Being the ‘Other Mother’ (sort of)

2013familydayIn the hospital on the day after our daughter was born, a nurse knocks on the door. She needs to do a hearing test on the baby.

The nurse greets our daughter’s mom in the hospital bed. Then she looks at me, snuggling the baby, sitting in a chair. I am the only other person in the room, a rare moment in a day otherwise filled with family and visitors. The nurse isn’t sure who I am. I immediately felt a giant neon sign blink on above my head: Grandma. Grandma. Grandma.

Desperate, I blurt out: “I’m the other mother!” Our daughter’s mom, Lisa, gives me a half-smile. I can’t tell if she might be about to laugh, or if she is honestly just too tired to care. The nurse nods and smiles, taking this in stride, and focuses on the baby. She hooks up the equipment, tuning it, making notes, checking our daughter’s hearing. This takes twenty minutes, but it feels like ten years.

I want to say something to our daughter’s mom. I know she’s straight. I didn’t mean to imply otherwise. Finally, the nurse leaves, family comes in, and I mutter something and Lisa reassures me: it is fine. And I can see that it is. She isn’t offended, but rather proud of us, my wife and I.

But my words in that moment stick with me.

It’s True

In many ways, it is true: I am the ‘other’ mother. But I’m also just Mom. And it’s also true there isn’t really a word, other than Mom, for what I am. In our household, I am Mutti: the German word for Mother. A concession to the semantics of sharing a title.

On some days, I want to be like the other non-bio Lesbian moms. But I’m not. I didn’t sing to our daughter in utereo or rub my wife’s belly.

On other days, I have to explain to straight adoptive moms how being a same-sex couple affects our family. Unlike other adoptive moms, I don’t struggle with “sharing motherhood” or knowing my child will call someone else “Mama” because that sharing is a given. I am so grateful not to be the only mom.

Because Choosing to Create a Family is Just Something We Do

In open adoption circles, there is sometimes angst about the idea of a child having two families: the one that made them and the one raising them. The idea of choosing to create a family can seem revolutionary or earth-shaking to some people. Sometimes I feel a bit frustrated and want to shout: Haven’t you ever heard of Love Makes a Family? [I’m actually most familiar with the Oregon organization.]

Then I realize: no, no they probably haven’t. Chosen family is a big duh for me because we have a terrific tradition, in my LGBT community, of creating new families to nourish us. We create new families, in part, because of rejection or estrangement from our families of origin.

But Family of Origin is Scary

That estrangement is why, I think, I’ve encountered resistance to openness from my gay friends. Biological family can be threatening, but not in the way that straight adoptive parents experience it. It isn’t a threat to share. (We love to share, we gay people. There’s room for everybody.) Birth family can be a threat because we’ve been so wounded, as LGBT folk, by the families that made us.

Case in point (you knew this was coming): At our daughter’s blessing circle/baptism(ish)/baby shower, my mother told Lisa privately: “you know, we don’t approve of our daughter’s lifestyle.” Which is, of course, exactly, what you want your parents to tell the mother of your child, especially when you are brand new to an open adoption relationship and still trying hard to make a good impression.

And Allies Are Unexpected

This resistance, though, is why I come back to that moment in the hospital, when I mislabeled my daughter’s mom. I like to tell that story to gay friends because they hold their breath waiting for Lisa’s reaction. And when I tell them about the way that it was no big deal, they relax. They realize Lisa is on our side, that she is an ally, that she can be trusted, and family of origin can be all right.

Navigating all this stuff is tricky, and writing about it now reminds me again that I don’t have a good word for what I am, for the view from here, at this intersection of Lesbian and Open Adoption and Motherhood. So I’m just Mutti, just Mom, and that is fine with me. One of the many gifts of my radical Lesbian heritage is that we invent the words we need. I know we’ll come up with something. Just give us time.

This post is in celebration of 8th Annual Blogging for LGBT Families Day, hosted at Mombian. Check out the other posts by and in support of LGBT families.

