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.
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.