Right before Thanksgiving, Rebecca's birthmom Mallory came to town with her mom Kelly, husband Mark, and best friend Becky. We had a great visit over four days -- no drama, we're all really easy with each other at this point. One complicated thing did happen, though. Bebe's talking now, and she had to come up with a name for Mallory.
I was the one who decided on "Tummy Mommy." Mallory herself seemed okay with "Mallory," though she tends to refer to herself as "Mom" in letters and gifts to Bebe. We've talked about this and emailed about it; though it's hard for both of us to share the glorious and exclusive title "Mom," we agree that it's reality -- Bebe has two moms, a birthmom and an everyday mom, and that's what we're going to teach her. But there does need to be a distinction between us -- we're two different kinds of mom. So one day during the visit while I was changing Bebe's diaper, I discussed this with my darling tiny one.
"What would you like to call Mallory?" I said.
"Mallo...mommo...." she said.
"How about birthmommy?"
She gave that a try. Didn't really come out right.
"You could call her Mallory."
"Mall....maaa...," couldn't get her tongue around that "L."
"Well, how about Tummy Mommy?"
The name immediately tripped off Bebe's tongue. Is it the primal connection those dreaded anti-adoption theorists talk about -- does she understand, at not quite two, that she came from this woman's insides? Or js it just the fact that "T" is easier than "B" or "L"? The fact is, when my pal Nick visited a few days later, she got hold of his name -- "Nicky, Nicky!! -- and was chanting it like he was a member of *NSync within fifteen minutes.
Anyway, it worked. Tummy Mommy was (re)born.
Mallory loved it, and everybody else thought it was cute. Only after I heard Bebe say it for the thousandth time during the visit, and also afterwards, did I feel a twinge of regret. Perhaps helping her choose a term for her birthmom that highlights the very thing I feel the most horrible about -- her fertility, my infertility -- was a mistake.
I love Bebe like nothing and no one else (sorry Eric, it's not better, it's DIFFERENT), but the fact that I am not her Tummy Mommy, or anyone's, will sting 'til the day I die. And now I have to deal with her wandering around the house saying "Tummy Mommy" when she sees something that reminds her of Mallory.
The social workers say this about open adoption: "You're doing the work now for your child, so she won't have to do it later." I believe that. But full disclosure can be a bitch. How do I retrain my brain to welcome non-hierarchical thinking? Not better, different. That's my mantra.
In my heart I know that sharing this "mom" role is not just the only possibility, it's the best one for Bebe, and for me. I am not good at lying. I like to expose my faults and shortcomings and discuss them with others; I'm a sucker for group hugs. I've only kept one or two secrets ever, and they're not about me. To pretend I'm a Tummy Mommy would be to torture myself even more.
Still, I wish. I want to put that wish behind me. "Tummy Mommy" playing in the background like a Beatles song, sticking in my head, emanating from the mouth of the child I am loving and raising every night and day, forces me to accept the fact that, like all humans but in my own particular agonizing way, I'm imperfect, incomplete, fucked up. And that our family has to build its magic circle in a way that a lot of families don't.
Today Bebe said her first sentence: "Tummy Mommy went far away." She looked oddly happy when she said it, I think because she was just proud of herself for stringing together that many words in a coherent order. Later, she said the neighbor's cat looked sad. Oh, dear. I can feel years of my projecting feelings onto her that she may or may not have, starting right about now.
Mallory's back in two weeks for Bebe's birthday. We're all in this together, thank goodness. "Tummy Mommy," the name and the person, is here to stay, and though it can be tough, I'm preparing for the next round in this lifelong process of fitting together.