We all know that the first Sunday in May is Mother’s Day, as it has become a time-honored family tradition in America. But as the landscape of how American families are built has changed, recognizing, celebrating and honoring the people who’ve built families via adoption has also begun to take its roots as a new family tradition. Known as Birth Mothers Day, this new holiday typically takes place the day before Mother’s Day each year. Author Lori Holden discusses this emerging family tradition of Birth Mother’s Day, the gifts and challenges of open adoption and her latest book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption.
Hi Lori! Tell us about your journey towards motherhood via adoption.
We came to AdoptionLand through the inhospitable region of Infertilistan. Though the journey presented us with Fireswamps, Rodents of Unusual Size, and other harrowing experiences, it was worth it to get to our destination: living in the Parent ‘Hood.
What is the “open-hearted” way to adoption?
This new-fangled thing called “open adoption” usually makes people think of contact between adoptive parents and birth parents. That’s what I thought, and I also assumed openness was done for the benefit of the birth mother — to help assuage her grief after placement.
But openness is so much more than just contact. And the person who most benefits is the child at the center. Openness is more about the spirit with which we parent and how we expand our definition of “family” than it is about the amount or type of contact. We open our hearts to those who made us mothers, to the child who has the monumental task of integrating all parts of his identity, and to our own selves as we acknowledge and release our fears and insecurities.
It requires us to live from a place of vulnerability and authenticity; as Dr. Brene Brown says, we must Dare Greatly.
Tell us about the relationship you have with your children’s birth mothers – what has that experience been like to navigate?
Crystal and I met just days before she went into labor with Tessa 12 years ago, and we had a couple of conversations during that time that determined how we would continue to relate with each other. First, just prior to the time we were to bring our daughter home, Crystal opened up to me about her sadness, what it did and didn’t mean. I was blown away by her clarity and her williingness to trust me with that. So it was a no-brainer to trust her hours later with a surprising detour on our way home from the hospital. There’s more about that in our new book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole.
The logistics are different with my son’s birth mom. I call this one more of an open-door adoption.
How might parents in an open-hearted adoption incorporate Birth Mother’s Day (the day before Mother’s Day) into their family story?
I believe that birth moms should be honored for their unique role in our children’s lives. Jim Gritter points out in his book that in an adopted child’s life there are three important adult roles: Life Givers (genetic/biological parents), Life Sustainers (adoptive parents) and Life Affirmers (others who cheer on the child: coaches, teachers, relatives); This framework gives credit to everyone who helps make a child who she is.
Some birth parents, though, don’t like having a separate day of celebration, as it highlights, well, separateness:
- I don’t celebrate Birth Mother’s Day because I don’t need to. You know what holiday I do celebrate? Mother’s Day. – Jill Elizabeth at The Happiest Sad
- No one can ever take away from me the fact that I created life and therefore, I am a mother. – Kelsey Stewart in Adoption Voices
- I’d rather my daughter’s parents thought about me and honored me the whole year through, and not just on Birth Mother’s Day. I’d like to think that Birth Mother’s Day is just for birth mothers to honor ourselves. If I’m going to receive a card or whatever from my daughter’s parents, I’d rather get a Mother’s Day card instead of a Birth Mother’s Day card. – Musing Monika
After discussing it with our children’s birth mothers, we have chosen to honor them on Mother’s Day. My suggestion to people navigating Mother’s Day/Birth Mother’s Day is to talk about it. Find what works for you and your child’s other parents — ask what their preference is and communicate yours.
What has surprised you about open adoption? What have you found challenging, and how do you work through that?
Once I figured out that I already had a template for how to have such a relationship, it wasn’t so hard to open my heart to this big and rich idea of extended family. When I got married, I was easily able to love others who were connected to my beloved. And it’s been pointed out to me by adult adoptees that we fully expect that parents can claim and have enough love for more than one child. Why not also expect that a child is able to claim and love more than one set of parents – without “splitting” a finite love?
The other surprise was the lengths I would go to give my children what they need. This means resolving my own fears and insecurities. As I say in the premise of our book, Adoption creates a split between a person’s biology and her biography. Openness is an effective way to heal that split. That makes openness necessary for the well-being of my children, and so we make it doable.
The challenge in any relationship is that you can’t control the other person — you can control only yourself. Here’s where the Reinhold Niebuhr’s quote, commonly known as the Serenity Prayer, comes in handy: “give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.”
Thank you Lori for sharing your journey with us and I hope you and your birth mothers have a wonderful Mothers Day this weekend!
Lori Holden blogs from Denver at LavenderLuz.com and can also be found @LavLuz on Twitter. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, written with her daughter’s birth mom, is available through your favorite online bookseller. If you know anyone who is parenting via adoption (open, closed, foster, international) or donor conception (sperm, egg, embryo), or is a birth parent, check this book out as a thoughtful Mother’s Day or Father’s Day gift.