For the Love of a First Mom [Birth Mom]


Last Friday my son arrived home from school with a friend. He opened the front door, calling out, “Hi, Mom!” Turning to his friend, he added, “Dude, I have two moms. That means I have eight grandparents.”

His friend casually replied, “Yeah, I know,” as they dropped their backpacks in the middle of the entryway and headed to the kitchen.

Earlier that morning, before leaving for school, he gave me a big hug and said, “I love you Mom, you’re my best mom right here.” I said, “I love you, too, so very much.”

I love this son of mine like crazy and he loves me back. He also loves his Ethiopian mommy, his first mom, who cared for him as he grew in her body and then for the first month of his life.

We honor the love he has and the bond they share.

We traveled to Ethiopia to bring him home when he was four months old.  We wanted to meet his mother, if possible, and we wanted her to meet us.

Thankfully, after searching, following leads, and traveling, we found Miheret. We met each other and she was able to say goodbye.

We haven’t heard from her in a number of years and I pray we will.

I accept Facebook friend requests from anyone who may be remotely related to her, just in case.

My son’s heart longs to connect with her, talk with her, and hopefully see her again.

He once told me that when he’s grown he plans to live with her part of the year and take care of her, and then live with us the rest of the year. He has a beautiful heart.

More Than One Family

Our children have more than one family – their families of origin and their families by adoption. They are connected to both by invisible bonds.

We cannot deny this. Even when it is uncomfortable, painful, frightening, or threatening to our role as parents, we must open our hearts wide and let them express their feelings about their birth/first families.

Some children have memories they can recall, others, like my son, have pre-verbal memories from when they were very young. Those memories may not be easily accessible, but they are stored in their brains.

Some children’s first families hurt them making this far more complicated. But our children know they were created by these parents, and born to these parents.

When we dishonor the ones who made them, they may feel deep in their core we are dishonoring something inherent in them.

This can be complicated stuff pulling our hearts in lots of directions. It’s a good idea to have an adoptive mom friend and support each other as we process through our thoughts and feelings.

First Mom

As a first mom myself, you would think this would be easy, but that’s not always true.

This same son once innocently asked me, with no harm intended, when I was going to take him back to his mom in Ethiopia. I hardly knew what to say and had to collect myself before answering.

And on the tumultuous occasions when a child has thrown the “You’re not my real mom!” dagger, it has struck my heart with force strong enough to nearly take my breath away.

Like I said, have a good friend, a safe friend, who will let you pour out your heart and speak truth to you.

Reaching Out

This morning I pulled up an email sent to me four years ago from a friend of my son’s mother. It’s the last communication we received.

I wrote an email asking about her, saying it’s important to our family, to our son.

Then I searched for her on Facebook – something I do from time to time, never with success.

I trust God’s timing and his plan for my son’s life. I also know my son trusts me; when we pray for his mother and I say I care about her, I need to be sure it’s true.

It is a weighty honor to be an adoptive mother; I carry it with an open heart.

This is what is on my mind this Monday morning – hearts full of love and longing, mothers – all of us [birth/first, adoptive, foster], our children, family and the bonds connecting us.

Questions: How do you feel about your children’s first families? Do you have communication? Relationships? Do you wish you did/didn’t?

I would love to hear from you.


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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.


  1. Emily
    June 5, 2017

    I love the way you guys honor your kids’ first moms/families!

    Love you all.

    PS remind Gauyu he has godparents in Oregon too 😉

  2. Bev
    June 6, 2017

    Our children are all adults now, and each has formed their own relationship with their first parents. Two (birth siblings) have had strong relationships with grandparents and on and off relationships with their mother. With the third, we have become a sort of go-between with the first mother, when navigating that relationship has become difficult.

    I’m thankful for your writing on this topic and for your openness to your children’s love for their other parents. Something has always struck me as fear based and not quite true in the assertions that “I am your REAL mom!” Who is real? Who isn’t real? I’m the mom who is currently in the room, but there is another mom who is real, not imaginary, in the world. Her life has an impact on this child, certainly, but also on my whole family. Since we adopted through foster care, I have the privilege of knowing without doubt that my children were loved. The reasons for them being with me were outside of that fact. Arguing with the child about something that is deeply part of their being doesn’t offer them an opportunity to be heard or to see us joining with them.

    That said, easier said than done. “You’re not my real mom!” is never said at a time when there is not other stress already escalating emotions. We parents hear it as a threat to our ability to make important parental decision regarding the safety and emotionally healthy atmosphere of our homes. It is a trump card in some respects.

    It comes out of hard emotions, and it also creates hard emotions. One of my children uses it against his first mom sometimes.

