Infertility, adoption, and loss can make Mother's Day hard, but it doesn't have to steal the joy.
Mother's Day is not always as pretty as a Hallmark card. In fact, for many of us out there, Mother's Day is a drop (or a tsunami) of sad or mad mixed together. If you have experienced loss or infertility on your path to motherhood or are still waiting desperately, you know what I am talking about. For me, as an adoptive parent who also has a history of infertility, Mother’s Day is always a roller coaster of emotions—both joyful and hard.
This year, I woke up feeling tired and a little off. My son snuck into the bed and snuggled in with a big smile on his face. This is what I was waiting for. As soon as he was done snuggling and ready for action, my sweet husband rustled him downstairs so I could sleep in a little more. While I dozed, he created a beautiful breakfast. Afterwards, we went for a family walk/bike ride to the neighborhood pond. It was a beautiful day. My kids were in a good mood. Have we reached Hallmark card fabulous yet?
Well…almost. Remember, I woke feeling a bit off, and I wasn't fighting a cold or anything like that. Despite all this great stuff happening, I felt a little sad. I felt weighed down. You see, our children's birthmothers had joined us the day before for a Birth Mother's Day celebration, and our daughter's birthmother, who lives out of town, had spent the night. Seeing them always makes me feel joyful because they truly are two beautiful women who did something so big for my husband and I that I can never really put into words how grateful we feel. But seeing them also reminds me of how much they sacrificed for me to have this beautiful Mother's Day morning—something that makes me literally ache inside for them and shoots little bursts of guilt down my spine. Then there's the grief I feel for my own lost and my never-to-be pregnancies. And finally, because I couldn't have been a mother without our birthmothers. I know I will always share Mother's Day—something that the small, childish part of me sometimes rebels against. As I say to my 4-year-old son almost daily, "It really is hard to share."
But then again, with adoption, that sharing goes both ways. Take that morning, for instance. So, after my precious hour of sleeping in, I woke to some wonderful smells brewing downstairs and decided it was time to get out of bed. I heard my daughter laughing and talking with her birthmother in her room, and even though the thing I wanted most in that moment was to get a kiss from my daughter first thing on Mother's Day, I tiptoed past her room so they could have that special moment together. After all, I get kisses every morning, but her birthmother does not. A few minutes later, my daughter (prompted by her birthmother, I am sure) came downstairs with her Mother's Day card, and wished me a Happy Mother's Day with a hug and a kiss. As I am hugging all my love into my little girl, I am highly aware of her birthmother sitting upstairs by herself with the knowledge that, had she made another choice, she wouldn't have had to share this moment.
As we eat breakfast, I can feel both of us trying to embrace the joy of this morning with an obvious weight of sadness. I can feel it in the strong bear hug her birthmother gives me later in the morning. I can see it in the way both of us keep taking turns having time with our daughter. I feel overwhelmed by the grace of this young woman who is so much more mature than I was at that age.
Later that day, she planned a trip to the toy store and had our daughter ask me to join them. I knew both my daughter and her birthmother wanted some time alone, but again that insecure, small part of me wanted to scream, "But it's supposed to be my day!" Luckily, I had my filter on, and did not say that out loud. Instead, I told myself that a little alone time might be just the trick to help me sort out these swimming emotions. So, I told them I wanted to take a bath and to go on without me.
Inside, I was ping-ponging between sad, happy, grateful, spiteful, petty, and mad at myself for not just enjoying all the blessings in my life. As I settled down into my bath, I finally just acknowledged that I was sad for myself, and sad for our birthmothers, and that it was okay. I would practice gratitude and mindfulness, and all my other wonderful coping skills after the bath. But for the period of time while I was soaking in that tub, I was just going to let myself be sad, and accept that emotion.
I would not call that bath relaxing, but when I rose and went on with my day, it was as if the sadness just started lifting. Within an hour, I realized that I felt lighter. Even the day seemed clearer, and—most importantly—I was finally able to feel authentically grateful for my life—most especially for my kids and the wonderfully strong, selfless people that brought them into the world, and gave them to my husband and myself. Sitting with the sad allowed me to embrace the day.
So, the take home message for me this year (and for every year) is this: I have to remember to make room for the sad/mad/whatever. As much as I might want to push through, avoid it, or belittle myself for having these feelings, I must remember to give myself permission to feel the pain without judgment, numbing or avoidance. Because the joy that is on the other side is waiting. And also because there is something remarkable about the relationship between mother and child (and adoptive and birth mothers)—even when the road to that relationship is twisted and dark. Happy belated Mother's Day to all you women out there who, like me, are still waiting for the Hallmark greeting card that seems to touch on everything it means to be a mom, almost a mom, or still waiting desperately for that title.