I think about my mom and my mother a lot. As a person who was adopted, I think about the woman who raised me, along with my dad, and I think about the woman who gave birth to me. There are two times a year when these thoughts intensify: May, right around Mother's Day, and October, right around my birthday.
My birthday is at times a bittersweet day. For many adopted people, the day you are born to one woman while being raised by another can be a tough one to balance.
As a child, I could never quite put my finger on why it was tricky. I never had the language or ability to articulate the other "stuff' in my gut that was swimming around with the cake and ice cream.
Does my biological mother my think of me on my birthday?
Did she love me?
Why did she leave me?
Do I look like her ? Does she have a "gap" in her smile too?
Do I have other brothers and sisters? Did she keep them?
On Mother's Day, though, my first thought was not about me, but about my mom. Especially as a young child, I was mostly caught up in creating the PERFECT gift for her -- something to honor her, make her feel special and loved.
At some point during the time leading up to Mother's Day, or on the actual day itself, thoughts of my biological mother crept in. Once again, as a young person, I did not have the language to articulate my thoughts and feelings, so I let them come and let them go. I was simply not equipped to do anything with or about them.
I am thinking about her on Mother's Day; is she thinking about me?
Who will make her a Mother's Day gift?
Does she miss me?
Will I ever see her?
As an adolescent, my adoption experience amplified, as I navigated figuring out my identity, with the added complex layer of figuring out how adoption fit into who I was and who I would become. I realized then that thoughts of my biological mother were not limited to my birthday or Mother's Day. Pretty much any time the going got rough, anywhere would be better than here.
Since my reality included a "somewhere else," I could "go" there in my mind, imagining that my biological mother would certainly understand me, would never tell me "no" and would simply be perfect in every way.
Sometimes, as self-absorbed adolescents tend to do, I did not see the perfectly imperfect mom that was right in front of me doing her absolute best. Because I could, I thought the other mother, the one I never knew, was probably, most definitely, better. My friends and contemporaries were all bemoaning their moms, too, but for me the fantasy of having another mother was a reality.
As I entered young adulthood, I began to explore more deeply how my identity relates to adoption and started to understand the world in an expanded way. I began to appreciate and love the mom I knew and the mother I did not in ways I could have never imagined. As I found answers on my search, I found language for some of my thoughts and feelings related to adoption, and I discovered a community of others (like me) experiencing adoption, all of which allowed me to process and heal. It became abundantly clear that the questions about my biological mother did not diminish the love for my adoptive mom. My questions and thoughts began to shift and were not coming in as heavy punctuated by specific holidays. They still came, but things were balancing out a bit and I was gaining control of this part of my existence.
As my search and reunion journey unfolded, some parts were so painful I did not think I could bear it. And then, a new question emerged: How can I help other people who are having similar experiences? This spirit of humanitarianism and strength comes directly from my upbringing and the strength of my mom. With this spirit, I set out on a path to channel my personal experience to help others. This path began with a tiny, specialized mentoring program and ultimately led to taking on a larger role in helping children and families.
On this Mother's Day, I am thinking about my mom, the woman who raised me and who I know fiercely loves me, as well as all of my siblings and countless others. The woman who told me about how in the first weeks after I arrived she'd hear me happily playing in my crib -- but when she entered the room and I saw her, I would scream and cry. When she told me about this, I cringed and asked, "What did you do?" She said, "I kept on coming in and one day you smiled at me." I think about the blessing of her strength, love and spirit that has been bestowed and passed on to me. I think of how deeply I love her.
On this Mother's Day, I am also thinking about my biological mother, who left the planet before I could see her again as an adult. I think about the decision she made and how isolated she was in this part of her adoption experience. I think about her strength and her pain. I understand her a bit and I am getting to know her through new connections to biological family members. While I may never fully understand or know her that way I want and need to, I think about the blessing of life she bestowed on to me.
All that I do and all that I am is wrapped up in two women. I simply would not exist without one and can't imagine life without the other. All that I know and all that I am still discovering reflect both of my families, most profoundly in my commitment to children and families. As I move through spaces that are both professional and personal, I learn, I evolve, and I hope that my passion inspires others. It's not always easy, but few things in life that we are truly passionate about ever are.
As I learned from my mom, you have to keep on coming in the room, until one day you smile and realize this is exactly where I'm supposed to be.
Learn more about the Donaldson Adoption Institute's work at AdoptionInstitute.org.