On Being Made Real


“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day.

When you’re 9 years old and a girl, I suppose being an emotional wreck is to be expected.

Ah, heck.

When you’re 37 years old and girl, I suppose being an emotional wreck is to be expected.

But sometimes, it’s hard to know which 9-year-old wrecks are I Stubbed My Toe And That’s A Great Excuse To Let Go Of The Emotional Mess Smouldering Inside Me,

and which wrecks are Real.

Yeah, yeah.  I know they’re all real.  But the Real real ones are those that will haunt my daughter into adulthood.  The ones that have Serious Potential for me the mama to Screw Up.

The other night, my Aden missed her birthmom.  Aden and Ian share a birthmom, so it was a natural conversation for the three of us to have together, and soon Ian was snuggled up, all ears.  There I sat, on the ground in the hallway next to the piles and piles of dirty laundry, with two kids missing their birthmom and asking questions.

I genuinely love moments like that.  It’s epically, gigantically important to me to talk to my kids about birthparents and adoption, and I’m grateful for every opportunity they give me.

But I almost Screwed It Up.  Especially when Ian kept asking about his “real mom.”

Now, I don’t always know where kids pick up their terminology, but I can tell you that we’ve never referred to my kids’ birthmoms as the “real” moms.  Mostly because I don’t want to be… what?  The fake mom?  The pretend mom?  The long-term sub?


I’m the Real Mom.  That’s me.  My title.  Real Mom.

And she’s the birthmom or the biological mom.  I cherish her.  I’m grateful to her.  I cry for her, and I honor her.

But I’m the Real Mom.

Every adoptive mom I know thinks about how she’ll respond to “real momness.”  Whether the question comes from a stranger at the grocery store.  (“Are those kids your own?”  “Why, yes.  Yes, they are.”) Or from my child.

So I felt very prepared for Ian’s “real mom” reference.  I could finally use the clever responses I’ve honed over the years!  Yay!

“Real mom?  Real mom??”  I said to Ian.  “Who wiped your poopy bottom?  Huh?  Who works with you on homework?  Who buys your groceries, and kisses your owies, and makes you bathe?  Sorry, pal.  I’m your real mom, and you’re stuck with me.”

I smiled and winked.  And Ian smiled back, because he understood.  That kind of easy, breezy answer was just what he wanted.  He wanted to know that I am content and confident in my real momness, and that’s what he got.

But Aden continued to cry, and my light answer failed to soothe her.  Because kids are different.  They grow at different rates, and they have different needs.

My snappy, clever reply was neither snappy nor clever when held to the light of her need to be heard.  It didn’t dry the tears or diminish her pain.

And that’s when I realized that this mom, Real or not, was too hasty.

I was too quick to talk about my own selfish need to be Real.  And too slow to listen to my daughter’s Real sense of loss.

Sometimes, I wish for a word that can describe the plummeting of my heart or the way my gut can turn itself upside down when I’m ashamed of myself.  Other times, I’m glad there’s no word for that.

I slowed down, and I shut up.

I listened to Aden talk about her hurt and her pain.  Which everyone knows is not my best thing.  I like to fix those things, not lay them all out on the table to discuss.

As I listened, I reevaluated what I think about being Real and my own selfishness in hogging that title for Just Me.

And I told the truth as far and as best as I understood it in that moment.  Which is a different truth than the one I’ve been reciting in my head all these years.

I told Aden the truth that all of us are Real.  And that there’s room in the Real pool for more than just one mama.

Your birthmom is your Real mom, Aden.  She grew you inside of her own flesh, and she gave you the gift of life, which is something I couldn’t do for you.  Nothing will change that or take it away from you or her.  That’s Real life.  Her story will always be part of yours.  And stories are things we get to keep forever.

And I’m your Real mom, too.  I get to love you and parent you every day.

You know what else is Real, Miss Aden?  Holding the loss and love of your first Real Mom alongside the love of your Me Real Mom in your heart.  Because it’s not an either/or.  It’s a both/and.  Love and loss.  Pain and joy.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.  When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.

