I'm Amy, avid Mom(ish) reader and indentured servant to a toddler tyrant named Wiggle Worm. But for this post, I'm going to share with you another name that I go by: adoptive mom.
For the most part, I'm just like any of you moms raising your biological children. I'm tired. I watch the same movie fifty times in a row because my kid loves it. I step on painful toys. I say outrageous things like "spit out those rocks" and "don't brush your private part with your toothbrush!" I am personal secretary, playmate, chef, and butt wiper to a boss thirty years my junior. I have days that end with a glass of wine being downed in a matter of minutes and days when I feel like I'm finally winning at motherhood.
As I'm working on this post, I've yelled about five times and threatened time out at least once. I marvel at the power plays over things like a chair. Yeah. A chair. A red plastic child-sized Adirondak seat that has somehow become the most coveted possession in the backyard. Not the slide, the t-ball and bat, the tricycle, or the bouncy ball. This chair has become the Iron Throne, and it's my job to prevent a Red Wedding scenario from going down between my son and my nephew.
There are some differences to being an adoptive mom(ish), and while everyone's adoption journey is uniquely their own, I'd venture to say that the following list applies to most of us who become mothers by other means. So here's some of the "ish" in my mom life that may differ from you traditionalists:
1) No Pregnancy--
When it comes to hearing stories of horrific body changes and painful childbirth, difficulties breastfeeding and/or pumping, and postpartum depression, I just have to imagine and feel for you gals. I've only had one woman tell me she loved being pregnant, and I'm fairly certain she's just forgotten the bad stuff. My baby was formula fed--obviously--and every time I watched him latch onto that latex nipple with the ferocity of a person grasping a lifeline, my nipples would offer up praises of deliverance. Now, I imagine having milk supply to offer your child makes a difference, and to say that I never had or have a feeling of sadness at being unable to try breastfeeding would be a lie, because I did and do.
Ironically, I have gained weight, gotten a few stretch marks, and endured some nausea throughout the 20 months we waited to adopt Wiggle Worm. Make of that what you will.
My version of pregnancy and childbirth was rocking a child to sleep and wondering if his birth mom missed him; launching out of bed every time he woke up at night because he was in an unfamiliar place; scheduling appointments with a case worker, mental health worker, state-appointed attorney, licensing agent, pediatrician, and physical therapist; phone conference meetings with even more people, all wanting to know everything happening in his life and what I was doing to make it better; filling out infant milestone questionaires and feeling worried that I wasn't doing enough to encourage his development (I was, but I still felt inadequet about it); fighting every urge to disobey court orders but instead handing him over to a visitation supervisor three times a week while he clung to me like a monkey and cried; attending court hearings where they talked about reunification; trying to fathom how I would recover if they took him away from us; waiting the longest 20 months of my life to legally call him my son.
And then, glorious Adoption Day! Signing papers that took all those horrible fears away! A court room full, literally full, of family and friends who came to witness one of the most beautiful legal proceedings a government can have.
2) Rude Adoption Questions/Comments--
Verbal rudeness is part of parenting. Or being married. Part of life, really. Someone will always want to know personal details about some aspect of your life and not be able to keep those thoughts to themselves. Curiosity is a natural thing and I don't begrudge people having questions. In fact, when someone asks me about adoption, I try to rein myself in a bit because I could happily go on and on! The problem is that some people ignore the little voice in their head telling them a question is too personal or might cause emotional pain, and the result is the following list. Here are some of the most common I've received, along with my reactions...and maybe some answers for curiosity's sake.
-Q. "Oh, can you not have children?"
A. Thanks for that incredibly insensitive question about my possibly infertile reproductive system. If there's one thing I love to discuss casually with strangers, it's whether or not my uterus can house a fetus, and all the emotional pain I've been through regarding that topic. (Obviously that's your first thought when you hear the word adoption; it's mine, too. I just don't ask, and neither do people with an ounce of tact. I'm happy to say that most of the people in my life and on my facebook account have excellent tact in this area!)
-Q. "Don't you want your own?/Do you not want your own?"
