Mother’s Day: Celebrating as a Part of the Adoption Triad

Mother’s Day is drawing near once again. It would be impossible to miss it. Emails start to roll in after the first week of April, stores switch their displays with gift ideas for moms. Restaurants start to share price fixed menus for brunches, and commercials with instrumental music and lots of hugging fill the time in between our favorite shows. What we see is not always the reality. Mother’s Day means many different things to different people. When you’re a part of the adoption triad, Mother’s Day isn’t always flowers, expensive meals, and extravagant gifts: it’s a time to reflect, a time of loss, and in many people’s lives, it’s a holiday that isn’t celebrated. 

Mother’s Day and Me 

I remember when I wanted to desperately be a mom. At that time, Mother’s Day was an extremely difficult day for me. I would scroll through social media and see countless posts of friends and colleagues with their kids and would sometimes wallow in my own sadness as I wondered if I would ever become a mother. It’s a day that is intended to be celebratory—and it still can be, but it is also one that can cause multiple emotions for those that are a part of the adoption triad.

Before I was a mother myself, on Mother’s Day, I would often spend time thinking about becoming a mom and being able to celebrate this day with my family. What I didn’t realize was that every year though I would be incredibly happy to spend the day with my daughter, I would still be sad. In order for me to become a mother, another woman isn’t spending her day with our daughter. She isn’t seeing the amazing human she’s becoming and I know that she is the one now who carries a sense of loss on this holiday. Even more, my daughter might one day have this same sense of loss. This is a hard holiday for so many and though mothers everywhere deserve to be celebrated—all mothers deserve to be celebrated

Do I celebrate Mother’s Day? I absolutely do. I have my own mother and mother-in-law to lavish with gifts and my daughter loves to pick out something special for me (typically a dress because we both love them) and spend the day with me. However, this is a holiday that means many different things to many different people and one that we need to be sensitive to as we celebrate. This is a time to celebrate, a time to reflect, and a time to honor all mothers. 

Celebrating Birth Mothers

Did you know that birth Mother’s Day is the Saturday before Mother’s Day?  Many adoption agencies, social workers, and support groups offer special events these days. Those who are involved in open adoptions also often celebrate with their birth mothers on this day. 

However, Mother’s Day is still an important day for birth mothers. It is not lost on me or anyone that has become a mother through adoption that one person’s courageous decision offered us the opportunity to celebrate this day as well. Many people send gifts, letters, cards, or in some instances, get together with birth parents to celebrate. In cases of semi-open or closed adoption, it’s still important to take the time to talk with your child about their birth mother. I choose to pray for our daughter’s birth mother. I am so extremely grateful for her on not just Mother’s Day, but every day.

It’s important to remember how other people feel and that these feelings are valid. Mother’s Day can be a lonely holiday for so many and it’s one that I tend not to ask people if they have any plans for because not everyone has a mother and not everyone has a child. Families are different, situations aren’t all the same, and everyone has a story—and it may not be one that they’re comfortable sharing with you. 

Be considerate on Mother’s Day and celebrate all mothers.

Read these 5 reasons to celebrate birth mothers on Mother’s Day.

Here are more ways to celebrate birth mothers on Mother’s Day.

Like birth mothers, adoptees may struggle with this holiday as well.

Understanding Adoptees and Their Feelings on Mother’s Day

As I mentioned, I struggle with my emotions on Mother’s Day. If I’m feeling this way, it’s safe to

say that my daughter is as well. We have shared her adoption story with her from day one and at six years old, one of her favorite “stories” is her own and she knows it by heart. (If I forget an aspect of it, she’s always quick to fill it in!) A major part of this story is her birth mother. 

It’s important to me to talk about her birth mother on Mother’s Day and answer any questions that she may have. As she gets older, I know her feelings surrounding this may become even more complex and I’m the first to admit that I may not be fully equipped to answer all of her questions as time goes on.

In this article for The Week, Laura Barcella talks about her own feelings of trauma and loss on Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day is difficult for her. She notes, “Splitting up a family always creates trauma, and many adoptees trudge through life with a fog of loss hovering overhead. That painful sense of loss can flare up even more on Mother’s Day.”

This is a complicated subject for many adoptees. I recently talked to an adoptee who even struggled with feelings of guilt on Mother’s Day. She didn’t love her mother any less, but she had a sense of loss over her birth mother. She was hesitant to talk about this with her parents. As a mother who chose to build my family through adoption, it pains me more to think that my child would suffer than to feel like she loved me less because she was thinking about her birth mother on Mother’s Day. Any feelings that adoptees may have on holidays like Mother’s Day are completely valid and carving out some time to have these conversations with children who are adopted is important.

