The Best Second Mother

The Best Second Mother

Carrie and Katie 2005

Two weeks ago, Andrew and I were trying to move the girls
through their evening routine.  We had
just finished dinner, and it was time to start the bath.  Andrew reached the top of the stairs first,
toting a chortling Cleo, and Annie Rose scrambled up behind him.

As Katie and I climbed the stairs, I reached out to give her
a squeeze.  She turned to me, and with a
rush of affection, she gave me a fierce hug. 
"You're the best  . . . second
mother in the world!" she blurted out. 

Andrew was down the hall in the bathroom, helping Annie Rose
get undressed.  He heard Katie's
declaration of love and whipped his head around to catch my eye. 

I couldn't help it.

I burst out laughing. 

It was just so funny, so classically awful, so straight at
the heart of an adoptive mother's insecurities. 
I had to laugh. 

And then I turned to Katie and replied, "And you are the
best . . . oldest daughter in the world!" 
I couldn't say "You are the best daughter" because I have two younger
daughters, so I threw in "oldest" daughter. 
Or I could have thrown in "the best seven-year-old daughter" or
something like that. 

But I certainly would not have responded with "you are the
best adopted daughter in the

Because I don't walk around thinking of Katie as my adopted daughter.  She is just my daughter, my daughter who
happens to be adopted. 

I was reminded of Gene Hackman's character in The Royal Tenenbaums who always
introduced Gwyneth Paltrow's character as "my adopted daughter, Margot." 

Andrew and I saw that movie ten years ago, long before we
knew what life held for us, long before we knew we would be adopting, and even
then we talked about how horrible it was for a child to be introduced as
someone's "adopted daughter."

And here we are, adoptive parents with an incredible little
girl of our own.  After Katie professed
her love for me as her "second mother", Andrew and I mused about my reaction.
"It's a good thing I am so okay with everything," I told him. 

And, really, that sums it up. 

I am okay with everything. 
I am okay with the fact that Katie has a relationship with her birth
mother.  I am okay with the fact that she
called me her "second mother," because I also know that she is calling for me
when she calls for Mama. 

I am secure in Katie's love for me, and that is what allows
me to encourage her expressions of love for M, her birthmother.   In the past month or two, Katie has been
very interested in connecting with M. 
When she asks for my phone so she can call M or send her a text, I hand
it over. 

My willingness to let Katie connect with M actually keeps us
closer.  Katie can sense that I accept
her love for M, and so she doesn't sneak around trying to communicate with M
behind my back for fear of hurting me.  My
daughter will never be the adopted child who secretly launches a search for
information about her birth family. 

Everything is already out in the open, and Katie can ask me
whatever she wants.  She can run toward
her birth family, and I will be waiting with open arms when she turns back
towards me.

This journey to personal acceptance took time.  I wasn't always secure in my role as the
adoptive mother.  When Katie was a
toddler, I remember the first time that she referred to M as her "mother."  I gently corrected her, saying that M was her

In the beginning, I marked time by how long Katie had been away
from me.  There were the nine months she
spent growing in M's womb, months that I can never replace for any of us.  Then there were the months when Katie was in
foster care as a baby.   I ache for those
months when she was not with me.  I
grieved and made my peace with that loss of our time together.

After we adopted Katie, our months together eventually
caught up to, equaled and then surpassed our time apart.  From the time she was a toddler, we openly
discussed her adoption. We visited her birth mom when Katie was ten months and
again when she was 22 months. 

Then we had a four year gap in our visits.  Katie learned to talk and grew into a kid.  We continued to discuss her adoption, and she
dutifully claimed that she loved her birthmother, but it didn't feel scary to
me, because Katie didn't really know
her birthmother.

We finally had a reunion again when Katie was nearly
six.  After that visit, I felt edgy and
tense when Katie would ask to call M, because now M represented a real person,
not just an idea. 

I made excuses when Katie asked to call M, and I
tried to minimize the connection.  But it
dawned on me that this was a complicated situation, with complicated emotions,
and I couldn't control the way people felt. 
I decided to focus on sorting out my own feelings, so that I could
better assist Katie with hers. 

When I wholeheartedly accepted that our family structure is
different from others, I stopped feeling threatened by Katie's relationship
with her birthmother.  I love M, and
Katie knows it.  Her birthmother is funny
and perceptive and kind, and I am glad that there is another person in the
world who loves and cheers for Katie.

I am able to hand Katie the phone so she can call M, and I
no longer want to hang around in the room to hear what they are talking about.  It doesn't matter.  What matters is that Katie is able to feel a
connection with M, and she knows that I support her. 

She can call me mommy. 
She can call me the second mother. 
She can call me Mama.  She can
call me Mom.  The important thing is that
when she calls, I answer.

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  • What a wonderful post! Thank you Carrie for writing this and sharing. It is a wonderful encouragement to those of us that have a "different" family structure with an Open Adoption.

  • Thank you so much for sharing this post. I've been following your blog ever since Star Wars, and I SO appreciate all the honesty and love that you bring to your posts. I particularly loved the one called Making Good on a Promise.

    My husband and I adopted a baby girl last June, and I hope that I'll handle her innocent backhanded comments with the same grace that you've shown. If there's any such thing as karma, I surely deserve at least a few of those types of comments for all the times I said that my step-father wasn't my "real" dad, even though he's the one who taught me to ride a bike, drive a car, finish what I started, and be a mature & responsible adult!

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that kids try to make sense of the world by putting nice, neat labels on people: Mother, Father, Sister, Aunt, etc. But as you grow up, you realize that the people who deserve these labels are the ones who are closest to your heart, regardless of biological connections.

  • I have really enjoyed your blog. Your stories about your family are really beautiful and interesting. You've probably thought of this but it occurred to me that "2nd mother" could be Katie's way of placing the events in chronological order so she understands her history - one mother came first, and another :) Not in order of preference or anything else. ;)

  • Another wonderful post!!!! I am very grateful that you allow us to have our connection. I think that's one of the reasons why I chose you as her parents. I knew I could trust you and that I would still be allowed to have a connection with Katie. It means the world to me and E and D. I know they think it's great when she calls or texts. E is waiting for the day when she and Katie are up all night talking about everything, and nothing!!! Thank you so much for being a wonderful mother to Katie, and an amazing friend to me.

    Much Love.......


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