A. I never know where to start with this one. I mean, really? So far I've refrained from yelling "f*#! you!" and instead mumble out a version of "we're building our family this way." Usually this is a follow up question after congrats on the adoption, but I did have one woman blurt it out first thing. Maybe one day I'll just say "Nope. I'd never be able to love a child that grew inside of me" and stare unblinking into their eyes until sweat starts to roll down their face.
-Q. "Are you going to have your own, too?"
A. I know this question means are we going to have a biological child, I'm not an idiot, but I'm still going to be a smart ass and say about my son "he IS our own!" and smile sweetly while silently daring you to keep digging your own grave. Most people don't mean it to sound the way it does, but it's what I hear each time. If you'd like to know whether or not we plan to add more children to our family at some point, I have no problem answering with a definite maybe. Also, this question brings us right back to the status of my womb, so see answer to first question listed above.
-Q. "How lucky that you got one that looks just like you!"
A. Maybe this one shouldn't bother me, but it does. Maybe it's peoples' way of saying how nice it is that it's not obvious he's not biologically ours and therefore we don't have to put up with questions the way we might with a child of different ethnicity. Regardless, we got a 7 month old baby boy because we were the nearest available foster parents on the day he was removed. We said yes before we knew he was blond-haired, blue-eyed, or even what his name was.
3) Genetic Features
To contradict myself and sound like a hypocrite, I do care sometimes that I can never truly say "he has my eyes" or "he has my husband's smile" in the genetic sense of the term. It's small and silly in the grand scheme of things, but there are moments that occationally slip in and whisper this in my ear. Like not being able to feel my child move and kick inside me, or never having a baby bump to show off and waddle around. How big would my belly measure in the baby shower game? I'll never know with Wiggle Worm. These little pieces of the motherhood experience we grow up witnessing and often dreaming of are by no means required to love our child, and yet...there is still an ache for it.
I've found that letting myself have that moment of grief, rather than shoving it away guiltfully, helps it pass more quickly. I can glance over at my booger-crusted toddler chewing a Hot Wheels car while pulling the stuffing out of a toy, and feel the moment fade away because, while I've lost some experiences, I've gained my son.
Kathy Lynn Harris wrote a beautiful article titled "Dear Moms of Adopted Children" and sums my feelings up perfectly: "And while you will never see a reflection of your own eyes there, you see something that's just as powerful: A reflection of your complete and unstoppable love for this person who grew in the midst of your tears and laughter, and who, if torn from you, would be like losing yourself."
4) Medical History
We're blessed to have a near complete medical history on birth mom's side and a bit of birth dad's history, but there are still questions I have to leave blank, write 'unknown', or scrawl in a question mark. Our pediatrician's office deals with enough foster kids that their forms often have options for Foster Care/Adopted check boxes when possible. Thinking "I hope not" when they ask about a history of heart problems on the paternal side is not really comforting.
5) Future School Projects
Family tree diagrams. Family history. Genetic eye color. Since we've still got several years before any of this is before us, I can't say for sure how big of a deal it will be. Probably not a big deal, but it will prompt talks and questions.
6) Future adoption talks
My husband and I decided from the beginning to be as open with Wiggle Worm about his adoption as we could (and as is age appropriate) so that he won't feel lied to or suffer an identity crisis. I don't believe that adoption should solely define a person; it's an important piece of their life story, but by no means the only piece.
At two and a half years old, the topic has yet to come up, but at some point I know I'll have to formulate answers to tough questions. Why was I removed from my birth parents? Did they want/love me? Why couldn't they keep me?
The worst part of these future talks is the pain he may or will feel. How do I convey the truth about his birth parent's actions without him feeling hurt? The answer is I can't. Not completely. But he is surrounded by people who love him, and I hope it will make this piece of his story easier to process.
If there's one thing this journey in motherhood has taught me (and it's taught me a lot!), it's this: regardless of the adjective that preceeds your mom title, we're all still moms just trying to do right by our kids and remain sane in the day-to-day chaos that they create. Motherhood can be one big, strange contradiction: we love our tyrants even on days we don't like them, and we wouldn't trade them even on days we want our child-free lives and bodies back. We often don't have a clue what we're doing. I'm a certified and licensed foster parent--I quite literally have a license to parent--and most of my days are spent questioning my every reaction and decision.
So here's to us, moms of all kinds! Happy World Adoption Day and Happy National Adoption Awarness Month!