When my son Henry was a year old I took him to Boston to meet my mother. She didn’t show up. It turned out that she had gone to Foxwoods Casino instead, which sounds bad and maybe was, but it had been three years since I’d seen her or even spoken to her; we wouldn’t see each other for seven more. I couldn’t blame her for trying her luck elsewhere.
“Birth mother” doesn’t seem the right term for her and neither does “biological mother,” which implies an adoption story. “Real mother” forgets my stepmother, who has been in my life since I was three. I never know how to refer to the woman who gave birth to me, who was my first mother, who did not leave me but was left by me. Sometimes I say “Boston mother,” deflecting any sense of claim onto geography even though she ended up there not by choice, exactly, but by resettlement efforts years after the end of the war in Viet Nam.
This is a story I keep having to tell because I’m trying to understand it. Because there is no getting away from our origin stories.