Tag Archives: Adoption

“I’m a happy mother”: Honoring the joys and sorrows of Mother’s Day

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Growing up, my mom’s response to the exclamation “Happy Mother’s Day!” was always the same.

“I’m a happy mother!”

Now that I am a mother, I see this response from a more personal lens.  I have always wanted to be a mom.  I know that not every woman shares this desire for motherhood, which I respect.  But for me, it was something I just assumed would happen, along with every other goal or dream for my life.  I don’t remember yearning for it when I was younger and even newly married, partly because I was pursuing other ambitions and passions, but also because I believed it would happen exactly how and when I wanted it to.  I didn’t see the point in dwelling on it.  I would be a mom, and it would be great when the time was right.

Long gone are the days of simple assumptions about anything.

2 years ago, I remember sitting in church on Mother’s Day feeling alone and angry.  Dave and I had been “trying” (awkward) for longer than I was admitting to myself or others, and it wasn’t happening.  I watched loved ones and not-so-loved ones around me getting pregnant like it was an item on a lunch menu.

I‘ll have a salad.”

“And I will have a baby.”

My beliefs about life and the way the world worked were being challenged in a painful and paradigm-shifting turn of events.  After buying in to the adage that I was “Taking Charge of My Fertility”, both by preventing and then by not preventing, the realization finally hit me that I really have very little control over it at all.  This always reminds me of Charlotte on Sex and the City when she says, “I spent all of my twenties trying not to get pregnant and all of my thirties trying to get pregnant!”

So here I was, sitting in church, watching adorable children pass out carnations to the standing women- the mothers– and I finally yearned to be one of them.  It went beyond a “you do you and I’ll do me” mindset and it became personal.

“Why them and not me?”

In that moment, I felt like I was becoming the person I hated.  The person who believes that everything is about her and that someone else’s fortune is somehow in direct competition with her own.  And then something happened.  I stopped looking at the women who were standing and started looking at the ones who weren’t.  Young women.  Old women.  Single women.  Married women.  Women who looked annoyed and others who looked embarrassed.  Women who fidgeted in their seats and those who looked around smiling and nodding happily at the standing women around them.  I didn’t want to judge them.  I wanted to know them.  “What are their stories?”

What I am learning as I allow myself to be vulnerable with others about my story is that there are a lot of complicated, painful, confusing, uncomfortable, and tragic stories all around me.  There are also countless stories about love, redemption, second chances, joy from sorrow, strength in weakness and healing amidst loss and grief.  I am not unique.  But my story is valuable.  So is yours.

Today, on Mother’s Day, my mom’s words resonate in my heart and soul.

“I am a happy mother!” 

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I am not happy because I got what I wanted, nor am I happy because I deserved it all along.  I am happy because I have seen God work in my life in a real and personal way.  I am happy because God had a plan all along that was better than mine, and I didn’t know or understand that two years ago.  I am happy because the deep yearning I felt that day in church and the story I have been telling myself since childhood are connected.  For me, that’s the key to my story now.  It was never about getting everything I wanted.  It was about the desires, passions and visions God put in my heart the day I was created that have strengthened and evolved into something more beautiful than I could have imagined.

Mother’s Day is a painful day for a lot of people.  It represents loss as much as it represents gain.  It reminds people of what they used to have and what they have never had.  So in addition to my happiness today, there is room for grief.  I grieve the loss of my son’s first mom.  Today, while I celebrate my “mom” status with my son, she will feel her own loss acutely, and that pains my heart.  I grieve the loss of my parents’ mothers.  I am reminded of my mom’s face when my grandmother died and the deep wailing in her spirit as she verbalized that she had become an orphan.  I mourn with my friends and clients who never knew the love of a mother.  I weep with those who have lost a child or who have a child who is sick and hurting and they don’t know how to help.  I hurt with those who yearn for  a child deeply.

That’s the beauty of life, really.  Feelings are not compartmentalized; they are fluid.  They don’t exist one after another, but in a magnificent tapestry, woven together intricately and gently.

If you are a happy mother today, celebrate that.  If that label does not fit for you, honor that however you need to.  For me, I will enjoy my presents and cards and cherish every hug and acknowledgment.  I will also make a conscious effort to be sensitive to the stories of others and leave room for grief and contemplation while still embracing my “special day”.

My road to motherhood was not simple, but it was just as it was meant to be.  And for that, I am certainly a happy and grateful mother.

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My beautiful, complicated family

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My husband and I just celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary. I felt like we were really mature at the time.  When I look back now on who we were then, we seem like babies.  So young.  So wide-eyed, in love and ready for anything.

