' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: A 'birth mother' becomes a 'real' great-grandmother

Monday, July 29, 2019

A 'birth mother' becomes a 'real' great-grandmother

Jane, Hiram, and friends
I just spent a wonderful four days with my granddaughter Rachael, her husband Shane, and her three month old son, my great grandson, Hiram at their home in Omaha, Nebraska. Since he is my first great grandson, I'm just learning the role. I will say this, though, he is my great grandson even though I surrendered his grandmother, my daughter Megan for adoption.

We describe our relationships by the language we use. We also create or deny relationships by the language we use. And so while I gave birth to Megan, many would deny me the right to call myself her mother. That official title belongs to the woman who became her mother through a paper signed by a judge. And to tell the truth, I have not been all together comfortable in referring to her as my "daughter." When she was born, someone at the hospital asked me to sign a paper authorizing routine medical care for her. The space next to the signature line said "mother." The word startled me. I did not think of myself as a mother. Her mother was a perfect somebody else selected by an omniscient social worker. The person who prepared the paper surely knew that. I felt the the wording was mocking me.

Shortly after our reunion in 1997, I attended a conference of the American Adoption Congress. I was surprised when first mothers referred to their lost children as "my son" or "my daughter." That did not seem right to me. Perhaps it was my legal training or brain-washing by the mid-century culture, but I felt strongly that these children were not really their children. Although I grieved from losing her, it took some practice before I could refer to Megan as my daughter.

Early in our reunion, I told my husband, Jay, that my lost daughter had three children; he chuckled and said "Congratulations, Granny." I mentioned that to Megan, and she made clear that only her adoptive mother and mother-in-law were her children's grandmothers. I didn't argue; I didn't want to erect a wedge between us, and frankly, I thought she was right. I learned later that was not an uncommon reaction from adoptees.

Adoptee Jean Strauss wrote in her memoir, Beneath a Tall Tree that when her first mother sent Strauss's son a valentine and signed it "With love from Grandma Lenore," she threw it in the trash. Adoptee Zara Phillips became enraged when her first mother Pat signed a birthday card for one of Phillips' children. "Grandma." "What right does she have to that title? She lost that privilege." Lorraine writes that the first time she introduced her daughter Jane as "my daughter," it led to a conversation about what she was to call Jane, and if "daughter" could be avoided, that would be best; however Jane felt no compunction calling her "my mother" when she felt like it. Eventually, Jane came up with Maraine (Ma+ Raine from Lorraine) but usually just called her Lorraine.

When they were teenagers, Megan's daughters, Rachael and Chelsea, visited me in my home in Portland, Oregon. When I checked them in at the airport as they were leaving, the ticket agent chuckled "Ah, you've been spoiling your grandchildren, and now you're sending them home to Mom and Dad." I started to correct him, but thought better of it.

While I felt uncomfortable referring myself as their grandmother, Megan's children didn't seem to have a problem.  When I accompanied Rachael to Peru six years ago to visit friends she had made when serving there on a Mormon mission, she introduced me as her abuela, Spanish for grandmother.

As time has passed, I have been able to reconcile my relationships even though the right words don't exist. I am a birth mother, I am a first mother, but I am also a real mother. While I have never been Megan's mother in the sense of a being a dominant figure with a dependent child, I do have a fine relationship with her. We are good friends, as I am with my raised daughters. There are some differences in the relationships I have with Megan. My history with Megan is shorter and she has another family as well. She calls me "Jane", not "Mom" and  "Jane" is how I sign email and cards.

When I tell friends I went to Omaha, Nebraska on my recent trip, they look puzzled. "What's in Omaha? I could answer "a fascinating museum in a restored railway station, great steaks." Which is true but, of course, these are not reasons I went to Omaha. I came to visit my granddaughter and meet her new son Hiram, i say. I don't wince. I don't offer an explanation, even though most think that all my daughters live nearby and my Portland grandchildren are too young to have children. If pressed, I would tell the truth: Hiram's mother Rachael is the daughter of the daughter I surrendered for adoption over a half century ago.

