This year, I got my first homemade Mother’s Day card with my name on it.
I cried when I opened it. I was elated--at last! I am hers and she is mine!
But then the guilt set in: These were selfish thoughts, because I am not her only mother.
Fostering and adopting kids is something that my husband and I do because we know the need is great and we believe that all kids deserve a place to call home, but this type of parenting comes with complications that few others can understand.
Like the complication of having my name written on a Mother’s Day card.
Mother’s Day isn’t usually very joyful at our house. It’s not for lack of trying--we go through the motions. (I got some chocolate and a very fancy crockpot.) It’s just that the day ends up feeling heavy. Mother’s Day is a bit awkward for me: it is, of course, a day where I celebrate my own mother and mother-in-law, who are both wonderful, inspirational people, but it is also a day that alienates me from the very people that I love.
I cannot entirely escape the shadow of infertility that looms over me, nor can I hide from the reality that all of the children I call my own are not entirely mine.
We adopted our daughter two years ago, and we had her as a foster child for two years before that. Needless to say, Mother’s Day has always been an awkward, uncomfortable affair. I will admit, her biological mother has done a lot to better herself. She has taken responsibility for her past and is trying to do right by her child. I have a good relationship with her. I am proud of her personal growth, and I respect the distance she has kept for the sake of her child. She knows that keeping this distance is what her child needs, yet at the same time, she is desperate for more time with her biological child. We try to arrange visits, and in those moments, she is our daughter, and our daughter enjoys this time, but afterwards, our daughter is ravaged by grief and longing.
I cannot tell you how many nights she has gone to bed sobbing for want of this other mother. I cannot tell you how many nights I have held her close and whispered, “I love you” over and over into her hair as she cried in my arms, hoping that my love would be enough, but knowing that it isn’t, because I am simply not her.
This is forever the elephant in our room.
Even though we have never asked her to make a choice, she always seems to feel as though she must choose between us: when she only makes one card and one gift at school, a simple, celebratory event like Mother’s Day becomes a tragedy. She can only give the card to one of us. My daughter believes she is betraying me by loving her, and that she is betraying her by loving me, so she is torn apart. Love is an act of treason in her mind.
I will admit, a secret, competitive part of me does want to win her love and keep it all to myself, so I was thrilled when I saw my name written on that card. But that joy was soon tempered by magnanimity, and I knew in my Spirit that was an impossible and selfish wish.
It is very challenging to both acknowledge and honor the past without approving of it: This is the awkward tightrope walk that is adoption.
There is a chasm here, between our families. It is very easy to stay on our own side of it, to turn away and try to ignore that thin rope of connection that will always bind us to them.
But that is not in the best interest of my child.
I longed to find a way to acknowledge and honor the past for my daughter’s sake, to encourage her to feel the love that she feels without guilt. It takes tremendous courage to step out on that rope and reach across the awkward gap that separates us, but I believe that this very thing is my calling in life, and I cannot allow myself to be ruled by selfishness or fear. So I reached out my hand and did one of the bravest, most selfless things I have ever done.
I contacted her other mother, and together, we made a piece of jewelry for our daughter. We each hand wrote, “It’s okay for you to love her,” and we had our permission engraved upon either side of a metal pendant.
I had three of them made.
I gave one to our daughter.
I mailed one to the other mother for Mother's Day.
I kept the third as a gift for myself.
Because my daughter is not the only one who needs a reminder of that permission to be set free: It’s okay for you to love her.
It is okay for my daughter to love me. It is okay for my daughter to love her. It is okay for me to love my daughter. And it is okay for her other mother to love our daughter, too.
It never was a choice between us. It was always both.
There is more than love enough to go around.