This is a post that has been rambling around in my heart for a long time – like years. I am not sure if I can actually put into a cohesive post everything that needs to be said, but I will try.
Mother’s Day has a long and varied history from celebrating female goddesses in ancient cultures, to religious significance, to the very commercialized and popular American holiday. In the beginning of the modern American tradition, the holiday was built on the pain of mothers who had lost their children in the Civil War. It was a way to gather mothers in protest of the war. After the war the mother’s day concept was used to try to heal the wounds of the war. Then it became a commercial explosion – one that does a pretty good job of marginalizing a big portion of the population. I am not saying that mothers do not need to be recognized and honored for all they do for their children. They fully deserve this day of honor and rest. But there are still a lot of women who curl into themselves during this holiday, quietly suffering and fervently praying the day would just end.
I was part of that number not long ago. My womb was empty, my heart was filled with love to give to a child, and my arms ached. I would intentionally not go home to visit my mom until after Mass because I did not want to admit that I did not go to church on Mother’s Day. Watching all the moms walk in with their children, many sporting corsage, then having to sit while all the mothers stood for the special Mother’s Day blessing caused actual physical pain in my stomach. I was filled with anger at my broken body that could not carry a child, anger towards God who placed this desire for motherhood in my heart by was not showing me how to fill it. I was angry at myself for not letting go of these emotions – for the selfish feelings of hurt and anger, for the resentment that I felt towards these women who had been blessed with children but continuously complained about the weight they gained or the sleepless nights because of a child teething. Did they have no concept of the vastness of their blessings? Did they not understand that there are those of us who submit to humiliating and painful tests and procedures to have that one chance to feel a child move within our womb, to watch the wonderment in our spouse’s face as he feels his child kick for the first time? Do they not understand how our ears crave to hear that precious heartbeat and our eyes to see the shadowy image of feet, hands, and spine on an ultrasound screen? Those other moms, the ones who complain, have succumbed to the selfishness of our society. They do not see their fertility as a gift from God, they see it and the stresses and strains of motherhood as an inconvenience, something that is keeping them from doing what they want to do.
During that time in my life God did place some very precious women in my life – mothers who rejoiced in their motherhood. Yes, they complained about a long stretch of sleepless nights, but they complained with joy. They recognized how honored they were to be blessed by God. Their complaints were nothing more than stating a reality of how tired they were and the very human need to vent. These were women who allowed me to be part of their pregnancies and the lives of their children. These were mothers who taught me how to be a mother in today’s world. They allowed me to be a mother figure to their children, and it counteracted a lot of the bitterness that had found a home in my soul. These were women who recognized my pain, who listened to what I needed to heal, and they walked with me, sometimes carrying me, through the shadows and nightmares of infertility.
I am now a mother. I stand tall when they ask the mothers to stand for the blessing, but I stand not only for me, but also for 2 other women. I don’t stand alone because I did not become a mother on my own. The joy I now feel at Mother’s Day is built on the pain of someone else – the first mothers of my children. I do not know the exact circumstances that resulted in that mother/child relationship being disconnected. I do know that I have been given the honor to raise these children. I also recognize that I have a responsibility to those First Mothers – to never forget their pain, to teach my children that their First Mothers deserve honor and respect. As I stood in church on Sunday and received that blessing on behalf of myself and those two other moms, I wondered how many First Moms were sitting in the congregation, harboring their own anger and pain, some of it possibly directed at me since my children are obviously adopted and I am a visible reminder of children no longer in their arms. How many First Mothers did not feel they had a right to stand up and receive that mother’s blessing? I cannot know their pain, their emotions. But I do know that I respect them in so many ways – for giving birth, for living with and through the pain of relinquishment – at times relinquishment not of their choice. I respect the women who speak out for ethical adoption reform and work tirelessly to help other women. I honor the women who live silently with their pain and loss. But mostly, I honor them because they are moms.
Mother’s Day, it should be such a simple day. But the reality is that it is not a simple day, just as being a mother is not simply feeding and dressing a child. I still feel an ache on Mother’s Day – the ache of a dream child who will never be born. Some people will say that I have not “resolved” my feelings or “come to terms” with my infertility. That is not it at all. I learned years ago that pregnancy does not equal motherhood. I learned that motherhood is listening, teaching, mentoring, but above all, loving and accepting. I ache because I mourn a dream of what could have been. But I am firmly rooted in what is – children who call me mama, who run to me when they have a boo-boo or their feelings get hurt, children who I help navigate murky moral waters, children who I was created to mother. God knew that these children would need a second mom. In a perfect world that He controls all women who want children would have babies, and all women who had babies would have all the tools they need to raise them, and that all babies would live in healthy, happy homes with their original families. But God gave us free will. He knew that the result of the free will He has given us results in children who cannot always live with their first parents. So God molds some of us to be parents in another way. He carves holes in our hearts the shape of the children who He knows need a place to fit. A perfect solution in an imperfect world. Happy Mother’s Day to all women who influence children to be better than the world around them.