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mother's day can hurt, infertility, adoption

How to Survive Mother’s Day if You’ve Experienced Adoption or Infertility

Not everyone gets warm Hallmarky feelings about Mother’s Day. While the maternally privileged (like me, currently both having a mom and being a mom) buy cards and flowers and/or receive cards and flowers, others dread this time of year.

Flickr - Whiternoise - Dead flowers, Pére Lachaise Cemetery

Many of these Mother’s Day dreaders are connected through the experience of adoption, some also through infertility. Who are some of these outliers?

  • Women experiencing infertility
  • Women who are waiting to adopt or who have adopted
  • Women who placed a baby for adoption
  • People who were placed for adoption

Though the situations are different, healthy strategies for getting through mid-May with one’s sanity intact are similar (as excerpted from the book I wrote with my daughter’s birth mom, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption).

3 Tips for Surviving Mother’s Day

mother's day can hurt, infertility, adoption

1. Find balance. You don’t want to dwell on your pain or discomfort with the holiday, but neither do you want to deny it’s there, because denial gives it power. When emotions arise, acknowledge them — maybe even aloud (“OK. I’m feeling really angry that other people are celebrating what I lack”) — and release. You may have to do this more than once (ha, once would be too easy!). Maybe a dozen or a hundred or a thousand times between now and Mother’s Day.

2. Stay present and in your physical body. When we grieve our wounds, we are in the past in our emotional body. When we worry or are fearful, we are in the future in our mental body. So find something to do that keeps you in your body and present, like physical or creative activities or just plain stillness.

  • Move. In the remaining days leading up to Mother’s Day, plan to walk, run, hike, dance, mountain bike, swim, rock climb, do martial arts or yoga or another activity. Physical movement prevents emotional stagnation.
  • Create. Supplement all that movement with creativity. Write, compose, paint, draw, choreograph, mix a song, rap, blow glass, make pottery, or plant and tend a garden. Creating allows your energy and emotions to flow and not get stuck.
  • Find stillness. Meditate, do tai chi, or simply find focus in whatever you are doing — walking, cycling, washing dishes. Practice finding this place of presence, of uni-tasking and being where you are, of calming the chatter of your mind.

3. Connect with others. Find a tribe of people who have walked or are walking a similar path.

  • Infertility and Adopting: Melissa at Stirrup Queens tends a ginormous blogroll sorted by neighborhood (such as assisted reproductive technology, third-party reproduction, adoption, living child-free). Creating A Family is also a rich resource, both its site and its Facebook community.
  • Birth/First parents: Birth Mom Buds and Concerned United Birthparents are two of many online support group options. For in-person gatherings near you, do an Internet search of “birth parent support” plus your zip code.
  • Adoptees: Adult Adoptees Advocating for Change and the Child Welfare Information Gateway offer resource sections for adoptees. You may also conduct an Internet search for “adoptee support” plus your zip code to find face-to-face meetings near you.
  • Everyone: If you don’t find an in-person support group to suit your needs, why not start one?

More Tips from the Trenches

Let’s hear from experts, those who have been there, done that and survived infertility and adoption.

Tips for Women Longing to be a Mother

  • Keiko Zoll of The Infertility Voice reveals 3 tips on the RESOLVE New England website.
  • Cristy of Searching for Our Silver Lining shares her survival guide.
  • Melissa Ford of Stirrup Queens offers her advice and encouragement.

Tips for Women Waiting to Adopt and Adoptive Moms

  • Creating a Family lists 42 things you can do while waiting — any of them during the month of May.
  • Brandy, a Colorado adoptive mom, says, “Don’t let anyone steal your hope, joy or excitement. If it would make you feel good to receive a Mother’s Day card, drop a not-so-subtle hint to someone who would arrange for that.” Sarah, another mom via adoption, offers, “Avoid people who don’t understand or who make you uncomfortable. On holidays, be selfish and indulge in what you need, and not what others expect of you.”
  • If Mother’s Day is difficult because you feel guilty or sad about your child’s first mom (or even if you don’t), says Rebecca Gruenspan, “reach out to her and thank her. Let her know her child is doing well. Give her some peace of mind.” Being kind and respectful makes you feel good, too.
  • Michelle, adoptive mom of teens,advises that you expand your view from the short-term BECOMING a mom to the long-haul BEing a mom. Read a book about adoptive parenting. Ahem.

Tips for Birth/First Moms

  • Chanel Young, birth mom in Texas, says, “Be honest with yourself about how you are really feeling and dealing and if the situation permits be honest with the other mother. I am very lucky to have such an open and understanding couple, I don’t really know how I would deal with this if they weren’t as inclusive of me or if it had been closed rather than open.”
  • Ames Markel, who is an adoptee as well as first mom to a 13 year-old son, says, “It’s OK to cry! Mother’s Day is hard. Let yourself grieve, but always remember that your decisions were made from pure love. And love is a wonderful gift any mother can give her child.”

