It is a tricky time of year. In my part of the world – Northern British Columbia, Canada – we are getting glimpses of spring…mixed in with blizzards and freezing rain. Many people find spring to be the most beautiful time of year. New grass, new buds, flowers. As for myself, I’ve always found it really quite brown. That could be partly because we live on a farm – as the snow melts we see mud and hay emerge from underneath the pristine snow. Spring comes to us late in Northern Canada, and driving around our town, everything looks gray to dirt brown and sort of dreary. I see posts on my Facebook feed, and our southern friends, even southern Canadian friends, are planting flowers and enjoying warm days and green grass.
To me, our brown, chilly spring days predict the difficulty around the corner. Like a tender shoot, a fragile flower trying to push up through the still-frozen ground towards the warmth of the tepid Northern sun, birth moms everywhere cautiously peep around the corner of April and into May – Mother’s Day is coming.
#WeAreMothers. If you have borne a child – no, if you have carried a child, no matter for how short a time – you are a mother. As an adoptive mom, people often ask about our journey, and usually share kind words. Adoption is thought of as mysterious, rare, and beautiful, and most people are genuinely interested. Birth mothers may not get the same warm reception, and this can be incredibly painful. Especially on Mother’s Day.
Many people have strong feelings about Mother’s Day. Some people deeply cherish their relationship with their mother; others have lost a mother; others still have felt the sting of abuse or rejection from their mom. #WeAreMothers, and it is important that we meet people where they are at. This special day is important, but being sensitive to how those around us are feeling and handling it is especially important. This is especially true when it comes to birth moms.
Some birth moms may not know where their child now resides. Although closed adoptions are increasingly rare, there are still lots of adoptions with minimal contact between the adoptive and biological families. Mother’s Day may evoke strong feelings of pain, grief, and even remorse. Other birth moms may have contact, but the feelings still come. There is no right way to feel or celebrate Mother’s Day.
Regardless of our past experiences or where we are at on our journey, #WeAreMothers. What a beautiful thing it would be if we could set aside differences and support one another along the way. After all, are there any of us that don’t need more encouragement? More love? More affirmation? Our strength may come from within, but to have the backing of other mothers in our communities and in our lives could be revolutionary.
For as long as we can remember, moms have been divided over the small things. Some moms co-sleep and some do not. Some moms choose to bottle feed and others breastfeed. Choices in motherhood are complex and depend on our situation, supports, and other life experiences. And then, some mothers chose the ultimate sacrifice by placing their precious child for adoption. Just like some moms decry the bottle, or co-sleeping, or anything else, and say, “ I could NEVER do that!”, some women still decry adoption, and say, “I could never leave my child”. But perhaps it is more likely that some people will never, or have never been, in the place that you have, never walked in your shoes. Because #WeAreMothers, we can do better. As a community, we can band together in love and support of these brave women, these birth mothers.
What makes a mother, a mother? Is it how long she has been a mother? Is it how she holds her child, or whether she is a stay-at-home mom or not? No. A woman is a mother because she carried a child inside her body. Our ability to recognize and celebrate this without examining and placing parameters on who has earned the title of “mother” shows a kindness, a soul-reaching joyfulness extended with grace to ALL mothers, regardless of their past. I dream of a place where birth mothers can share their experiences and be accepted. I dream of providing a place where birth mothers – and adoptive mothers – can speak freely, about fears, perceptions, dreams, and the hard parts. Adoptive moms have hard parts and fears too. Often, we feel like we can’t share them. We’ve adopted, so that means we are the strong ones, right? That means we are the ones that have it all together, right? Ha! Hardly. I know that I want to appear this way for our birth moms because their children were placed with us. Who wants to look weak? Adoptive moms can feel the need to put on such a facade to maintain an air of doing it all properly. After all, we don’t want anyone to think that we aren’t capable of this. But, #WeAreMothers. Both of us, birth and adoptive. Foster moms and kinship moms. Allowing yourself to show your weakness and vulnerability consequently allows your relationships to grow.
