To The Women Who Birthed My Children: Mother's Day Is for You, Too

04/22/2015 07:49 pm ET | Updated Jun 22, 2015
Rachel Garlinghouse

Each Mother's Day before church, I pose for a picture with my three children. Their little, sticky hands are cupped around a shoulder and my neck. Later that day, they present me with handmade cards, a dessert and the promise of an afternoon nap. I shower them with kisses and hug them tightly.

My children don't have my eyes or my husband's thick hair. Each of our children is a beautiful mix of nature and nurture, a culmination of their birth families and us, their forever family. We don't share genes with our children, but we share a life.

Celebrating motherhood is something I longed for when I was told I had a chronic disease, one that would make pregnancy potentially dangerous for both myself and a baby. Immediately upon learning my diagnosis, I knew my husband and I would adopt.

We waited 14 long months for our first child. When she arrived, I was beyond ecstatic. We have pictures of every single simple moment. She was our world.

Adopting a child is a monumental event for any person or couple, and for us it was no different. I remember how hard my heart was pounding as we prepared to enter the courthouse to swear before a judge that we would love and protect this child for the rest of her life. It wasn't just a legal commitment, but a heart commitment.

That day was the both the happiest and saddest day of my life. My daughter's birth mother entered the court room first, the heavy doors closing firmly behind her. I knew what she was doing: terminating her parental rights and allowing those rights to be transferred to us, the couple she had thoughtfully selected for her baby girl. It was a time of severing. As she exited the courtroom, we shared a short, intimate conversation. Promises exchanged.

One evening while I was rocking my daughter in her nursery, watching her eyelids grow heavy, it dawned on me that I had been parenting her for the exact number of months she had been with her first mother. My eyes welled up with tears, and I realized how completely devastated I would be if I had parented my baby for 40 weeks and then handed her to someone else... forever. It was overwhelming and unimaginable, too painful to fully consider. I wept for my daughter's first mother.

When our second daughter arrived two years later, we faced similar experiences: joy, empathy, and the weight of eternity. We see so much of our second child in her birth parents, not just in physical appearance, like her height and dark brown skin, but in her preferences, talents and personality. She is part-theirs and part-ours. Blended.

Two years later, we adopted a little boy. Unlike with our girls, we were able to bring our son home from the hospital. We quietly entered the NICU and watched the nurses cut off his identification bracelets and gathered up papers, things that identified him as the little boy he was before he became ours.

As the nurses buzzed around us, getting my son ready for his departure, he began to cry inconsolably. He had been fed and his diaper changed. Was he crying because of the bright lights? Was he crying for the mother he knew he was leaving behind? Was he already missing her? My scent, my heartbeat, my voice, all unfamiliar to this little boy. He hadn't yet started his life with us. He was in transition.

The magnitude of these moments, the realizations, changed me. They still change me.

My children's first mothers are on my heart every Mother's Day, and really, every day of the year. They are my children's beginnings. Their blood runs through my children's veins. My children are forever a part of their first families.

I've heard, many times, what the general public thinks about women who chose to place babies for adoption. It has been concluded that these women "move on" or "move past" the placement of the child. That they "get on with their lives." As if they are a distant memory or a fad that went out of style. Dismissed. Forgotten.

But I know the truth. We live the truth. I know that placing a child for adoption is a forever-loss. I know that these women never forget or "get over" the children they conceived, carried, bore and love. I know a part of the women's hearts will be broken, indefinitely.

Each Mother's Day, when I pose with my children for our annual photo, I am reminded of how blessed I am to be the one they call "Mom," and how my claim to motherhood came at a tremendous cost. I am honored to have the privilege of raising my three babies. I have vowed to never forget the women who gave my children life, because I know their first mothers won't ever forget either.