Family / Kids / Parenting

Who’s his real mom?

Trista is a hard act to follow, but I have to start somewhere.

When Liza invited me to join the team over here at lesbian family dot org, I was both flattered and panicked. What would I write about? Did I have anything new to add to the conversation about lesbian families and queer families in general? And most importantly, would the readers over here be as tolerant of my rantings and half-cooked sentences as my beloved readers over at my own blog, Round is Funny?

I guess I’ll find out.

My partner, Non-Sequitor Girl (referred to from here on out as NSG), and I adopted our son Roo in August 2006. This was an open domestic transracial adoption (try saying that three times fast), and it was a wild ride.

So many things have, of course, caught us off guard about parenting and about adopting, but the one that stuck with me from this past week was this question: who’s his real mom?

I was getting my hair cut and ended up in a conversation with several other women about my new baby and another client’s new baby, who were about the same age. One of them asked me if I stayed at home with my son, and when I explained that I was back at work full-time, she asked where he was in day care. “He’s with his mama all day,” I answered.

There was a moment of silence as the three of them processed this.

I live in a liberal little enclave where most homophobes know to keep their mouths shut, so I didn’t worry and it didn’t take them long. And then the inevitable response: Wow! But who is his real mom?

I choose to think that most people who ask this kind of question mean well, that they just haven’t come up with inoffensive language to ask what they really want to know. As someone who is very open about being part of a lesbian family, and who came to adoption as a first choice (not after a struggle with infertility), it’s relatively easy for me not to feel defensive about this. Does the definition of a real mother/father only restrict it to someone who gave birth? In your world where DNA tests are readily available through companies like AlphaBiolabs and others, it is fairly easy to find a ‘real’ mother, isn’t it? How do you differentiate between a real mother and a fake one? Or is there a degree or some criteria that was needed to fulfill this role? The answer from us – no.

Our answer, or if you would rather term it a counter-question, is a little more complicated than they might expect. Do they mean the “real” mom who loved him since he was conceived and gave birth to him? The “real” mom who wears him in the Ergo all day long and multi-tasks so she can take care of her baby while also holding down a more-than-full-time job? The “real” mom who gets up with him in the middle of the night and makes him belly laugh by singing black socks and making ridiculous faces?

The way I see it, my son has four “real” parents. All four of us are parenting him in a way that’s outside the traditional realm of parenting, but that doesn’t make it any less real. When we talk to his birth family on the phone, we all talk about “our” son. All of us have pictures of him on our nightstands and have shed blood sweat and tears (some literally, some figuratively) over keeping this tiny fragile being alive and healthy.

And of course all of us love him in the core of our beings.

But this was my tangent, and five women in the haircutting place were poised waiting for my answer.

He has three moms, I said. He’s adopted. His other mom and his dad live in Crazy State (I’m on the non-identifying information track here), and we have an open adoption.

Again with the beat of silence while they digested. And then one woman said “Cool. My brother’s adopting from China.” And we were off on a new topic.

Did I accomplish anything? Did they hear what I was really saying, or was it too much in too few words? Did they move on because they didn’t want to be rude, or because they got it?

I don’t know, and I can’t know. I can only do the best I can, like we all do for our families, whatever form they take. But I felt good about what I said.

What would you have said?


No Comments

  1. You ask, “What would you have said?”

    Just exactly what you said, I think. We find it is a process of teaching, learning, re-teaching. Like little kids, they don’t always get it the first time.

    Like you, I don’t invest too much grist into how someone asks a question. The language is plainly not all there yet. It’s not their fault. And, although we also live in a liberal area, that does not mean that everyone we come in contact with has ever known a gay or lesbian couple, and with kids, no less. I don’t like to assume anything.

    You made a difference. We chip away at pre-conceptions and that’s how things change. It’s not the big things. It’s the little conversations, the time spent, the smile that really make a difference.

    But, you knew that already, didn’t you?

  2. Hey there! Decided to come on over and visit and was not disappointed!

    Thanks for sharing your take on the “real mom” question that will face all of us who adopt. I like hearing how different people answer the question, and it sounded like you not only handled it well, but I think that they “got it” as well as they could in that immediate moment. And I bet they keep “getting it” as they continue to process the info, like we all, (hopefully) do.



  3. I often wonder this myself, if I were in that situation. I think once we have a child I will mellow out, I probably would have went on a long tyrant rant that would not have accomplished anything. We as a society are so hung on to the meanings of words, etc., really it takes more than an egg and a sperm to be a parent, mom, dad, whatever, but most fail to realize until you point it out to them. Friends, of ours, Ann and Cindy, have two little ones, they’re both in their early 40’s, they often get asked the question, which one is the mother, they both respond that they both are and it’s left at that. I don’t know how I will respond, as I will carry my partner’s egg, she’s black I am white, we’re using a white donor too. It should make for an interesting environment.
    It’s Christy btw, the one that is thinking of using Dr. Sacks.

  4. I think that’s a great answer. And I’m impressed that you came up with it on the fly.

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