When were first matched to be the adoptive parents of Bella and Bubaloo nearly six years ago, we spent a lot of time imagining what they would call us. There are so many different title configurations available to households headed by two moms that we wanted to try a variety of titles on for size.
Mommy, Mom, Mama, Baba, Ima, Maman, and so on (you can read the results of the unscientific poll over at Mombian for some more inspiration).
The hardest part of it all was imagining that someday, and someday soon at that, someone might call me “Mom.” I wanted to be known as Mom as that’s what I called my mom and Otto wanted Mama as that’s what she called her mama and the name also happened to pay homage to a blend of her Italian/French Canadian heritage.
Despite the fact that we had developed personal preferences, we also suspected that our kids who were then 9 and 11 might have had something entirely different in mind. And they did.
The kids initially wanted to call us by our first names and we were cool with that. At the time we were all unsettled by the thought that you could ask a child that you met for the first time a mere five weeks before they moved into your house to call you by the very revered mother moniker.
Over time that slowly changed as our relationships evolved and changed. Both of the kids began to call us Mom. As this naming transition slowly developed, we didn’t think much about it, and we certainly didn’t have much input into it.
I was called Mom and so was Otto. This has led to much confusion in our household because it’s never clear when a child shouts out “Mom” which mother’s attention they’re trying to grab.
Our conversations go something like this:
Kid: No. Not you. The OTHER mom.
Other mom (AKA Otto in this situation): Yes?
We’re both Mom to our big kids. Who gets the word ‘other’ strategically placed in front of ‘mom’ is also a constantly shifting relative qualifier.
Way back when we did our PRIDE training, moms were talked about in two camps. There were birth moms and adoptive moms. The divide could be basically summed up as which woman gave life to a child, and then which woman subsequently raised that child.
The birth moms were held in the sacred camp of those who experienced pregnancy and child birth. But they were also stigmatized. They were the moms who couldn’t take care of their children and more often than not had their come into the care of the Children’s Aid Society. Reasons for apprehension varied, but in all likelihood the child had complex special needs to which their mother was unable to support or the mother was deemed unfit to raise her children.
The adoptive mothers were the moms who didn’t have biological children due to presumed infertility. There was also a lot of shame and struggle around that. Only really, the face of adoption had changed and there were more people in the room during our training who already had children or wanted to have children who hadn’t had any infertility experience. These adoptive mothers are often hailed as saints and saviours.
The PRIDE model was new back then. We were the first or second group to complete the training. And this problematic way the materials seemed to depict mothers was discussed in the room, as well as a lot of the assumptions in the room by us participants was also unpacked over our 30 hours together.
Then after we adopted, I started seeing the phrase first mother appear in the blog-o-verse. I’m not sure that the concept of a first mother is any more empowering than birth mother. In fact, I think it can be even more complex for kids who have multiple mothers, and those in particular who have been adopted through the public system.
In the case of Bella and Bubaloo who have been raised by birth parents, grandparents, relatives and foster moms, and now us, that makes a long sequence of moms to number. By the time you get around to Otto and I, we’re sixth in line. And to only complicate matters further, because there are two females heading up this household, we’re the sixth and seventh mothers.
Which one of us should get the privilege of being sixth in line? Is it the one who saw their adoption profiles first? (That’s me). Or is it the one who cleans up puke? (That’s Otto). Is it the one who makes dinner most nights? (That’s Otto). Or is it the one who makes sure they’re enrolled in school and recreational activities? (That’s me).
In our circumstances, I’m not sure that using “first mom” would ever be a good fit.
For the longest while, we always referred to their birth mom as their birth mom. Just so we could avoid any possible confusion. It was awkward. Our kids have never called their birth mom their birth mom. She’s just their mom. And as we tried to shift their thinking to regroup, order and qualify their various moms in a way that made sense for us, it didn’t have any benefit or enhancement for them. Instead it had the opposite effect.
Using the phrase birth mom seemed to call into question their birth mom’s very motherhood. It trivialized her. She became the one who couldn’t be like us and keep a job and make enough money to care for them. It became about her not loving them enough. It became about their loss. It erased all of the complexities of their childhood that resulted in them entering into the system in the first place.
We weren’t consulted when Bella and Bubaloo stared calling both of us Mom. There was no confusion on their behalf. Just on ours. It was confusion, however, that could be quickly resolved.
Kid: My mom…
Me: Your mom, [insert first name]?
Kid: Yeah, [insert first name]. OR, No. I’m talking about my mom [insert first name].
What I’m getting at is that all of these distinctions between moms by labeling adoptive, birth, first, is more for our benefits as adults as a way to clarify relationships between a woman and a child. I continue to use some of these labels because it’s a useful way to order my world, but in the actual practice of living, it’s out of place.
If we go back to the early days of our adoption, we were (and still are) respectful of our kids’ birth mom just as she is of us. She’s their mom. She’s not their birth mom. And we’re not their adoptive moms. We’re their moms.
There are three women in our kids’ lives and we’re all called mom. In our kids’ eyes, there’s no prequalifier or signifier for that. We’re all individual people who share a name in common. It’s what our kids call us and it’s what we now call one another: Mom.
November is Adoption Awareness Month. Will you share your adoption stories?