Get Over 'Real': Lessons Learned As An Adoptive Mom

by Barbara Herel

Just like any hopeful adoptive mother, I knew I would fall madly in love with the baby I was lucky enough to adopt. And with this simple knowledge I set off on the domestic adoption path, blissfully believing there was no difference between being a mom by adoption and being a mom by biology. Now, 6 years later, I can tell you I was wrong.

Not in the way I love my child, of course—she is my very heart. No, I was wrong in thinking that adoption wouldn’t hold such a prominent place in my child’s life, and, in turn, my child-rearing. But right from the start as I stuttered and stumbled my way through my daughter’s adoption story, I knew, even with my sleep-deprived, new-mom brain, that weaving adoption into our lives would be one of my greatest responsibilities.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far…

1. Talk about adoption early and often. I’m talking newborn early, if that’s the case, and then keep right on talking and bringing it up (age appropriately, of course). I’m always on the lookout to bring my daughter’s birth mom, siblings, and other family members, like Grandpa and Nana, into our everyday conversations. That’s part of my job—creating an ease and openness surrounding the event of her adoption and her birth mom and family.

2. Be an adoption advocate. People will say the darndest things when it comes to adoptees, birth mothers and the adoption process. It’s really no surprise when Lifetime Television is the public’s go-to authority on adoption. That’s why I am my child’s frontline of protection and enlightenment, so, one day, she can say for herself, “My birth mom didn’t give me away. She loves me very much, thank you.”

3. Get over the word “real.” As in “Where is her real mom?” Remember, I said people will say the darnest things. What’s more, you can lay odds that your kid will be one of those people. We adoptive parents need to take a deep breath and embrace that most folks aren’t being offensive – they don’t know any better. Personally I’m all for a gentle correction as in “I take it you mean her birth mom?” When my child recently told me “You’re not my real mom,” I told her, “Sure I am. I’m real because I take care of you every day and Kim is real because she took care of you when you were in her belly and gave birth to you. You have two real moms. Isn’t that cool?” My daughter’s response was a shrug of the shoulders and a “Yeah.” Don’t let your adoption hot-buttons get in the way of your parenting—know what gets your ire up and do your best to work through them.

4. Seek out other adoptive families. It’s normalizing, as well as empowering and fun, to connect with other families who adopted their children. Also, whenever I hear about other family situations, like single-parent homes by choice or divorce, families with two moms or dads, I’m quick to point it out to my daughter, “See that’s how that family works. All families are different.”

5. Nurture the birth family relationship. After all, we have a daughter in common so that makes them my family, too. And like other important relationships in my life, it’s up to me to nurture it, cultivate it and make it strong. I do this by talking respectfully and lovingly about them to my daughter, by placing their photos alongside our other family photos, by staying in touch through Facebook and phone calls, and by visiting each year.

So being an adoptive mom these past 6 years, I now know some of the differences. No doubt in the coming years, I’ll know even more.