My Other Mother

Sunday, 01 November 2009 18:42 Written by  Whitney Nolan

Today my birth mom sent me flowers.

It’s not my birthday, Valentine’s Day or any other special occasion. “OOOO Whitney, who are those from?” I would nonchalantly shrug my shoulders and lie, “Oh, I don’t know…there wasn’t a card,” not caring that the card was in plain view and not caring if they saw it. It was my business, and it was a part of my life I was trying to forget.

My “mommy” raised me around my biological mother so I wouldn’t grow up without knowing where I came from. She didn’t want to place the heavy burden of deceiving me and finally confessing that she wasn’t my real mother, like most adoptive parents do, but what she failed to realize is that an even heavier burden weighs me down. It was always hard and confusing, sharing my very “special” circumstances, forcing myself to act as if my childhood was an adventure, forcing myself to alter the truth, but most of all forcing myself to think that she would return to me, that she would change.

When I was growing up, the kids at school wanted to know, “Who is that lady with your mom. Is she your aunt or something? You look like her,” or “Who is that lady yelling and screaming?” All of those embarrassing traits that my biological mother possessed made kids question me, and some were even mean to me. It wasn’t her yelling or screaming that made me hate her--it was her smell, her touch…the face that we shared. What could I say to the kids? “Well, the crazy lady who comes to school is Carol, my mom, and when I was little she gave me away.” They wouldn’t understand. They couldn’t understand the recesses I missed because of her constant threats to kidnap me. Nor could they understand the times when she was around, how she would try to make me give her money or steal the little bit of money I had saved up. They couldn’t possibly understand the truth. They had their families, their happiness and all I had was a messy fight between the woman I loved and the woman who gave me up, so I never gave them the truth.


It was hard at eight years old, constantly lying and omitting the details of my life. I would often slip up, which brought more questions upon me. My best friend got mad at me when we were younger because I didn’t tell her that my “mommy” wasn’t my biological mother. I was afraid she would judge me as being dishonest, but there was no lie involved; it went beyond simple terms of honor, it went beyond biology. I held back because I wasn’t sure of what she would think. But at the time the issue became known, I told her the truth; the mother she knows is the mother I know, the mother I choose and the mother I love.

Many people say I am “lucky” because I wasn’t placed in the system and had a “clean adoption,” but I don’t think “luck” is the appropriate word. When I was 18 months, my drunk and high mother gave me away. She handed me over like I was a quarter or a dollar, except I had no value to her. If “luck” was on my side, I would have one mother, one identity—I would be normal. I wouldn’t wonder why this woman I always saw did not fulfill her motherly duties. “Luck” was two apartments away on the corner of Georgia and Third, but I didn’t possess it. “Luck” is laying the phone bill money on a raffle and winning—not an adoption or a lifelong argument between two former colleagues.

As I got older, the stories of the night I was given away became more and more different. I was told that my “mommy” took me away from my biological mother but nothing could be further from the truth. The first time she gave me away she said she was going to the store…she returned three weeks later.

But that night, it was different. She had no intentions of coming back like the other times. This time, she really left. It was a hot night. So hot that the rain that poured couldn’t comfort the heat. She laid me on the wet doorstep and rang the doorbell. She never waited with me; she went to her car and sat. My aunt answered the door and she drove off, drove off so fast you would think she was in a NASCAR race. She drove so fast, her tires squealing in pain, the same squealing that came from the doorstep, the same squealing that came from me. The painful fact is that she left me. She ran but no one chased her and she never came back. At least she was able to admit that she couldn’t take care of me, but in order for her to hold on to some semblance of dignity, she said she would return when she got herself together; looking in her eyes I could tell that day would never come.

Years went by and under every Christmas tree and in every birthday card, I received the same thing from her—lies and excuses; the same excuses she uses to this day. “I’m waiting to buy this house” or “I am about to get a job.” She tried to explain to me why she wasn’t ready yet as if it mattered; I knew who I wanted to be with.

My biological mother still hasn’t learned her lesson or should I say, she hasn’t changed. She still chooses men, alcohol and drugs over me. I must admit, however, she was smart enough to give me to someone she knew, who for 16 years raised and treated me like her own. She held me at night when I really wished for her hands and she loved me unconditionally when I really wished for her love. My mommy’s blood does not flow through my veins, but her love is good enough to replace any tainted blood. She was my mother, the woman I could tell anything to and who would do anything for me. I found her.

I learned that no matter how hard I tried to forget my past, it still festered and crept up for attention. I feel guilty when I miss Carol’s birthday, ignore her phone calls, never respond to her letters or don’t call her by the name she is longing to hear. Though what appears to be a traumatic experience, it was actually a learned one. I received love and guidance through the process. It has prepared me to go to college and pursue the thing I love: journalism. The job of a journalist is to reveal truth, find it and dissect it. I thought that becoming a journalist would be the best thing for me; I thought that if I help others find their truth, mine would come to me. I am happy where I am, and I would not have wanted my life to be any different. I was told a person without dreams is a person without life, and my “mommy” made sure my dreams did not go unnoticed.

“It’s not where you come from, but where you are and where you are going, Whitney.” Words of a strong woman with a voice that soothes my aching tummy and heals my sores and cuts. My “mommy” was my band-aid.


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*Photography by Billy Montgomery.

Whitney Nolan

Whitney Nolan

Whitney Nolan, born and raised in Washington D.C., is a nineteen-year-old junior at the Columbia College Chicago. Although her major is Broadcast Journalism, her interests include print, magazine and photojournalism. After she graduates from Columbia, she plans to attend Harvard or Georgetown University to pursue a degree in law and become an entertainment lawyer.

She can be contacted at