In every adoption story, two mothers with very different perspectives and stories are intimately connected. One mother has made the most difficult choice imaginable. She has made the choice to relinquish her child to another mother. The other mother receives her child knowing that she isn’t the only mother to hold a deep connection to this child.
When we brought our girls home from Ethiopia at ages four and one, we hadn’t discussed how we would refer to and talk about the girls’ Ethiopian family. Our oldest daughter didn’t know much English. Initially we were simply in language survival mode.
Over time as she became more comfortable with us and learned more language, she began to open up about her home and family in Ethiopia. We learned how deeply our daughter loved her mother in Ethiopia.
Some adoptive families choose to use the term “birthmother”. Some families with internationally adopted children choose to name the country and say “Ethiopian mom” for example. Still others might use the term for mom in the child’s native language. In our case that term would be “Emaye”.
In our situation it was clear that “birthmother” was inadequate. This woman loved and raised our children for four years. She was connected by more than birth. We began to refer to her as “Ethiopian mom” or “first mom”. Over time, we have settled on “first mom” and “first family” when we talk about them in our home. It has become quite comfortable to talk about the girls’ first mom as simply “mom” when we talk or pray for her.
Here is recent conversation with my now six year old daughter:
I always pray with my girls when I put them to bed. Last night, I prayed for the girls’ first mom. After the “amen”, but before the kiss, our six year old said,
“Are you sad when you pray for my mom?”
I said, “I am a little bit sad that she misses you and you miss her.”
She said, “Don’t cry. I hate it when you cry.” followed by a long pause. Then she said, “And also dance…I also hate it when you dance and my sister hates that too.”
In case you are wondering, I only dance while cooking!
Honoring the girls’ first family with positive language has been an important part of relationship building with our children. Each family must decide how to honor and acknowledge the other mother in their child’s life.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you;.” Jeremiah 1:5a