' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Mother's Day: The Holiday from Hell, Part 2

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mother's Day: The Holiday from Hell, Part 2

"Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother."

Ah yes, Mother's Day, the drumbeat continues: On the way back from my morning Starbucks, I am tuned into the local NPR station, Peconic Public Broadcasting, and hear Bonnie Grice on The Eclectic Cafe after she makes some remarks about the upcoming holiday from hell, Mother's Day, say:  Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother.

But without biology, there is no life. Without mothers, natural mothers who actually nurtured life with their bodies and gave birth, there is no mother at all, no child to mother, nada, zip, zero, and no adoptive mother. The least of what makes a mother? Hardly. The essential nexus of what makes a mother.

What Mr. Grice did by using this quote is demonstrate how negating biology plays into the zeitgeist of the adoption-forward culture in which we live. The words assure adoptive parents that biology counts for nearly nothing, tells the children (who instinctively know otherwise) that their adoptive mothers are the ones who count....and they needn't care about us especially on Mother's Day...because...biology is the least of what makes someone a mother. In repeating it, Ms. Grice took the back of her hand to each of us mothers who gave birth, and then relinquished our children because we could not raise them.

I do not meant to disparage here the many women who mother children whose biological mothers are on drugs or otherwise addicted, incarcerated,or who do not care for their children. It's just that, geeze, do we have to have this thrown at us all the time? That we hardly count?

Obviously the quote originated out of Oprah's distance and nearly estranged relationship with her own mother, and it appears it will continue to dog us all our days. 

But there's another quote that has made it onto desk calendars, birthday cards and Hallmark bookmarks: Other things may change us, but we start and end with family. The author of this is none other than my esteemed Significant Other, Anthony Brandt. It comes from a piece he wrote decades ago as the ethics columnist for Esquire magazine. He devoted a column to family ties, and wrote about me finding my daughter, his relationship with his brother, and the enduring bonds that exist among families connected by biology. It was called Blood Ties. (No, it's not on the web. Not yet.)

And yes, it was actually a Hallmark bookmark. In 2007.
I just found a cache of Mother's Day cards in my top desk drawer from my daughter, Jane., and I see I did keep the dreaded "Birth Mother" card with its verse ending this way:
"...You wanted the best for me
and made what was probably
the hardest decision of your life.
I understand that now, and
because of that decision,
I had better chances and opportunities
than I might have had otherwise.
Not only did you give me life
but you also gave me...a life,
and for that, I'll be forever grateful."
...in other words, thank god I was adopted because otherwise I might be trailer trash!

I was not able to tell my daughter Jane how I felt about the sentiment conveyed, or the "for my Birth Mother" on the front of the card.

But I also found my favorite, the funny card with the picture of the mother and daughter look so much alike. "Happy Mother's Day and thanks....for helping me keep my head on straight." The mother on the card is holding her daughter's head as if to keep it--straight. (The card above is by the same artist, Adrienne Gusoff.)

Jane wrote quite a bit inside that card, but what is most poignant is how she signed it: "Love, your daughter, Jane." She was 33 at the time, but felt compelled to add:
"Don't tell Mom I signed it that way. Don't lie, just don't bring it up, Okay?" 
And that my friends is as good an example of adoptive guilt as you will find anywhere. --lorraine


  1. I am an adoptee who reads your blog from time to time. I have had a plaque on my wall since we bought our home 4 years ago with that saying on it... I just thought it was interesting to let you know that. Great post!

  2. God forbid my daughters should ever feel that way. We are doing our best to make sure they always know they have more than one mother and that's just fine with everyone.
    Happy real mother's day without qualifiers.

  3. ""Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother.""

    Without 'biology' the human race would have ceased to exist eons ago. Biology is the most important thing to the human race.

    Many years ago I read the book "Beyond Power: On Women, Men and Morals"...an excellent read.
    I can't remember the exact sentence she wrote in her book...but I have not forgotten the gist of the sentence. It went something like this.."The sins of the world are laid at the feet of the mother".
    She didn't say natural mother, birth mother nor adoptive mother...simply 'mother'. Without the original mother....no adoptive mother would have ever been made...never!

