On that day, my first Mother’s Day, I sat in the back pew of my parent’s church. Uncomfortably, I sat with my ankle crossed, hoping that the central air in the building might alleviate some of the end of pregnancy swelling I was experiencing. The service, as per usual for Mother’s Day was focused on the sacred role of motherhood, and the importance of all of our mothers. I’d spent the entire service, with tears silently cascading down my cheeks, wondering why I chose to wear any mascara on that day. There had been no indication that it would be a tough day, and I felt foolish for the grief I was feeling as I participated awkwardly in this spiritual celebration of Mothers.
At the end of the service, the young men scurried to the wings where they were handed bouquets of flowers to hand to the mothers in the room. Anxiously, I waited, knowing that most of the congregation was aware of my unplanned pregnancy, and the adoption plan. Tissues clenched in my fist, I told myself that if I didn’t get a rose, it was no big deal. I wasn’t going to be a real mother, after all. I was just the vessel for which another family was to become a mother and father. I begged my heart to actually believe this, repeating it over and over again.
I wanted that flower desperately.
Moments later, a young boy stood in front of me, his face matching the same sort of anxiousness that I felt, but for different reasons. I could tell that he was conflicted – should he, knowing what he likely knew about my situation, offer this young woman a flower. I could feel eyes on both of us, waiting for the outcome. Just as I was about to shake my head no, and tell him to move on quietly, he thrust a rose in my direction, muttering, “Happy Mother’s Day”.
I kept that flower for years.
In the years that followed, Mother’s Day was always painted with different varieties of grief. Those holidays before I had my first parented son were isolating and cold. While each of the women in my life were showered with affection, adoration and love, I sat quietly in the shadows, always hoping that someone would recognize my motherhood. It never came. When I realized that I was not a welcome member of the Motherhood Club, I decided that I would never let anyone know how depressing this holiday was for me. No one wanted to recognize a mother who had given her child away, and if they did, all of the platitudes that followed always diminished my wanting or sadness on Mother’s Day. There was no room for me, it seemed.
When I stepped out of the Adoption Fog, I took back Mother’s Day. I refused to celebrate Birthmother’s Day because the idea that birthmothers should be celebrated separately was ludicrous in my mind. There was no special day for the mother’s who lost, the ones who struggled with infertility, or the mother’s who adopted – no, they were included on Mother’s Day, as they should be. I realized that even if others in the seemingly exclusive Mother’s Day Club didn’t feel that I fit in, I would just demand that I be given a seat. Now, every year, with both my own kids, I do my best to remind everyone I can, that Mother’s Day is for every Mother, even the ones who have generally been excluded from the celebration. Even someone like me.
None of this, however erases the grief that I feel. Where I used to hope that each year would be different, and free from the enormous sadness I usually feel, I anticipate it. I expect it. Some years, the pain is dull, and I manage to find myself somewhat enjoying the day. Other years, like this one, I find myself sighing as the dawn breaks, and hoping that I can make it through the day without too many tears. Guilt also plays a role in this day since I’ve had my two parented kids, because I feel that I shouldn’t be sad because I have them. Then I wrestle with self-loathing because I can’t figure out away to “let go” of my pain, like many say I should. Be grateful, I hear myself saying. I should feel blessed that I have them, because there are others who don’t have even that. At least I’m not emotionally hobbling through the day, staying hidden because I’m not a “real” mother. Because of them, I can openly celebrate the day. That, I know, is a real gift.
The loss of my firstborn son will always permeate this day, this weekend. Unlike those critics who believe that a relinquished child can be replaced in the future by other children, the cold hard truth is that they won’t, nor should those children be expected to fill that sizable hole in our hearts. Mother’s Day will always remind me of all the breakfasts in bed I didn’t get, the sloppy kisses unkissed, or the homemade cards never made. It will always remind me that my son’s adoptive parents don’t recognize me as his mother, and believe my place is still in the shadows. It will always remind me of what I don’t have, and all the occasions when I was passed by a young man offering flowers to mothers in celebration of this day. I will, always, to a certain degree, feel unmistakably invisible on Mother’s Day. Now, reluctantly, I accept all of this.
To all those Mother’s who are still waiting for their roses, anxiously, let me offer one to you. Don’t be ashamed of your story, and don’t feel like you have to sit in the shadows today. You deserve to have the light shining on your face, even through your tears. May you find some peace in the long hours that fill the day that is Mother’s Day.
You are loved, and you are undoubtedly, a worthy mother.
You are not invisible to me.