Tips from the Trenches for Adopted People

Last but perhaps most, for the children-who-become-adults at the center of adoptions…

  • Author Laura Dennis counsels adoptees (and first parents) to allow themselves to heal, especially if they are in limbo about reunion. “For anyone who may have emotional triggers about Mother’s Day, my advice is super simple, but not at ALL easy: Even if you are hurting, you can HEAL. You are not powerless. You can work on your own pain, your own hurt, to make yourself the most whole, ready, emotionally open, and secret-free person you can be, no matter what comes.”
  • Deanna Doss Shrodes, pastor and writer at Adoptee Restoration, says, “For adoptees who do have children and find this holiday hard to navigate with first mother or adoptive mother issues, I recommend shifting the focus to celebrating your own life as a mom.”
  • Cultivate kindness from within, says writer and adoptee JoAnne Bennett. “Feeling bitterness from the losses [of my birth mother and adoptive mother] has not been an option for me, but rather the ‘hard parts’ have strengthened my belief that being a caring and sensitive human being with a genuine love for one another is what is most important.”

If you’ve endured infertility or adoption, what coping strategies have worked for you around Mother’s Day?

Flower image by Joshua Veitch-Michaelis (Pére Lachaise Cemetery) via Wikimedia Commons 2.0. Life preserver image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono /

Lori Holden, mom of a young adult daughter and a young adult son, writes from Denver. She was honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Find Lori’s books on her Amazon Author page, and catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

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33 Responses

  1. I don’t understand this post- I really don’t… Why would an “adoptive mom” get any different treatment on Mother’s Day than one who gave birth? You are missing something HUGe here. A Mom is a Mom is a Mom is a Mom. Giving ANY credence to anyone who suggests otherwise is absolute malarkey. I came into my wonderful family via adoption 44 years ago… and if anyone ever would consider my mom somehow different because that is how our famliy came to be… that makes me livid. Raising a chile makes a parent. NOT birthing one.

    1. Hi, Sarah, and thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. Clearly, you carry an emotional charge around this issue, or else such an innocuous post would not have the power to make you livid.

      At one time, people tried really hard to believe that adopting a child was no different from birthing a child in any way. That belief did a disservice to both the adoptive parents and the child at the center — not to mention completely ignoring the existence of the child’s original family — because, turns out that adoption is different after all!

      Not less than, not more than, just different.

      What makes a parent? I agree with you that raising a child does make one a parent. But I would add that birthing one does, as well. Would you tell someone who has birthed a child but no longer has that child, for whatever reason, that she’s not a parent? Could you possibly allow that both things make a parent?

      I would really like for you to understand this post, so let me know if you’d like to discuss further, either here or by email (you have my email address).

    2. I am a mother and my 3 children are not from my own womb. My own uterus and my own ovaries failed me getting pregnant. Even if I could have gotten pregnant, I may not have stayed pregnant. So because of my own infertility, we decided to adopt. I’m an adoptive mom to 3 children. I am a mom because one mother couldn’t parent her own children due to the country she lives in and their beliefs. I’m a mom because no one in that country adopted these children.

      One of my children has meltdowns around big events like their own birthday, other people’s birthdays, the day that they or their siblings joined our family, my anniversary, Christmas, and yes even Mother’s and Father’s Day. These days seem to be traumatic events for this child.

      This child grieves the loss of their First Mom (birthmom) as well as the loss of their Foster Mom. This child is angry, upset, afraid, and more. Due to these issues and to try to make this child’s life easier, I don’t celebrate Mother’s Day… I don’t expect breakfast in bed, flowers, a greeting card or even a hug from them.

      Why would I put more trauma on this child so that I can celebrate being a mother? That is not what a mother does. Mother’s Day is just another day for us. I imagine that this child is conflicted….should I love this mother or that one? Thoughts of why should I love you (meaning me this child’s third mother) because all of the other mothers in my life have gone away and abandoned me.

      Mother’s Day like the birthdays or anniversary days in our home, start peacefully with this child until they realize what day it is and then the anger builds in this child’s body until it can no longer be contained. This child lashes out with hurtful words. I hear the anger and the sadness in this child’s voice. I also hear the fear as well in the voice of this child…fear of being alone, fear of abandonment, fear of rejection, just to name a few.

      Mother’s Day is very hard to celebrate here because of this child’s outbursts and anger. After this child goes to bed, I light a candle for their First Mom and Foster Mom. I say a prayer that they have the support that they need to get through the day today. I sit and watch the flickering flame dance on the wick of the candle. I think about and pray for our distraught child. I pray that one day this child can obtain peace in whatever form that takes.

      This blog posting from Lavender Luz was very well written. It hits on the points of why Mother’s Day might be hard on many of us out there including this mother. Thank you for writing it.