    Marilyn French also wrote.."Whatever they may be in public life, whatever their relations with men, in their relations with women, all men are rapists and that's all they are. They rape us with their eyes, their laws, their codes."

    Men wrote adoption laws 'othering' women/natural mothers, with the tacit approval of far too many women.

  4. Ilost my daughter to adoption in 1980. I was one of the young women that had nowhere to turn and no one telling me the truth. I was almost finished with college, smart and pretty, kind and fun. And I had a great mother to learn from. But my mother was ignorant about adoption and I believed her when she said I would be selfish if I raised my daughter. And so the sadness of a lifetime began.
    I think that saying might be a bit more accurate if it said "Biology is the least of what makes someone a mom". My daughter knows I am her mother. She honors that I gave her life. But she sure as anything doesn't feel that I am her mom. I don't blame her, I understand why, but it still hurts something awful.

  5. Biology is it seems the best of what makes a mother and an unbreakable connection.
    Happy Day all.

  6. Thanks everyone for your comments.

    Yes, men wrote the laws denying motherhood to women who gave birth "out of wedlock" -- that is without the approval of a man. I remember being told that one reason for giving up a child was that the child needed a man to give him a last name.

  7. I'm really happy to read you didn't throw out Jane's card.

  8. I would give anything to receive a "Mother's Day" card... but I would throw out a "Birth" mother's day card. I am not her "birth" mother - I am and will always be her "MOTHER"

    I am definitely going to borrow your Significant Other's quote. I find it to be the best of things.

    As well as the statement by Marilyn French..... Thank you!

  9. @ Lori
    Why would someone throw out a card that was well intended and from someone dear, especially if the sender didn't understand the controversial nature of the term "birthmother" in adoptoland? I can understand why the recipient might feel a pang, but not why they'd be so insulted that they'd chuck the card.

  10. Dear Anon:
    Please read my post from yesterday
    re the card I hated, the "Birth Mother" card.

    It's as welcome as an "Adoptive Mother" card would be to an adoptive parent.

  11. @ Lorraine
    The difference is that the public has been sold a typical Hallmark moment with the birthmother day schtick, and some newly reunited adoptees may unwittingly buy into this.
    I would hope their sincere attempts at reaching out to their mothers wouldn't be junked in a fit of petulance over something they didn't as yet understand.

  12. Anon:

    You are right that the Hallmark moment is what has been sold as the acceptable norm to the world, adoptees included, but the sentiment in that card of my daughter's, in essence, says (while trying to be understanding) thank you for giving me up for adoption. I had a much better life than if I had stayed hooked up with you--look at you!

    Well, that would be analogous to us sending a note to an adoptee saying, thank you for not minding being adopted--I was able to finish my education, marry someone nice, have a good life...so I'm so glad I found a way to not raise you!

    But the mothers who wish reunion with their children are not going to be put off by the wrong card, but maybe in time there can be an honest discussion of what the person/card/sentiment actually means. I'm sure there are mothers who don't mind the birth mother term--I don't either, depending on the place and situation and person saying it--because we all know what it means. At my daughter's funeral, standing five feet away from her adoptive mother, a friend of my daughter's introduced herself and eagerly asked if I were Jane's "biological mother." It was just fine; she went on to tell me how Jane talked about me all the time. So it's all in the presentation.

    Look, I even use Birth Mother in the blog's name--though it's URL is firstmotherforum.com--because that is how people find our blog. We're just saying, be careful with the term birth mother. Understand that when I got that Birth Mother card, which made me feel lousy, I had had a relationship with her for nearly 20 years. Which is why I mentally hit the ceiling when I learned an adoptive mother corrected a friend of mine when she used the word "daughter" to "birth daughter" within a week or so her her suicide. I'm sure she hasn't thought about it since, and every time I see her, and I have to see her more than I would like, I am tempted to ask how her "adopted daughter," is--you know, the one with the migraines?

    There are mothers who will not sign petitions for open records that called them "birth mothers." See the blog Adoption Critique and her discussion of the term "birth mother."

  13. ""Well, that would be analogous to us sending a note to an adoptee saying, thank you for not minding being adopted--I was able to finish my education, marry someone nice, have a good life...so I'm so glad I found a way to not raise you!""

