“How many kids do you have?” asked the mom sitting beside me on the park bench, trying to strike up friendly conversation, a toddler sleeping against her chest.
My heart sank.
I mumbled something about being a nanny and gestured toward the three children I had brought to the park. Then I quickly excused myself to “check on the kids.”
I was tired of waiting for my chance to become a mom.
It seemed like everyone I knew could pop out babies like it was as easy as microwaving a frozen burrito. And not just babies, but cherub babies with gummy smiles, chubby thighs, and dimpled cheeks. And then there were the pregnant moms, everywhere, rubbing their expanding stomachs and complaining about midnight cravings and what their mothers-in-law were saying about their choice to bottle-feed.
I couldn’t even escape the anguish in the sanctuary of my own home. The diaper commercials on television, the baby shower invitations that arrived in my mailbox, the evites for gender reveal parties, and that hit song on the radio where the singer crooned about the beauty of making love.
My journey to motherhood was so rocky, unpredictable, and heart-wrenching, that it could have been made into a hit Lifetime movie “based on true events.”
After a year-and-a-half of mysterious illness, I was diagnosed with a chronic, autoimmune disease while knocking on death’s door. It was during my five-day hospital stay, when a diabetes nurse educator was talking to my husband and me about family-planning, that I knew we would adopt. Choosing to adopt was the easy part. Waiting to adopt? It was sheer torture.
There is no “just” in adopting, though people often tell infertile couples to “just adopt.” Adopting requires months and months’ worth of paperwork, background checks, home inspections, and interviews, plus a lot of money. Then you wait and wait, sometimes weeks, months, and oftentimes, years for the call that tells you you’re a mother.
And in the meantime, you watch others become mothers, sometimes two or three times over, while you sit on the sidelines and cry.
The truth is that my story isn’t all that unique. There are many “other mothers” out there who are weeping every year on Mother’s Day, and every day. There are foster moms, who tirelessly raise other people’s children. There are moms who have miscarried, sometimes many times, who crave just one opportunity to experience a full-term pregnancy. There are moms who have had children, both young and old, pass away. There are birth mothers who placed their children for adoption, but never “move on” or “get over” the loss of their children. Even surrogates who lovingly offered their womb as gift to others can mourn the baby who was nurtured in their care.
I was fortunate enough to have finally been given the honor to become someone’s mother. First a daughter, then another daughter, then a son, and then another daughter. Each adoption had its own challenges, including the unknowns. But my four children? Well, I’m their second. They all have first mothers, and we be sure to celebrate them on Mother’s Day.
To all the other mothers, I am thinking of you this Mother’s Day. I know exactly what it’s like to be on the outside looking in. I see your pain, vulnerability, and brokenness. I acknowledge your losses and maybes and what ifs. And I want you to know that Mother’s Day is your day, too. And however you choose to celebrate it is valid.