“Mama” & “Is she yours?” These are the two phrases that are the most shocking to me since I became a mom over 5 years ago. That anybody would call me “Mama” or “Mommy” still sometimes catches me off guard after years of infertility and multiple miscarriages, followed by the adoption of our amazing daughter. There are moments where it feels like my heart is actually jumping for joy inside my chest when my daughter calls me “Mommy”. Then there are other moments, hours, days when I (with intense guilt) feel like running away to another continent. BY MYSELF. This was especially true the first 2 years during which I felt overwhelmed and underprepared for parenthood. It has been a complete shock to my system, my lifestyle, my identity, my marriage. People can tell you how much children will change your life (and oh how they will) but you really can’t know until you experience it. Firsthand. For more than a day and more than one phase of infancy and childhood. It is quite an adjustment.
Adjustment disorder is a real thing. I should know. I’m a therapist. You would think being a therapist would be helpful in my role as “Mom”. It isn’t. When I disclosed to one of my clients that I was going on maternity/ adoption leave, she looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Wow. You must really want a baby to be doing this at this age. It’s a good thing you have a lot of patience ”.
I like to think that patience comes with age, however I think motherhood is more a matter of endurance. After I became a mom, I got my Mom a Mother’s Day card that featured a cartoon of a woman at a job interview applying to be a Mom. The caption was the employer saying something like “You do realize there are no vacation or sick days. You might get some time off but you’ll still be on call”. It is 24/7 people. Full on. As much as I have worked hard at work, getting my education, career, etc, I have never willingly signed up for a job with no breaks, no vacation days, no sick days…you get the idea. I’m convinced it’s an endurance test and that pregnancy is the pre-test.
Certainly any parent can experience adjustment issues (and those who give birth may also experience postpartum depression and/ or psychosis), but I catch myself wondering how pregnancy and birth might have altered my experience. Would it have helped me to slow down or speed up? Would it have prepared me for the attention drawn to my and my child’s appearance? As a transracial adoptive family, strangers frequently ask “ Is she yours?” Of course what they are really asking is whether or not we are blood relations. “Blood is thicker than water” the saying goes.
After struggling so long to become a parent it can be hard to be asked “Are you her ‘real’ mom?” (The reality is she has 2 moms: a biological mom who gave birth to her and an adoptive mom who is raising her). It felt unreal or perhaps more surreal at first. But as a friend who’s also an adoptive mom put it, “As soon as I changed diaper after diaper, got spit up on, and woken up throughout the night, I knew I was her Mom.” I think “mom” is really more a verb than a noun but I have no problem with my daughter having more than one mom anyway. I would like her to have meaningful relationships with her biological family. Adoption is no longer a closed secret shameful thing. It does however, require careful attention to explain to children in age appropriate ways so they can come to understand what being an adoptive family means to them and to their developing identity.
Motherhood is…complicated. You’re a bad mom who doesn’t love her kids (or love being a mom) if you complain about it. What if you went through a zillion medical procedures, had a traumatic birth experience, or traveled halfway around the world to become a mom? How dare you complain! Be careful what you wish for! You asked for this. Give me a break. Memo to other moms: come closer. I don’t care that you haven’t brushed your teeth or showered for days. I haven’t either. It’s okay. It’s all right to vent. It’s okay to be exhausted and cranky and bitter and resentful ( as long as you don’t abuse your kids or spouse or pets). IT’s OKAY!! There’s a reason Oprah says this as “ the hardest job in the world”. It IS. Even if it is a labor of love. Even if you have wonderful, adorable, cuddly iPhoto moments. It is still incredibly challenging. It’s an ongoing marathon: a “mama-thon”. We run, we march, we walk, we dance, we drag, we collapse exhausted and aching all over, and still we get up and do it again the next day and the next and the next until our kids are grown. And then, we will still be moms, but hopefully the pace will ease up and we will have time to reflect nostalgically on the entire experience.