Tuesday, March 26, 2013

"My Name is not Mom": Why Identity is so Important to me

"Hi, are you mom?"

"My name is Amanda.  I am W's mom."

"OK mom.  I'm your son's nurse.  I'll be taking care of him today."

My son recently returned home after both of us had a week-long stay at the hospital.  He was the patient recovering from the effects of a virus on his little body.  I was the worried parent by his side.  During our ordeal, the above scenario played out over and over again, with a few exceptions, each time I would meet a new professional that needed to interact with my son.

All of the professionals were both kind and knowledgeable.  The people who stood out to me the most were the ones who called me by my name, not "mom."  Calling me "mom" may have been their way of affirming an important role I have in my son's life.  However, calling my by my actual name instead is a matter of showing respect.  I am not their mom, I am my son's mom.

Yet this isn't a conversation about respect; it is a conversation about identity.  "Mom" isn't who I am; it is part of who I am.  It is one element of my identity that intersects with other elements.  I am a proud mother to my children.  I am also a social worker, a health care professional, a student, a daughter, a wife, and more.  When you understand all of the roles I hold, you understand what strengths, support, and resources I bring to the table to help with my son's care.

Calling me "Amanda" acknowledges the entirety of who I am.  Calling me "mom" isolates me from the rest of my identity.

When it comes to the adoption community, it's absolutely accurate to say that I choose to focus intensely on just one area of my identity.  Initially, I did this because it was an area of my overall identity that needed focus.  Once upon a time, I equated "empowerment" with "sameness."  By ignoring adoption's relevance in my life, I felt I could feel more like the biologically-connected families around me that I observed.  I know I am not alone in this.  So many people believe that they cannot talk about diversity for fear of overlooking a person's humanity.

What I missed out on was this simple truth.  We are, without question, all equally human.  We must not forget that part of affirming our humanity is acknowledging our human experiences--experiences that are not all the same.  Ignoring where my experiences are not the same may make someone more comfortable, but it doesn't benefit me.  My experience in life as an adopted person is different from the experience of someone who is not adopted.  By overlooking this part of my life, the "adoptee" portion of my identity was left sorely underdeveloped.

I continue the discussion of being adopted and identity on this blog to do my part to inspire dialogue.  While I am now talking about being adopted just as I speak of any other part of my identity, the rest of the world is still not talking regularly about adoption.  Adoptees, original family members, and adoptive family members tend to be received in one of two ways in a society that doesn't regularly talk about adoption.  We may be isolated within our role in adoption where people are unable to see anything but adoption as an explanation for who we are and what we do.  We may also be isolated from our role within adoption where people overlook this element of our identity and perhaps even push us to believe that our connection to adoption is not a relevant part of our lives.

My wish is for more people to see others in a way that respects the intersection of all of their aspects of identity that help make them who they are.  Isolating a person within one role is to say their needs are simplistic and that they, and anyone else likewise isolated, can be addressed through generalizations.  Overlooking areas of a person's identity, shying away from conversations about diversity, means we can't acknowledge all of their human experiences.  We can't realize all of a person's strengths or validate what a person has overcome.  We must push to move past this.  It starts with one simple conversation "tell me who you are, how you identify, and what your experience is like.  You are important to me."