I am a mother in three ways:
A birth mom: Having made an adoption plan
A biological mom: Having parented a child born of my body
An adoptive mom: Having parented a child through adoption
Three different children. Three different models of attachment.
My first experiences of Mother’s Day were a mixture of sad and bittersweet emotions year after year as I thought about the daughter I “lost” when I placed her for adoption at birth. I always had a strange and uncomfortable time that day as I quietly mourned her loss while celebrating all the other mothers in my life. Adoptions were completely closed and sealed when she was born, so no one but my immediate family knew that I was a birth mother. My parents and brother never brought up my birth daughter in discussions, and especially not on Mother’s Day. I kept my private life extremely private.
"Mother’s Day became a mix of joy and contemplation, a melding of the three experiences of mothering children in my life."
Eighteen years later, Luke was born two days after Mother’s Day, and everything shifted. Finally, I felt like a mother for real and had my son to show for it!
When my husband and I adopted our youngest, a daughter named Sadie from South Korea, Mother’s Day shifted again in my heart and mind. Now, I thought of Sadie’s birth mother, wondering how she was and silently thanking her for “Our” daughter. I hoped that she had the ability to discuss her choice with people that loved and supported her. Mother’s Day became a mix of joy and contemplation, a melding of the three experiences of mothering children in my life.
When my birth daughter Lily and I reunited, Luke was less than a year old. I was finding my way as a parent and trying to experience each moment with him. While at the same time, wondering what those moments could have been like with my birth daughter. I found myself thinking that I made a horrible mistake with Lily because I was doing this “mom thing” quite well! A wise therapist regularly reminded me to reflect on my place in life at 18 and 36...and provided the perspective I needed to reaffirm and accept the decision I made all those years ago. Funny how the mind bends history...
It’s now been 15 years since Lily and I reunited. It has been a long, slow process of getting to know one another. Over time, we have grown into a comfortable and close relationship. We have spent a lot of time together on vacations and visits. The highlight is when she came to live with us during the Summer of 2020, amid the global pandemic. Having my three kids under one roof that summer was something I never dreamed would happen and meant more than I can describe. It was uncomfortable and strange at times, but I wouldn’t have changed a thing. She has a close and positive relationship with my kids, and they are the truest of siblings.
Now, as she embarks on marriage and children herself, I find myself growing closer to her mother, Bette, my partner in her adoption. As I hung up the phone recently after speaking with Bette, I thought how grateful I was to have not only Lily back in my life but her mother and Lily’s younger sister as well.
It took many years for Bette and me to form the supportive and authentic relationship we now have with one another. For a long time, I focused only on building a relationship with Lily and sometimes worried about how Bette was dealing with our growing closeness.
Was she jealous or envious of us?
Did she feel displaced in her daughter’s life?
Was she ok with her joining us on family vacations and spending time together?
For many years I judged myself harshly for placing Lily for adoption and so I honored what I viewed as the unspoken contract with her parents: If you raise my daughter, I will not come into her life uninvited. And when I do, I will be someone she can be proud to know.
Over the past couple of years, Bette and I started speaking more often as her younger daughter Ari embarked on the process of reuniting with her birth mother. Now, Bette and I finally shared some life history, and we talked a lot about what it might be like for Ari going through this process. She felt more prepared this time, and we spoke about how hard it was for the two of us when we first met and became family.
Bette is and has always been a positive, warm, and open-hearted person who puts it all out there. She has always welcomed my family and me into her life. After many discussions about our relationship, I learned that Bette was always appreciative of my presence and influence in Lily’s life. Bette believed that our daughter wanted and needed me to fill in some of the blank spaces that she could not. Genetics, it turns out, are quite powerful and predictive! While her mother and I are very different, I think that I’m able to share myself with her in a way that maybe our daughter cannot. I hope that gives Bette a more profound understanding of Lily along the way.
Bette left an imprint on me in a way I never expected. As we were going through the adoption process with our daughter, I thought South Korea was ideal for many reasons, one of them being that it was unlikely for my daughter’s birth mother to come into our lives in a significant way. However, Bette taught me that maintaining those connections and sharing a daughter through birth and adoption can create a powerful and deep family bond that benefits everyone, but especially the child.
"I carry this “two mothers” perspective with me as Sadie grows older and develops a natural curiosity about who she is outside of our family structure."
As I came to understand her perspective, I realized that Bette was as grateful for me as I was for her- both at the beginning of our journey and now in the middle of it. I realized that she loved me for giving her the gift of the child she could not have herself, and I loved her for raising the child I could not. She taught me that in our case, two mothers are better than one.
I carry this “two mothers” perspective with me as Sadie grows older and develops a real curiosity about who she is outside of our family structure. She talks a lot about her foster mother in South Korea and worries about her birth mother. She is concerned about her birth mother’s general well-being and physical health. Sadie wonders if she will want to meet her one day and if she has any birth siblings.
While I always share my own birth mother experience with her, I’m keenly aware that each story is unique. For Sadie, culture, language and time may have a significant impact on how she and her birth mother reunite. Through my research and reading, it appears that there is still very much a stigma surrounding birth mothers in South Korea. I also wonder if she will want to meet Sadie and if so, will they be able to grow their relationship into something meaningful given all they may encounter by speaking different languages and living so far from one another. I hope that her birth mother’s generation is more accepting of adoption and teen pregnancy so her life can and has begun to grow into all she wants it to be.
What I do know that I will support Sadie in any way she needs me to when the time comes. Our family will travel to meet her birth mother with her and be with her physically and emotionally during that first journey. I will always be her cheerleader, shoulder to cry on, whipping post (yes, that’s a mom job!) and I hope Sadie’s inspiration for how birth and adoptive mothers can share their child with one another. I’m sure that I will die inside a little when they reunite and experience a million different thoughts and feelings:
What a precious gift for Sadie and her birth mom!
Wow, look how much they resemble each other- that’s where she gets that beautiful face!
Oh, those eyes, they are just like Sadie’s!
Will Sadie leave me for South Korea one day?
Will she ever connect with me like she does with her birth mom?
Does she still love me the same as yesterday?
When I feel shaky and anxious, I will remember my conversations with Bette and draw on them for support. I will remember to take joy in Sadie’s reunion as I took joy in mine and Lily’s. I will remember that my insecurity can cause Sadie pain and that I can manage insecurity through dialogue and the expression of love.
I will revel in Sadie’s moment and silently thank Bette for helping me to get here.
Nicole is a wife and mother to three kids and two rescue pups. After a long career in international HR, she left to become a full-time mom and is currently working to become a writer. She and her family reside in Maryland.