One challenge of life-in-reunion is finding language that supports it. Adoptees become the usual “daughter” or “son” after the initial “adopted” child fades to becoming simply “the child” of their parents – adopted or otherwise. The parents are considered the “adoptive parents” socially at first and then that term is dropped to “parents” by the time the child comes of age unless there is a conspicuous reason to include it. “Adoptive parents” become “parents” and “birthmother” disappears to become an historic reference – a woman who’s name and true story remains veiled behind the faceless storybook role she plays to produce the consequence of her decisions in the form of a child. Of course, the generation when my daughter was born preceded open adoption. From discussions with members of triads (birthparent, adoptive parent, child) involved in open adoption, I wonder if the gap has closed much or whether it remains enigmatic. My gut says it’s still a can of worms.
The word “birthmother” was coined a few years ago to define the role I am in. The definition can be found in the medical or law dictionary but it’s not to be found in standard dictionaries. If you google a dictionary online, it comes up short – no results. Dictionaries that do include the word “birthmother” define it as “a biological mother.” That sounds like a word for a breeder. It has a clinical ring to it. I am not a breeder. I’m a conscious person living an intentional life who became unintentionally pregnant at an early age.
When I am introduced by Cathy as her birthmother, it is because she needs to differentiate between her adoptive “real” mother and me, her “unreal” mother. It’s a painful setup for me but I am powerless to change it. I bear the consequences of my decision and becoming nameless is one among many.
Words are important in our society. Without a name, it does not exist. So for now, this is a word I need to embrace no matter how it makes me feel. There is no satisfying word she can use that protects me from the loss of my limb, the child I brought to bear. I am part of a paradox that includes and excludes me from the definition of the word “mother.” Even my child takes an explicitly matter-of-fact stance on whether the “M” word is one that I have her permission to use. I do not. So it goes.
When I introduce Cathy to people, it is as my daughter and she’s okay with that. I’m glad. I am grateful to use the word “daughter” for my first child, the baby I bore unable to raise.
The possessive “my” before “daughter” looks innocent enough. In reality, that two-lettered word is loaded with contradiction for any mother who has relinquished a child. Papers with my signature lay buried in a file cabinet somewhere in New Jersey as proof of a dispossessed child and any claim I ever had on her. For eighteen years I didn’t know if she was still alive while her real “mother” watched her grow by day and night, one year after the next.
Now we have been in reunion for twenty-two years. It is a relationship lined with familial aspects of mother and daughter. It is also a relationship that bars me from using that word out loud. Ever. Our relationship is defined somewhere between yes and no, visible and invisible, possessive and dispossessed, a word and a wordless place.
There is a body of layers – physical, emotional, spiritual – between my role and our connection. There may never be a word for me that answers the heart between vanquished mother and reunited mother. Maybe having the word doesn’t matter as much as what we are saying to each other and who we are being with and for each other. There is no one like me. There is no one like her. We are unique in our bond and words cannot break or bind it – words can define or distract but in the end they are only words.
On the outside, I am cool and collected. Nonplussed and immovable. When I get flustered, I remember that what we have is an unusual and remarkable gift. If I take it for granted enough to get annoyed, all I have to remember is what it was like when I didn’t know where she was, what she looked like or how life was treating her. To know these things is nothing short of a miracle for me – no matter what I am called or not – and I hold on to that knowledge like fine gold. Our connection makes me much more than a breeder and less a nameless mother under indictment.
There is love between us. It’s a love that belongs to us. We get to share this love with family, friends and deep community who share our lives in Portland. “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” … I will care, watch, listen, tune in, pray, sing and wait. My mother heart beats blood we share. If the perfect moniker is to be discovered for who I am to my daughter, it will merely be a word for what is already there.
To view my daughter’s blog on the same topic, please visit ReunionEyes.