Adoption and the Real Mom

Adoption and the Real Mom

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day.

When you’re 9 years old and a girl, I suppose being an emotional wreck is to be expected.

Ah, heck.

When you’re 37 years old and girl, I suppose being an emotional wreck is to be expected.

But sometimes, it’s hard to know which 9-year-old wrecks are I Stubbed My Toe And That’s A Great Excuse To Let Go Of The Emotional Mess Smouldering Inside Me,

and which wrecks are Real.

Yeah, yeah.  I know they’re all real.  But the Real real ones are those that will haunt my daughter into adulthood.  The ones that have Serious Potential for me the mama to Screw Up.

The other night, my Aden missed her birthmom.  Aden and Ian share a birthmom, so it was a natural conversation for the three of us to have together, and soon Ian was snuggled up, all ears.  There I sat, on the ground in the hallway next to the piles and piles of dirty laundry, with two kids missing their birthmom and asking questions.

I genuinely love moments like that.  It’s epically, gigantically important to me to talk to my kids about birthparents and adoption, and I’m grateful for every opportunity they give me.

But I almost Screwed It Up.  Especially when Ian kept asking about his “real mom.”

Now, I don’t always know where kids pick up their terminology, but I can tell you that we’ve never referred to my kids’ birthmoms as the “real” moms.  Mostly because I don’t want to be… what?  The fake mom?  The pretend mom?  The long-term sub?


I’m the Real Mom.  That’s me.  My title.  Real Mom.

And she’s the birthmom or the biological mom.  I cherish her.  I’m grateful to her.  I cry for her, and I honor her.

But I’m the Real Mom.

Every adoptive mom I know thinks about how she’ll respond to “real momness.”  Whether the question comes from a stranger at the grocery store.  (“Are those kids your own?”  “Why, yes.  Yes, they are.”) Or from my child.

So I felt very prepared for Ian’s “real mom” reference.  I could finally use the clever responses I’ve honed over the years!  Yay!

“Real mom?  Real mom??“  I said to Ian.  “Who wiped your poopy bottom?  Huh?  Who works with you on homework?  Who buys your groceries, and kisses your owies, and makes you bathe?  Sorry, pal.  I’m your real mom, and you’re stuck with me.”

I smiled and winked.  And Ian smiled back, because he understood.  That kind of easy, breezy answer was just what he wanted.  He wanted to know that I am content and confident in my real momness, and that’s what he got.

But Aden continued to cry, and my light answer failed to soothe her.  Because kids are different.  They grow at different rates, and they have different needs.

My snappy, clever reply was neither snappy nor clever when held to the light of her need to be heard.  It didn’t dry the tears or diminish her pain.

And that’s when I realized that this mom, Real or not, was too hasty.

I was too quick to talk about my own selfish need to be Real.  And too slow to listen to my daughter’s Real sense of loss.

Sometimes, I wish for a word that can describe the plummeting of my heart or the way my gut can turn itself upside down when I’m ashamed of myself.  Other times, I’m glad there’s no word for that.

I slowed down, and I shut up.

I listened to Aden talk about her hurt and her pain.  Which everyone knows is not my best thing.  I like to fix those things, not lay them all out on the table to discuss.

As I listened, I reevaluated what I think about being Real and my own selfishness in hogging that title for Just Me.

And I told the truth as far and as best as I understood it in that moment.  Which is a different truth than the one I’ve been reciting in my head all these years.

I told Aden the truth that all of us are Real.  And that there’s room in the Real pool for more than just one mama.

Your birthmom is your Real mom, Aden.  She grew you inside of her own flesh, and she gave you the gift of life, which is something I couldn’t do for you.  Nothing will change that or take it away from you or her.  That’s Real life.  Her story will always be part of yours.  And stories are things we get to keep forever.

And I’m your Real mom, too.  I get to love you and parent you every day.

You know what else is Real, Miss Aden?  Holding the loss and love of your first Real Mom alongside the love of your Me Real Mom in your heart.  Because it’s not an either/or.  It’s a both/and.  Love and loss.  Pain and joy.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.  When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.”

Sending love today to my kids’ other Real moms,



 This post was written by Beth Woolsey. If you’re interested in another fantastic post by Beth, see this post on talking smack. Beth Woolsey is the writer and humorist behind the Five Kids Is A Lot of Kids blog. She has been described as “optimistic, authentic, poignant and laugh-out-loud funny, [capturing] the mom experience with all its pathos and humor,” and was named one of’s Top Five Moms Who Will Make You Laugh Out Loud.

