Ailyus, Thanks for weighing in! Me, over the top? Wouldn’t be the first time someone said that! 🙂 However, I felt the word “real” needed to be addressed. It’s been used one too many times on this lady!
Heather Stroobosscher says
Hi Lorilee (and other beautiful moms):
I’ve decided to weigh in . . . offer another perspective.
I am a birth mom. I relinquished a daughter for adoption almost 24 years ago. It was a traumatic situation . . . I was a young single 20-year-old in crisis. God scooped me up, set my feet on a rock, gave me a firm place to stand. Brought wonderful adoptive parents into my life who loved on me through the pregnancy and then adopted my daughter.
My word is this: I am not her mother. I am her “birth mother.” I gave birth to her. Brought her into the world. God used me to deliver her to the family he had designed for her. But I am not her mother. To suggest that adoptive mothers are “mothers too” takes away from the adoptive mothers central, vital, fundamental role, semantically. “I’m here too.” Nope. “I’m here.” Period. I wouldn’t ever diminish a birth mother’s role–critical, fundamental, vital, valuable at a significant juncture. But following the birth is the relinquishment. I relinquished my role as mother and transferred my rights to another.
The three of us just met for lunch a couple of months ago. A young woman, her mother, and a near-stranger who had valuable information that the young woman needed to piece together parts of the puzzle of her heritage that she had been missing concerning her birth father. I was not her mother, nor her mother too. The young woman was not having lunch with her two mothers. I was simply another woman who happened to be her “birth mother” and the third member at a lovely coffee date. I am not her mother.
Bless you moms who have adopted children. You are her real mom. You are his real mom. May you all find the grace you need to hear people’s hearts when they have the courage to inquire about your children using words that might be inappropriate. Encourage their connection to another and boldly testify to God’s goodness to you. You are their mothers. Period.
Heather, I am so grateful to you for this comment. You are so brave to share your story I absolutely love this: “God used me to deliver her to the family he had designed for her.” Wow! Can I use this for my book? 🙂
Also: “I wouldn’t ever diminish a birth mother’s role–critical, fundamental, vital, valuable at a significant juncture. But following the birth is the relinquishment. I relinquished my role as mother and transferred my rights to another.” Love.
Thank you for your wisdom and perspective. It takes a big person to say what you have said here. Grace to you and gratitude for your gifts to the world.
Cheri Krogman says
Heather, I couldn’t disagree more. You are her mom. You are her female parent. You are 1st mother. Yes. She has other moms too. They could be the mom who is raising her. The one you relinquished her to. A neighbor who takes a child in when no one else will. A grandma who becomes mom all over again. She may need you in ways you cannot even imagine. Yes. God puts us where we need to be and people get to be a part of that process, but it is also her story. The story that you started. Your story, her story, Mixed in. Blended beautifully. DNA forever stamped in parts of who she is.
Blessings today and always. Peace and Love indeed.
Cheri Krogman says
As an adoptee, the term “mom” becomes a mixed bag in and of itself without adding “real”, “natural”, “birth”, ” first”, “adoptive” to the mix. How does one decide who gets the right label and in what context? Who gets to decide? Adoption is a complicated mess sometimes. The awkward conversations and experiences keep showing us that adoptees and parents need continued open conversations and education about how to make the mess of adoption better.
Cheri, thanks for weighing in. Yes, adoption can be messy. Messy, but worth it. Messy, but hopefully beautifully so. But yes, messy, as in not tidy and pat and predictable. A place for everything and everything in its place.
Cheri Krogman says
Yes. Messy but hopefully beautifully so. Hopefully is the part that requires the work and not just the love.
Blessings today. Always.
I think of our birth mother often. I know she went through many ups and downs the first year of the adoption. Thinking of T and congrats on the finalization. Ours was finalized 11/23/11!
Thanks for sharing questions I know someday I will be asked as well. It’s nice to get some insight from other moms about how to answer/deal/react to certain questions. The biggest one we’re getting right now is Why China? I’ve learned to simply answer with the truth: Because that’s where our child is!
I love the open and honest way you write! Thanks again!