    What you are addressing is so important. We don’t want to get into a fight about who is real. We can maintain our responsibility to set reasonable boundaries while still affirming that our child and our child’s first parent suffered a primal loss.

    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 6, 2017

      Bev, I agree with all you’ve said here. The idea of the “real mom” is interesting because we’re all “real” and moms in our own ways, even if only for a time with some children we love but may not get to parent for their entire childhood and into adulthood. I love that you are still supporting your adult kids in their relationships with their first families. Thank you for commenting – I always love hearing from you!

  3. Emily
    June 6, 2017

    I almost never, ever reply to one blog post with another, but these are some of my favourite thoughts on this topic. Stumbling across this several years ago has tucked a lot of wisdom away for me, to be pulled up at unexpected times – like when eating spaghettios. (Did you get that email, Lisa?)

    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 6, 2017

      Love that link – thank you, Emily. Yes! The spaghettio story is great. Thank you!

  4. Emily
    June 6, 2017

    Your thoughts here about origins and family bonds are profound and important. “When we dishonor the ones who made them, they may feel deep in their core we are dishonoring something inherent in them.” In some ways, I think you give voice here to so many children who don’t have the capacity to articulate what you have said. Thank you for writing for them (and every mother) today!

    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 6, 2017

      You’re welcome, Emily. I hope this is helpful to parents and anyone working with children who have been adopted or are in foster care. I’ve thought a lot about this, as you can imagine.

  5. Durga
    June 7, 2017

    Mom’s love is definitely not replaceable. And that too first mom’s love not at all replaced. And it was great to hear about the understanding you have and even honoured it and made space for her in your child’s life. This not just got him first moms love but also influence his thinking towards family relationships and bonding with your view on the family bonding.

  6. Katrina Rauch
    June 9, 2017

    I feel conflicted about this subject, and I know God is working something out in my heart. Refining and sanctification happening in real time! I love the idea of there being unity and relationship between birth family and adoptive family but…
    My son came to us out of a foster home. He was neglected, abused and exposed to drugs and violence for the first year of his life.
    An adoptive family we love and deeply respect encouraged us to pray over him and proclaim to him that he is ours and he that he is fully part of us, free from the home full of fear and hatred.
    I think a big question in his mind is, “was I loved?” It’s closely associated with a question in his soul, “am I lovable?” Did his biological parents love him? In my opinion, no. In general they did not love him like they should have.
    So when his birth mom calls and wants to talk with him. I say no. It’s not in his best interest to be exposed to her drug induced lies. I struggle to show her love. I struggle to forgive her for not protecting my son. Am I wrong for wishing she would stop trying to contact us?

    1. Pam
      June 12, 2017

      To Katrina: This is my opinion and my experience only, so take it for what it is worth. There are some bio parents who truly didn’t care or even know how to love their little ones. To provide a fairy tale dialogue with your children about them would only devastate them as adults when they see the truth. But, sometimes you can arrange the truth to help both the bio parents and your children. “Your mom and/or dad hadn’t been shown how to love you in a positive caring way, but if they had, they would have loved you completely because you are just so lovable!” OR “Your mom and/or dad have been unable to have a healthy lifestyle, so let’s pray for them to someday become whole again.” (By the way, anytime we can pray for someone who brings us sorrow, helps us as much as it helps them.) To the calling bio parent – encourage them to become all that they were meant to be (through God) because when your child becomes an adult they will want to meet the bio parent and possibly have a friendship with them. Let them know you are praying that their lifestyle will change to a healthy one, so that in a few years that meeting can be all that the child might expect it to be.
      Because my own kids’ parents are in my family, they see them/talk to them often, and it takes the mystery out of it. One thing I have going for me is that my kids see the difference between our lifestyle and their bio parents’ lifestyle and are very thankful they don’t live with their bio parents. Even their little brother who does live with bio parents sees the difference and often wants to come visit us.
      It is hard to walk tall, with our head held high, when inside our hearts are bruised and fearful; but continue on the path because 20 years from now your kids will know who really and truly loved them and sacrificed for them.

  7. Katy
    May 6, 2020

    Thank you so much for this post! We see my son’s birth family (maternal side) whenever we drive through their area. We live overseas, so every 2-3 years. He has lots of memories with them and always looks forward to the visits.
    Something that hit me when we adopted him was that it’s not just his mom who felt the loss, but Grandma, an Aunt and Uncle who had cared for him for awhile and cousins who thought of him as a brother.
    In my heart I have to remind myself it’s not about me or her, he can love us both.
    For our particular case, keeping in contact seems to be a good thing, for the family, for him and even for us as parents getting an even better picture of what his first several years were like.

    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 6, 2020

      Thank you for sharing a bit of your story, Katy. I’m always thankful to see adoptive families open their hearts to their child’s first family. Our children can’t have too much love.


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