Written by Angela McLaughlin, this is the second in a series of articles written from the perspective of a CPO birth mother. In this article, Angela explains her experience with what she calls the M-word. The first installment can be found here. Be sure to check back often for more from this amazing birth mother.
As human beings, we are storytellers. We tell stories to connect, to teach, and to reach out to those from whom we seek understanding and love. Telling your own story can be cathartic, and can provide deep and lasting bonds. Sometimes, however, your story might make people uncomfortable, or worse, cause misunderstanding when you’re seeking acceptance.
The story I’m most proud of telling is my story as a birth mom. I’m proud of my decision and I’m proud of Samuel. I tell my story often, and I love doing so. But it can make people uncomfortable, this idea of having a child and choosing another family for it. Most adoptive families and birth parents are familiar with the sideways looks, mostly confusion and sometimes judgement. If you’re not familiar with open adoption, it can seem strange. Recently, I’ve encountered a question that I don’t know how to answer. I’m struggling with this question, and I’d like to talk about that struggle in this post.
I’m 27 years old, single, and to public perception, resolutely childless. And lately, I’ve been getting this question a lot: “Are you a mother?” Now, I am not a mother. I do not consider myself a mother. I am a birthmom, that’s plenty for me right now. But when I tell people this, and share my story, it is often unexpected, to say the least. And when people encounter stories they aren’t expecting or used to hearing, they tend to shape them into something more familiar. Or at least something that they can judge according to their experience. I understand this as a basic human instinct. But it can be hurtful, because the storyteller doesn’t have control over these changes. I believe this reshaping causes a lot of people to stop telling their stories. So I am choosing to continue telling mine. I hope that it will do two things:
1) I hope it will empower other birth moms & those touched by open adoption to tell their stories.
2) I hope it will encourage us to listen to unfamiliar stories without judgement or change.
While I am more and more comfortable telling my story as a birth mom, the “M-word” has become the most loaded word in the English language for me. And besides the previously mentioned question, I’ve also been getting “How many kids do you have?” Or, “You’d make a great mom.” Every time I encounter these words, I do my best to smile and nod. Sometimes, I even manage to say “thank you.” But the M-word still brings some discomfort for me, and my discomfort comes from telling my story and seeing the reactions of others.
When I tell my story, I try to convey this: I love Samuel. Fiercely. More than anyone else on this planet. But I am not his mother. And the real curveball: I do not want to be his mother. When people hear this, they tend to express the following opinions:
1) I am in denial.
2) I am maybe a little crazy.
3) I must not want to have any more children, and I must not want to or be able to become a mother.
I understand the thinking behind the first, especially when it comes from someone unfamiliar with open adoption. The second, well, it may even be a little true. But, the third. The third feels like a punch in the stomach. Always.
I was not always afraid of the M-word. I very much want children of my own, a fact that has not changed in anyway since Samuel was born. That’s not the story most people hear, though.
I’d like to share two more reactions to my story, and my journey as a birth mom in relation to the M-word. As you might guess, Samuel is high on my priority list. High enough that some people are uncomfortable, and feel the need to comment on the closeness between the two of us. Two of these comments have, for a long time, shaped my view of the M-word.
“It’s not as if you’re his mother, you gave him up.”
“How can I know that you would love any children we might have when you already love Samuel so much.”
Together these statements filled me with doubt and dread. And they still do, on occasion. I do think that I’m beginning to understand them, however. There is no manual on being a birth mom, on giving birth to a child that will not call you Mom. There is no manual on how to be a family member, friend or significant other to someone who has made this choice. We’re all just doing the best we can, and I don’t believe these things were said to cause pain. I don’t think we change each other’s stories to cause harm. But it seems to me that it almost always does, and these changes certainly harmed me for a long time.
It is comments like these that drive me to tell my story. I am inspired to now reject what others would make of my journey, or the journey of any birth mom. They have caused me to reject the narrow notions of family and love, and yes… even motherhood, contained in them.
There are a million words to tell my story. And I’ve barely scratched the surface. I hope that the next few will help to clarify & represent it well.
I chose open adoption because it was the best thing for Samuel. And I love him. I chose open adoption because it was the best thing for me. My choice has been called brave, selfless, selfish, cowardly, and wrong. But I chose to define it in one word: right.
Being Samuel’s birthmom is easy. All I have to do is love him, and I intend to do this without fail or compromise. As for the M-word & I, we still have a lot to figure out. But I am learning not to be afraid of it. I think I already know a couple of things all mothers, and yes, even birth mothers learn when they have children. One: how to do what is best for your child, no matter what others will make of your story. And two: how to love your child unconditionally.
I hope that this has been more than a cautionary post. As with every time I tell my story, I hope it has been a love letter to open adoption, and a call to accept broader definitions of love and family than we may be used to.