My first Mother’s Day after placing my son in an open adoption, a theater friend invited me to see the play she had produced. It was about a teenage boy who gets relentlessly bullied because he’s being raised by a same-sex couple. My son’s adoptive parents are a same-sex couple, so needless to say, this was not the story I wanted to hear on my Mother’s Day. Some of my well-meaning friends and family members were already concerned that my son was going to be bullied or mistreated because of his daddies, and I'd already had to talk them down. Watching a kid literally become suicidal as a result of experiencing that kind of bullying hit me right in the heart. That was not a great Mother’s Day.
Many birth mothers feel invisible on Mother’s Day, because it’s not a holiday that particularly acknowledges us. When I was pregnant with my son, and I already knew I would be placing him for adoption, I jokingly asked why there were no “Happy Mother’s Day to the woman planning to give away her fetus” cards; now I think that those cards would seriously be a good idea. It would be nice for us to be acknowledged as a group.
The closest thing I get to a “Happy Mother’s Day, Birth Mother” card is the printed program for my adoption agency’s annual birth mother dinner. Every year, on the Tuesday before Mother’s Day, birth mothers of all generations and backgrounds gather to eat a meal, share our stories, and validate each other’s grief. It’s a beautiful, intense, and cathartic experience; I cry every year. But on the day itself, we are on our own.
I didn’t see my son or his daddies that first Mother’s Day. We visited often and still do, but I think we were too cautious around each other at that point to bring up the possibility of spending Mother’s Day together. But the following year, they asked if I wanted to go to a “baby rave” (nope, I didn't know what it was either) with our son and have a picnic afterwards. I said yes, obviously; even if wanting to be validated as a mother on Mother’s Day hadn’t been motivation enough, I very much needed to know what a “baby rave” entailed.
At this point, my son Leo was about one and a half. Before the baby rave, we got coffee in Bryant Park (baby raves apparently happen at 11:00 a.m.), and a homeless man walking by wished me a happy Mother’s Day. He paused, looking at the two men accompanying me, and pointed to one of them. “He the father?”
“They both are.”
He stood there trying to make sense of my words. He tried again. “Father and stepfather?”
“Fathers,” I replied. He just stared at us, confounded, and eventually gave up and walked away.
When it was time for the baby rave, we walked into a giant room where soothing ambient electronica was playing, and big multi-colored mobiles hung from the ceiling. It was, honestly, a bit boring. There wasn’t much to actually do at the baby rave, but Leo got a kick out of the corner where you could stick felt circles to the fabric on the wall.
That day, Leo's dads argued about things like who had forgotten to bring the blanket for the picnic, and it was my first time ever seeing them argue like that. In retrospect, it was incredibly mild bickering, but at the time, it was borderline terrifying. It was like watching your own parents argue, but worse, because you chose for these people to be responsible for your child. My mind, naturally, went to the worst possible places: Oh my God, what if he grows up with parents who fight all the time? What if they get divorced? Oh my God oh my God oh my God. Later, it occurred to me that they might have been arguing over the details because they wanted to do the day “right," because I never saw them argue that much again.
But even with the arguing, I was on a lawn with my son, who seemed incredibly happy, and his daddies. We got a stranger to take a picture of us, and it was a beautiful sunny day. For the first time in my life, I was being honored as the mother that I was on Mother’s Day.
This Mother’s Day, I just ask that you remember that this is a complicated day for many people; for birth mothers, for women who’ve had miscarriages, for mothers who have had to bury children and children who have had to bury mothers, for transgender parents, for surrogates, and on and on.
Mother’s Days with them have since become much more casual; we make last-minute brunch plans, or sometimes we spend the day apart. (This year, I will be out of town for the big day, but Leo and I plan to Skype, and I am looking forward to it.) I cannot express how much it means to me that his adoptive parents acknowledge and celebrate me as his birth mother, both on Mother's Day and during the rest of the year. I am, in this way and so many others, indescribably lucky. And I have so many people in my life who know my birth mother status that I’m always guaranteed at least a “Happy Mother’s Day,” but many birth mothers are not so lucky. Every year at my birth mothers dinner, I hear stories of reunions with adult children gone awry, or of birth mothers searching for their children for decades in vain. Many of these birth mothers carry these stories in secret, hidden away from their loved ones. They are invisible.
This Mother’s Day, I just ask that you remember that this is a complicated day for many people; for birth mothers, for women who’ve had miscarriages, for mothers who have had to bury children and children who have had to bury mothers, for transgender parents, for surrogates, and on and on. I just ask that you take a moment to think of us, to honor our experiences, to light a candle for us or shout us out on social media if you feel so inclined. This Mother’s Day, I just ask that you do one small thing to show us that you see us.