What makes a "real" mom?

I have an adopted daughter and a step-son. Don’t you dare tell me I’m not a mom.

Adoptive mom with her adopted child and step-son
Photo: Christine Cousins Photography

On the eve of Mother’s Day, are we really having a conversation about what makes a “real” mom? Are we really enforcing some kind of hierarchy that arbitrarily assigns the most motherly to the top slot and staggers all others somewhere below?

I guess so.

And here we go.

Reddit user “Vietnamazinggg” recently posted a strong and heartfelt response to being told she wasn’t a “real mom” because she and her wife adopted their son. She wrote: “Not every experience is your experience. Not every mother is a mother because she gave birth. Not every child is yours or a ‘part of you’ because you grew it inside of you.”

Here’s what I believe to be true: The different, and sometimes winding, paths we all take to motherhood land us all in exactly the same exact place. There is no single ultimate type of mother. We are all real moms.

As both a stepmother and a mom via adoption, I too have felt the sting of judgement, the implied message that I am somehow less of a mother because of how I got here. I have felt the heavy expectation I be the “mom-away-from-mom” to my husband’s son, yet have also been denied appreciation and empathy for the challenges of loving and mothering him as my own. I’ve been pitied for my infertility, as if gestation and delivery are the pinnacle of motherhood. I’ve even been asked—in front of my daughter—if adoption was our “last resort.” Is my form of motherhood some kind of consolation prize? Is my family less authentic than genetically related ones?

Adoptive mom and her family
Photo: Christine Cousins Photography

Adoption is rarely an easy path, so I understand why some adoptive parents liken their adoption journey to pregnancy, labour and delivery—the Reddit user did this in her rebuttal—but I shy away from that comparison now. They aren’t the same—and they don’t need to be. Motherhood by any path is hard work. We all love our children and try to keep their best interests at heart in everything we do, no matter how they came to us—and regardless of whether or not they stay.

Here’s where I think the Reddit response fell short: Adoptive moms may feel unrecognized or robbed of that special distinction because they didn’t carry or deliver their child, but on the other side, birth moms are also often dismissed because they aren’t the ones doing the parenting. But how can I and other adoptive moms strip the title of “mother” from the women who made our motherhood possible? Downplaying the existence and importance of another mom doesn’t lock down the odds of enjoying a happy, loving relationship with a child. My presence in Nyah’s life and her birth mother’s absence does not tilt the scales in my favour. I am no more “real” than the woman who brought my daughter or my stepson into this world, nor am I less than them.

This business of mothering in tough—it doesn’t matter how you get here. To be honest, after eight years, I’m still baffled by all this jockeying for ultimate mom status: Vaginal birth or C-section, breast or bottle, biological, adoptive, foster or step—whatever your path, whatever the prefix, we are all mothers because we are committed, because we love.

Family with an adoptive mom
Photo: Christine Cousins Photography

Read more:
The reality of transracial adoption
Our long road to adoption
What you need to know about adoption in Canada

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