    Well said Lorraine!! Most people certainly are not comfortable with a turn of the table nor of having to wear the ill-fitting shoes of another. Is just fine with many a folk, so long as the table isn't turned...nor forced to wear the ill-fitting shoes of another.

    God knows....most adoptive mothers all over America, would be highly upset with receiving an 'Adoptive Mother' card on Mother's Day. And most AMs would be lying if they said they wouldn't be upset or hurt.

    I can just imagine how you felt Lorraine...I am sorry. Thankfully my reunited daughter no longer calls me 'birthmother' and has never given me a 'Birthmother's Day' card. Most times, I don't even get a Mother's Day card from her...and that has always been OK with me. I prefer no card at all, any day, to a 'Happy Birthmother's Day' card.

    BTW...she's coming this Saturday to take me out for 'Mother's Day'. As she said to me on the phone.."I don't think we have ever been together on Mother's Day or even close to it...and you are my mother."
    Reunited almost 12 years now. No walk in the park, that's for sure...but we just go along as best we can.

  14. I know this is a post for first/birth/real/biological/genetic moms, and while I understand your sentiments, I have one request: Will someone please allow me, an adoptee/real/human daughter of unknown origins to be able to send a card? Preferably to my actual genetic mom?

    I understand why this "holiday" is tough for you. But I've never once in my life been able to celebrate Mother's Day without wondering why I don't have one (a mother, that is).

    And, frankly, I don't care if she doesn't like what the card says. "You make your bed, you lie in it." She made my bed, too, not just her own, and it will be eternally unfair and painful. She knows my medical history, saw my real birth certificate, looked me in the eyes and heard my voice, touched me...things I've never gotten the chance to do.

    Every Mother's Day I think of HER. Every Mother's Day I face that my mother took my mother away from me. It's a horrible, awful day, I agree.

  15. Oh Kristi, adoption just sucks when I read comments like years.

    Still batting back tears after all these years...

    xo to you

  16. Kristi, as another adoptee, I share your frustration.

    Add to that, the fact that I *found* my birthmother and she wanted NOTHING to do with me. For her, I represent the shameful secret she's kept hidden from everyone for 40 years.

    I used to always think of her on Mother's Day (I'd never heard of "Birthmother's Day) and wish her well & try to let her know telepathically that I'm alive & well, and very thankful for the chance to have been born at all.

    Once she rejected my reunion attempt, Mother's Day is more mixed for me.

    "Birthmother" is the term I use for her when I'm feeling more charitable, otherwise it's "biological mother."

    The firstmother/birthmother blogosphere is dominated by women who tend to want contact with the children they placed, and who wished they could have raised those children.

    The women who wish their children had never been born are under-represented, as they don't want to admit to themselves that they are actually mothers, let alone tell the world about it.

    Which is not to say that such women aren't knotted up in layers of denial and hurt. I wish more than anything my birthmother could forgive herself and admit I exist.

    I agree that having a separate day to celebrate birthmothers is misguided and insensitive.

    I still think of my birthmother on Mother's Day. But it is messy and painful. Just like adoption itself.

    (For what it's worth, Lorraine, my biological father found me and basically told me straight up:

    "Thank you for not minding being adopted--I was able to finish my education, marry someone nice, have a good life...so I'm so glad I found a way to not raise you!"

    Which complicates my feelings on Father's Day, too.)

  17. Carrie,
    I am so sorry to hear your story. Yes, send your mother a card. She will be touched even if she does not respond. Don't assume your mother wishes you were never born. She may be burdened with many layers of denial. She may believe that refusing to meet you is the only way she can contain her pain.

    Perhaps as time goes on and she learns more about adoption and reunion through the media, she may be more willing to get to know you.

  18. Thanks for your empathy, Jane. I've been trying to work up the courage for another attempt at contacting her, but the prospect of a 3rd rejection is so daunting. It feels unfair that the burden of risk should be on me.

    I do respect her right to privacy. I know (through my biological father), that she aborted a subsequent pregnancy, and that she never married, nor had other children. She also never told anyone in her family, which was very strict Catholic. Not sure she's going to be able to receive me, ever.

    If there were first/birthmother forums where women deep in denial could be contacted, I would ask for advice on how to word my next letter. Your post about writing a letter to the child you gave up (http://www.firstmotherforum.com/2011/05/writing-letter-to-child-you-gave-up-for.html) has some semi-applicable tips. Thanks for posting those.