12 thoughts on “Being the ‘Other Mother’ (sort of)

  1. Pingback: Blogging for LGBT families Day: Master Post of Contributions – Mombian

  2. Lovely post. I also had an in the chair at the hospital moment and announced much the same thing to the nurse. I almost cried when she didn’t bat an eye. I’m not sure what I was afraid of – that she might rip my daughter away and thrust her back at my wife? Would that we didn’t have to explain ourselves or ever, ever worry about being second string mothers. From one mother to another , thanks for being brave enough to endure it.

    • Thanks to everyone for your thoughtful and supportive comments! This was my first time blogging for LGBT Family Day and I’m glad to have found so many of your blogs. Many blessings!

  3. Beautiful! I am an adoptive mom and have a donor conceived child with my partner, but I never considered the intricacies of being a two- mom adoptive family!

  4. I love this post!! LOVE. Thank you for sharing. Totally tearing up. My partner and I are adoptive moms, international adoption – and I so deeply appreciate your family’s choice to remain connected to all your child’s moms. Thank you for sharing.

  5. I remember that moment, and both of your assumptions were correct; I was about to burst out laughing but was seriously too exhausted to do it. Laughing is my typical response to encountering people’s shock that’s based in either ignorance or fear of that which is different or unknown. Its how I’ve always dealt with the subtle racists remarks I often hear from people who aren’t observant enough to realize I’m not completely white.

    I love that we both come from a place where chosen family is just a given. As much as I love the people who’s blood I share, I couldn’t imagine life without the brothers and sisters I’ve chosen out of love. It would be an empty existence without them, and most of all without you and Sadie. I chose you for me every bit as much as I chose you for our daughter.

  6. This is great. It’s very rare that I come across a blog where both moms are adoptive parents. Of course, it’s likely that I don’t go lookin for that – but it’s refreshing to read! Thanks for sharing your story, I think people, including myself, think of lesbian moms in the form of donor sperm and inseminations, but adoption is just as viable an option. Thanks for reminding me and telling your story!

  7. Very thoughtful post. I love reading how the expectations of how people will react can sometimes surprise us.

    It also reminds me of the time my son and I were at a protest for legalizing gay marriage and with my friend…and a television crew came up to interview us because they just assumed we were a lesbian couple with a son. (We did not correct them–cuz, it shouldn’t matter!)

  8. Thank you for sharing this! I came over to comment (very belatedly) on your Perfect Moment post from last month, which was awesome, but the comments are closed. So I scrolled up to see what else you have written recently that I could read and comment on. What a pleasant surprise…

    As a heterosexual woman who took a little longer than some to come around to/feel comfortable with supporting marriage equality, among other equal rights that I believe all people should be given, regardless of their sexual orientation, I appreciate posts like this that help me to continue to open my mind and heart to all the ways a family can be built.

    I love this,

    “One of the many gifts of my radical Lesbian heritage is that we invent the words we need. I know we’ll come up with something. Just give us time.”

    Yes, sometimes we do have to “invent the words we need,” as you say and I imagine it won’t be long until though words are commonly spoken, heard and understood.

    • Thank you for your comment, Kathy! It means so much to me to hear your thoughts. I have my own areas of “taking a while to come around to things”…part of being human, I think. 😉 I’m glad to welcome you as an ally. Blessings to you!

  9. Love love love! I know I’ve seen your blog before, but I’m back and am adding you to my blogroll right now so I don’t miss any more posts.

    I read your post from Jan. 21 about openness and the presentation you did and could totally relate. I remember being one of those eager faces – but in my heart I was afraid of what openness would mean for me. Now I’m living open adoption and I can’t imagine life without our daughter’s birth mama. She is amazing and she is part of our family. You’re totally right – we created a NEW family.

    Thank you for sharing! I look forward to following along! 🙂

Comments are closed.