Who Is the ‘Real’ Mother?

Louisa005 Adoption at Large, The Adoptee Journey

King Solomon, so the story goes, ascertained the veracity of two women claiming to be the mother of the same child by suggesting that they do the equitable thing...and cut the child in half. The real mother relinquished her claim on the child in order to prevent its death whilst the other shrugged her shoulders and said 'well, half a child is better than none'.

For adopted children like me, the story is of interest in three ways. One that the 'real mother' gave her child up out of love (a comparison which can't be missed). Second, that the 'false mother' was more interested in owning a child as property rather than seeing it as human being. Because sadly in a significant proportion of adoptions, adopted children are treated as little more than chattel, by adoption agencies, the natural mother and even by the adoptive parents. And thirdly...that there can only be one 'real' mother. Of course the story must be a metaphor (or was one woman really so ignorant that she believed it was better to have half a decomposing infant? Surely not).

Sometimes, just a stamp

But this third parallel is striking because the current prevalent view on adoption is that children can only have one 'real' mother. For adoptees, society says that the real mother is not the one who gave you up (supposedly 'out of love')... but the one who carries the label on a certificate. Motherhood in adoption is initially at least, designated by a stamp on a piece of paper.

For many reasons my relationship with my adopted mother was rocky.  But when I turned 18 and looked for my natural mother, things got even rockier. Because far from finding her, getting the low down on my medical history and then saying goodbye as my adoptive mother expected (and as the adoption agencies had told her) I found a woman who had waited years longing for me to find her, and someone who humbly assumed that I would treat her like a second class citizen and an incubator but whom nevertheless from the moment I met her gave me unconditional love.

I have tested her limits severely over the years... going out of contact, writing her angry and insulting letters, exposing and sometimes even exploiting her weaknesses and bringing more trouble into her life than she ever might have imagined a reunion with me would entail. I also recognize that getting to know her as an adult, meant that unlike my adoptive mother, she has not had to make hard parenting choices which restricted my freedom. She has not had to play the 'bad' cop... and unfortunately my adoptive mother, like any other bore the brunt of that.

But over the years, the obvious and increasing bond between my natural mother, her family and I has proved too difficult a comparison for my adoptive mother. And for me. She and I continued our turbulent relationship for a while, even when she foraged time and again in my private drawers to discover and read letters from my natural mother to me - something which caused several awful and terrible fights. Her wounds born out of her insecurity as a mother were re-opened and the knife twisted. Sometimes it seemed like there could be no end to the pain between us. When I married, it was my natural mother who attended my wedding... because yet again my adoptive mother and I were in horrific crisis.

I have been told I am ungrateful. I have been told I am unworthy. Not only by society but by my adoptive mother who once claimed she had 'done all the hard work' and it was like she was now 'giving me back on a plate to that slut'... as if I were a pair of tennis shoes.  I have upset the sacrosanct narrative of motherhood. Because there could only be one 'real' mother. And now I felt I had to choose. Who would it be?

I have two mothers and I believe that they both love me, in different ways. But my natural mother, has proved to me on many occasions that if her presence in my life is unwanted, if it causes too much trouble, if I decide that I need to choose a mother, then she will step back. She believes that I should be able to decide the extent of my involvement with her, whereas my adoptive mother at least for a time, wanted all or nothing.  But I've never found that I had to love my natural mother or even talk to her, in order to be loved back.

Not all adoption stories are like mine. But since our society no longer supports the paradigm of two parents, 2.4 kids and a white picket fence, the question of what a 'real' mother means, is increasingly relevant. What does it mean to be a mother? Who is the 'real' mother? The role of a mother for some means simply ensuring the survival of your offspring.  Others say that it's the person who gave birth to you... bound by blood and genetics.  Still more say that motherhood is symbolized by unconditional love. Or those who stayed up with you countless nights, taught you to read, fed and clothed you. I don't believe in any of it.

When there is no choice not to be in relationship, there is no choice to be in a relationship. ~ Ron Smothermon

My view on motherhood is not the norm. Because of my circumstances I view motherhood to be a relationship choice.  My adoptive mother didn't give me a choice, and our relationship became coercive and was peppered with emotional blackmail. It lacked consent, agency and all the things that we regard as the markers of a healthy relationship. It meant that eventually even though to all intents and purposes I still have two mothers, I have abandoned my relationship with her.

Instead I have chosen to be in a relationship with the mother who empowers me as a person, who gives me unconditional love without judgement and accepts that I have the agency to make decisions regarding my life, even if she doesn't agree with them.  I've been lucky enough to define what being a 'real' mother means to me.... and now how it impacts my own style of motherhood for my children.

If they, as I have done with my adoptive mother, choose to have little to do with me in future, it will hurt. I don't even want to think about it. But I still talk to them about my two mothers, one with whom I have a loving, nurturing relationship and the one who raised me, but who is not a part of our lives. I let them know that this is okay. Because even though they only have me, I believe that they should have the power to choose with my blessing, whether to be in a relationship with me, or not.