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.