During the time leading up to our anniversary this year, several people asked me how long my husband and I have been married (a pretty standard question).  Some of those people were more like acquaintances or even strangers that I would be randomly making small talk with (side note: I have found that more people make small talk with me now that I have a kid… has anyone else noticed this?), and I could see the wheels turning in their brains as I stood there with my son and responded, “almost 4 years.”  Intuitively, I knew the question running through some of their minds.  “And how old is your son?”

I know this sounds funny to say, but I honestly hadn’t thought about the fact that our son was older than our marriage.  Not really.  The first time I felt myself becoming aware of it was when a stranger at a friend’s wedding asked me how long I have been married, and then quickly followed up the question with “Do you have any kids?”.  She didn’t ask me how old our child is, but she did ask me if he looked like me.  Ahh, another complicated adoptive family question.  I remember just smiling and saying simply, “Not really.”  She laughed and said, “Well, that’s how it works sometimes! I am sure the second one will be a spitting image!”  My internal voice-over was saying, “You’re sure of that?”

So yes, my son is 5, and my husband and I have been married for 4 years.  And that is where the story can end if I choose.  For someone who doesn’t like to make people uncomfortable or even uncertain, I could have seen a younger, less motherly version of myself over-explaining, volunteering too much information, and laughing along with the person as I clarify our very intimate, personal story so that no questions are left unanswered.  But I don’t do that.

In fact, I sort of like the awkward moments now.  I know it sounds weird (and maybe a little twisted), but I like to return the confused look with a warm smile before walking away.  The reality is that I have joined a club that I didn’t know I was joining.  This club doesn’t just include adoptive families.  It encompasses all sorts of complex family structures that don’t fit nicely into our traditional lens of the word family.  Having a child who is older than our marriage connects me with blended families, family caregivers, non-married partnerships, and all sorts of foster care and adoptive families.  The complication of not being able to become parents the traditional way connects me to other families dealing with infertility, gay and lesbian families, surrogate families, and families grappling with serious genetic concerns.  It’s not so lonely after all.  In fact, it’s pretty comforting.

Sometimes, it is so clear what God’s plan is in hindsight.  If we had gotten pregnant when we first started trying to conceive (or for the two years after that), we wouldn’t have become Josh’s parents.  And I know that I was meant to be his mother.  I know it so intimately and deeply that it overwhelms me sometimes.  He is my son. Completely. Unquestionably.

Maybe that assurance and that conviction makes it easier for me to deal with the awkward and uncomfortable situations that come sometimes.  Maybe I don’t feel the need to defend my family and how we got where we are because I can’t control what others are going to think or assume.  Maybe it’s also okay because I refuse to spend Josh’s life justifying it.

The fact that Josh is adopted is something we have no intention of hiding or dancing around.  We couldn’t even if we wanted to because our son has memories and experiences and feelings that don’t involve us, and we want to know everything he remembers so we can help him piece together his own story some day.  He refers to the time period before we came into his life as “when I was little”.  As soon as I hear those words, I stop what I am doing and listen as warmly and attentively as I can.  I also smile because, I mean seriously, how cute is that?

Sure, our story is complicated.  Whose isn’t?  I have to catch myself from assuming that people who do seem to become parents the traditional way don’t have complicated stories.  I am sure there is plenty of unspoken grief, painful loss and confusing times that may not be conveyed in the Instagram version of a person’s story.  I love our story.  I love talking about our story with close friends and family.  I love sharing pieces of our story in my blog and when I speak to groups of people.  But I also hold it sacredly, and I don’t throw it around or respond flippantly to questions that have much more meaning than people may understand when asking them.

Josh is so thoughtful and intuitive.  He is already piecing our story together and asking questions and trying to make sense of who he is in relation to us and to the world.  He loves looking at our wedding pictures, and often he makes comments about wishing he would have been there.  Dave and I just look at each other, smile, and tell him we wish he could have been there too.  Then we remind him that he was already in our hearts, even though we didn’t know it yet.  He likes that.  He seems comforted to know that we existed before him and our love for him proceeded his entry into our family.

And as he gets older and his questions get harder and more complicated, I pray that we will have the courage and the wisdom to speak genuinely about our amazing story- the story of how God made us a family.  And I pray that our son will rest in the assurance that, on May 2, 2008, 3 months after his father and I started dating and my first time meeting Dave’s parents who lived in the same city where Josh was born, God knew that our son had arrived into the world years before we did.  God knew that we were down the road from our baby, and that 4 years later, we would finally find each other.  That’s a complicated story that I could tell over and over again.

So I have decided that I like complicated.  The best and most meaningful things in life seem to be.

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