I’ve had a conflicted relationship with Mother’s Day since 1989. Before then, it was the day I made my mom a card and bought her some plants for the garden. It was a good day. Church, lunch, time with family.
My family adopted me as an infant, and I grew up thankful for my family, thankful for parents who wanted to give me a home, thankful for a woman I had never met who chose to give me life. And so I thought about my birth mother on Mother’s Day too, wishing I could thank her for the gift of my life.
But back to Mother’s Day 1989.
At that point I was 8 and a half months pregnant with my first child, finishing final exams for my sophomore year of college, and preparing to place my son for adoption.
Needless to say, it was a tough day.
I was about to give birth, but not become a mother.
I was not going to be raising my son, so as far as everyone in the world was concerned, I wasn’t really a mother. He was going to have another mother, another family. I was going to go through life without him by my side. I wasn’t going to have his car seat in my car. I wasn’t going to make him a birthday cake and throw him a party. People were going to meet me and not be able to tell by looking at me that I had given birth to a son.
Luckily I went to a caring church. They had mothers stand up to be recognized on that day. And they told me to stand up too.
So that day, even before I gave birth, became a conflicted day for me.
My son was born six weeks later.
We went through with the adoption. It was beautiful. It was painful. It felt right. I met his parents and knew, knew without a doubt, we were doing the right thing. When I met them for the first time, I felt I had known them forever. As hard as it was to give him away, I had no hesitation. They were his parents.
I am, perhaps, the most blessed birth mother in the entire world. I’ve had a relationship with Eric his entire life. His parents have generously welcomed both Baby Daddy and me into his life. I haven’t seen him as often as I would have liked because we have never lived in the same state, but every time I have seen him has been blessing beyond blessing. I was at his wedding and welcomed his wonderful bride, Ashley, into our large, lovely, complicated family.
And as the years have gone by, I have gotten married, I’ve given birth to two more wonderful sons who also get to know Eric. Being their mother is a gift and a joy. It has been my joy to go to soccer games, to proofread their first drafts of papers, to make a late night run to the store for printer cartridges so homework can be printed, to sit down at dinner with them, to watch bad TV with them, and on and on. Because I get so few normal, routine, every-day-kind-of-days with Eric, I always try my best to appreciate those days with my other sons.
Each year Mother’s Day has continued to be a day of contradictions.
Almost six years ago, I received my original birth certificate and tracked down my birth mother. She initially chose not to meet me, but we exchanged some correspondence, and I am very grateful for everything I know now that I did not know growing up. A few years ago, for the first time in my life, I was able to send her a Mother’s Day card. I didn’t know what it meant to her, but I knew what it meant to me.
And then, three years ago, my birth mother agreed to meet me. It wasn’t the story I hoped it would be, but it was the story I got, and I’m grateful for it. She died this past weekend. As I told one of my kids, I feel sadness for her kids (the ones she raised) because they lost their mom this week. I lost her fifty one years ago. My grief about her is not new. But I’m sure this Mother’s Day will complicate it.
Because of my experiences, I’ve become more sensitive to other women for whom Mother’s Day is painful.
For women who would give anything to overcome their battles with infertility so they can become mothers.
For women who would be mothers if they had partners with whom to raise them.
For women whose children have died.
For women who have never become mothers in the first place, by choice. Whether you’ve noticed it or not, we live in a world where women are rewarded and validated for being mothers. People assume that non mothers just haven’t become mothers yet.
I have become more sensitive to women with difficult relationships with their own mothers or with their children.
For women whose mothers have died.
For people who identify as gender fluid, and don’t have a “Mother’s” or “Father’s” Day Celebration that would include them.
And so, in any church where I am leading worship, I do what I can to make sure that Mother’s Day is a safe space for women like me. Worship should not be a place where people feel excluded, feel less than, or feel unsafe.
If you are a pastor, I ask you to consider NOT celebrating Mother’s Day (or Father’s Day, for that matter) in worship. Have a reception in the fellowship hall (in non-Covid 19 years). Lift up the complicated lives of women in the pastoral prayer. Mother’s Day is not a liturgical holiday.
(If you are looking for a good prayer to use in worship that encompasses the joy and pain of this day, I’d recommend my friend Ashley-Anne Masters prayer.)
As Mother’s Day is rolling around, remember the women like the younger me, the ones who want to hide under a rock so they can avoid the well meaning people who only see celebration on a day of contradictions.
I am thankful for so much in my life. On Mother’s Day, I will be celebrated and be grateful for the three boys who made me a mother, for my birth mother who gave me life, for my mom who has stood by me throughout life, for the woman who is Eric’s mom, and for all of the women who have accompanied me along the way.
These words from Rainier Maria Rilke sum up how I’m feeling about Mother’s Day as I approach it this year.
“She who reconciles the ill-matched threads
Of her life, and weaves them gratefully
Into a single cloth –
It’s she who drives the loudmouths from the hall
And clears it for a different celebration. ”