And let the surprise on their faces--if they don't know my story already--sit there. I've already answered their question about how I could possibly have grandchildren in another state.--jane

From FMF 
"Birth" grandmas are still grandmas
Am I grandma or ...(Birth Grandma) Lorraine? Someone not quite connected
'Preferred' adoption language is bunk
Who can call herself a mother?
Birth mother, first mother, biological mother or relinquisher? Framing the language when we talk about adoption
Natural and Real Language

Beneath a Tall Tree 
by Jean A.S. Strauss

If "beneath a tall tree" doesn't tug at your heart and bring tears to your eyes, go see your doctor for a checkup. Strauss bares her soul in this fascinating adventure about her life. Besides being enormously helpful to adoptees, it provides a deep, raw look into the mindset of an adoptee. Her fluid style makes this an easy read.
Chasing Away The Shadows: An Adoptee's Journey To Motherhood
by Zara Phillips
5.0 out of 5 starsJudy Penny
An enlightening read for anyone affected by adoption
This personal testimony is definitely worth a read for anyone whose life has been touched by adoption in any way. In simple language and with an engaging writing style, the author, Zara, tells her own story, with frankness and simplicity. In doing so, she educates us about the some of the complex feelings of adoption - feelings that, for many people and for many years, have never been acknowledged.


  1. I'm more curious about the "friends" than about how real you are :-). Of course you are real. And Hiram is real cute. Congratulations on great-grandmotherhood, Jane.

    Coincidentally, my son just got home from spending a week with his first father and with his younger siblings in Nebraska. He sometimes has to explain it to people, as you do, and the language available to everyone doesn't always translate.

  2. My "friends" -- Warren Buffet a billionaire investor based in Omaha. He's called the Oracle of Omaha. And his bridge partner, Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft. The picture was taken in an old-fashioned candy and novelty shop in downtown Omaha.

    1. That is the first time I noticed who was in the shot...i think you ought to put an explanation under the photo.....Smiley emoji here...

    2. I recognized the friends. I was just pleased to know that Hiram had already met them!

    3. Lori, I thought you probably recognized my friends but just in case I supplied the information. Yes, Hiram was picking up some stock tips.

  3. Congratulations, Jane! Hiram is so cute!

    Well, a mother is a mother, and a birth mother is a child's mother, that will never change. The adoptive mother also, and that is not likely to change, and probably should not change - We can't turn back the clock. All we can do is to be the best person we can for our child, one who they can like, respect, and relate to, if we are lucky.

    I often feel that I don't have the right to be called, or interact as, "Mom" or "Grandma". It seems like this feeling is not shared by my son and his family, and so I keep my fears and regrets to myself. But to be an active participant in the family group, does so much more for our children, than being in doubt. There will never be any rest for our doubts and regrets, as long as we live. The only thing we can do is react to whatever situation is presented to us - and hopefully, it can be optimistic.

  4. I only live 90 minutes from Omaha, I’m there often. I thought your friends looked familiar, ha! The candy shop in Old Market, right? I love that area.

    Your great-grandson is just adorable, congrats! Baby Hiram will grow up (hopefully) with you just being a normal part of life, no adoption loyalties to interfere. I’m so very lucky that Christopher has always allowed me to be “Grandma Susie” to his kids, but even so, they deal with who is the “real” grandma.

  5. Happiness and joy sent your way, Jane, for having been blessed to enjoy your great-grandson for the rest of your days together. Ironically though, yours is a classic case of social engineering with manufacture of appropriate words by a conscious less adoption industry. As for Gates and Buffet, I'll refrain from any comments out of respect for Lorraine's and your forum.

  6. Congratulations on little Hiram! I felt my late mother was my children's grandmother, and my mother. She did not seem to share those feelings. That was very painful to me.

    Maybe she wanted me to accept my adoptive family as my own, so her sacrifice wasn't in vain? Maybe she truly felt giving me up transferred her motherhood to an unrelated stranger? I'll never know. Our relationship was brief, and strained.

    I wanted to give her a great grandchild, but my kids didn't cooperate. She died 4 years after reunion, from liver disease caused by years of substance abuse.

    In my mind and heart, she was my mother. I have no idea what I was to her.

    1. Heartbreaking.

    2. Autumn, my heart always goes out to you x

  7. Congratulations on becoming a great-grandmother! Hiram is precious and I love his name!

    My son just came back from visiting his paternal family about a week ago. At 14 I'm sure he doesn't realize quite how special it is to have great-grandparents. He just knows that he loves his Memaw and Pepaw and that's that. Well and he loves that Pepaw lets him drive the golf cart around the property and he loves the breakfasts that Memaw makes him...lol. ;)

    Congratulations again Jane - I'm very happy for you!