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Write a comment
  1. Fiona 29 August, 2012, 14:39

    Beautiful post, Beth. One of my favourites of yours too.

    And I’ve so much enjoyed looking around your website, Jamie. Thank you for all the wonderful and inspirational things that you’ve shared.

    Reply this comment
  2. bernardeena 5 September, 2012, 05:05

    Thank you for this post. It is one I will always try to remember.

    Reply this comment
  3. jen 5 September, 2012, 09:37

    beautiful! love it! i wan tto put the quote up on my wall somewhere….

    Reply this comment
  4. Anne Kimball 5 September, 2012, 09:59

    Love, love, love this. Tweeted and pinned, and FB shared.
    As a “Real” Mom to 3 kids by birth and 3 kids by adoption (see for details), this brought tears to my eyes. You put it so beautifully. Love that you saw different needs for different kids. Bravo!

    Reply this comment
  5. Beth Woolsey at Five Kids Is A Lot Of Kids 8 September, 2012, 20:18

    Thank you, Jamie, for hosting me on your site. It’s an honor to be here.

    Reply this comment
  6. jenny 14 September, 2012, 19:07

    Thanks for that. I am an adoptive mommy who had not yet developed a response to the “real” question/comment. My daughter is 3yo. You are absolutely right. She has 2 real moms. Thank you.

    Reply this comment
  7. kym 24 September, 2012, 04:43

    wow….. just came to your blog for the first time tonight after a dear friend said she had been here, and was enjoying it so. thought i would have a look and read along. was drawn to this post by the title…..i am a birthmum. i have an incredibly open, wonderful relationship with my birth daughter. i have never missed a second of her life (well, from under different roofs). “adoption” is a word i don’t often like to use in terms of our relationship, as it seems to so quickly put ideas in people’s minds of what our (her and i) relationship is like—it is SO open and SO REAL. but this post reached a little place inside of me still; and tears welled up in my eyes—as, although it has been the most open, wonderful relationship ever, i have still often felt….well…yes, that I AM NOT the REAL mum. i am so, so honored to be her birth mum, and her very good friend, and i would never want her mum [adoptive] to not feel like her REAL mum…..IT was lovely to read ‘the other side of the story’….and SOOOOO sweet to read the response Beth had—–indeed, we are both REAL—just in very different ways. and i LOVE that i am very REAL to her in a very REAL relationshsip. thank you for sharing.

    Reply this comment
  8. Alicia 1 December, 2012, 20:50

    As both an adoptee and an adoptive parent, I can’t even begin to tell you how wonderful it was to actually read your post. It really put into
    words what is so hard to express, understand, or make other people understand. Along with parents being “real”, as an adoptee many times I felt like I couldn’t be real- not the real me. I
    Had to be the other child- the one my parents couldn’t conceive. I had to make up for the child who never was. I hope to do a better job with my little one, who we adopted last year. His other “real” mom has chosen to close the adoption, so he won’t get to know her. I know it will hurt- but he will have this real mom to help him through it.

    Reply this comment
  9. KarenK. 29 April, 2013, 13:07

    Just found your website via a FB friend’s share of this post. I love the fact that you were able to share the “real mom” title with birthmom. I’m a mom of 5, 4 by adoption, 1 by birth. All of my youngest 4 children have the same bio parents. I always cringe a little inside when I see adoptive moms get ruffled by the “real mom” comment. At some level, we realize it is an simple way of saying “biological mom”; just semantics. I believe that it offends many adoptive parents because it touches on such a tender spot in our hearts, that internal debate of who our child “belongs to.”
    I believe that we have a sacred partnership with the birthparents in that one carried the child into the world, a sacred role given to them by God. The adoptive parent is given the blessing of carrying that child through their journey in life. Equal parts sacred, equal parts “real”. Thank you for sharing this precious story. Love your perspective.

    Reply this comment
  10. Jamie 30 April, 2013, 22:04

    I will admit that I struggle to share the “real” mom title with one of my three other mothers due to the choices she continues to make that hurt my babies. All of my children’s biological mothers have had their children removed from their care due to abuse/neglect so it just feels different than a voluntary placement. Any insight into this type of situation?

    Reply this comment
  11. Lori Lavender Luz 1 May, 2013, 12:37

    It’s amazing what magic can happen when we move from an either/or mindset to a both/and heartset.

    Lori Holden, author of The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole

    Reply this comment
  12. Hanna 6 May, 2013, 21:57

    Tears. Thank you Beth for putting into words something that our family experiences a lot lately. I needed this tonight.

