The famous holiday from hell as far as birth mothers are concerned is upon us: Mother’s Day. Reminders are as common as grass: on television and in the newspaper, on the computer. AOL has a click-on icon that takes you to a virtual catalogue of goodies to buy: eye shadow (I am not kidding) to leather briefcases and of course, the ubiquitous flowers.
For those of us who want a relationship with the children we lost to adoption, reminders of the flowers and cards we will not get on Sunday are fresh knives to the heart. Especially after I found my birth daughter, Jane, and she did not remember me in any way—no card, no phone call, drop dead, why don’t ya—it was a depressing day. Remember, over the years we had spent a great deal of time together; she had lived with us for months at a time. Yet Mother's Day would come and go without any acknowledgment. Did it feel like further punishment? You bet it did. The card I got from my stepson simply reminded me of a daughter who had decided to forget. I would counter my gloom by repeating yogic thoughts: Mother’s Day is only one day. Tomorrow is another day, a not Mother’s Day.
And: We make ourselves prisoners of our feelings, when they are neither good or bad, they just are.
I only succeeded up to a point. I was sure that Mother’s Day was being celebrated with bells and whistles and flowers and dinner with Jane’s adoptive mother back in Wisconsin. I never asked. I did not harbor any resentment over that, naturally, but could not Jane have at least sent a card or made a last-minute phone call? She had to be aware it was Mother's Day. Yet I kept my feelings to myself. I did not call her. I called my own mother instead; some years I brought my mother to New York from Michigan at that time and my husband and I were able to take her to a fancy lunch. Other years I sent flowers. Like many birth mothers, I did not have other children, and so had no one to distract me from Jane's ignoring me on this day.
Finally, after years—hell, decades—of being forgotten by my daughter on this day, I took a leap of courage and told Jane during one of our close periods that her ignoring Mother’s Day really hurt my feelings. That a mere phone call, or a card, some acknowledgment that I existed, that I was also her mother, would have turned the day completely around for this birth/first mother.
Jane’s life was not without travail, and she was on her own by this time. Now she remembered to call or send a card for Mother's Day as often as she forgot. But somehow the mere act of having told her how I felt made it easier on my mind when I did not hear from her. The cards I prize the most are the funny ones that obliquely refer to our fractured relationship. The best has a humorous photograph of a mother and daughter who look amazingly alike and which thanks me for “keeping her head on straight.” Once she was married, she always remembered, except for the year or two when she had decided I was not going to be in her life anymore. Yes, that continued to happen, right up until the end.
The one card about which I am not enthusiastic was the $3 pink Hallmark special: For My BirthMother it says on the outside. I wanted to ask, but did not, had she sent her other mother a card that said: For My Adoptive Mother? By the time she sent that, I'd known her for so many years and through so many trials and tribulations. Naturally I kept my little internal carping to myself and simply thanked her for remembering.
Not surprisingly, I am not a fan of any “birth mother celebrations,” even if they were the brainchild of first/birth mothers themselves, as apparently some of them are. The Saturday before Mother’s Day is designated as “Birthmother’s Day.” Special gatherings of first mothers are planned in several states, I read. To all this I say, gag me with a spoon. I can not think of anything more depressing that getting together with other first mothers on the day calibrated to remind us of possibly the worst day in our lives…unless we were going to the theater, a super lunch, a day at the spa, or just getting together because we are friends.
This is the first year in several that I did not get numerous reminders to attend a Spence-Chapin gala in Manhattan, which I looked upon as a mawkish reminder of all that had been lost. I know a hasty email I sent offended at least one of the birth mothers involved in the planning. But I can not see how such a “celebration” for women who have relinquished their children--sponsored by an adoption agency--is anything more than a pat on the head for good service done, as in: You gave us product for our business. Thank you. Hey, have lunch on us, light a candle together, we share your pain.
Maybe smarter heads at Spence Chapin decided this year that such a pity party was not a great idea. I would have liked it if it had turned into a raid upon their records! So while I know there are several events planned in several states for Birthmother’s Day, I will refrain from taking part. There are enough reminders everywhere that doing anything extra to mark the day becomes an exercise in self-flagellation.
Of course, now it is different for me. Both my mother and my daughter are deceased and I will spend the day ignoring Mother’s Day. If it’s nice I’ll work in the garden, I always find that restorative. Maybe we’ll take in a movie—as long as it’s mindlessly escapist. I will probably not go to brunch in a restaurant that day, as they are always jammed. Maybe I’ll have a glass of wine with lunch, wherever that is. Maybe I’ll stimulate the economy and buy something nice for myself .
And the day after Mother's Day will be Monday. Another day. I won't have to think about this for another year. --lorraine
For another take on “Birth Mother” celebrations, see