The second Sunday of May brings all kinds of celebration of mothers and motherhood, and for adoptees this can be glorious or challenging, or both. May rolls around and the card stores fill with aisles and aisles of Mother’s Day sentiment, and it can be hard to find ourselves represented, with all our complicated feelings.
The Hallmark Holiday
When I went card shopping yesterday, I thought about the lack of nuance in what was available to me. There was no card for I love you and it’s complicated, no card for I want to acknowledge our relationship and this day but I don’t want to call you mother, no card for I’m stalking you on facebook and I think you might be my mother, but I’m too afraid to reach out to you and I don’t know where to send this card.
Where is the card that says, “I’m so glad I found you, I finally have seen someone who looks like me, and I’m absolutely enraged at you for giving me away,” or “I’ll long for you forever, even though I don’t know who you are.”
Or “Mom, I love you and you did a great job raising me, but I don’t feel like I belong in your family and actually I’m kind of afraid I’ll never feel like I belong with anyone” or “Dear Mother, you never really got how I struggled and still struggle to know who I am.”
Or how about a picture or drawing of an interracial family, with a White mom and an Asian, Black or Hispanic son or daughter. Luckily we can sidestep that pretty easily on Mother’s Day, since most of the pictures are of flowers.
How do we celebrate Mother’s Day?
Even beyond the buying of cards, it’s hard to figure out what to do. For adoptees in reunion, there are complicated negotiations of how to celebrate, what to send, what to say, if anything.
For adoptees who are now mothers themselves, the rush of feelings around the thought of how could my mother give me up, now that I know what it feels like to have a child.
For adoptees who long to know more about their birth mothers and do not, cannot, or have experienced secondary rejection, the questions of where is she, what is she doing, does she ever think of me can come up with intense feelings attached.
Special Days and Family Celebrations
On birthdays, many adopted people go through this privately, or notice unusual feelings they can’t quite place: irritated, angry, sad, ashamed. On Mother’s Day (and Father’s Day) we come up against a big cultural push to celebrate motherhood with positive feelings. That is just going to be hard for adopted people of all ages and in all kinds of situations.
I remember hearing someone say, most of us when we are asked to picture our bed know exactly what it looks like and where it is. What a clarity of orienting yourself in the world: where is your bed? Adoptees do not have that luxury when it comes to the basic experience of mother. Who is your mother, where is she, what do you feel about her? Many would answer, I don’t know, or which one, or I’m not sure how to answer that question. Some have made a decision, my mother is the person who raised me, others feel their mother is the person who bore them, but many adoptees live with the ambiguity that neither of those extremes really feeling right.
How to Work With Yourself
Wherever you are in your journey, be kind to yourself with whatever feelings come up this Mother’s Day. Even just to pause and identify them, to feel yourself here on this earth having this feeling of anger, or this feeling of softness, or this tension around your heart, is to come into your experience a little more fully. Then perhaps you can allow your experience to be even a bit more full, and feel yourself in it.
If you find yourself caught in the between of it all and it feels too confusing, or stuck in a feeling that you can’t shake, or numb to it all, there are ways out of the muck. Support groups can be excellent ways to share your feelings and learn more about how other adopted people feel and cope; google adoptee support in your area and if you are lucky you will find a group, a meetup, or other resources. I plan to write a post on support groups and will post a link to it here soon.
Self care and support are also vital. Talk with supportive friends or loved ones, who can help you explore your feelings and won’t tell you how to feel. Journal, make art, walk in nature, play with your dog, do whatever feeds your soul and allows you to rest in the mix of feelings.
If you feel especially triggered by Mothers’ Day, Father’s Day, your birthday or other adoption related days, counseling or therapy can also help you to clarify what you feel, become more aware of your own patterns and habits, and grow into new ways of being with the situation you are in. Everyone is so different, and it is important to find a therapist who has some knowledge of adoption and adopted people, and who is sensitive to the challenges they face.
I work with adopted people with a special attention on early trauma of loss and rejection, and how that is held in the body in adulthood and becomes triggered in different life situations. My goal is to help adopted people know themselves better, to bring their unique self and identity out into the world, and to help them find and make the kind of healthy relationships they crave. I do this through a combination of talk and awareness of feelings, sensations, movements, and emotions: all of the ways we can learn to know ourselves better and develop our feeling of identity and being a self in the world.
If you want to have a conversation about working with me, I invite you to contact me to schedule a time to talk.