N.A.A.M. Guest Post: “Their Other Mothers”

I am the forever mother of three amazing young people. My children have all come to me in different ways through the foster care system, but the one thing they all have in common is that I am not their only mother. It sometimes surprises me how many times a day I find myself thinking of my children’s first moms and the different emotions those thoughts can trigger in me. While feelings of anger and frustration sometimes come to the surface when I think of the circumstances that ultimately brought my children to me, the most frequent emotions that I feel when thinking of my children’s first mothers are gratitude and sorrow. I have such gratitude that they chose life for their children – plain and simple, but so unbelievably monumental. I also feel sorrow for my kids, sorrow for their birthmothers, and an overall sadness that my children don’t have the kind of relationships with their first moms that they were meant to have.

I think the passing of my oldest son’s birthmother late last year has made me even more cognizant of the connections that my children have to their first mothers whether they ever had a relationship with them or not. I love my children with everything that I am, and I want more than anything for them to be able to have healthy, safe, loving relationships with the women who gave them life. The knowledge that my son no longer has that chance breaks my heart. I witnessed firsthand how much his mother loved him. I saw her struggle to fight addictions, illness, and depression. I saw her overcome. I saw her relapse. But through it all, I saw her love her baby, even if it was from afar.

I think of my children’s first moms every time they do something that makes me laugh. I think of their other mothers as I rock my boys to sleep or have deep, late night conversations with my daughter. I think of the women who gave my children life every time they meet a milestone, every time I nurse them through an illness, every time they come to me for advice or comfort. I think of those women every time I hear one of my kids call me “Mama,” Mommy,” or “Mom,” and the bittersweet feelings of gratitude mixed with sorrow bubble up within me once again.

I recently wrote a letter to my youngest son’s birthmother in prison. I have never met the woman who gave birth to my little boy, and she hasn’t seen him since he was two months old so I really didn’t know what to expect. I had heard from several different sources over the past year and a half that led me to believe that despite everything that happened early in his life and the choices that she made, she loves her son very much. The fact that she voluntarily relinquished her parental rights and added for the record that she knew that he was in a good and loving home and would have the life that she wants for him with me gave me the added push to reach out to her when Jacob’s adoption became finalized.

I had no idea what to say or where to begin. What exactly do you say to the woman who gave your son life, but made terrible choices that ultimately ended in her losing her child? I decided to start by explaining who I was and letting her know that I was writing because I wanted to tell her about our son. I knew that she had a general idea of who he was with after speaking to his caseworker during the year he was in foster care, but I was never allowed to contact her directly while Jacob was a ward of the state. As soon as his adoption was finalized, I wanted to do what I thought was right for my son and reach out to the woman who loved him first.

I told her all about his personality, his likes and dislikes, shared a couple of funny stories, and sent a few recent photos. I acknowledged that I understood how difficult it was for her to relinquish and to be apart from him. I ended by opening the door for contact with me and told her that I understood if that would be too difficult. I didn’t specifically say “thank you for giving me my son” – just acknowledged her feelings and put the ball in her court for correspondence with me. “My hope is that you would like to keep in contact and that Jacob will have the opportunity to meet you and know you when he’s older.”

After mailing that letter, I immediately wondered whether or not I had done the right thing. I told myself that any decision that I make out of love for my child is most definitely the “right” decision, so I sat with baited breath and waited to see if his birthmother would respond.

Two weeks later, I woke up with a gnawing feeling that I needed to check Jacob’s post office box. I had set up the box under his birth name so his first family could maintain contact with him and we could maintain our anonymity. His maternal grandmother was given the address last fall, but the box had continued to sit unused. Until that day!

I drove to the post office at lunch, and inside our box was a package that contained the book “Guess How Much I Love You” by Sam McBratney, a CD, and a form letter from the director of the volunteer organization that helps incarcerated mothers connect with their children by giving them the opportunity to read a book to their child. I immediately put the CD in my car’s CD player and was able to hear the voice of the young woman who gave birth to my son as she read the book that she had chosen especially for him.

Several people have asked me how I can be so invested in my children’s birth families. Why does it matter so much to me that my children have some sort of connection to the people who gave them life when they failed them time and time again? For me, the answer is simple. I have three forever children whose birthmothers have all battled addictions and demons that they just haven’t been able to overcome. They love their children, but addiction often has such an incredible stronghold over a person that someone without a strong support system simply can’t escape it. I love my children more than words can say, and I feel like I owe it to them to extend a piece of that love to the women who gave birth to them – to show them compassion and grace.

Jacob’s birthmother may never be able to overcome her addictions or heal to the point where she can have an ongoing relationship with him, but as of that day my son will be able to hear the voice of his first mommy telling him that he “is more loved than he will ever know.” And that, my friends, is worth the risk.

I am the forever mom of three amazing young people, but I am not their only mother. I pray every day that I am mindful of that and of the connection that my children will always have with their first moms.

Tammy (a.k.a Mimi) has been fostering as a single parent for the past six years. She has a deep love for her children and their families and has been fortunate to have maintained close relationships with all of her long-term placements after they returned home. She finalized the adoption of her youngest son earlier this year, and is looking forward to seeing what the future holds. Tammy blogs at I Must Be Trippin’ (follow her on Facebook).

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