    Reply this comment
  13. sheriji 7 May, 2013, 10:11

    Thank you for this.

    I have an adopted daughter, 12. She is often, as would be expected, an emotional wreck. I’m 48, and, well, you know.

    We were “fighting” the other night — it was principally about her tendency to sneak junk food, and not eat meals, and especially about my recent discovery that she had spent what was to be 8 weeks of hot lunch money in one week on junk food at school.

    At one point she was crying, well sobbing, and said that she was afraid that she was “ruining our family,” and that I was so angry I probably didn’t want or love her anymore, just like her birth mom didn’t, and where would she go next?

    I was stunned, and heartbroken, that, despite the fact that she has been my daughter since she was 4 months old. We have always been completely about her adoption, and the circumstances under which it came about, and I have told her every single day that I love her, she could even think such a thing.

    I hadn’t realized that she could be carrying around that pain, and loss, all this time, and I didn’t know. I told her that she was wrong. I told her that I would always love her, and that her birth mom loved her too, and that was why she had given her up for adoption — that she knew she couldn’t take care of her the way she deserved, and wanted to find for a family who could. But I realized then, and am reminded now, that I must always remember that that pain and loss might always be there. Thank you.

    Reply this comment
  14. Hashimi 17 June, 2013, 09:16

    Your not their real mom, you are not biologically related to them that’s why they don’t refer you as “real mom” because you aren’t and never will be. Ont top of that you are selfish for thinking that you are entitled to them completely, just because you have a piece of paper that says “I’m their real parent” does not mean you actually are. BIG DIFFERENCE.

    Reply this comment
    • Jamie Lynne Author 17 June, 2013, 09:58

      I don’t know your own personal experience with adoption, and assuming you didn’t read the entire guest post by your response, and I am going to assume there was a lot of very valid emotion in your comment…

      However, it is naive to think you understand the relationships of others based solely on gestation and genetic information, or DNA. It is much more complex than that. Are there real concerns for a human that has gestated in a human being for 10 months (plus X amount of time outside of the womb in some cases) and then is placed with an unfamiliar adult? Yes. Are there real concerns with a human being wanting to understand more about the genetic similarities in the biologically-related relatives, and possibly not having access to that information? Absolutely.

      Your concern over semantics are not much different than this mother’s concerns, yet these are all common social misconceptions learned in a society with flawed ideas about adoption and parenting, which is hurting us more than it is helping.

      You seem like you’d be a fan of Carl Sagan, I’ll use one of his quotes that I think is quite poignant:

      “For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.”

      We are a community of human beings that need to respect our biology, but not forget there is much more to our humanness than stark observation.

      Reply this comment
  15. Missy 15 July, 2013, 21:08

    I must say that is the most beautiful way of putting it, and you are a very selfless person,
    I am a birth mom, and find myself being very selfish at times,thank you for putting
    it so well.

    Reply this comment
  16. Kelsey 22 November, 2013, 05:47


    Reply this comment
  17. Terry SCott 27 January, 2014, 21:23

    I wanted to say i totally agree with you about being a real parent. I was a foster child from the time i was born until i was adopted, and my adopted parents are my only parents. knowing what my sperm donor did to my siblings only makes me all the more glad that i am adopted.

    Reply this comment
  18. Sarah 28 January, 2014, 11:53

    I have no experience with adoption but I’ve encountered a similar “real mom” situation as a stepmother. While not the same, it is still comforting and strengthening to hear so much of my experience resonating with others as well. It is something mothers in traditional, all biological families do not understand. God bless all of us mothers, no matter the way our children come to us.

    Reply this comment
  19. sejb 8 March, 2014, 23:41

    I am so grateful to have found this blog. We are in the process of creating our open adoption agreements with the bio parents of our girl we will be adopting. We have had her since she was 4 months and now she is 26 months. It was hard to know what to do about the mom. She hasn’t tried to see her and she isn’t doing well. It would be easy to let her be cut off entirely and proceed as if she never existed. But I know that we would regret that before long. Our little girl is too young to think about how she came to be where she is, but that will be changing bit by bit. We talk about it now. I don’t ever want to have to decide she is old enough to break the news, I want her to always have known.
    I also don’t want her to think that she could have known her “real” mom and that we prevented that. I pray her mom will be able to hold up her end and we will be able to find her when it’s time to share pictures and letters.
    We came to these realizations before I read this, but it is very reinforcing to read your story.

    I so appreciate this post to help me think this through!


    Reply this comment

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