Being sensitive to those involved in the adoption triad on holidays like this is paramount. 

If you have a child who isn’t adopted here is a great resource to help him or her understand adoption more. 

Adoptive Moms and Mother’s Day

As I mentioned, this was a day I looked forward to being able to celebrate, but like other mothers in my position, it is a day that’s hard for me. People tend to say things on or around Mother’s Day that are insensitive. I do try to give people the benefit of the doubt—sometimes they’re really curious, but the more you know about a topic, the better you can do when talking to people about it. 

Adoption is a topic that should be treated with more care. No two stories are alike. No situation is exactly the same and everyone has different feelings and emotions regarding their own lived experiences. 

One thing that frustrates me and often leads to an infuriating combination of anger and sadness is when someone says how lucky my daughter is to have me as a mom. People don’t realize that when they say things like that, as nice as they think they’re being, they’re negating someone that I hold very near and dear to me: my daughter’s birth mother. 

Being my daughter comes with its own set of complications for my child. She lives with parents that don’t look like her. She has to bear with me as I continue to learn the best protective hairstyles for her hair. I do my best to provide representation for her, but I’m sure that I’m lacking. 

It’s important to try to remember this. Everyone has a different story. Everyone reacts differently to holidays like Mother’s Day. Remember that this holiday could trigger some intense emotions for all of those involved in the adoption triad.

Being Sensitive and Aware on Mother’s Day

The more I speak to birth mothers, adoptees, and other parents who have adopted, the more I know (and the more I cringe at some of the things I have likely said that were not completely tone-deaf to the situation). Understanding that everyone may have their struggles on this day is important. Remember, it’s not just those of us who are a part of the adoption triad that feel sad these days, but those who have lost their mothers who never met their mothers, who struggle with infertility, etc. 

Whether you know someone who is affected or not, you likely will encounter someone that will be sensitive about Mother’s Day. Doing our best to think before we speak and to consider other people’s feelings is important not just on Mother’s Day, but every day.

If you have children, teaching your child proper language surrounding adoption is a step in the right direction to avoiding any confusion when discussing adoption.

Mother’s Day and Gift Giving

Would it even be a holiday without giving gifts? There are lots of people to gift to on Mother’s Day from moms to grandmothers and of course, birthmothers. 

There are so many cool gift ideas from birth mothers. One birth mother told me receiving handwritten letters and pictures of the child she made an adoption plan for is the best gift. Some families have sent jewelry, handmade art, etc. If you don’t have information for your birth mother due to the nature of the adoption, you may be able to send something to your social worker, lawyer, or adoption agency that they could get to her. It’s worth reaching out. 

Here are 5 gift ideas for birth mothers on Mother’s Day. 

I’ve been asked often if I would ever want gifts that were related to adoption for Mother’s Day and the answer is always yes, particularly if the proceeds go to not for profits that support my adoption like my favorite charity, (They sell family tree bracelets that would make great gifts for anyone that’s a part of the adoption triad.) 

My favorite Mother’s Day gifts to both give and receive are handmade and I’ve been told by so many that they love the gifts that children make for them. They’re so precious and remind us why we get to celebrate this day.

Looking for gifts for birth mothers and adoptive mothers? Check out this Adoption Gift Guide.

If you know a younger child struggling to understand adoption, I love The Not in Here Story to help explain adoption.  

Taking Time to Reflect

I’m a writer, so I tend to do my best thinking when I take pen to paper (or in reality, fingers to keypad), and I’ve written letters to my daughter’s birth mother. I haven’t sent them due to the nature of our adoption, but it helps me to understand my own feelings and it is my hope that one day, I will get to share these with her.

As my daughter gets older and becomes more inquisitive, I welcome her questions and talking with her about what she feels. I’ve been truly blessed to know other adoptees who are willing to chat with her when I don’t have the answers and for that day when I’m not the one she will want to talk to about such things.

The first thing I do when I wake up on Mother’s Day is to think fully about what this day means to so many, how we are all processing it, and to just sit with my feelings of both thankfulness and sadness. For me to be a mother, someone else had to give me her child. This is a part of our story: my daughter’s, her birthmother’s, and mine. This is our reality.

Julia K. Porter

Julia K. Porter is an educator, writer, and cultural competency consultant. She began her career as a high school English teacher in Brooklyn, NY, and has taught college courses since 2008 and has done nonprofit work. Currently, she is the project manager for Celebrating Cultural uniqueness at Tiffin University.