The M Word: A Gay Dad’s Journey to Appreciating His Son’s Birthmother

July 20, 2015 | By Brent Almond | DAD STUFF, LESSONS LEARNED

Listen to Your Mother - The M Word - birthmother

I had the honor of participating in Listen To Your Mother – a curated show of readings about moms and motherhood. I was the only male in our cast, and I shared a bit of my journey regarding Jon’s birthmother.

I’ve not written much about this topic, for the sake of my son’s privacy as well as that of his birthmom. However, the events encapsulated in my 6-minute reading took several years in real time, and included a slew of emotions ranging from fear and resentment, to disappointment and anger.

Many adoptive parents struggle silently with guilt and confusion over how they think they should feel about their child’s biological parents, versus how they actually feel. I’m sharing this for those parents — so they won’t feel alone like I did so much of the time. So they’ll know there are no right or wrong ways to think and feel about these complicated relationships.

I may write about this more in time — particularly as it relates to being a gay dad. But for now, thank you for watching (or reading). And if you have one to share, I’d love to listen to your story, too.

The M Word

I am not a mother. What I am is a gay man, partnered for 17 years, legally married for one.

What I am is a father. A 45-year-old father of a 5-year-old boy. I’m being held together by Starbucks, Aleve and Just for Men.

And in our house, “mother” is referred to as…“The M Word.”

As in “Can I speak to his mother?”
“Is his mother dead?”
“Which one of you is ‘the mother’?”
“Daddy, when can
I get a mother?”

Nothing strikes more fear into the heart of a gay dad than “The M Word” issuing forth from the mouth of their child. When our infant son would make the “mama” sound, we’d correct him and say, “Not ‘mama,’…‘O-BAMA’.”

But I’ll bet you’re wondering, “Who IS his mother?”

His mother is a woman named Stef (not her real name) who selflessly made an adoption plan for her child, knowing she wasn’t equipped to offer him the best life, and wise enough to know someone else might be. She’s our Fairy Birthmother, granting a wish we could never fulfill ourselves. She’s a constant source of inspiration to me, and a loving presence in our son’s life. We treasure being able to share her with our son, so that he’ll grow up knowing what a brave and generous woman his mother is.

Yeah, that’s bullshit. That’s what I’m supposed to say.

As we started our journey to become dads, we read and heard a lot about open adoptions. Nearly every article spoke of a courageous birthmother, and the importance of raising your children to know and appreciate them. Stories of adoptive parents having Birth mom over for Thanksgiving dinner; parents sending their child on long walks with their bio-moms, creating opportunities for them to bond and ask questions and find comfort in knowing from whence they came. Some even treated as full-fledged members of the family.

But reading all this heartwarming wonderfulness left a knot in my stomach. This was NOT in my plan.

I didn’t want to spend years and years, and thousands upon thousands of dollars — not to mention a lifetime of dreaming of being a dad — to then have to share my child with someone else. And someone with questionable parenting skills, at that.

In actuality, my son’s mother is a woman named Stef (still not her real name). When we met her, she lived in a dilapidated trailer that reeked of cigarettes, as well as several cats and ferrets. Frayed electrical wires jutted from the walls; the stove looked like a bomb had detonated on it; clothes and toys and dirty dishes were piled like anthills throughout. And it was depressingly, darkly lit.

At 25 years old, Stef brought a son into the world. Four months later she found herself pregnant again. Another four months, and her son was taken by the state and placed in foster care, classified as “failure to thrive.”

Failure to thrive – in this instance – is defined as an infant who is born healthy, but due to neglect is below the 5th percentile in height and weight. The boy was so malnourished that his cheek muscles were too weak to hold a pacifier.

Stef was then told there were 2 options regarding her unborn baby: she could make an adoption plan, or her second child would also be taken by the state.

She of course chose adoption, and ultimately, thankfully, chose us to be his parents.

But was that really “making a brave choice,” or was it just complying with a legally mandated ultimatum? Why and how was I supposed to appreciate that? Why and how was I supposed to raise my child to appreciate her?

I get open adoption, in concept. Full disclosure, honesty is the best policy, and all that. Family secrets can be devastating — because they always get discovered anyway.

Yet in any other circumstance, this is someone I would protect my child from, not sign a contract to bring him to meet her every year until he turns 18. And yet — we longed to be fathers, and we loved this child from the moment we met him. And all our research and experts and attorneys and social workers said open adoption was best. So we made that promise — to annually travel cross-country so our little boy could spend time with the woman who gave birth to him.

How do I reconcile these conflicting feelings? How do I find a way to show gratitude to a person I struggle not to resent?

I do it because I have to, if I want to be a good father. And because it’s my son’s story, not mine.

I will keep my judgment and my fear, my resentment and my insecurity from my son; instead hashing and laying it all out with my husband, my therapist, you fine folks.

My son’s story is that he has 2 parents — a Daddy and a Papa. And he also has a birthmother. An imperfect, struggling, human birthmother. There’s no getting around it, denying it, hoping it will go away. Not without creating a lifetime of secrecy, potentially damaging the very relationship I’m so desperate to protect.

