"How Do You Define Motherhood?"

For many people, being a "real" mom means sharing DNA and giving birth. As my children's mommy, I know the truth.

Defining motherhood

I was a brand-new mom. Isabel had been placed in my arms less than 48 hours prior. I was sitting in the foyer of our church, waiting for the car to be loaded, after a generous shower of gifts and support from our congregation. As I sat there, cradling my new daughter, basking in the glow of love that enveloped us, a woman came up to me. She was a dear friend who had cried with me each time another fertility effort failed. She had been praying for my husband and me, that I would get pregnant, for a couple of years.

She walked up to me with a sad look on her face. She gazed at the bundle I was holding protectively in my arms and said, “Well, I’ll keep praying. It may still happen for you some day.”

It took a few moments to grasp the meaning of her words. Then I did, and my heart dropped. By “it,” she meant she would continue to pray that I would get pregnant and become a “real” mom. But it had happened for me! I was Mom to this precious little girl. She was my daughter.

Every fiber of my being already felt bonded to this baby. I don’t know what it’s like to birth a child, and, chances are, I never will. But I cannot imagine a stronger love or a deeper connection than the one I felt with Isabel, even then. Why couldn’t my friend see that? Why was adoption second-best in her eyes? How many other people in my circle quietly felt the same way? This conversation made me think about defining motherhood, and how people identify a mother. For many people, a mother is the woman who carries a baby in her womb. For those people, sharing DNA is a prerequisite to calling your children your own. It also made me wonder whether the world would send my children a similar message: These are not your real parents.

I wondered how many times I would hear others echo the comment from my church friend. I also wondered how many years must pass, how many children I must adopt, and how many mommy experiences I must have before I became a real mom in the eyes of those people. Is “mother” merely a title you hold, or is it a job description you fulfill?

Another comment I heard frequently after adopting Isabel was, “Now that you adopted, I bet you will get pregnant!” As if the reason I adopted was to improve my chances of conceiving! As if my ultimate goal were pregnancy, not parenthood.

Maybe I will get pregnant one day, maybe I won’t, but it doesn’t matter to me any more. Adoption and pregnancy bring the same results: A child is welcomed into the arms of parents who have been waiting for her, expectantly and impatiently.

Six years have passed since that day at church. Years of feeding, bathing, learning, laughing, first steps, first words, and many other experiences with one, and then (after adopting Noah) two amazing children. We are as well-established a family as any other. And yet, every once in a while, I still get the pregnancy comments, the fertility questions, and the well-intentioned wishes for a “child of your own.”

But I don’t care. Do you know why?

Because when Isabel yells for Mommy in the middle of the night when she has a nightmare, and when Noah picks a flower to give to Mommy, it is me they want. I am theirs and they are mine. We are each other’s “own.” The two people in the world to whom it matters the most believe that I have the right to hold the title and fulfill the job description. To them I am the best hugger, the best cook, the best story-teller, the best friend, the best boo-boo kisser, and the best playmate. I am real, I am present, I am flesh and bones.

I am Mommy!


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