Sending love today to my kids’ other Real moms,



Quotes are from the beloved children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams. Interestingly, the book’s alternative title was How Toys Become Real. The artwork above is by the original Velveteen Rabbit illustrator, Sir William Nicholson.

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57 responses to “On Being Made Real”

  1. just read this on iamnotababysitter.com and thought i would copy and paste what i wrote in her comments, being that it originates with you. thank you.:

    “wow….. just came to your blog for the first time tonight after a dear friend said she had been here, and was enjoying it so. thought i would have a look and read along. was drawn to this post by the title…..i am a birthmum. i have an incredibly open, wonderful relationship with my birth daughter. i have never missed a second of her life (well, from under different roofs). “adoption” is a word i don’t often like to use in terms of our relationship, as it seems to so quickly put ideas in people’s minds of what our (her and i) relationship is like—it is SO open and SO REAL. but this post reached a little place inside of me still; and tears welled up in my eyes—as, although it has been the most open, wonderful relationship ever, i have still often felt….well…yes, that I AM NOT the REAL mum. i am so, so honored to be her birth mum, and her very good friend, and i would never want her mum [adoptive] to not feel like her REAL mum…..IT was lovely to read ‘the other side of the story’….and SOOOOO sweet to read the response Beth had—–indeed, we are both REAL—just in very different ways. and i LOVE that i am very REAL to her in a very REAL relationshsip. thank you for sharing.”

  2. This moved me to tears. Yes! It doesn’t have to be either/or. It can be both/and. Such wise words. My mother died of cancer when I was 5, and my dad married my stepmom when I was 10. I’ve never liked to call her my stepmom, because I loved and accepted her like a “real mom” months before the wedding ever took place. But despite that, blended families can be awkward, and human insecurity can get in the way of deep bonding. I like your approach. Why can’t I have two real moms? The one whom I will always cherish and honor for giving me life, even though I have only a handful of memories of her, and the one whom God brought to me when I so desperately needed her? Kudos to you for pushing your needs aside and hearing your daughter’s heart.

  3. I am a 57 year old adoptee. My REAL parents are the ones who adopted me, but I also hold a special place in my heart for my birth parents. They married way too young and were wild. Yet years later when I found my birth mother she sent me my original birth certificate from the hospital with my baby footprints and my baby picture. You will never know how much that meant to me and how it healed a broken place in my heart. My adopted mom–who adopted three of us at one time–never wanted us to think about other parents, but she was very wise, and put our feelings and needs first. She encouraged me in my search. I love her more than I can say!!

  4. Amen for both/and. Joy/Sorrow. Real/Biological/Step/Surrogate/Adopted MOM!
    For the aunties who are mommies for weekends and those of us who got to be a mom for a season. For those who call themselves bonus moms instead of stepmom. For those who are forever mothers in their hearts but never in their arms & days. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Wow, what a beautiful story! And the way you referenced the Velveteen Rabbit–perfect. I admire adoptive parents so much–have a feeling I might become one someday myself. Thank you for this encouragement for parents to listen to their daughters, to let go of our own selfish needs. Visiting from Gypsy Mama today–and so glad I did!

  6. I’m a 41 year-old adopted baby girl, and I just started dealing with my feelings about being adopted about four years ago when my brother died. I think part of the reason the Lord had me “hold off” on such an important thing is my adopted/real/in-my-life mom’s insecurity. I don’t think she could have handled my questions when I was younger. She would have considered my need to know about my birthmom as some kind of shortcoming on her part.

    But now, I think Mom knows that it’s a natural thing for me to need information, for me to need to ponder about the one whose heartbeat I heard everyday for nine months.

