Why I Honor My Kids' Birth Mothers Every Mother's Day
Every May, Mother’s Day arrives. Advertisements tell us that our deepest desires beckon our kids and partners to gift us flowers, homemade cards, promises of breakfast in bed, and cheesy (but adorable) mom jewelry. For one day, our motherhood role is universally glorified and celebrated.
I always knew I wanted to join the ranks of motherhood. I started babysitting when I was 12 years old. I eventually also worked in a daycare and as a nanny. I taught a children’s Sunday school class at my church for several years while I attended college. I considered becoming a preschool teacher, but instead wound up teaching college-level writing.
When my husband and I got married in our early twenties, we knew we wanted to become parents — but we had goals. I was earning my graduate degree while teaching, and he was climbing the corporate ladder. A visit to the emergency room changed everything for us. I was breathless, underweight, and shaking. Within an hour, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and carted off to the ICU.
During my five-day hospital stay, the hospital sent a diabetes nurse educator to teach me and my husband how to inject insulin, test my blood sugar, and count carbohydrates. She noticed my disinterest. I was curled up in the fetal position, covered in bruises, and depressed. Being the wise person that she was, she shifted topics, asking us if we planned to have children in the future.
As she discussed how a diabetic could have a healthy pregnancy, one word popped into my mind. I knew, without any doubt, that we were going to adopt.
During the next few years, as my health stabilized, we began gathering information on adoption. Then we had a home study done — interviews, background checks, home inspection, and more — all required in order to adopt. We attended trainings, met with others with adoption experience, and prepared a nursery. Then we waited, and waited, and waited.
Our profile book — that’s a book of pictures and captions that tell an expectant mother about our lives — was shown over fifteen times to moms considering adoption for their babies. For a year and a half, we were on an emotional rollercoaster. During this time, I experienced Mother’s Day without being a mother.
As a family of faith, we attended church that Mother’s Day — which was a huge mistake. The pastor asked all the mothers in the congregation to rise. Then he thanked the glowing women, and initiated a long applause session where everyone else joined in. I sat next to my husband, staring up at all the honorees, my arms and heart aching with emptiness.
I desperately yearned to struggle under the weight of a diaper bag on one shoulder and a wiggly baby on the opposite hip. I craved sleepless nights and endless laundry. I obsessively looked through baby name books. I wondered, daily, if we would ever be chosen to adopt a child.
And then, it happened. On a balmy November day, far from that torturous Mother’s Day, we got “the call.” Our baby was already born, we had been chosen, and we needed to pack our car and start driving to meet our daughter.
I naively thought that once I became a mom, the heartache would disappear. The baby would help complete us. We would be tired and thankful. That’s not what happened.
I remember when my daughter turned nine months old. I was rocking her in her nursery as the sun slipped behind the weeping willow in our backyard. Her eyelids grew heavy, and I pulled the blanket a little tighter around her body. Suddenly, it dawned on me that she’s been with me, her second mother, as long as she’d been inside her first mother. I teared up, my heart full of immense gratitude — but also grief.
We have adopted three more children after our first daughter. We brought home a second daughter, a son, and then a third daughter. Each time the kids reached a new milestone — first tooth, first step, first day of kindergarten, learning to ride a bike, and more — their birth parents were the first ones I wanted to tell. My — no, our — child was growing up.
A post shared by Rachel Garlinghouse: adoption🤎🤍breast cancer🎀 (@whitesugarbrownsugar)
My joy, my claim to Mother’s Day, only came because another mother lost. Even when the loss is voluntary, loss is still loss and grief is still grief. My heart is forever intertwined with my kids’ first mothers.
Each year, we send off Mother’s Day cards to our kids’ biological mothers. I want them to know that we love them, that we care about them, and that they are never, ever forgotten. I see them every day in our kids; not just physically, but in their personalities, their likes and dislikes, and their talents.
Mother’s Day for adoptive moms can be complicated — because many of us faced our own losses before stepping into the adoption journey, because we love and acknowledge our children’s first mothers, and because we know that being a mother is one of the most difficult, but also rewarding roles, one can take on. It is my honor to be my children’s second, adoptive, chosen mom, and I am ever-mindful that each of my children has two mothers — and both of us count.
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