Expat Sat: Something Gained…Mamahood

Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writing. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing and publishing to expat writers around the globe.

Last week I wrote about something lost (my ability to park a car) that contributed to something gained (the fact that I no longer care so much about fitting into a clearly demarcated parking spot—literally and metaphorically).

This week, as we move into Mother’s Day, the opposite: something gained…with a shadow of loss.


While living in Shanghai, my husband and I adopted our daughter from Vietnam. Like many couples that grapple with infertility, our journey to parenthood was long, tricky, and *&#(% frustrating. But on September 26, 2008, when the nanny at my daughter’s orphanage put her into my arms for the first time, I knew I would have moved mountains, parted seas, climbed beanstalks, chased down giants, wrestled tigers, and waited forever for her. (If you’re interested in reading about our first days as a family, click here.)

So each year since, on Mother’s Day, I close my eyes a gazillion times and quietly chant “Thank you, thank you, thank you” to whatever powers that be. But as I do, I also thank Tully’s birth mother back in Vietnam because I know I am not alone in this journey of growing this amazing child.

Each year as Tully gains a little more conscious understanding about what adoption means, I know that we scooch a little closer to her conscious understanding of the fact that in addition to me…Mumma…she had a birth mother…a woman who carried her in her womb before having to make the excruciating decision to give her up for adoption. And I know that no matter how much we prepare, that’s going to hurt and will be a thing for which Tully will have to find a peaceful place in her gorgeous heart and head.

This hit home yesterday when Tully brought me a Mother’s Day gift she made at preschool. Her teachers had printed a mommy poem on a piece of paper and tied the paper to a jar of homemade body scrub the kids had made.

A line in the poem reads: “And you gave life to me.”

Which just isn’t so. That honor belongs to her birth mother.

And I thought, wow, in a couple of years when Tully “gets” this poem, that line is going to have all kinds of connotations and will point to the fact that in this particular way, Tully is different from most of the kids in her class.


But when we get there, we’ll manage it with love and honesty. And probably tears and lots of talking.

Right now, my job is to ground Tully in her truth and our truth as a family. In our love.

Each night before bed, Tully now asks me to tell her “her story.” For kids born to biological parents, this is their birth story. For Tully, it’s her coming home story. Her adoption story.

“Two times,” she says every night before I begin.

“Two times,” I agree.

And then I tell it…just as she asks…two times…adding bits and pieces as I feel she’s ready.

It’s a beautiful story. A happy story. A sad story. A funny story. An adventurous story. A true story.

So happy Mother’s Day to all moms out there in the world. Motherhood is a shared experience…in more ways than one.



Q4U: Expats / Repats / Globetrotters: As I’ve written these two posts about things gained and lost, I’ve realized that very little in life has one without the other. What have you gained (with a touch of loss) during your life as an expat?


5 Responses to Expat Sat: Something Gained…Mamahood

  1. Happy Mother’s Day, Kristin. This is a beautiful testimonial. I feel the love rising off the page (or, well, screen). Thank you for sharing some of your story. I know you and Tully will face all that comes ahead – those conversations, the increasing understanding – with such honesty and grace.

    As for my own gains and losses – well yes, these two always seem tied. This past year has been one of the hardest of my life – and has also blessed me with many miracles. I’m thinking about how to express this in some of my own writing soon, too…be on the lookout!

  2. Thanks for sharing such a heartfelt story. With love and honesty, I am sure Tully will understand when the time come. She’s an amazing kid and you’re a terrific mom.

    Happy mamahood day!

  3. When I lived in the Philippines I was just a teenager. I found the experience invigorating- I was able to throw off the expectations my peers back home had for me and be who I wanted to be. I was not constrained by what others expected of me because my new friends did not have any particular expectations of me personally (though they did, of course, have certain expectation of me as an American).

    I experienced the biggest loss upon my return to the states when I realized I had been forever changed by my experiences and my peers just didn’t get me. I still experience that disconnect in certain situations. I find many people who have not lived overseas can’t fully understand some of the changes I experienced or my world view that was shaped by living as part of another culture.

    I have a relatively new friend with whom I was instantly comfortable. Of course, there are many reasons for this, but I was not at all suprised a couple of months into our friendship to learn she had lived overseas. We see the world through a similar lens that was in large part shaped by our experiences abroad.