Why I Won’t Tell You About My Son’s “Real Mom”


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I have three kids, and only two of them grew in my tummy.  Our youngest son, Asher, was born in Thailand and joined our family through adoption when he was 22 months old.  Our adoption journey has been amazing, challenging, beautiful and heartbreaking.  It is a big part of our family’s story, and yet most days I forget that the little brown-skinned cutie is not biologically related to me. 

Because our family is clearly multi-racial, I think we attract a little bit of attention, and sometimes comments or questions.  I love the way our family has been formed, and I almost always enjoy talking about it!  I’ve learned that 99% of people who want to engage in conversation about my son or his story are asking with kind and curious motives, even if they use language that can sound harsh or wrong to my ears.  Even our friends and family had plenty of adoption questions through the process, and I’ve found myself giving similar answers many times. Every adopted child and every family has a unique story and situation, so I can only speak for myself and our son.  But in case you were wondering:

Common Adoption Questions for an Adoptive Mom

Why did you decide to adopt?

For us, we knew we wanted a third child. My second pregnancy was not a picnic, and I wasn’t eager to do it again.  We were already considering the path of adoption in January of 2010 when a massive earthquake hit the island nation of Haiti.  That crisis grabbed our attention and opened our eyes to many children around the world who needed homes, and we longed to have another child in ours.  Adopting from Haiti was not possible at that time, so we did some research and both felt like our future kiddo was in Thailand. 

Why did you adopt internationally when there are so many children in the United States who need homes?

Yes, there are!  And I would love for everyone who asks me that question to look into foster care or adoption through DHS!  I know many couples and singles who have grown their families by adopting through their state.  I probably don’t have a satisfactory answer for this question, other than my husband and I both felt strongly led to adopt internationally.  We had both traveled to third world countries on mission trips, and left our hearts in some of those far away places. This is a totally valid question, and people may just not understand my answer.  Just like each couple decides how many kids to have, when to have them, how to birth them, for us, this was the decision that was right for us and our family.

How much did it cost?

I always tread lightly on this question, because it seems a little forward.  And I want to be very, VERY clear that the fees we paid to our agency cover healthcare for our son and his birth mother, as well as legal and administrative fees involved in an extremely complex bureaucratic process between two countries.  Please don’t look at my son and see a price tag. The total cost of our international adoption was about $25,000 (different types of adoption will have different costs and fees).  Approximately one-third of that was travel expenses for Thailand.  I know that some people feel uncomfortable raising funds for an adoption, but that was the only way we were able to do it.  Through donations and grants we applied for, we ended up paying less than $6,000 out of pocket. 

What do you know about Asher’s real mom?questions for an adoptive mom2

I know what you mean by this question.  You are wondering about Asher’s birth mom and why she didn’t raise him in Thailand. But first, I want you to know that it hurts a little bit when someone else is referred to as Asher’s “real mom.”  I am the one who snuggles him at night, who deals with his tantrums, who cleans up his puke, who knows where he is ticklish and who can tell when he is embarrassed.  I’m the one who will walk him into his first day of kindergarten, hug him when he has his first heartbreak, take him to get his driver’s license and bawl my head off when I drop him off at college.  I am Asher’s REAL MOM. 

And regarding the precious woman in Thailand who made the bravest, most heart-breaking decision any woman can ever make?  We call her Asher’s first mom, his birth mom, or his biological mom.  It’s okay if you don’t always get the terminology right.  We explain this topic to our kids by distinguishing between stories that are “secret” and stories that are “private.”  Secret stories are things that are kept hidden and are not to be talked about.  Private stories belong to the story holder, in this case, Asher, and can be talked about whenever Asher chooses.  The story of how Asher came to be available for adoption, including what we know about his first mom, is HIS story.  It is not mine to tell, and it is not yours to know until Asher is old enough to know it himself and chooses to tell you.   So, please forgive me if I’m vague and dismissive when you ask me about her.  I have utmost respect and gratitude for her, and it is out of that respect for her and the son I share with her that I will not be giving their story to you.

How has Asher adjusted? 

Asher is a fun, happy and energetic 5-year-old.  He fits in so well to our family and we adore him!  He also has some challenging behaviors that are common with kids who have been through a trauma.  Asher’s trauma was his adoption.  He lived with a loving foster family for two years before the first white people he had ever seen took him from everything he knew and loved.  He lost his loving foster parents and sisters, every smell, sound and taste that was familiar and comforting, and was immediately thrust into a new world of strangers whose language he didn’t understand.  Can you imagine this happening to your two-year-old?  He grieved so fiercely for the first few weeks that it takes my breath away to remember it.  I think this is a side of adoption that is not always talked about.

Fortunately, his heart has done so much healing in the last three years!  We’ve learned that trauma in any form can literally change brain-development and affect aspects of a child’s personality, especially their attachment with caregivers and some other challenging, hard-to-describe behaviors.  If you are considering adopting or fostering, I would just encourage you to talk to an adoptive or foster mom and ask her about their experience.  It’s not something that we often detail publicly out of respect and love for our kiddos, but in most cases, we would still strongly encourage you to pursue adoption!  

Overall, Asher is doing great!  He is such a ham and a little charmer.  He picked up English quickly and now talks my ear off, as many 5-year-olds do.  If I had to do it over again, I would go through every government delay, all the heartache, the fundraisers, and even the 13-hour plane rides again in a heartbeat.  He is worth it! He is our beloved son, and we can’t imagine our lives or our family without him.   Please don’t say he is lucky to have been adopted.  WE are the lucky ones to have him. 

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  1. Beautiful, Jen! You did a great job of explaining adoption to those who are new to it 🙂

    Keep up the great work and keep on supporting other adoptive Mamas – it’s awesome!

  2. Actually, my daughter is the one who most frequently uses the term “real mom” with me. I use it as an opportunity to talk about what is the meaning of “real mom”. I usually react by smiling and reminding her that she’s “stuck” with me, now. She usually smiles back, as I think she often just likes to test and make sure that I’m still happy to be her “real mom”, now.

  3. Thank you for sharing. I will be adding to my son’s chronicles on facebook. Our son has a birth mom, whom is like my adopted niece. The paperwork was final last November. I was there for his birth, but sometimes I just let people think he is ours. He is tall like us, he is 2 3/ 4 yrs old, but same height as kindergardeners.

    Let me say that God has blessed us grately, beyond words. But how you explained things, really make sense and helps me. I always tell my son, that he is born from my heart, and he knows his birth mom. (We get together whenever we can.) We are not hiding anything from him, but what you wrote really explains so much, and will help him later in life. Thank you from the bottom of my heart…

  4. Why don’t people think before they speak? “What about his real mother?” you are his real mother….grrrrr
    One phrase I’ve heard is “first mother” it seems kinder than “birth mother” or “biological mother” I am sure placing her baby for adoption was the hardest decision she ever had to make.

  5. I think a baby can have two real moms. She was his real mom at birth and you are his real mom now. Words only have the power you give them.

  6. Thank you. As someone who was adopted as eight months from Korea, it has always made me cringe when people ask me about my “real” parents or refer to my family as my “adopted” family. Like you, I know what they mean, but I also know who my real parents are (no air quotes) and that they are simply my family. They love me and support me and always have, and I don’t know anything else, nor do I want anything else.

  7. As an adult who was adopted at birth, and who has met her biological mother – It is a struggle to explain to them that my parents – the people who raised me since I was a few days old – THAT IS MY MOM & DAD – my biological mother is a part of my life, and without her, I would not be here, but she is not my mom — There is not a good, short, easy word to describe a biological parent. People just don’t know what to say.

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