Will the Real Parent Please Stand Up

LemonadeOpen adoption is a subject people find endlessly fascinating. Whenever I mention that my daughter and I visit her birthparents, as we did about a week ago, strangers will gape in amazement. “You actually know them?” they gasp. “The real parents?”

Yes, I know them–quite well, actually. But all of the adults involved in this scenario—and probably even the kids—would insist that I’m the real parent, at least as far as my daughter is concerned. I’m the one getting up in the middle of the night when Katie is sick. I’m the one driving her to school and cleaning up her messes. I’m the mother, or if you insist, as the media often does, the adoptive mother.

But one thing you learn quickly when you adopt is that people don’t understand the terminology. Real mother, they say. Natural mother. For the first few years that language shredded my heart. If the birthmother was the “real” mother, then what was I? The unreal mother? The unnatural one?

At first that’s how it seemed. When Katie was born I felt like an imposter, a pretend parent. I was barren. I’d never been pregnant like the other new moms I encountered and eight years of infertility had left their mark. My insides were scarred and twisted, compliments of severe endometriosis. It seemed possible, if not probable, that my parenting skills were just as broken.

It took some time but eventually I got over this. Now most days I forget that I was never pregnant. When people use incorrect terminology, it doesn’t bother me. I patiently explain that the term is birthparent. I might mention that open adoptions have been done for decades, whether they knew it or not, and studies show that the child benefits psychologically. If someone seems particularly resistant to this information, I point out that this way my daughter will never need to embark on a lengthy search for her biological roots. Then I move on to more important topics.

Because here’s the thing: I don’t really care what others think about open adoption. None of the parties involved in my situation regret our decision. Nor do we find our situation strange, but if you do, please keep that opinion to yourself—especially when my child is within listening range. She may not talk much, but her hearing is better than mine.

This is not to say that the birthparents and I don’t have a lingering sadness over the state of affairs that lead to our adoption agreement. In an ideal world they would have kept their biological child and I would have had my own. But this isn’t an ideal world and we made the best of the situation we found ourselves in. To use the old cliché, we turned life’s lemons into lemonade. And that lemonade turned out to be surprisingly sweet.

If you were to ask—and trust me, some do—I would say that we are merely another variation on the blended family. We are not related by blood, but by choice. My life is richer, more complete, with this addition.

To me, that’s as real as it gets.

Until next time,
Cynthia Patton

About Cynthia J. Patton

Writer, Editor, Advocate, Speaker, Special Needs Attorney, and Autism Mom. Also the Founder and Chairperson of Autism A to Z, a nonprofit providing resources and solutions for life on the spectrum.
This entry was posted in Adoption, My Life and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Will the Real Parent Please Stand Up

  1. Karen Hogan says:

    Clearly, you weren’t barren. Or infertile. I have been a witness to most of your life with Katie, from a distance and now up close. Katie clearly found with you the rich soil that has and will allow her to flourish. No easy task. And not something one could do if she were either barren or infertile.
    I have also seen how her biological family has embraced her and accepted her for who she is. They love her and her autism without qualification.
    I did not give birth to children either. My mothering experience was as a stepmother — a while different topic on being a mother.
    I think it’s time for adoption to be taken out of the closet and revealed for the complex relationship it creates. On the one hand, there are those (who, in my opinion, laughingly refer to themselves as pro life) who see it as something that ends when the birth mother turns the child she gave birth to over to the people who will raise that child. Then there are those who seem to need to diminish the parenting experience of a woman who embraces a child she has not given birth to by qualifying her “mother” with an “adoptive mother.” Sadly, I think they are usually the same people.
    Cynthia, you are breaking new ground with being Katie’s mother. You have recognized the full range of emotions of all the people involved, and fought for your daughter’s well being like a mother bear. You bring the true meaning of love to this experience. Real parent. Shmeal parent. Your love is what shines through.

  2. Barbara Soules says:

    Cynthia, what a wonderful tribute to adoption. My two adopted children have been the light of my life since they entered our home. I absolutely love being a Mom and never, for a second, regretted all the time and energy parenting takes. I too often think that, here we are, 4 people, none of us related by blood, but as much a family as any I know! I always told the kids that they were “chosen” and that made them very, very special.
    We had to make a very conscious choice to have children and actually work quite hard to make it happen. We waited 4 and 13 years for our kids while the adoption agencies did their thing. We don’t know the biological families, but we do know our son’s foster family.
    This loving, creative, hard working family cared for him as their own for 2 1/2 years. We are still in contact and keep them posted about all his special accomplishments. We are both his “real moms”.
    Cynthia, you and Katy were meant to be together. The more I watch your lives unfold, the more I know this is true. No one else would have fought for her welfare like you have. Your love and dedication shine through every day. Now as I observe Katy, it is like watching a flower slowly opening. What a joy it will be to see the flower in full bloom.

    • cjpatton says:

      Thank you, Barb. I believe that Katie and I were meant to be together as well. Katie’s birthmother does too. I think that’s the part most people don’t understand about open adoption–how the birthmother and I could have the relationship that we have. Or they think it’s confusing for the child. I don’t think Katie finds the situation confusing at all. She thinks everyone has an “extra” set of parents that they visit from time to time. Lol

      I love the fact that you have stayed in touch with your son’s foster family. He has an extra set of parents too!

  3. Rebecca says:

    I have to politely disagree with you blog.. as you have not considered all the angles of the “real mother” and I suppose I understand your thoughts on why you would consider yourself the “real” mother Vs the “birth” mother as you will . Have you once considered that the “birth” mother as you referred to her as chose to be a real mother by chosing not to abort the child you now raise ? Or the so called birth mother does provide for that child that you now provide for.. 9 months she is pregnant she is providing for that child and taking care of that baby… Adoptive parents tend to forget this. The “birth” mother is a “real” mother providing the best life that she can for her baby. there is not Can the real mother please stand up.. there is no competition… I provided for my daughter for 8 months does that classify me as a real mother or a birth mother? You may be offended by people calling her the real mother but we are equally offended by being called a birthmother.. we have done more for our child then just birth them …

    • cjpatton says:

      I can only speak for myself, but there is no competition between me and my daughter’s birthmother. I strongly suspect she would agree with me on that. We are both essential to my daughter and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have never forgotten that I wouldn’t have a child if not for the birthmother’s incredible gift, and I am deeply grateful for her role in my daughter’s life. But that does not make her any more of a “real” parent than me. We have different roles, and neither is more real than the other.

      I am not offended when people refer to the birthparents as the real parents, but by the same token I’m not sure why you seem offended at the use of the term birthmother. To me, the word birthmother conveys respect and honor, not an insult. I’m sorry if you take it as such.

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