    I think about my birth mom a lot these days. I’d love to wrap my arms around here and thank her for bringing me into the world. I hope I get that chance one day, but I’m also grateful to be able to love on the woman I’ve called Mom for almost 42 years. I’ve been nursing her back to health from surgery the last few days, and the time with her has been precious. She’s 79 years old now…who knows how many more years I’ll have with her. Can’t waste a one. 🙂

    Blessings to you and your children! LeeBird

  7. Thank you for this post. Your blog was directed to me by a close friend. She knew I could probably identify with you on a few levels. All three of my children are adopted through the state foster system, and two of the three are full blood siblings. Thank you for your very real words of dealing with questions about adoption and birth parents.

  8. WOW! So wonderfully portrayed to hear Aden’s heart and be willing to bear that pain with her! I love how you welcomed her need and layed yourself open to her. Well done! You have moved me deeply about carrying one another’s burdens, being willing to share in the pain no matter the cost. Love You, Mom

  9. So when I was eight, my mom died of liver failure. Drank herself to death. I have no bonding/warm memories of her. My dad married my step-mom, Trudi, when I was ten. When I was in my thirties I realized who my “real mom” was, and started calling Trudi “Mom,” which she absolutely loved, since she had no biological children of her own. But still, there is something deep and mysterious that bonds me to my biological mom. And it’s real. Something important happened in her womb between me, her, and God. Thanks for these thought provoking and wonderful thoughts, Beth.

    • Paul, I’m so grateful to you for sharing from your heart. What an achingly beautiful story… even in the sorrow of it. My kids’ stories, especially my two from this story, have a mixed and hard history, and it’s hard to know what they do and don’t remember, and even whether what we “know” is true. So we just try to honor their feelings and to be open when they talk. But it’s a balm to my soul when I get to hear from the rare person who will share the bitter with the sweet… because then I know that they and we are not alone in the sorrow, or the pain, or the beauty that we find from the people who can love us. Thank you, thank you for sharing.

  10. Wow, Beth. Thank you for this post. I have other BIG, tough questions come my way, and reading this just brought me to tears. You are incredible, and I am thankful for you!

  11. This needs to be published and Aden needs her own chickens. There. I said it in both places. I really mean it about the “needs to be published” thing too. And not only in adoption journals, but elsewhere as well.

  12. Cherish the Velveteen Rabbit one of my favorite quotes is:

    “Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
    -Skin Horse

    great job Beth!

  13. I loved your story about Real. Let me share one of mine.
    Even now, when my adopted son is 37, I’m sometimes jealous of the birth mom who hopped back into his life when he was grown. They are “friends” on Facebook and she and her horribly drug affected children contact him sometimes. Once I got angry and reminded him crossly that I am his mom! He gently told me, “I know that, Mom, and I love you to pieces. But those people are so messed up and have nothing worthwhile in their lives. I would never be mean or hurt them.” And that’s my son, a good and gentle man, a good father, a responsible husband. And, by the way, the best son in the world!

    • Andrea, what an amazing story and beautiful response from your son. You raised a great man. That’s my fondest dream… to raise men and women who are compassionate and open. Beautiful… and beautiful mamas who learn lessons at all stages of life! Right? Right.

  14. Oh Beth, this is just beautiful! How strong you are to offer these words of love and wisdom to your babes. And I love the Velveteen Rabbit story. Such wonderful writing and storytelling Beth. Thank you for sharing!

  15. This is beautiful, Beth. Aden is so blessed that you have the insight to know when she needs you to pay attention and listen to her feelings. It’s hard to imagine the pain and confusion involved in understanding loving adoption alongside the loss of that important mom figure. Blessings on you both.

  16. This post brought me to tears. Moving through our adoption process, I have often thought of those moments I will have with my own child where I may feel a bit, if I’m honest, jealous of the feelings he may have toward his birth mom. Thank you for reminding me that each of us will all carry a very REAL role in his life, and that there is no need to be jealous, but THANKFUL that birth mom could bring our sweet kiddo into the world for us to love on. Big hugs, sweet Beth.

  17. I want to write a response, but your insight, words, and Real Love have touched my soul so intensly I am speechless. Blessings Beth.

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