    Wishing all of us touched by adoption as peaceful a Mother's Day as possible.

  19. I am noticing a theme in the comments to this article that has come up in other articles on this blog. And that is that not all first mothers or adoptees for that matter want a reunion. Blogs like FMF & others of a similar nature are only showing one side of the picture. I have to agree with Carrie that it is not solely her responsibility to make her relationship work with her first mother. Each individual has to decide for him or herself how much rejection he or she is willing to take.

    I found that the rejection by my first parents was the most profound rejection I could ever face in my life. I understand that for many first mothers there was no rejection, per se, since due to coercion, pressure, social mores, etc. they had no choice but to relinquish their child. To many of us adoptees, however, it feels like rejection.

    My natural father plain and simply did not want a child. Not then, not ever. My first mother would have married him in a heartbeat but he was having none of it. He freely chose to give me up for adoption. He died young when I was still a minor. If he had been alive when I was searching, I would hope that I would not have looked for him. He gave me enough rejection the first time around to last a lifetime. Clearly, I did not inherit his emotional nature or character as I cannot fathom wanting to give my child to strangers never to be heard from again.

    For the record, he never even crosses my mind on Father's Day.

  20. Well, geez, this post has me thinking...what did I do (or not do) for my fmother on the one Mother's Day I had with her? We reunited in October 1995 and she passed away in December 1996, so we would have only had the one "holiday". Did I send her a card? Did I make the trip down to spend the day with her? Or did I do nothing at all? I can honestly say that I have no memory of that day whatsoever, probably mostly because I didn't know it would be the only chance I would have to do something nice for her on a Mother's Day.

    I'd like to think that I did something nice because that is my nature, but then again, I was only 19 at the time and had no clue how much Mother's Day meant to women and probably especially how much it meant to her.

    If it counts for anything, the one Christmas we had together I did get her a mother's ring...one with all 4 of her children's birthstones in it. I know it was special to her because despite her selling off most of her belongings when she got strapped for cash, she never sold or lost that ring or let it be stolen.


    A sincere "Happy Mother's Day" to Lorraine and Jane and to all of the wonderful mothers who read and post here.

  21. Lorraine,
    That is such a beautiful picture of you, your husband and your granddaughter. I am so glad you have gotten to have a relationship with both of your granddaughters. When I think of how evil closed adoption is and that it was designed to prevent you from having these relationships...just unconscionable.

  22. To Carrie and others who come here after being rejected by their birth mothers:

    I honestly don't know what to say because anything seems inadequate. I know how painful it was when my daughter would stop speaking to me for a reason I could not fathom. And so all I can do is extend my sincere empathy and acknowledge your pain.

    It's a gorgeous day here in the East; I'm going to clean out some closets in preparation for a yard sale today and work in the yard. It's perfect for that.

    And Lisa: The ring sounds perfect, I'm glad she kept it, and yes, I can see how at 19 it would not sink in how weirdly awful a holiday Mother's Day is for birth mothers.

    In the meantime...every weatherman on television is giving the weather around how it will be for...Mother's Day.


  23. One more "different" point of view. I can't imagine being angry, distressed or disappointed by any card or gift sent to me by my surrendered son. Yes, that would include "Happy Birthmothers Day", but then I do not think a "Happy Adoptive Mother" card should be viewed as an insult either. I honestly don't get how people get so upset over a word, and miss the fact that the kid actually cared to send something, which very many would not.

    I certainly would not throw anything any of my kids sent me away. Maybe 20 years of not hearing from my son changed my viewpoint, but I always thought any gift should be accepted graciously. And the few things he has sent are deeply treasured. No, he has never done anything for Mother's Day, but that's ok. He hated his adoptive mother, and if he chooses to ignore the day and be happy, good for him! Gifts should be freely given and thankfully received, not an obligation or something you expect.

    My other kids are free to ignore holidays as well, sometimes they do,sometimes they do not. It is not a big deal. Once in while they do something spectacular like the year Patrick took me to Hawaii, or Dan got me the Celtic cross for Christmas I wear most of the time.
    Gabe was here for the weekend, a rare visit last week, and I consider that an early Mother's Day present.

