In the world of adoption, there are several titles that can be used for each person in the adoption triad. Most of us can think of our mother and have immediate feelings and emotions elicited. Mothers, for many of us, are home to us. Mothers within the adoption triad have incredible stories and they so often bridge the gap between an adoptee and a birth parent. The adoption triad refers to the members of the adoption triangle, the adoptee, the birth parent(s) and the adoptive parent(s). This article will explore general information about adoptive mothers. I am an adoptive mother myself with an open adoption with my son’s birth parents and their extended family. My experiences with six failed adoptions, while walking alongside several other expectant mothers, has drastically impacted the way I approach and live in my role as an adoptive mother. While I do not claim to have it all perfectly together as an adoptive mother, I do feel like my experiences have given me a front row seat to the role of an adoptive mother.
The Adoption Triad and the Differences of Roles:
An adoptive mother is part of the adoption triad and her role within the triad varies among each adoption situation. As an adoption progresses or even becomes interrupted (commonly referring to the expectant parent(s) ultimately not placing their child for adoption), the adoptive mother bridges the gap between the child and the birth parent(s).
An important point of clarification is the difference between an expectant parent and a birth parent. An expectant parent is a parent that is expecting a child and exploring the option of adoption. On the other hand, a birth parent is a parent who birthed a child and placed their child for adoption. While this is not the overall point of this article, it is important to keep those terms straight because they both impact the role of the adoptive mother. For example, among expectant parents, the potential adoptive mother can walk alongside the expectant parent(s), while giving the expectant parents space to make their own decision with the professional help of an adoption professional or entity. However, during this process with a birth parent, the adoptive mother actually takes on the role of mother and accepts the adoptee as her own if and when the adoption progresses.
While every adoption is different in terms of openness, cultivating relationships between the adoptive parent(s) and the birth parent(s) can be critical. Each of the relationships within the adoption triad are important, but I would suggest that none are as important as the relationship between the adoptive and birth mother. Relationships between the adoptive and birth mother can be cultivated when there is a partnership between the two. From an adoptive mother’s perspective, I can attest that the adoptive mother can serve as a bridge of sorts between the child and their birth mother and, in some cases, the birth father and extended family. In the midst of parenting the child and in an open adoption, the adoptive mother could be consistently working to keep the child in tune with their first family. Mutual respect is usually a key component in this effort. This endeavor is often a tricky one and one that can require a great deal of selflessness and awareness that it is not about you, but about the child.
It can be so easy for women who are adoptive mothers to feel less-than or threatened by the potential of their adopted child wanting to know their biological mother more intimately. While such thoughts are valid (these are thoughts I have had myself) such feelings can dissipate when the adoptive mother realizes that the partnership between her and the child’s birth mother can be invaluable to the child. Mothers, especially adoptive mothers, should be acutely aware that their child needs to have the space to understand their adoption story. I am a strong proponent of open adoption. In healthy circumstances, open adoptions provide the adoptee an opportunity to grapple with their own story, ask questions, and be given the space and opportunity to heal and connect the puzzle pieces of their story.
In an effort to bridge the gap and understand the role adoptive mothers play in the adoption triad, I will provide some examples of what I do with our 3-year-old son who is just now beginning to use adoption vocabulary. Some of these general examples will also include what his birth mother and I do to maintain our own relationship for the sake of our son. You may notice that in the previous sentence, I used “our” to describe the son I and his birth mother have. This is a small example of how I try to approach my role as his mother.
- We recognize each other on special occasions: holidays, birthdays, and especially Mother’s Day.
- We make in-person visits a priority with intentional scheduling efforts.
- When our son was a baby, we discussed with each other what names made each other comfortable. For example, our son now calls his birth mother by her first name, but she will sometimes refer to herself as his, “tummy mummy.”
- We keep in communication about important life events or updates.
- We show expressions of love and gratitude.
- As our son’s mother, I incorporate his birth mother into applicable conversations and have pictures of her and his extended birth family available and part of our home.
- I maintain the mindset that while I am my son’s adoptive mother, he has a mother that loved him first, so I make every effort to honor her every day.
- Everything that his birth mother and extended family have given him I store in a safe place for him to have throughout his life.
