My first Mother’s Day was spent in a hotel room in Salt Lake City. I had a cold, so I couldn’t even go visit Tess in the NICU that day. I remember feeling shocked that I had anything to celebrate, sad that I couldn’t hold our sweet daughter in my arms, and conflicted about sharing that honor with another mother.
You see, every minute of my motherhood experience has been shared with another mom. I thought I understood this going in, and intellectually I did. But in the same way our understanding of adoption changes as we age and the kids age, our emotional response to the realities of adoption changes too.
My mom will be the first to tell you I am terrible at sharing. In fact, Dave and I joke that I wouldn’t even give him a bookshelf until a few years after our wedding, when I knew this would stick. (Books are my obsession! I needed every inch.) I ached to be a parent for so long that I almost felt like Tess’ premature arrival was my fault. Illogical, but there it is. I struggled with sharing motherhood, whether that meant changing diapers in the hospital or sharing a holiday that had broken my heart a number of years running. This despite having only wonderful interactions with Tess’ parents and extended family!
So I was not gracious and open and loving; I was emotional and exhausted and protected myself instead of taking care of Kat, who was going through emotions I will never be able to fully comprehend. I readily admit, I was struggling myself. My mixed feelings about that first Mother’s Day now also include shame, that I couldn’t be more understanding and less fearful – especially with this young woman who had been open, thoughtful, generous and understanding from the minute we first spoke. She should not have had to worry about my feelings on her first Mother’s Day.
So that first Mother’s Day weekend, we prepared a gift and card for Birth Mother’s Day, which is the Saturday preceeding Mother’s Day. Unbeknownst to me, that day was designated by birthmothers as a day of reflection and mourning – a day to unpack their feelings about placing children, not a date to celebrate (unless that feels right to them) and certainly not one that involves adoptive parents.
After that first year though, I started to realize how ridiculous I was being. Very few families have one mother and one father and no complications. Most of us have “family” that aren’t simple, whether that means family friends we’ve known forever or second families or stepchildren. We love them just as much! What about gay couples? There’s always two moms! More importantly, once I got past my instinctual aversion to sharing, I realized how amazing it is for all of us to love our kids this much. We know better now, and with respect and love I share Mother’s Day with the extraordinary women who also love these children as their own.
Open adoption means more than telling kids that they are adopted and were born to another mother. It means accepting everyone’s feelings and knowing that none of us can truly understand one another’s experience, but we can all respect and love each other. We can’t imagine life without our kids first moms in it. Not only do our kids deserve their first families; we have a responsibility to ensure that connection stays alive.
Our kids’ moms – all of their moms – love them intensely. I may get to hold our kids when they fall down and tuck them in at night, but it doesn’t change how much they are loved by the women who gave birth to them and who look like them. Really, their motherhood experience is so much more painful than mine, and requires so much faith and trust. They earn every inch of our Mother’s Day celebration, and then some.
Each adoption experience is different, even if many of the same people are involved. I won’t and can’t tell other parents how to behave, but I will encourage everyone who reads this to reflect on what motherhood really means, to make sure that no mother is denigrated in front of their child for any reason, and to consider the value of all of the people who take on a mothering role to children. The world’s a big and crazy place, and I’m glad that our kids have wonderful people to support them in all different ways.
I am beyond grateful to be a mother, and to be a mother to these kids. I could not love them more, and they inspire me every day to be a better parent and a better person. They will continue to shape me as I continue to guide them. That said, my parenthood comes from other parents’ loss. On birthdays, holidays, and most of all this day, I feel my joy and am aware of the weight of the kids’ absence for them.
I don’t take Mother’s Day lightly, and I do not celebrate it thoughtlessly or easily. It tends to be very contemplative for me, and makes me want to hold my children tight. I think about how each of them joined our family, and the bond between each of them and their moms all over the country. I wonder if our Mother’s Day gifts bring happy tears or sad, and guess probably a mixture of both. Most of all, I hope each and everyone of the people who have made my parenthood possible know that I understand that I can’t understand the complexity of their feelings. When our kids are older, I will tell them the same thing. Our relationships with each other will all grow, and hopefully stay strong and loving and honest and open.
We do not have a simple family; our children do not look like us and we have many traditions and personalities to blend together into one. I fear disappointing our kids or their first families, and every year that I am a mom I want to be closer to all of them. Mom calls Dave “Saint Dave”, and that’s pretty accurate. No one has ever called me a saint! But I am inspired every day of this journey to try harder, to love more, and to broaden the circle of our family love. Ultimately, I have to become an expert at sharing, because we share these children with people who love them as much as we do. That in a nutshell is what being a mother means to me, opening my heart and mind a little more each day to share my joy and to be more empathetic, understanding that shared joy grows and does not ever diminish.
Happy Mother’s Day to every kind of mother. May we all continue to do our best and celebrate each other, in all of our forms and with all of the people who share this day with us.