Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mothering a Motherless Child.

As the mother of an adopted child, it took years for me to understand what it is like to be a motherless child. When I did, I understood a lot more about my daughter and even more about the role we adoptive mothers fill in helping our children get on in this world. So this Mother's Day, a moment to consider our own mothers. It's been four years since the last Mother's Day I spent with my Mother.

There was that small matter of living 1,500 miles apart and the fact that the special day falls during what must surely be one of the busiest month of the year for mothers. What with school projects and field trips and final concerts, busy soccer seasons, exams, Memorial Day and graduations all crammed into a few weeks, we mothers can get that crazed look in our eyes trying to juggle everything. That year I managed to board a plane with my leg practically in traction, three broken bones between my knee and my ankle; netting me a first class seat because I couldn't bend my leg.

While my son had already moved on to college and international adventures, I hated being away from my then, 16-year-old daughter; the first Mother's Day that we hadn't shared since we brought her home from Russia. But I longed to sit at my Mother's table and talk with her over cups of coffee and fresh-baked cookies. I longed to be mothered. Our regular phone calls and rare (at least on my part) letters just did not fill the void. Only time with her would do it.

As it turns out, it was her last Mother's Day. She died quite suddenly the following August. Having lost my father four years earlier, I expected to grieve, recover and move on. I did not expect the waves of grief, the unrelenting emptiness, the heavy spot in my chest,which felt as though someone had ripped out my heart. I certainly did not expect, at my age, to feel so lonely, so defenseless, so abandoned. Then one day came the shock of truth: “So this is what a motherless child feels like.”

With that simple truth, I understood in the most profound way the depth of hurt, the primal loss, that our adoptive children can experience, even as we give them love and everything else we believe they need. I can only speak for me, but my connection to my mother was the basis for understanding who I am. If a grown woman can experience such grief, how much more overwhelming is it for a child who cannot even articulate the intense emotions of loss engendered by her background. No wonder her grief came out in so many other ways. Beginning with the hilarity generated at her first sleep-over, when at age six, our daughter announced to her little friends that “I wasn't born, I was adopted,” our daughter progressed through the typical stages of questions about her heritage and her birth mother.

Like so many of our preteens and teens, she stewed for months before she got up the courage to ask; when she turned 18, would we help her try to find her birth mother? In a single moment I knew she was owed reassurance; “Yes, of course, we can try when you want to.” But the other part of me had been crushed. I was her mother! Me! And I had waited so long for her. Now, years later, the topic has not yet concerned her again. No search has begun. Since providing her with the assurance she needed, she has lived into the love offered and for now, has moved past the motherless child stage. So have I. Happy Mothers' Day!

Jan Wondra,
Vice chair, FRUA National Board of Directors