My children didn’t come to me in the usual way. I was there to receive my daughter Tessa when her first mom delivered her many years ago. Two years later I became mom to Reed thanks to his first mom.
Because I missed out on pregnancy, sometimes people wonder when I felt like a “real” mom.
I have loved them both from the the moments I knew of their existence. But the lovin’ wasn’t proven until Tessa was about 3 months old.
My Admittance to the Sisterhood of Mothers
Roger had a conference in Costa Rica one summer, and I didn’t want to miss the chance to travel with him. So we recruited two babysitters — the kind who buy their own airline tickets and hotel room — a/k/a “parents.” My parents.
Listen To Your Mother Show in Denver, 2013
Three-month-old babies have a surprising amount of stuff. Clothing, diapers, wipes, and (in our case) formula, bottles, washing paraphernalia and drool cloths. One of the bulkiest things a baby needs is a bath seat that fits in a bathtub or over a sink. Bulky!
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.
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 to Surviving Mother’s Day
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 Monday, May 14.
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.
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…
AuthorLaura 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?
The ambiance in the car is electric, each of us holding pent-up feelings. Tessa is in the back, eager to assume her job of handing out programs and seating people. She’s crimped her hair and carefully picked out her dress and I can’t believe this lovely tween was once a tiny baby I could hold in the crook of an arm.
Sitting next to Tessa is my new friend Stephanie. I haven’t known her long, but I feel I know her intimately. It’s because I have been privy to the amazing piece she is going to read tonight, the one about mommy guilt that is sure to make everyone in the audience nod their heads. A gorgeous and witty woman, Stephanie exudes both confidence and a little nervousness, just like I am probably doing. She tells us that she’s thrilled that her husband and so many of her friends will be at the show, but she’s sad her mom won’t be able to come from out of state.*
Gretchen, my fella** MileHighMamas writer, is riding shotgun. She looks stunning, even more so than usual. Gretchen has this inner calm, an unflappability, cultivated perhaps by being the mother of 9 children. Yet alongside her zen is the same excitement I’m feeling.
I’m rarely this gussied up. For once, I’m not wearing yoga pants but an outfit that took some actual thought to put together. And heels. For once, I have makeup on, much to Tessa’s delight. For once, I have actually spent time on my hair. All this primping has added to the electricity I’m feeling, the jitters inside my jitters.
I’m driving on I-70 to get us to the Listen To Your Mother Show. Tonight we three will each take our position at the podium and share a 4-minute piece of our lives with an audience of 300. But what is more nausea-inducing is the idea that our show will be taped and put on YouTube in a few months for all the world to see.
We chat as a means to release tension. We talk about wishing we had false eyelashes so we’ll look better on camera. We talk about getting our kids cared for for the evening when all our usual babysitters will be in the audience. We talk about nerves and keeping our voices clear and drinking just the right amount of water, enough to keep our throats in good condition but not enough to have to conspicuously leave the stage during the 90 minute show.
In the midst our sweet anticipation, this curious mixture of anxiety and excitement, an unmistakeable guitar riff comes on the radio, one that takes you right back to wherever you were and whatever you were doing the summer of 1988. “She’s got a smile it seems to me | Reminds me of childhood memories.”
I can’t help myself. I blast Sweet Child o’ Mine (what an apt title for people on their way to a show about mothers and children.) And in spite of having two people in the car whom I normally would not subject to my singing, I blare right along with Axl Rose. I mean top of my lungs blare, singing with wild abandon. Well as much as I can while piloting the Pilot at 35 mph (we have now exited the highway to Colorado Boulevard).
I don’t care what Tessa says (she is protesting madly in the backseat), and I don’t worry what my friends think (maybe they are singing along with me; I’m in my own world so I don’t really know). All I know is that it feels so GOOD to be cruising along on this glorious early spring afternoon with these three young ladies, enjoying a nostalgic and rockin’ song on the radio, heading toward what is sure to be one of the peak nights of my life, all while clearing the cobwebs of my vocal cords.
I know in this moment that I”m having a perfect moment. All senses converge with clarity and presence. I feel deep gratitude that this is my life.
From later in the evening:
* Stephanie’s mom later surprises her at the front door to the theater.
** What’s the feminine version of the word “fellow”?
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