My relationship to Mother’s Day has shifted substantially over the years. It didn’t mean a great deal to me until life surprised me with fertility struggles. Once it became clear that achieving parenthood was going to be an emotionally and physically draining obstacle course, I began to think of my first Mother’s Day as the finish line—hazy and indistinct in the distance—certain, I thought, to deliver to me that sense of having “arrived.”
Until I crossed that finish line, Mothers’ Day was an occasion for hibernation. I didn’t want to see happy families walking around. I didn’t want to see strollers or drowsily content women rubbing swollen bellies. Heaven protect the infertile woman who forgets the date and goes to brunch on Mother’s Day! I can tell you from experience that servers will wish all women of a certain age a happy Mother’s Day, whether they are moms or not. Frankly, that is a moment when polite inclusion sucks. For me, Mother’s Day manufactured obligation and felt like a cosmic statement on what I could not achieve.
Though I put a lot of effort into maintaining hope and a good attitude during my adoption wait, this Hallmark holiday shook loose my confidence that I would ever become a mother. I came to disdain and revere the holiday in equal measure.
And then my daughter was placed with us. I switched teams. I would like to say that my first Mother’s Day was the triumphant (yet pastel-colored and softly-lit) public event in which the entire world could see my exalted state of competent motherhood. Perhaps it was, but I can’t say—I was too exhausted to remember. Only days before I was so savagely tired that I’d taken a shower with my clothes on. THAT seemed a more authentic marker of motherhood.
Since then, I actually have had some of those iconic moments that I so badly wanted and felt so elusive: being solemnly presented with a stunning macaroni necklace and the card hand-written with blocky and backwards first letters. There was the exceptional key chain made with chubby 3-year-old fingers that I cherished and cried over when it broke.
And moments I could not have imagined: I have learned to share this holiday with my daughter’s birth mother. We talk to her and send a card. My daughter speaks of her first mom on Mother’s Day, and I think of her persistently throughout. I remember having moments early on when I felt a pang, so wanting to be the “only” mom. Now I feel peace and love and confidence about being one of my daughter’s two mothers, and I can’t quite say how that came about, perhaps the passage of time, plus intention and contact. What I know for sure is that my own motherhood is predicated on someone else’s. And I love her for it. And I love that our daughter loves us both. And I want to celebrate her birth mom. That is a turn of events I could not have predicted.
Mother’s Day now is largely sweet, not so charged, and about the right size for me. The only hitch is that I experience a vaguely traitorous feeling about celebrating my good fortune when I think of all the women who are still waiting to be mothers. On the second Sunday in May, I always spend some time thinking about the women who are waiting for adoption, those who struggle with infertility, and those who have experienced pregnancy loss. Every mother I know who had a challenging journey to motherhood thinks of the women still waiting. That was not obvious to me when Mother’s Day was a distant finish line, but now I feel I am in the cheering section with so many others, ready to wave new moms across, holding faith that so many more will make it if they can just endure the home stretch.
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