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Sunday, September 12, 2010

What is a Real Mother?

What makes a 'real' mother? I started asking myself that question recently after my daughter, whom I adopted from Russia nearly 6 years ago, said something about her 'real' mother. She didn't use this term to hurt me; in her view, her 'real' mother is the one who gave birth to her. To her, I am her 'adoptive' mother. I prefer the term 'birth mother' or 'Russian mother' when referring to the person who gave birth to her.

When introducing my daughter, I don't say "This is my adopted daughter." No, I say "This is my daughter." The issue of her adoption arises only when necessary, for example, when I explain to staff at her high school that she needs additional support because English is not her native language. Most of the time, I don't even think of her as adopted; she is, simply, my daughter.

There is no dictionary definition of 'real mother.' I don't think it is possible to define the term 'real mother,' because it is a matter of 'just knowing' what a 'real' mother is. In my view, a 'real' mother is the woman who raises, teaches, nurtures and stands by her child, whether she gave birth to the child or not. Genetic connectedness isn't really important. My daughter's Russian mother didn't love her; she didn't care for or about her. My daughter suffered a lot of trauma because of her birth mother. This trauma still, and probably always will, affects this beautiful child. The Russian mother put her own interests far above those of her children (yes, unfortunately, she had other children besides my daughter).

I, on the other hand, have put my daughter's interests above my own, sometimes losing sight of my own needs in the process. I have sacrificed and suffered because of some of her actions. I don't blame her for the things she did that caused me such distress; she is like many other adopted children who suffered childhood trauma. And I'm not remarkable in putting my daughter's interests above my own; it is simply what a 'real' mother does. We don't think "Oh, my child's interests and needs are much more important than my own." We simply do what we know in our hearts is the right thing to do, as mothers.

I have to admit that I was hurt by my daughter's reference to her 'real' mother. If I'm not her 'real' mother, who am I? Am I a 'fake' mother? I am, after all, the person who has always been there for her, through good times and bad. I am the person who has battled with schools to make sure she gets the accommodations she needs, and to which she is entitled under the law. I am the person who drove around looking for her and who called the police and who suffered sleepless nights when she ran away from home. I am the woman who missed work to take her to the emergency room after she disappeared for several days. I am the mother who comforts her when she is sick or scared or upset, and who provides guidance and support as she navigates the turbulent waters of the teen years.

Don't these things qualify me, and not the abusive alcoholic who gave birth to her, as her 'real' mother? In the end, it doesn't really matter what term is used to describe me, because I know that I am the 'real' mother.

I am the 'real' mother because I am the woman my daughter calls Mom.