Adoptive mother: Dropping the titles

Our son’s birth parents, Lizzie and John, will be visiting California in a couple of months and we are talking about the possibility of meeting up with them briefly on a mini road trip down to southern California. This could be a new experience for us meeting up with them on the left coast since in the past we’ve always traveled back to the east coast where they live. This particular meeting would also be unique because Lizzie will be traveling with her brother so we might have the opportunity to meet a first of our son’s extended family members – an opportunity that is a rarity for us living so far from them.  These extended family members are very much a part of our adoptive family since they are part of our son’s story. I would be very curious to see what traits in her brother that I see in our son – if any. I have seen some of myself in my brother’s daughter so I know that the likelihood of our son carrying some of Lizzie’s brother’s traits is a real possibility.

This possible meeting with Lizzie’s brother has brought to the surface an issue I haven’t put much thought into before: how would we address him to our son? He is his biological uncle, yet, would HE feel weird with us calling him ‘Uncle?’ It seems weird to say ‘birth Uncle’ or ‘biological Uncle’ and even weirder not giving him any distinction at all. He is an uncle as much as my brother and my brother-in-law are plus it is important for our son to realize that he is part of his biological family. We use the terms ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle’ loosely at times with some of our closer friends when there is no relation to them so it seems a bit insulting not to use uncle with Lizzie’s brother who more than anyone deserves the use of the word.

The whole dilemma on what to call Lizzie’s brother brings to mind an article I read just recently about a Russian adoptee Olympian meeting her birth family for the first time when she traveled to Russia to compete in the Olympics this past winter. The article talked about how the adoptive parents and the adopted child dropped the ‘birth’ title completely when talking about the young woman’s biological family. They simply referred to her biological roots as her family and specifically her biological parents as her ‘parents.’ According to the article there was no threat to the adoptive parents or guilt from the adoptee of potentially insulting her adoptive family. The Russian girl was simply connecting with her family in which she shared genes. Why is this news at all I wondered when thinking more about the article? Why more people don’t take this approach when talking about an adoptees biological family was beyond me since it seemed so logical. Then I decided to ask myself some questions.

“Would I have a problem referring to any of our son’s biological extended family members as ‘uncle,’ ‘aunt,’ ‘grandparent’ or other?” Absolutely not. I feel his biological family members are as much family to our son as his adoptive family. But when I asked myself the question, “Would I feel comfortable at this point referring to Lizzie and John as our son’s ‘parents’ without ‘birth’ in front of it?” And my answer is decidedly no, but when he is older, perhaps yes. “Why? Aren’t Lizzie and John equally his parents biologically as Scott and I are through adoption?” When it comes to the two sets of parents (biological and adoptive) I feel it is best to give the term ‘parent’ to those who are actually currently parenting the child. It is important to differentiate the two, especially when our a child is still so young and he is learning the language. Helping our son clarify what birth vs. adoptive means is important and I think Lizzie and John might agree here.

At this current moment, Scott and my role as adoptive parents is weighing more heavily than Lizzie and John’s biological side as it takes a great amount of effort and energy to raise a child. When Lizzie was pregnant with our son and we were waiting for him to be born I felt that they were far more the ‘parents’ at that moment while we were clearly the ‘adoptive’ parents. I suspect that when our son is older and is no longer living with us, again the tides will shift and we will be at that point where we’re truly equals: adoptive parents and birth parents – or simply all just ‘parents.’

Perhaps the main reason why the Russian adoptee and her family not using ‘birth’ in front of parents is newsworthy is because of an unspoken, larger meaning in doing so: it quietly equalizes the roles of the adoptive family and the biological family implying that one side is no more important or valuable than the other in the long run. Dropping titles of ‘birth’ and ‘adoptive’ before the words ‘mother,’ ‘father,’ or ‘family’ could be a very interesting and powerful concept to explore in the adoption world going forth, if and when individual adoption situations warrant it.

Birthmother: Myth of the mind changing mother

By Birthmother – The Family Court judge who presides over adoption proceedings in the city in New York in which I live is a wise, wise woman.  She has concocted a speech, a speech which I strongly suspect she gives to EVERY biological parent who enters her courtroom to relinquish their parental rights.  I suspect this because I’ve given two children up for adoption in her courtroom and I got the exact same speech both times.  Both times, the speech was important.

The Judge asked me, “Have you seen those shows on TV, where a mom is reunited with a child she gave up for adoption, and she takes the child back and they live happily ever after?”

Most people would have to answer, “Yes,” and I was in the same boat.  I’m sure we’ve all seen episodes of Oprah or Montel with endings like that.  I recently started watching the show, “Once Upon a Time.”  There are a lot of plot lines criss-crossing through that show, but the whole story starts when a young boy goes in search of his biomom.  He finds her.  She steps into his life.  She saves him from his evil adoptive mother.  He forgives her for abandoning him and, of course, they reunite to become a happy family.  I think of this judge’s speech every time I watch the show.

The judge knew I would relate to the story she described, so she continued making her speech without delay.  She got to the point: In real life, a biomom cannot swoop in and “rescue” her child from the adoptive parents.  In real life a biomom cannot change her mind years later and expect everything to change.

I don’t know that adoption law is the same worldwide, but here’s what I learned from my adoption experiences in the State of New York. As soon as a biological parent signs away their parental rights they have no more legal right to their child than a stranger off the street.  If they DID want to fight for custody later, after relinquishing their rights, they would have to go through the same court battle as any other person trying to adopt a child.

So the State of New York does everything possible to make sure that a biological parent is of sound mind and body when it comes time to face this moment in court.  For one thing, a biomom cannot relinquish her parental rights immediately after having the baby.  There’s a waiting period, and several steps in the process before the final paperwork is signed.  Why?  Because every biomom must be given time to consider her options.  True, she may have had 8 or 9 months to consider these options BEFORE the baby was born, but it is a well-known fact that a mother’s thoughts and feelings can change dramatically once she’s held her baby in her arms for the first time.  In every way a biomom is to be respected and protected during the adoption process.  The courts and the adoption agencies make sure that she knows her rights.  They offer her everything she needs, whether she decides to raise the child herself or go forward with the adoption as planned.  In New York they make especially sure that the biomom is not being bullied, bribed or coerced into giving her child up.  It was truly a beautiful thing, the way I was looked after during my pregnancy, and it often occurs to me that the world would be a better place if ALL mothers were shown that kind of support.  In any case, the idea is that an adoption will be safer and healthier for everyone involved if the biomom can give her child up in the safest, sanest, most consensual possible scenario.

Because once the biological parents have made their final decision the attention of the courts shifts to an equally important part of the process: protecting the adoptive parents and the newborn child.  How could a family be expected to thrive if they were living in fear that some unknown blood relative would sweep in out of nowhere and tear their lives apart?  How would any adoptive parents be willing to take on the responsibility and burden of raising a child if those were the conditions?  I am so thankful, SO THANKFUL, that the system protects these families.  I like knowing that even if I lost my mind tomorrow and, in some fit of hormones, tried to reclaim my children, that I would NOT be permitted to disturb their lives.  I like knowing that I would NOT be permitted to take my children away from their REAL family, from the parents who have REALLY taken care of my children for all these years.