    I am content with Mother's Day and other holidays now, because I do hear from Mike regularly and do not feel he is lost any more. I miss my mother and my auntie who are dead, but they were old and that too is part of life. I intend to plant some flowers tomorrow and go out to eat with my husband and Dan. It will be a good day.

  24. Well Carrie, I "sort of" understand your feelings. I am a birthmother rejected by my daughter. It's been 5 years since first contact, and 2 years from her last contact - asking again not to contact here - I sent birthday greetings to her 2 years ago for her 40th birthday; before that she had asked me for not contact, but I just HAD to wish her Happy 40th - ya know... so now I sit and wait to see if she'll ever contact... ):

  25. What a gorgeous picture!

    Thinking of both of you today, I hope you have a wonderful and relaxing day.


  26. Thanks, Joy...it's been a good day so far. I love the picture too.

  27. Thank you, Lorraine. I recently advised a searching adoptee that "reunion can be messy & painful" and then was told by a firstmom, "Don't sell reunion short." I still haven't gotten over the shock of it. I appreciate your empathy more than you could know. Thank you.

  28. At the risk of being flamed here, I want to provide a different viewpoint on the "Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother."

    My mother gave birth to me. But she wasn't really a mother to me. She was never "there" for me and she walked away from me without a second thought. My aunt, who never gave birth to a child herself, raised me like the daughter she never had.

    Let's face it. Some women do not want their children. But let's not chastise the women who step in and pick up the slack for those women who abandon willingly, neglect, or abuse.

    Those women are the ones I feel that quote is referring to. Not you guys. Seriously, biology makes it so that women can get impregnated and give birth. Just because they do so, doesn't mean they have the skills, desire or ability to be a mother.

    I think Barbara Thavis said it best in her comments. "Biology is the least of what makes someone a mom."

  29. I am thrilled to know I am not alone. I lost my daughter to adoption when she was born Nov 2007. Her a-parents called me on Mother's Day 2011 and said "Happy Birth Mother's Day!" To be honest I was pissed. So I said back, "Happy Adoptive Mother's Day!" ... just so she knows how it feels. I have given up on trying to be "best friends" with the a-parents. I feel it is what it is, and there you go. If my daughter wants to know me one day, great, and if she doesn't, it will suck, but I won't be able to change her mind so F it. I just try and survive every day... that is about as good as it gets. I refuse to mope about it, though, internally or externally. We rock, chickies! :) connie

  30. Connie:

    Happy Adoptive Mother's Day was the perfect rejoinder. Glad it came to mind quickly enough.

    Welcome to FMF.

  31. "Just because they do so, doesn't mean they have the skills, desire or ability to be a mother."


    But most mothers intend to love their children. I don't think there are many women out there who plan to give birth "just" to abandon or abuse her child.

    I don't agree with that standpoint, or that it can be used as a standard viewpoint to defend adoption.

  32. "But most mothers intend to love their children. I don't think there are many women out there who plan to give birth "just" to abandon or abuse her child."

    This is not what I said. I said that "just" because they have the biology to conceive, carry and deliver a child does not mean they have the skills or desire to be a true mother to that child.

    What I said was not an argument for or against adoption. It was merely an attempt to explain the quote "Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother" from a different viewpoint.

  33. "just" because they have the biology to conceive, carry and deliver a child does not mean they have the skills or desire to be a true mother to that child."

    Whether or not a young woman believes she does or does not have the "skills" or "desire" to be a mother to her child (so many times her confidence in her own motherhood is skewed thanks to so many people around her telling her the that her child would be so much better off without her; that her child would be better off with strangers with more money and a bigger house, yada, yada, yada), she is STILL that childs mother. Biology means everything. You can't just erase a woman's motherhood and a child's rightful heritage with a piece of paper.

    To reinterate what another poster said, "Without 'biology' the human race would have ceased to exist eons ago. Biology is the most important thing to the human race..."

    I will go on to add (as it is only fair, since it seems so easy for some people to discount biology and the mother child bond that forms in utero) that just because an adoptive mother has more money, is older and the like does not make her the better option than a chid's own natural mother and family. It means she has more money and is older. That's it.



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