Becky, thanks for checking in. Your blog is so cool! “Slow Buss to China”: Love it. You are already this little one’s real mom, and so is his/her birth mom. We got asked “Why Korea?” as well. I think many people wondered why we were adopting from Korea and not in our own backyard. There were many reasons for that, but the main one was that that’s where we felt led to adopt. Also: My sister-in-law had suffered through an adoption reversal (birth mom changed her mind one week in and broke all our hearts). We didn’t want to have that happen, either. People tend to be very judgmental about adopting overseas when children here need homes. I have noticed these same people usually aren’t the adopting kind! Please keep in touch and add me on fb! I’d love to follow your journey, too.
Jen Leech says
Really identify with what you have written. I have two daughters adopted from China, Jasmin is 15 and Holly 11 years of age. It stabs at my heart when people see them and say to me “they are lucky girls”, my response is usually, well actually, I think my husband and I are the lucky ones”. Or the other statement is “are they REAL sisters”! And those comments are said in front of my daughters. When the second statement is made Holly will usually go up to Jasmin and touch her and say in a loud voice “are you real”!
“Are you real”? Love it! Perfect response. Thanks, Holly! 🙂
I was a foster mom in a large country near Korea. We fostered a little boy with special needs who was dying from lack of care in his orphanage. He lived with us for two years and the entire two years, we petitioned the orphanage to allow him to go on the “adoptable list.” They finally agreed and through an amazing set of circumstances, we were able to find him an amazing family and he is now thriving with all the family and help that his special needs require.
What I want to say is this- I am his “real” mom, too. It’s been two years since we have seen him (aside from pictures) and I still grieve for him. We believe that we made the right decision to allow a younger family with siblings to adopt him. But I still ache.
Children who are adopted often live with foster families. I’ve read adoption forums where the foster moms are dismissed. Please don’t. We were the moms that cared for your babies at the time where they needed us…often desperately. We took care of his medical and other needs at our own expense and I couldn’t have loved him more if he had come from my own body.
If your child had foster care, please let those foster families know how their/your/our child is doing. We have the privilege of being back in the US and having some contact with his forever family. Many foster families in other countries simply see a child for the last time on forever family day and never hear again. It’s a real loss and grief. We loved that little one too.
Thank you Sandy! We love and respect our girl’s foster family. They took amazing care of her and loved her before we were able to come to Korea and pick her up. For six months, her foster family built into her life, and we will always be grateful. Thanks too for the reminder to keep in touch with them. It’s hard because we have to do it through our adoption agency, and we never quite know if any of our updates are getting through. But you’ve inspired me to try again.
As a fost-adopt parent, which moms (and dads) are real can be very confusing for our son. He lived with his biological mother until age 6.5. Unfortunately, his mother is no longer living. He then lived in 7 foster homes before he came to us (some good, some bad). Now he’s 10, and when he talks about his past he’ll say, “My mom, not my real mom, [Insert foster mother name].” Or, when he’s angry, that we’re not his real parents, or that he misses his real mom.
He’s old enough to have memories of all the parents along the way. And different parents seem to feel more “real” at different times. We encourage him to remember that all his moms are real – real moms take care of kids – and that he can say “My mom, Natalie” or “My mom, Dana” or whatever.
I totally appreciate this post – especially the shout out to birth moms (and in one comment to foster moms, who in our story was as real a mom as it gets to our son). When we adopted our son at age 2 from foster care I thought I was prepared for ignorant comments. I have so many family members and friends with their own adoption stories, I’d read everything I could, we’d taken endless workshops and classes. With a special needs child at home, I thought I was pretty used to unintentionally hurtful statements. I though I’d be so cool about it…
I’m not. I think because it was so hard/scary/overwhelming to nurture attachment and navigate the equally-magical-but-different experience of adoption after 3 biological offspring. And where I need validation most, the not-real implication is a kick in the gut. And they’re just making conversation.
I’m excited about this and hope to get a copy when we atetnd the annual NANC conf. in October Tripp has earned high praise/respect with me/us. As more and more Xians embrace the call to adopt, the need for decidedly Biblical resources and counsel simply explodes! Thanks for featuring this new resource.