05/13/2008 02:09 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Happy Mother's Day, China Mom

I'm not sure if they celebrate Mother's Day in China. But there is a mother somewhere in Hunan Province we honor each year on the second Sunday in May. Actually, the woman my family calls "China Mommy," is someone I think about virtually every day, not just on the designated date each year that marketers want us to send flowers and cards with standardized sentiments. It's impossible not to wonder about her each time I dress my daughter, or brush her silky, straight black hair, or listen to her enthusiastic belly laugh. I wonder if she looks like her birth-mother and if I'm seeing China Mommy's face when I gaze at my daughter's.

Over the last few years, my eight-year-old has started understanding that there is another mother in her life. My little girl is beginning to realize that she wasn't, as she describes it, "borned from" me and that this China Mommy we've talked about since we became a family is a real person and was her mother before I claimed that title.

I never thought Mother's Day would be a big deal to me once some little person started calling me "Mommy." While I loved making Mother's Day gifts for my own mom when I was a child, proudly presenting her each year with the latest craft that I had lovingly painted or molded at school, the concept of having one day out of 365 to thank the woman who raised me seemed a bit contrived. But I now know that having a special day to talk about mothers will allow my husband and me to help our daughter understand how we became a family, even though that will make it something of a bittersweet occasion for her.

As an adoptive mother, I have come to learn how important it is for many adoptees to know that at some point in their lives they can, if they choose, have a reunion with those who share their genetic makeup. But because of the reality of Chinese adoption (babies, usually girls, are left in well-known finding places with no identifying information, to be taken to the closest orphanage with the hope that a family will adopt her), my little girl will probably never have that chance. So with each passing Mother's Day, she will have to face how to deal with that and try to understand why she'll never be able to meet the woman who was her first mother. And to do that, we must remember her and talk about her, especially on Mother's Day.

Just as I often think of her, I am sure China Mommy wonders about us. I wish I could tell her, mother to mother, that the little girl she gave birth to has a smile as broad and beautiful as a field of daisies, that she is vibrant and energetic, and that she is a child with a joyful heart. Better yet, I wish she could see that for herself and that I could tell her, face to face, that her sacrifice gave me the gift of motherhood.

I know in my heart that my daughter is the child I was meant to have, even though she was not "borned from" me. That's why, as I send my own mother a card this Mother's Day, I write this to honor my daughter's birth-mother, and every other woman who has made the difficult decision not to parent a child she has brought into this world. Without China Mommy and others like her, thousands of women like me would not be celebrating our own motherhood.

Joanne writes about the intersection of motherhood & politics at her personal blog, PunditMom. You can also find her at BlogHer, where she is a Contributing Editor for Politics & News, and at MOMocrats.