      1. Thank you for sharing! You sound like a wonderful Mother & person. I sadly am not a mother, but if I’m ever lucky enough to adopt, I hope to be as good as Mum as you!
        Lots of love to you & your family… Oh & Happy Mothers Day for Sunday X x x x x

    3. I am in complete agreement with you Sarah. The pain of not being able to have a child and all the work that is involved with having an adoption approved is incredibly emotional and difficult. We adopted two children. One we lost when he was a year old and the other when he was in his thirties. I almost died of a broken heart the second time. We lost his children, our grandbabies, at the same time. There is no conceivable way I could have mourned more if I had given birth. I also have a homemade daughter and over the decades I have analyzed this a lot to determine if I loved my own daughter more than my adopted boys and the answer is a resounding NO. A mother’s heart is no different if she has adopted or given birth. You will never convince me otherwise.

      1. Perhaps we are talking about two different things. I do believe a mother’s or father’s heart can hold the same love for children who were born to them and those who came to them via adoption.

        However, I maintain that adoptive parenting is “not less than, not more than, just different.” And to acknowledge that will help a parent be more in tune with her child-by-adoption.

        1. Luz: As a 47 year old adoptee I can say for MY parents raising me as their own was the same as birthing me. Not “different” as you claim. I will agree that each child is different but to generalize that raising an adopted child is different than raising one’s bio, is too general and not true! Also, maybe it can be that today’s aparents place too much attention on the child being adopted instead of including and loving the child as their own? And I have to agree with Sara, being a parent takes way more then giving birth.

  2. Sarah – I’m an adoptive mom and I don’t like Mother’s Day. Personally, it was a reminder if what I couldn’t obtain for many years. Not that I don’t want to celebrate it, I just don’t think it’s that big a deal and I don’t like the commercializations/expectations. It’s also a blatant reminder that for me to be a parent, another mother endures emotional pain. Hardly a hall.mark sentiment. So, count me in as an adoptive mom who has trouble with this holiday.

  3. Great article! I am so glad someone shared this with me. Fertility issues have made Mother’s Day unbearable for me the past few years. I am trying to do my part in turning what was a “dreaded” day into something celebratory. I am organizing a brunch on Mother’s Day specifically for women/couples battling fertility problems. It will be a great time to het together with others, share your story, and let go of the STRESS! For more info, click here.

  4. Lori, I love that you give credence to the unique experience each person has. And I love that you always strive for inclusion from all participants in adoption. As a therapist I try to stay away from “advice giving” but your post begs for it, so here’s my two cents: I know that Mother’s Day is supposed to be a day of recognition but I say, make it a day of ACTION! Take the Hallmark focus off your self. Don’t wait around waiting for recognition of your status as a bona fide mother vs. a mother with somehow sketchy credentials. Don’t dwell on what isn’t “Hallmark” about your own situation. Don’t spend the day in deliberation about whether or not you, (or your mothers) were somehow deficient in the past. On Mother’s Day this year try to celebrate the idea of “mothering” by doing something kind for another individual who is caring for little kids/dependents. Maybe even a stranger. Get out of yourself and BE a nurturer. There are so many opportunities to do this.Think of others. Recognize others. In other words, flex your “mother” muscles in a fully conscious way for as much of “Mother’s Day” as possible.If every one of us acted like a “good mother” for most of the day…wow! Think of what a great Mother’s Day that would be!

  5. Well done! We’re on the same wave length. I just completed a piece for the Seleni Institute that will run later this week on the very same topic. I’ll be sure to include a link to your post. xx

  6. Great post Lori. I am adopted and my mom always had a hard time with mother’s day. She would insist that I be by her side the whole day, I couldn’t even visit my mother in law! I wish your book and all it’s great advice was around for her.

  7. Thank you for including my post for RESOLVE New England in this roundup! Honored to be featured. Excellent post/hub of coping information. Can’t wait to share!

  8. LOVE this post. Filled with so many amazing resources and does a great job of addressing each of the different viewpoints. I also love Cori’s point of celebrating mothering vs. the status of mother. Thanks for including me!

  9. This is a really good post, and I love the discussion in the comment section. Really interesting.

    Mother’s Day has gotten complicated for me since I had my own children. Is it about me now? About my mom? About my mother-in-law? Can it be about all three, and if so, what does that look like? (And please know I am INCREDIBLY GRATEFUL that not only do I have an amazing mom and mother-in-law (yes, I like my MIL) in my life, but that they are BOTH in the vicinity and therefore need to be considered on this day). I feel like I have to give up this day to my mom and MIL and that is fine, for now. Maybe it will change some day, when my kids are older, but right now, it doesn’t really feel like “my day.” I wonder sometimes if I’m the only one who feels like that. I actually kind of like it, because I think otherwise I might be a little disappointed. It’s not that I expect much, but my husband just doesn’t do days like Mother’s Day (he doesn’t even really do birthdays), so until my kids can do things for themselves, I’m not going to get much recognition. Focusing on my mother is a good way to deal with that.