In this world of adoption, we have seen pain that many other people will never experience. In this world, adoptive parents often have the power to say yes and no to visits and openness, and birth moms are often the ones that have to wait and watch. As an adoptive mom, I have wrestled with my own thoughts of watching my child (her child, our child) connect with her in ways that may never occur with me. I have watched a child I parent grow to look less and less like me and more and more like their first mom I have thought about all the ways that I, as an adoptive mom, have failed and all the ways that I don’t deserve this any more than anyone else. But I have to remember that both of us are human. We both make mistakes, but we are both trying our best in a world that doesn’t stop long enough to recognize our struggle. #WeAreMothers, and our journeys are different, but we both contribute in ways that are of incalculable value. One year, for our annual community proclamation of ‘Adoption Awareness’ month, I read this poem, which is the best summary I could think of. It hangs, in cross-stitch form, in our hallway as a reminder:
The Legacy of the Adopted Child:
Once there were two women who never knew
Each other. One you do not remember,
The other you call mother.
Two different lives shaped to make yours
One. One became your guiding star,
The other became your sun.
The first gave you life, and the
Second taught you to live in it. The first
Gave you the need for love, and the
Second was there to give it.
One gave you a nationality. The other
Gave you a name. One gave you a seed
Of talent. The other gave you aim.
One gave you emotion. The other calmed
Your fears. One saw your first sweet
Smile. The other dried your tears.
One gave you up, it was all that she could
Do. The other prayed for a child, and
God led her straight to you.
And now you ask me through your tears,
The age-old question through the years,
Heredity or environment – Which are you
The product of?
Neither my darling, neither – Just two different kinds of love.
I do hope, unlike the poem, you mothers out there, birth and adoptive or foster, I do hope that you know each other. I hope that you see the mother in each other, and I hope that you shout it from the rooftops for all to see. I think there is a profound gift in the giving of the title Mother. For the adoptive mom to name and recognize the motherhood of a birth mom is mature and right, but it is also an acknowledgment, an acceptance, a bridging of gaps, a gift. For a birth mom to recognize the motherhood of the adoptive mom, whether chosen through an agency or placed through the foster care system, is a laying down of pain. It is a choice to proclaim something new was made out of the pain, and it might still be raw, maybe always will be raw. It is brave. It feels like an old sort of love, something rare now that we don’t see that often.
I do hope, unlike the poem, that we see birth moms as having placed their children for adoption, not giving them up. Because #WeAreMothers, I hope that we lay down preconceived notions and prejudices. I pray that we seek first to understand and love, and that we let go of judgments. I think the most beautiful gift that can be given to a child of adoption, after a safe, loving, stable forever home, is the gift of allowing them to love both their mothers without having to choose. Can we, we who are both mothers, let down our guards and let down our fears and allow ourselves to say, “You can love her, too?” What a safe place for a child to rest. As an adoptive mom, I say, “Your first mom will ALWAYS have a place in your heart.” I practiced saying this because I had to let the implications settle in my heart. I said it before it felt real to me, before I could fully embrace it. I said it because my child of adoption was grieving her ability to be parented by her birth parents and because it was a letting go of my will and my role as THE mom. It acknowledged that birth moms have sacrificed so much already. It acknowledged that although I don’t have to make this particular sacrifice, this sacrifice of inclusion, I chose to do so. And I will keep choosing it.
I would love for my children of adoption to see themselves as this product of two different kinds of love. I want them to know that they are loved wildly. I want them to know that they are loved broadly, by many people. I want them to know that I am okay with that and that I am not threatened by there being birth parents out there, because #WeAreMothers. Together. One type of mother is not more valuable than the other – both, in this adoption journey, as necessary. I picture both types of moms, adoptive and birth, walking along, together, linked by arms, a child in the middle. Both are moms.
This spring, as new life emerges from the soil and from the animals all around us, it is possible for new life to emerge in our hearts and minds. It is possible to allow changes in ourselves, to think and dream of new ways of doing things. It is possible to bridge gaps and it is possible to overcome. You can’t do all the work on your own, and you weren’t meant to. But, whoever you are in the adoption triad, you can recognize that #WeAreMothers. Together. May you celebrate motherhood in your story this May in a way that honors your story, and may you be brave enough to hold space for the stories of others. May you blaze new paths of radical love as we recognize the important role we all play as mothers, regardless of our pasts and how we came to this place of motherhood.