Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Adoption Thoughts from Sarah Buttenweiser

Written for Mother's Day 2009

Just over a year ago, we adopted a baby. Already parents to three children, our family grew in a new way: we became an adoptive family.

Mother’s Day is not a holiday I have ever observed (beyond sending a card to my mother, stepmother and mother-in-law). I dislike the holiday’s marketing aspect, including the sense that “mom” does a job and deserves a day of pampering for her trouble. Being a mother, Barbara Ehrenreich wrote, is not a job (although it involves a lot of work); it’s a relationship.

It’s my second Mother’s Day since Saskia was born, and with her arrival, the holiday got more complex, because she brought another mother into our fold, her birth mother, Caroline.

The English language doesn’t possess satisfying words for “mother” in our situation. Caroline, as the woman who gave birth to Saskia, is her mother. Biology tells us so. I stood by Caroline’s hospital bed while she pushed Saskia out into the world. Giving birth is one critical way we define mothers, it being the one thing only a mother can do. But to say giving birth describes motherhood is incomplete. Caroline isn’t raising Saskia. In terms of all those things mothers do—hold you when you’re upset, kiss you countless times a day, smile at you for no apparent reason, feed you, wipe your nose and bottom, take you to the pediatrician—I am it. Saskia is too small to appreciate how two women share mothering her. The language surrounding adoption offers some words to qualify mother, such as birth mother, or first mother, or adoptive mother. At the same time, these qualifiers sound like apologies, as if there’s something murky or not quite certain about mother, herself. Add to the mix that each situation is unique and that each definition is dependent upon the mothers and the child.

Qualifiers may be helpful to Saskia as she navigates her identity as an adopted child—and if that’s the case, I’ll be very glad for them—and yet it’s also possible that she’ll choose her own words to name her reality.

After Saskia was born, Lucien, my second child, then nine, said to Caroline, “I can see you on the floor, playing a game, eating chocolate with us. You’ll be like the fun aunt.” This appealed to Caroline at the time, the idea that she’d have a role to play and would occupy a special spot in Saskia’s family. We haven’t reached games and chocolate, yet. As Mother’s Day approaches, I’m aware that Caroline revisits her decision about Saskia’s adoption—struggles with having ceded that plain-old, unqualified mother—far more often than I do.

After an extended and heart-stopping legal odyssey, and once the finalization of Saskia’s adoption occurred, relief slowly seeped into my body. If the relief had been dye, my color would have changed because it saturated me. I was exceedingly grateful to move past any need to worry that our family constellation could be changed by the birth father’s protestations. Saskia was ten months when the adoption was made legal. Cherished baby of the family, Saskia had been our daughter for what seemed practically forever (from birth).

Whether Caroline’s second-guessing her decision or reassuring herself that she did the right thing, whether she’s reminding herself that Saskia’s happy in order to feel more settled about the decision, I can’t say. Part of motherhood—her motherhood—is going to have to do with how she makes peace with her decision. I can’t make her make peace. I can’t force the “fun aunt” role upon her nor any other. For my part, what I hold as part of my peace is that in adoption, the sense of loss is greater for the mother ceding the baby and the baby having to grow into the complexity of having felt rejected by—to whatever degree, less, we hope with an open adoption, even barely at all—a mother than for the adoptive parents, because as adoptive parents, we gained a daughter. We gained this murkiness, too, these losses and our job—my job as Saskia’s mother and Caroline’s chosen mother for her daughter—is to be willing to hold this, whatever this will be. Mine’s not to judge or force my will. At the same time, mine is to somehow remain as open as possible while respecting boundaries and while remaining certain—not apologetic—that as Saskia’s adoptive mother, I’m Saskia’s mother.

So, this week when making cards to send to my mother, stepmother, mother-in-law and two sisters, I also made a card for Caroline (and sent some chocolates, too). I didn’t say much—there’s so much and nothing to say—but I couldn’t let the day go without telling her how appreciative I am. On the second mother’s day as an adoptive mother, that’s where I am.

From Sarah Buttenweiser of Standing in the Shadows.


Note from Design Mom: for the duration of my pregnancy, I'll be posting advice, memories and stories about pregnancy, childbirth, adoption and growing a family on Wednesdays. You can find them all by clicking here. I'd love to hear your story or memory or advice, feel free to submit it to


add to kirtsy


Anonymous Kelly@TearingUpHouses said...

What a beautiful thing to do, and a gracious way to handle motherhood.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010 at 12:50:00 PM EST  
Blogger MB said...

Amen! I completely agree with all of this!! I too, am an adoptive mom. We have an open adoption with my son's birthmom. And, you've captured the feelings well!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010 at 1:25:00 PM EST  
Blogger Emily said...

What an amazing story. Adoption is filled with joy, wonder, heartache and miracles. Though I have no personal experience with the process I have a few friends who do and I love each and every one of their stories. Simply beautiful.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010 at 1:27:00 PM EST  
Blogger Mom in Mendon said...

Powerful writing.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010 at 3:49:00 PM EST  
Blogger Damaris said...

as someone who plan on adopting, this post was truly amazing.

Thanks for inspiring me.

Thursday, March 11, 2010 at 12:43:00 AM EST  
Blogger Lauralou said...

As an adoptee, I found your words beautiful and thoughtful. Saskia is blessed you are her mother.

Friday, March 12, 2010 at 5:47:00 AM EST  
Blogger Lauralou said...

As an adoptee, I found your words beautiful and thoughtful. Saskia is blessed you are her mother.

Friday, March 12, 2010 at 5:47:00 AM EST  
Blogger RT said...

Lovely, truly lovely. I am a mama-by-adoption, too, and understand so many of your sentiments. I like the way you described each relationship, in each family, as being different and it's your job to keep things open, yet give boundaries as you see fit. That is exactly how it works. Amen.

Saturday, March 13, 2010 at 10:43:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Sarah Buttenwieser said...

Thanks everyone. I love how motherhood can be embraced in so many ways. I hope you'll check out my blog to read more (about adoption & much else).

Sunday, March 14, 2010 at 8:30:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Coussirat Clan of Houston said...


as a mother who is interested in adopting, a wife to an adopted husband, a daughter-in-law to an adoptive mom and a friend to a couple who are in the precious months leading up to an adoption I am touched by your words and your beautiful writing. thank you for so eloquently describing a relationship i've always been curious about. your children are lucky to have such an expressive and sensitive mother.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010 at 12:11:00 AM EDT  

Post a Comment

<< Home