  8. ...interesting, perhaps an unpopular view, but I have always felt like my son’s Mother, and would like nothing more than to be refered to as such. He was taken and hidden from me before I got a chance to nurture him , put a bandaid on his knee, take him to music lessons, or teach him to drive but I am still his Mother...and will always be. I’m his noun mother...the other lady is his verb mother. Yes, she was privileged to be able to nurture him...but any number of adoptive mothers could have done that. He could have easily gone with the previous couple...or the fifth set down the list if the ones that got him weren’t available when the agency called. I named him and they changed it....it was all they let me give him. I wish that gift had been honored. When pressed a few years ago, he asked her if she knew he HAD a name when they got him. She said she didn’t...but he claims he doesn’t believe it. And, it makes no sense to me either. He was three months old...did “Gramma Barnes Foster Home” just call him little baby blue eyes? He HAD a name...and no one wanted it. Anyway, though he has always introduced me as his Mother (with no qualifier) and often kiddingly claims I should do things for him because I’m his Mother ( like mend his shirt) AND calls me Mom when speaking to my other kids ( you gonna be at Mom’s for dinner?)..he is very careful to avoid addressing me as Mom directly and would rather lean on superlatives ( sugar, cutie, or Grammie, the name my grandson calls me) — but if all else fails, he will just use my first name. We’ve talked about it. We agree to disagree on how it affects our relationship of 30 years. I just do not accept that the criteria for being called Mother has to include nurture in addition to nature. Since the dawn of time, children..and infants have lost their Mothers and Grandmothers for a variety of reasons. Yet, ‘they’ are not immediately relegated to a first name basis. This is a construct of the adoption industry with it’s pathetic experiment of blank slate. It’s an attempt to punish us further for our ‘ sin’ of having an unmaned birth. It’s dismissive and disrespectful of our connection to our children. Adoptive mothers and step mothers, no matter how loving and nurturing will never replace the actual Mother of a child...as a child is born to only ONE Mother. Gracious, even Aunts and cousins and older siblings and Grandparents don’t insist on being called Mother if they have to take on the role of mothering in the wake of a tragic seperation of Mother and child.
    So, he calls me Nancy and in front of me, he calls his other mother by her first name, too. It’s a thorn in my side, admittedly —because I am his Mother. Yes, he has two...and as close as we are, he just struggles with the weight of the word. Maybe on my death bed.... In the meantime, I know who I am.
    Congratulations, Jane, on the further expansion of your wonderful family. Many years from now, that baby boy will
    look at his tree of life and see your name and know he is a part of you. Lucky kid !

    1. If adoptive parents called their adopted baby the same name the real mother had given him, that would be recognizing the baby's real mother was the reason he was alive. The baby's name at birth would have to be erased, so that the mother who carried him and birthed him could be erased. Not only was the legal surname of the baby erased, the given name was also erased. Erasure of the baby's given name enabled the desired amnesia for adoptive parents, who wanted to forget that the baby was not born to them.

      The institution of adoption is built on lies. I have always called my first-born "my son" because that is what he was and is. He is my natural son and nature doesn't lie.

      A picture is worth a thousand words, proven by Jane holding her great grandson and showing the joy of biological connection.

  9. This adopted person feels as you do. I do not think motherhood can be transferred or erased. Ever. By anything. I find the very idea to be ludicrous. I cannot understand people who can't see this, it seems so obvious to me.
    I also cannot understand why anyone would want to change that. Why would anyone want a stranger's child to call her mother. How can she stand to hear that lie everyday? Deceiving an innocent child like that.

    It seems so clear to me, that infant stranger adoption is so wrong, but it still goes on. Mothers are still deemed disposable. In both the adoption and surrogacy industries. Children are up for sale, and no one does a thing to stop it, because it makes money.

    I can only hope future society comes to its senses someday, but I don't think I'll live to see it.

    1. I feel the same as you Autumn.

    2. Language engineering and social engineering are so bound up with each other. They can obfuscate the truth.

      How else can the profound, unhealable grief at the core of adoption be explained without acknowledging that a mother and child were separated?
      What else explains the bond?

      I am never going to accept the terms of the oppressive adoption system.

      In mine and my son's life, a mother and child were separated. We have been damaged and altered by that, but altering the words for who we are to each other kicks over the tracks of what has been done.

    3. I love my original name. It's the truth and my mom who gave birth to me was my mom. When I lost the chance to have her no one else would do

  10. Congratulations, Jane. You are so lucky to be able to hold your great-grandchild. He is a cute little guy, enjoy him!

  11. Interesting that your daughter would refer to you as "Maraine", Lorraine. Not sure if you already knew this but "Marraine" in French means Godmother? I wonder if Jane knew.



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