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To the Trauma Mama on Mother’s Day

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Hey Ladies,

Mother’s Day can be rough. If you’re like me, you’ve probably known this for a long time since you navigated the minefield of Mother’s Day as an infertile woman. You may have opted out of the day altogether in silent protest of how hard it is to be a childless woman who desperately wants to be a mother on Mother’s Day.

But then you became a mom! It was amazing and precious and the child in your arms made it all worth it. I know our stories aren’t all the same, but maybe some of you had the kind of experiences I did where we went from pain and desperation on Mother’s Day to total joy and peace. The sleepy infant that only wanted to be with us. The toddler who brought us gifts of dandelions and sloppy kisses. The preschooler who drew us pictures and wrote us sweet notes with the help of a loving teacher. The breakfasts in bed that were usually dry cereal and toast with too much jelly. It was beautiful and redemptive.

But as our kids age, their understanding of adoption grows and changes, too. This year has been a bit of a reality check as the unquestioning delight my kids felt on Mother’s Day has turned into a season of angst for all of us.

This week one of my kids said they weren’t sure I should get a Mother’s Day card from them since I didn’t give birth to them. Another one showed up with the Mother’s Day card the school helped them make, but it was written to the birthmother– full of question marks instead of answers about what makes her special. We are grieving things in our own way.

My kids have lost something precious. They’ve lost the simplicity of the idea of motherhood. Being a mom doesn’t just mean selflessly loving your child and providing for their needs. A lifetime of me doing those things isn’t going to erase the deep pain of feeling rejected by your first mother. I can build beauty and love into their life, but they have a right to feel the way they feel about their story. My job is to love them through those feelings.

And then there are my own feelings. I feel the pain for my kids and I want to protect them from it. I also want to have my own uncomplicated Mother’s Day where my kids express their love and appreciation for me without the complicated emotions we’re all struggling with. I want to be honest with my kids about how it hurts my heart when they reject me in favor of an imaginary life they can’t have, but I also want to give them space to voice their love for the woman who loved them before I ever knew them. This is not an easy day.

Sometimes kids who have experienced loss and trauma have a tendency to sabotage big days. Birthdays, Christmas, family gatherings, and Mother’s Day bring out intense emotions they don’t always know how to deal with. They may rage or cry and they may not even understand why. The expectations of joy may just be too much for them. This can be hard as the mom who wants to have just ONE DAY where she knows her family appreciates the sacrifices she makes.

I have to remind myself that this may not be that day.

I have complicated feelings around my birthday. I don’t like being the center of attention and I feel awkward both about planning a party for myself or about not having any mention of my birthday at all. When I have expectations, I always seem to be disappointed. So several years ago I started throwing myself a secret birthday party. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I found I really enjoyed going out to lunch with some friends long after my birthday was over. No expectations. No awkward singing or cake or pressure. Just lunch with people I like and I was the only one who knew it was my own private birthday celebration. I’m learning that I may need to find a similar way to embrace Mother’s Day.

In a thousand ways, every day is Mother’s Day for me. My kids bring me their beautiful artwork. They bring me lovely weeds they picked on their way home. They tell me they love me and smoother me with kisses. They scratch my back and rub my feet and tuck me in bed when I don’t feel well. I have amazing kids and every day I am blessed to be their mom. If on Mother’s Day they have complicated feelings about the mothers in their lives, I need to be okay with that. If every other day I’m the one who gets to receive the beauty of their love, I need to be okay sharing this day with the needs of their heart and letting go of my own expectations.

I may also need to plan a Secret Mother’s Day for some other time. Maybe I can get my husband in on this– breakfast in bed, some cute drawings and a gift, maybe a picnic lunch together and some time by myself in the afternoon. I don’t have to let the difficulty of actual Mother’s Day ruin the spirit of Mother’s Day, I may just need to find a different time to embrace it.

Mamas, if this day is hard for you, I’m with you. If you’re feeling the lasting sting of infertility, the complicated nature of adoptive motherhood, regret about your failures as a mom, the grief for what your kids are going through, and even your own pain about relationship issues with your mother, that is entirely understandable. The expectations of this day may be too much for our kids AND for us. We need to be proactive about finding joy and creating the memories we want for our kids, even in the struggles.

I salute you, Moms! We are doing this, in all the pain and joy.

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3 Comments

  1. This has been heavy on my heart all week, and I lost count how many times I have sat in my car alone, and cried over this. I am so glad you were vulnerable enough to put these words out there Maralee: “I feel the pain for my kids and I want to protect them from it. I also want to have my own uncomplicated Mother’s Day where my kids express their love and appreciation for me without the complicated emotions we’re all struggling with. I want to be honest with my kids about how it hurts my heart when they reject me in favor of an imaginary life they can’t have, but I also want to give them space to voice their love for the woman who loved them before I ever knew them.”

  2. I explain to my foster children that mothers day is for all the ladies that are like mothers to children. Aunts, moms, adoptive moms, foster moms, birthmoms, even ladies that act like loving moms. They share this day with lots of moms.

  3. Thank you for sharing this. Our story looks a little different but Mother’s Day is complicated for other reasons. In October, my mother-in-law passed away at 52 years old and Mother’s Day was a really rough day for my husband. Our daughter is still very little (14 months) so most of the Mother’s Day-ness falls to my husband at this point. After years of infertility treatment, I felt somewhat resentful that Mother’s Day couldn’t be about me and a celebration of finally being a mother.

    “I don’t have to let the difficulty of actual Mother’s Day ruin the spirit of Mother’s Day, I may just need to find a different time to embrace it.” is perfect advice for our family too as we navigate grief, loss, and a new normal for our family. Thank you!

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