Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Where go Mommy?

It's been hot in Seattle lately - we are officially in the annual stretch of weeks where local bloggers can begin posts this way - and the temperature slows everything down.  We eat less, move a little less, and I feel less pressured to move everybody in my household through our daily routines and rhythms in a timely manner.

This morning the girls and I were taking our sweet time getting dressed - sprinkling in plenty of tickles and play time along with the required putting on of clothes - and J looked at me and asked "Where go mommy?"

I was a little confused. So I cocked my head to one side and said "Mommy? Where did Mommy go when, sweetie?"

"No, mommy," J was clearly exasperated with my slow comprehension skills. "Where go Mommy Z?"

For a second I wasn't sure what she was saying - my daughter's two year old diction being what it is. And I have never heard her say Z's name before. Then I remembered that we had spent some time the night before talking about baby bellies after attending a party with a family member who is in her last trimester of pregnancy. This had led to J asking to see her baby video, and then I had asked her if she wanted to see our picture of Z. She's seen it before, and I keep meaning to finish her life book and it will be in there, too. So we had looked at the picture together, and for the first time I think J understood that this person was someone special to her. Now I was sure she was processing it.

But it is such a big question. I could feel all the weight of every adoption training/book/ideal/value bearing down on me as I paused to consider my answer.

So this time I kept it simple and matter of fact. "Mama Z lives in the state of Georgia, where we were when we picked up S. We live here, in the state of Washington."  Then I repeated some of the stuff we had talked about the night before, about how J grew in Z's tummy, and Z loved her and took care of her as long as she could, and then J came to be with Mommy and Daddy who were the other people in the world who love her so much no matter what forever and forever. I braced myself for the usual barrage of "why" questions that usually follows anytime J brings something up for discussion but this time was different.

"Okay" she said, and picked the Elmo underpants over the rainbow ones.

I have been wondering for two and a half years now what it would be like for me to hear my daughter call someone else Mommy. My approach to how we discuss Z has always been to take a stance of respect and full acknowledgement of the role she has in my daughter's lives. When I talk about her or refer to her in conversation I call her their "first mom" instead of "birth mom" because after looking through the resources on terminology that was the way it seemed that most first moms who are writing liked the best. It doesn't imply that the significance of this person ended after her children were delivered.  Every once and a while someone will refer to Z as the girls mom, and then hurriedly correct themselves saying "I mean, obviously you are their mom but..." and I am quick to say that I don't mind hearing someone call Z my kids mom. She is. I am too. We can both be "the" mom. I get to raise, know, and love these amazing people every single day. This gift is made possible by the woman who brought them into the world.

But I have felt a little stymied as to how to talk about her with our children. "First mom" just doesn't mean anything to a little kid. "Tummy mommy" sort of creeps me out and smacks of the same connotation as "birth mom." Z has been silent on this, as she has on most everything. So I treat it the way I do multiple grandmas. J calls the grandma she sees the most often "Grandma."  She's got three very important women in her life who go by the name Grandma (plus one Nana), so for the other two we append names - Grandma Nancy, Grandma Sue. So Z  is "Mama Z" which quickly becomes Mommy in a little brain.

And I think it works fine. I feel, if anything, more motherly love for my kiddo than ever.  I feel tender for our daughter, tonight. I feel wistful for Z, wherever she is. Mostly I think I feel somewhat solemn as I contemplate the sweet and sacred task of making a safe space in my relationship with my daughter for her to access and interpret the big stuff that happened in her life when she was too small comprehend it, and then weave that big stuff into her identity and purpose in the world in healthy and honest ways.

The process started almost three years ago. But in some ways it feels like the conversation began today.


  1. Thank you for this. Sometimes when I talk with people about how to talk to their children about adoption or the use of donor gametes it sounds like a really final statement - we said X or we did Y.

    What this post reminds me of is the fact that this is all a process, where one day you or your child(ren) need to hear things or say things in a certain way, and then it changes or evolves at another time. I know from friends that their children have used words like 'mommy' for first moms or surrogates at one point, and then called them by their first names later. But I share your solemnity in thinking about how huge it all is, and will continue to be.

  2. I, too, am grateful for this post. Our daughter is just a year old and we have an open adoption with her first mom. I wrestled hardcore with entitlement issues when we first brought E home. I grieved for A's loss like it was my own. Now that E is big enough to show her pictures, I refer to A by her first name. But that doesn't feel right...almost like how birth mom feels off. Yet when I think of referring to A as Mama A, it pinches at me. I think I just need to be more curious about why it pinches me. This sense of belonging and claiming and MINE! is really tripping me up. Reading your thoughts about others who call Z the girls' mom and your response was like taking a deep breath. I needed to hear you say that. I'm grateful for all of your thoughts!

    1. Oh I feel that claiming impulse too! I think that, for me, it just isn't as caught up in the relationship-naming. Or, perhaps in part because I have never met Z and so in many ways she isn't real to me the way I would imagine your daughter's first mom is to you, I try to balance that impulse with awareness of how much privilege I have already wielded by getting to be the adoptive mom, the every day mom, etc. and in light of that stuff it is easier to let go of being "the" mom or "the real" mom.

  3. I really appreciate reading about how other kids are just beginning to process their adoptions. and I love how J just went back to picking out her underwear.

    our daughter is just three and we have regular contact with her birth mama (and her side of the family), so she knows she is family and special. she knows the broad strokes of her story, but she has never asked why. yet.

  4. Just a humble opinion, but I think you're doing a masterful job. It is poignantly sweet to read about your journey through motherhood. I am the product of a rather badly botched "open" adoption where I was kept in the same family. It has been a nest of insecurity, bitterness and pain for the three women caught up in its dynamics; my mom, my "bio" mom and I. I'm closing in on 33 and I still don't see an end to the endlessly generated drama from our state of affairs.

    It's always uplifting to me to hear about other open adoptions that have worked out well with respect and gentleness shown to all involved. It takes a lot of courage on all parts and I applaud you on accomplishing that.

    1. thank you, this is very encouraging to hear. :)