Biological Moms: Not the Enemy

Jeanne Sager

Photo from Harper Collins
An adoptive mom made news last week for loading her "son" onto an airplane with a one-way ticket back to his native Russia.

So much for being the boy's mother . . . or protector for that matter.

And yet people who adopt enjoy an almost worshipful respect in certain circles. This abject praise is well-meaning. But ask a mom who has adopted a child what she'd least like to hear, and a slam on her child's birth mother ranks pretty high.

"Well-meaning people want to let me know they support me as the GOOD mother, of these two options and they think this means the other mother (the birth mother) must be the BAD mother," says Shannon LC Cate, a mom of two girls who joined her family through open transracial adoption.

Cate blogs about adoption at Peter's Cross Station, and she's often bemoaned the derisive comments about her daughters' birth mothers, especially in front of the girls.

"I try to cut it off at the pass these days by saying something complimentary about the birth family right out of the gate, like, 'Yes, she's beautiful. She looks a lot like her mother.' Or 'She is a little genius, really. It's not surprising, her mother is brilliant.'," Cate says.

Reading Shilpi Somaya Gowda's new novel The Secret Daughter last week, I was struck by how rare it is for a biological mother's story to go past the birth of the child. Gowda made a point to follow the life of Kavita, an Indian mother in the 1980s who is forced to give up her child simply because she is a daughter in a society where sons are coveted.

Stitching together viewpoints from the biological mother to the adoptive family to the child they share and back again, Gowda highlights the oft-made mistake of separating a child's life into two quadrants: before adoption and after. A person is made of many parts, but together they are still a whole human.

"People don't seem to realize is that by insulting (subtly or not so subtly) the birth mother, they insult her child," says Cate. "My children's mothers are the flesh of their flesh. They look a lot like them, have personality traits in common and take after them in intelligence and spirit."

Biological parents aren't perfect, but as Cate has said of her daughter's biological mothers, they're human.

"My children's birth mothers did the best they could when they found alternate families for the babies they felt they couldn't raise as well as they wanted to," Cate says. "I certainly fail to be a good mother on a regular basis. We're all doing the best we can."

Case in point: Catelynn and her menschy boyfriend Tyler on Teen Mom. I commend MTV's decision to continue following not just the new teen parents but the lives of the teens who gave daughter Carly up for adoption. Teen Mom put a face on the shadowy lives of biological parents, but it also forced into the open the struggles they encounter over their decisions.

It's easy to paint adoption as a case of bad parents and good parents, but like all stories of humanity, there is no black or white in adoption.

Do you hear what a good parent you are for choosing adoption?

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