The “Other Mother” in Adoption

“Will she see what I made her? Can we mail it to her?” My 8-year-old daughter is looking at me with wide, hopeful eyes. How can I possibly explain this to her?

“Well sweetie, we can hold onto it for her. If we get an address or if she contacts anyone, then we can let her know we have this.” Mary looks crushed.

She has spent the better part of an hour making a “memory box” for her other mother. We decorated it with glitter and hearts and stickers. She has lined it with a soft felt lining. We have all of her school pictures and her sports pictures gathered to put inside. Mary has written her a letter.

I had the idea that making this memory box would be helpful for our children. They have a lot to say to her. That other mother. The mother who had them first. She had Mary until age 3 and Carl until age 5. In the years after they came into care the siblings were separated, their first mom came and went, tried at times and not at others. So much has happened.

In those first years, their years with her, bad things happened. Our children still carry the psychological and physical scars of their first home. There was severe neglect, physical abuse, and intermittent abandonment. Scary things happened to them. Painful things happened to them at the hands of this other mother.

Still. Love must have happened, too. No matter what, a child loves their parent. According to the older siblings there were some good times, too.  It was her voice they heard in utero. They took their first steps with her and said their first words. It was in her house that they played together. That first home is the last place all six children lived together (the 7th baby came later.) She was the one who spent those first years with them good or bad. I am amazed at my daughter’s capacity to hold so much love in her heart. Beautiful Mary sees the good in people despite their struggles. I hope she knows that this first mother loved her. I believe this wholeheartedly.

I don’t have much to go on about their other mother. I have the DCF file, of course, and I have what our children and their siblings have told me.  I’ve only met her once. She refused further visits and contact. In our adoption agreement my husband and I offered to send pictures and updates. She is entitled to three supervised visits per year.She refused. I imagine it’s too painful but I hope someday she will want to see how these beautiful children grew.

I don’t know her story. At least, I only know the parts that the children have told me. DCF has shared things with us but when it comes down to it, I believe my kids. I try not to judge her because her choices were influenced by mental health issues and narcotics. I believe the older siblings about what they remember from that first family. Adoption is hard. It all starts from a loss. Everyone with the exception of my husband and myself, has lost so much in this process.

My husband and I get the report cards and sports games. We will go to recitals and play dates and birthday parties. We get the hugs and kisses and cuddles. But we also get the trauma. We spend a huge chunk of our lives cleaning up the emotional mess left over from addiction, mental health concerns, and injuries from this other mother. They couldn’t fight back when they were little. They couldn’t fend for themselves and couldn’t defend themselves. Now that they are in a safe place they can let their anger out sometimes. We take the brunt of that anger from time to time. It’s OK because we are strong enough for all of their emotions.

They still hoard food sometimes just in case my husband and I stop providing. They still worry that I might get drunk and leave them because that’s what they think “moms do.” Things are getting better for them, though. They are safe now. They are healing.

Our kids will be OK because they have us to help them through. Who will help the older “aged out” siblings? Who will help her, the “other mother” through it? I hope she has someone.

We heard from Marcus the other day. He’s 18 now and just beginning to process the effects of growing up in care without a family there for him. He had been ranting and raging at her for never returning his calls or answering his Facebook posts or text messages. In 5 years of foster care, he has never stopped trying with her. Despite his struggles, he has a lot of love in him. Last month he managed to make contact. According to Marcus she told him she has a new man and another family now. She doesn’t want to look back on the life she had here. She is in Puerto Rico and won’t be coming back. He couldn’t understand how she just didn’t ask about the younger siblings. He couldn’t understand why she didn’t ask about how he was doing. He couldn’t understand why she just couldn’t give up the drugs.

I may never understand her choices but I understand the damage they caused. I see the wreckage every day. All I can do is save a box for her. A box filled with the childhoods she is missing. Maybe one day she will want to see. Maybe it’s too hard for her. Who knows?

What I do know is that I can help my children hold these memories for her. I can keep the lines open just in case she is ready someday. No, I won’t let her endanger my children again. They won’t be physically hurt anymore. Could we manage a phone call or a supervised visit? I believe we could. I believe the kids could handle it, but it would be hard. She can’t handle it.  I will respect the distance she keeps by choice, but I will also respect my children’s feelings about what is and what once was.

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

*If you’ve ever thought about foster care or adoption, I encourage you to consider an older child or sibling group.


17 thoughts on “The “Other Mother” in Adoption

  1. Becky says:

    Beautiful written. Your children are blessed to have you, a mother who understands you will always share a place in their hearts with a woman who will never understand or appreciate the depths of their love.

    Liked by 1 person

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  3. Our situation is a bit different here since they’re my husband’s biological kids and she still has very minimal parenting rights (she’d have more if she would complete the requirements the judge ordered her to complete during the custody battle).

    I hope that one day I have empathy for the kids’ first mom. The kids send her things, but we don’t and probably won’t do the memory box (but that is a great idea I wish I was strong enough to employ! Maybe some day). Right now, it’s all just so personal still… She tried to kill my husband, she took the kids from my care, she damaged these beautiful children and she doesn’t have to pick up the pieces… I do. My husband does.

    Sometimes she “tries” to do what she should, but that is so fleeting that it just makes things worse… Ugh.

    You’re a great mom, and I admire your empathy for the kids’ bio mom!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. You are living in the wake of her mistakes. I also am except I wasn’t there during that time. I get mad that she hurt my kids but she didn’t try to kill my husband. I guess I’m more removed? Your anger is fine! This is hard. You’re a great mom cleaning up a huge mess.

      Liked by 1 person

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  6. c.d says:

    I just started reading your blog and I really like it. I eventually want to adopt out of foster care. I am also a survivor of childhood trauma. This is a bit different from you situation but then again none are exactly the same. This post kind of struck a nerve. My mother chose the abuser of my brother and I time and time again and there are still time when all I want is for her to hate him too. When I talk to other family members and they take my mom’s side when all I need in that moment is for them to hate him too it’s like being abandoned all over again. Not really hate it just feels that way sometimes in the moment. I totally get that you are fostering forgiveness, healing, empathy and all that good stuff and it’s amazing. I just know that healing empathy and forgiveness aren’t always easy and for me at least it takes work to maintain that. Right now they are small but if when they are older and they say they don’t want to put things in the memory boxes anymore how would you handle that? There is probably going to come a pint when they realize all that anger is actually with bio mom and not you. Do you ever worry that they will feel unsupported in that anger because you have so much empathy (again beautiful thing) for her? Some issues I worry about coming across in my future experience with foster/adoption process.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am amazed at how insightful you are with your own situation. I think it’s great that you want to foster and eventually adopt. One of the most important things I leaned in trauma-informed therapy was to always value the feelings of the child and emphasize with those. I will always protect them and keep them safe. If they love her, they can tell me about it. If they hate her, they can tell me about it. Some of the things she did are very hard for me to stomach. But there were good thing, too. Bio-dad is a bit different because he wasn’t there much. After hearing your story I have to say I wouldn’t have been so empathetic to the bio-parents if I had been your foster mom. Some things are just too terrible. Someday my kids may want to burn the boxes. I’ll light the fire pit for them. They may want to confront their biological parents. I’ll be there, too. They may want to write a card that says, “I miss you. Why did you give up on me? Why did you choose cocaine?” I hope I can read it without judgement. Had I been your foster mom it would have been harder, given your situation. It’s so important to me that they never have to choose who they can love. Their ability to love her says everything about how wonderful they are and isn’t about her per say. All I can do is be there for them, no matter how they feel.


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