By Any Other Name
Who would have ever suspected a holiday based on such simple ideas would yield such a bumper crop of mixed emotions?
I'll admit that until recent years, besides the self-inflicted pressure of choosing a gift that mom really wanted and needed (where were all those great ideas I had as a child?), my anxiety-meter for this day was pretty low. Not anymore. No sir, now I spend the week or so leading up to Mother's Day casting sidelong glances at Hannah, my Ethiopian born daughter, and waiting for the other shoe to drop.
"How are you feeling?" I'm sure that was a sad look just then.
"Is everything okay?" She must be thinking about her mother.
No, not me. Her OTHER mother, the semantics of which (along with a query from Anne) prompted this post. Hannah, my daughter, has two mothers. And given her age at the time of her adoption, she knows us both, at least as well as any 8 year old child can know a parent. There is neither secrecy, nor shame; which is the blessing and the curse of an open, older child adoption. But there is confusion--and enough of it to go around.
Last year was my turn. The loss of my newly adopted children's birth mother cast a long shadow over this seemingly innocuous celebration of motherhood. Try as I might, the day will never be the same. And while I puzzled the magnitude of the losses my children sustained in the year leading up to that point, they picnicked easily with their newly acquired family on a picturesque May day.
While emotions are running a little high right about now, (for those of you who are wont to point out that there is a high level of estrogen on the Ark, please don't say I told you so.) we're one year further along and little by little layers of confusion are peeling away.
One thing that has become well-defined for me is the role I play in this story. There's much discussion in adoption circles about the names given all the players. Do we say birthmother? What about Mommy Jane and Mommy Asenakech? Do we dare share the title? Or does it become a competition where there can only be one winner? It may be well-advised to state that each family must figure this out for themselves, but in our family, we know our answer--it doesn't matter.
As soon as our daughter spoke enough English to speak about her Ethiopian mother, she told us her name. She shared funny stories, heart-wrenching moments, and tender memories that will help us to help her remember the first mother she knew, whom she called by her first name! In America, the first time she told me a story about Asenakech, calling her 'mom' I felt myself bristle. But as time went on, the stories of her mom became my stories, too. Her memories became my memories. The hopes and dreams of her dying mother became ones I would personally be responsible for helping her and Baby T to fulfill.
Once, I heard an adoptive mom of some twenty-plus kids respond to a question that ultimately wondered aloud where we adoptive mothers fit in our children's broken hearts. Her answer was that regardless of her title, she knew that if her children considered her to be nothing more than the "really nice lady who raised them" than that was okay by her. I imagine that would come as a shock to some, but for those of you who are out there, in the trenches, you know the only kind of person who could say those words, don't you?
Of course you do, a mother.