    Gah, I sound so selfish and self-absorbed in this comment. Perhaps I am. This day brings up weird stuff for me. Mostly I’m just grateful for all that I have, that I have a mother and that I am a mother. But there is other, more complicated emotions at play too.

    1. Oh, yes, I can see how right now you’re more on the giving end than the receiving end, and that is hard on a day when you’d like the customary pampering.

      How about you take the following Sunday to do something for yourself?

  10. Would you tell someone who has birthed a child but no longer has that child, for whatever reason, that she’s not a parent?

    So well said, Lori. You have such a grace with words and allowing us the room to step back and reexamine.

  11. “What makes a parent? I agree with you that raising a child does make one a parent. But I would add that birthing one does, as well. Would you tell someone who has birthed a child but no longer has that child, for whatever reason, that she’s not a parent? Could you possibly allow that both things make a parent?”

    Lori, I have a question. Does your point about birthing a child making a parent apply in gestational surrogacy situations as well?

    1. Great question, KeAnne. But I don’t feel qualified to answer whether or not a woman who carries a baby or a woman who donates her eggs is a parent. I would want to know how the person considers herself and abide by that.

      But as to the question “Would you tell someone…that she’s not a parent?” — No. I can’t imagine declaring that to anyone who thinks herself a parent in some way.

      I can see how it might get hairy, though, if there are competing claims on a child. SO the key is to avoid framing things as competing claims on a child 😉

      What do you think? As I said, an excellent question to discuss.

  12. Hi Sarah, I am an adoptee too. Looking back, I can see my adoptive mother had a hard time with Mother’s Day. I believe I understood her better than she ever did herself. My adoptive mother would have probably acted defensive had she read your thoughts/feelings. She wanted me to see her as different; loving a child that was not her own was difficult. What I hear Lori saying is that regardless of how wonderful our adoptive families were or weren’t, there is still a mother out there somewhere who gave us life. No, maybe they couldn’t be there for whatever reason, but I have a lot of respect for adoptive parents who get it. In my opinion, erasing the mother who gave birth to the child out of the equation can do more harm than good. I needed an adoptive mother who I could have honored/celebrated on Mother’s Day for both of us being able to keep it more real. What I learned from listening to others with a more open mind and compassion is that in each of our journeys whether we are the first mother, the adoptee or the adoptive parents all of us come from such a unique set of circumstances.
    Great, resourceful blog post Lori; thank you for including my quote.

  13. You know what I love about this post? It educates. No preaching, no hidden agenda (that I can detect), no holier-than-thou back-handedness. It encourages empathy for all. And, wow, THAT is communication at its best. FIVE STARS!

    My remedy for getting through something or sometime difficult is very simple: Stop thinking about myself and help someone else. Doesn’t have to be a related issue/topic…thinking and caring about others makes it so much easier not to think about my own predicament.

  14. While I understand the sentiment, meaning, and even the passion behind Sarah’s comment, I think we HAVE to openly acknowledge all aspects of this holiday (and others, my daughter’s birthday is always a major trigger for me to begin thinking about her birth/first mom and all she’s missing out on – this AMAZING child she brought into the world that gave me the chance to even BE a Mom). I adopted from another country, so an open adoption was not an option for us. It’s something I wish for almost daily – just to KNOW that she knows our daughter is safe, healthy, happy and THRIVING! I also know I’m not the only one who has heard comments (repeatedly) like, “Wow, if she’s this excited about this baby, just imagine how she’ll be when she has her own!” (Actual statement from a co-worker, after my daughter came home.) The “real” vs. “non-real” Mom/parent issue is still alive and kicking, sadly. Posts like this help us all accept, acknowledge, and validate what & how we’re feeling.

  15. Sarah, I didn’t reunite with my mother until I was 50. She had never been able to celebrate Mother’s Day as she suffered secondary infertility and I was her only child. The first card she ever had was from me and she waited 50 years for it!! The mother who raised me was pampered every Mothers’ Day until she died even though she had never given birth or been pregnant. Very different treatment! For those of you who haven’t discovered this new resource, The “Adoptee Survival Guide” is now out on Amazon and available on your Kindle.

  16. Wow, do I ever have a story about Mother’s Day to share with you that has happened to me recently and personally as an adoptee. It’s telephone conversation worthy <3.

  17. Lori, what a wonderful, inclusive post! You are so honoring of everyone finding their own voice and experience as we all navigate the minefield of the meaning of motherhood. I agree that we must be sure to not negate the experience of another but simply to claim and voice our own. Thank-you for this post and listing all the wonderful resources for such a disparate, but connected, group of people.

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