Wednesday, May 15, 2013

On Being a Real Mom

Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.

‘’Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.’Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘

When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.

‘’Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?

‘’It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

~Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

Me-and-baby_ On March 22, 2012, I stood before a judge, with Big Papa by my side, in Gyumri, Armenia as we agreed to care for an 11-month-old baby for the rest of our lives. Once the papers were signed, I announced to the world: I’m a Mom!

Legally, I was. But many months passed before I felt I could say:  I’m a real mom.

References to real moms can be the source of great angst for many adoptive parents, when faced with (generally well-meaning) family or friends who ask: Do you know anything about her real mom?

We are fortunate that we have some  information about Baby Bird’s birth family and know the reason why she was placed for adoption. This is not true for many adoptees, particularly those who were adopted from countries outside the U.S. Our daughter will grow up knowing names of her birth parents and where they were from, and we will do our best to explain to her the circumstances which resulted in her birth family being unable raise her.

I will never forget how I felt when Big Papa and I tucked ourselves into the taxi with Baby Bird and headed south, from Gyumri to Yerevan: Oh-my-God-we-are-parents …and we are clueless. And I remember our deer-in-the-headlights fear when Baby Bird screamed at the top of her lungs while we changed our first diaper, and when we gave her a bath for the first time.

I’m sure many first-time parents experience these feelings and wonder: How are we going to do this? Am I going to be able to keep this baby alive?

We had many more unanswered questions: Will our child bond with us? Will we bond with her? What challenges might we encounter that resulted from our child being institutionalized? Did our child spend the first months of her life faced with neglect, abuse, poor nutrition? Did her birth-mother smoke, drink, do drugs? How will we form our new family and honor our child’s culture while creating new traditions to share?

Now, a year later, we have a few answers to some of our questions and—no surprise here—we now have many new unanswered questions. Ah, parenthood.

I’ll be honest, our first year together has not been easy (not that anyone’s first year of parenthood ever is), but as Big Papa said to me: We are doing it. However imperfectly we muddle along, we are doing it.

So when someone asks me: Do you know anything about her real mom, I will say: Yes, I do. I see her every morning when I look in the mirror.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there

—-no matter how you got there.

Take the road less traveled,



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