As you can see, the role of an adoptive mother can be hard work, but so is motherhood in general. Mothers across the globe would likely agree that motherhood is hard work mentally, emotionally and physically. Though the emotional part of being an adoptive mother can be more complex, it can also be so rewarding. While it can be exhausting at times to juggle the weight of my son’s story and the magnitude of all that it entails, I believe that it is absolutely, even on hard days, worth it. The time spent cultivating the relationship between an adoptive mother and a birth mother is rarely time wasted and can be something that can be priceless to the adoptee. What a gift to have the love, partnership, and openness between two mothers who love the same child.
Adoptive Mothers in Open, Semi, or Closed Adoptions:
Every adoption is different. An adoption can be classified as open, semi-open, or closed. The role of the adoptive mother is different in each type of adoption. The information in the previous section related to my own experience as an adoptive mother in an open adoption, so refer back to that for important components of being an adoptive mother in an open adoption.
A semi-open adoption simply means that there is some communication between the adoptive and birth families. This communication may not be in person or frequent. For example, there may be letters exchanged instead of in person visits. In this case, an adoptive mother can maintain effort in communication but it is important to never be judgmental if the communication becomes unpredictable or infrequent. One role of the adoptive mother in that case could be to always keep the door open for the birth family to communicate or nurture the relationship. You would never want to look back on your child’s adoption journey and feel like you did not do your part in maintaining communication or relationships.
A closed adoption is exactly what it sounds like; it is closed. This means that there is no ongoing communication between the adoptive and birth family. Information surrounding the birth family may or may not be available. In this instance, an adoptive mother could hold on to any information she does have to honor the birth family and their wish to have a closed adoption. However, just because there is no communication does not mean that the adoptive mother does not have work to do. Adoptive mothers can still provide emotionally safe places for their adoptee to come to terms with their story, while also honoring the wishes of the birth family. It may be less about understanding the birth family in this case and more about helping the adoptee understand and find acceptance with what they know.
After reading this article, you may feel as though the adoptive mother has a great deal of work to do or perhaps you feel like the adoptive mother has the short end of the deal. I beg to differ. From my perspective, the world of motherhood drastically changes when you enter motherhood through adoption. Adoption is usually born from brokenness no matter how you spin it. Even in the most perfect of circumstances, there is still a mother who feels as though, for whatever reason, she cannot parent her child. That in itself is often a tragedy and is unfortunately part of our world. While there is gratitude to be had that the child can be adopted, it would be naïve to not think that it is still, in general, a sad reality.
Adoptive mothers have an incredible honor, but as the old adage says, “to whom much is given, much is required.” This is often true for adoptive mothers. Parenting a child through adoption can be an unbelievable, earth shattering gift. There is, however, a consistent productive struggle wherein the adoptive mother maintains a vibrant link between herself, her home and her family, and the child’s birth mother and her family. An adoptive mother can be busy nourishing that link until the link becomes a healthy, vibrant connection between the two families.
I do not claim to have everything correct in my attempt to be an adoptive mother. I can attest to the difficulty, the joy, the what if’s, and uncertainty. But, the precious moments I have with my son that give me, my husband, and my family so much joy are reminders of the sacrifice two people gave for me and my husband. So, when my son calls me, “Mommy,” or when I see a reflection of his birth mother and father in his little face, I am instantly reminded of their sacrifice, and that feeling compels me to give everything I have to ensure he understands his story. As an adoptive mother, I challenge you to never make your current or potential adoption about you. Make it about the child and be a good steward of the gift you have been given. I challenge you to not be intimidated by the difficulty of adoption and the lack of instructions it comes with. I challenge you to not shy away from allowing your adoptee’s birth mother to have her rightful place. Everything begins with her, and she deserves her seat at the table.
Adoptive mothers can be the protectors of stories, nurturers of relationships, and liaisons between a birth and an adoption. They are mothers, though not in a traditional sense, but mothers, nonetheless. I have many mementos from my son’s birth mother that are invaluable to us as a family. She is so generous, so sacrificial. The fact that she has on several occasions expressed her gratitude toward me is really unreal. We are the grateful ones, and in my role as an adoptive mother, I can truly say that while I still struggle to manage it all, I am confident that as an adoptive mother, I can be the mother I want to be with her with me. There is a special quote that I have known for years that really resonates with me and my adoption journey as an adoptive mother. Desha Wood states, “He is mine in a way that he will never be hers, yet he is hers in a way that he will never be mine, and so together, we are motherhood.”