It’s my job as his dad to share his story with him, while allowing it to be truly his, unfiltered by my own bias.

So if you don’t mind, I need to talk to my son for a minute.

Hey buddy, Daddy wants to tell you something. I am so grateful for Stef, and that she is your birthmother. She wasn’t able to care for you, so she chose me and Papa to be your parents. Without her, we wouldn’t be a family. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me, and I’ll be grateful to her for the rest of my days.

And you should be, too.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I extend my deepest gratitude to Ann Imig, founder of Listen to Your Mother, and to my producer, director and castmates from the DC show. Thank you, ladies, for letting me into this wonderful sorority and allowing me to witness first-hand all the strength and weakness, ferocity and vulnerability, laughter and tears that a woman can possess. It was truly a privilege.

Listen to Your Mother - The M Word - birthmother

Please take some time to watch the other videos from the Listen to Your Mother DC cast. I promise you will not leave unaffected.
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Ticket sales from our show benefited My Sister’s Place, DC’s oldest domestic violence shelter. Please consider volunteering or making a donation to My Sister’s Place.

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14 responses to “The M Word: A Gay Dad’s Journey to Appreciating His Son’s Birthmother”

  1. Emily H. says:

    So poignant. Thank you for sharing this!

  2. David k says:

    Boy did that hit home on many fronts for me being an adopted child as well. No matter how old we get, (I am in my late 50’s), the question surrounding our birth and subsequent adoptions is never fully answered for many of us. Your son is lucky to have you as his parent and for giving him the knowledge you have of his birth mother which he may not yet fully understand , but hopefully, will in time.

  3. Neal says:

    As we near the start of getting placements in the foster system, this stuff has been weighing heavy on my mind. Your concluding thoughts seem exactly right. But certainly not easy. I think there’s the extra difficulty of realizing that fostering/adopting in reality means not just bringing in a kid to love and care for . . . it means somehow negotiating the minefield of tricky biological family relationships and baggage, possibly forever.

    I’m starting to sweat just thinking about it. This is not easy for an introvert, as I’m sure you know. I hope I can find in myself the attitude that you’ve ultimately found.

  4. John Kinnear says:

    Beautiful post Brent. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Meghan says:

    Oh, that was beautiful. Authentic and raw and beautiful. I’m a foster mother (my husband and I hope to adopt), and your words struck a chord with me. I was a part of this year’s LTYM show in the Lehigh Valley. If you’re interested, here is the link to my post, where I talk about how we prepared my biological son for the possibility of adopting his sibling from the foster care system: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TgxlBTDofAs&index=12&list=PL5oPQWgVdsDnvr5TPNgXzFNAlKhoE8BBw

  6. Susan says:

    I adopted my son at 9 months old from kazakhstan, so I never met his birthparents. When he was five, he was diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome. This came as a complete shock to me. Initially I was so angry that when I told my family and friends about his diagnosis, I referred to his birthmother using an especially offensive swear word. how could she do this to my son?

    My son is 14 and now knows that some of his problems are due to the fact that his birthmother drank alcohol while she was pregnant with him. He doesnt ye know what you mean about the standard narrative about birthmothers – the selflessness of their decision. To me that doesn’t really apply to us. I don’t know what her motives were in doing what she did; I’m just glad she did it.That’s about all I say when we discuss her.

  7. Susan says:

    Sorry, I screwed that up. What I meant to say was he doesn’t yet know that she walked away from the hospital and never came back. I know what you mean about the standard narrative about birthmothers. That doesn’t apply to us.

    The rest of what I wanted to say is included in my original comment.

  8. Lisa says:

    I’m in tears… I can’t even imagine what you and Nick must go through when you have to go there and take JJ. I am so proud to call you my friend and I have seen the love that you and Nick have for JJ and that he has for you and feel like something’s while hard to get to were just meant to be. I can’t even let myself imagine if you hadn’t been in the right place at the right time in your lives where that sweet boy would be today.

  9. Elaine A. says:

    I so appreciate your honesty and my hat is off to you for sharing your story. This is the beauty of LTYM. And for the record, we’ve had a man in our cast both years and I just love it. I am so glad you had a great experience in DC and your reading is wonderful!

    -Elaine

  10. […] Watch the video for his full story, or bump over to his site and read his intro and the full transcript. […]

  11. wow. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It must have been a little hard but I guess it is totally worthwhile. I checked the pictures of your son as well and I guess that little smile on his face makes everything you do so worth while I suppose.

  12. […] “Designer Daddy”) read an amazing piece as part of Listen to Your Mother called “The M Word: A Gay Dad’s Journey to Appreciating His Son’s Birth Mother.” It’s a touching tale, and the video is finally […]

  13. Jim says:

    Such a moving – and beautifully honest – account. My son has the world’s best moms, and even in our complexly loving circumstance sharing is often very difficult. Thank you for putting such harmonious words to the discordant feelings that many parents (traditional, foster, adoptive, compound and other) deal with on a daily basis. XO

  14. […] A while back I was inspired by a fellow gay dad blogger and his piece on this very subject – in fact, I am re-using his title with his permission of course. Designer Daddy talks about his son’s birth mother and their struggle with the M-word. […]

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