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Monday, May 11, 2009

Shadow Women

The day we received our referral containing three adorable pictures of the Tongginator, I remember a fleeting thought quickly passing through my mind: 'I will never dread Mother's Day again.' Oh how naive was I.

Society - and churches especially - tend to forget the women that hover in the shadows on Mother's Day. They are the women who have lost their mothers or suffered the unimaginable loss of a child. They are the mothers who placed their children for adoption, either through coercion or because they believed it necessary. They include those who struggle through years of infertility, longing to hold a little one in their arms. They are the women who suffer miscarriages and yes, the women who regret having an abortion. They are the adoptees who long for what might have been and the adoptive parents who love them.

They are the women sitting in the shadows. And I remain among them.

I sit beside these women because, despite the extreme joy that is my daughter the Tongginator, I know that - somewhere on the other side of the world - two women* long to know the child I hold so tightly. I sit beside these women because, although we've come far, there are still people out there who consider me a "non-mom." I sit beside these women because, although I've been waiting almost three years to again adopt from China, I cannot raise my hand during the "whose pregnancy was the longest?" contest. I sit beside these women because, although she is only five, my daughter struggled to make sense of her story during the week leading up to this year's Mother's Day.

I sit beside these women.

We sit in the shadows, but I brought my flashlight, y'all. And I'm using it to shine a light into the dark corners. I cannot take away my daughter's sense of loss, but I can give her the tools she needs to live with it. I cannot take away another mother's pain, but I can offer her a hug. And I can use that flashlight - the heaviest one I own - to bop someone on the head when they minimize or deny the existence of my fellow shadow women.

We are all of us mothers, daughters who long for our mothers and women who long for what might have been or could be. You are strong. You are beautiful. And I am proud to sit beside you.

* The two women I refer to are my daughter's first mother, whom many would call her birthmother, and my daughter's foster mother, whom she called Abu.

52 comments:

Buckeroomama said...

Thank you for helping us remember. Beautiful post. :)

Kim said...

Yes, I agree, beautiful posting.

Andrea said...

Your post is amazing! Happy Mother's Day!

Rebecca Ramsey said...

What a beautiful post!
Thank you for sharing it!

happygeek said...

Perfect.
I have too many friends who refuse to even go to church on mother's day because of the pain it inflicts. I cannot even imagine what they are going through but you are right, I can sit with them in the shadows.

Jennifer said...

I don't think churches are especially good at forgetting these shadow women. If anything, they do a better job than the "world" at fnot orgetting the moms who do not hold their physical babies. I can not remember a Mother's Day service where the pain of these various women has not been mentioned at some point in the sermon. (And I've been to several different churches over the years.)

But on a day to celebrate motherhood, why would we dwell in our public celebrations on the sadness that some women face? Why can we just not celebrate the many women who are mothers and thank God for the children who make us so.

If a pastor stood up and said, "would all mothers who either aborted or gave their babies up for adoption please stand and be recognized?" would that make any of them feel better, that their pain had now been made more public?

I am not saying that the pain of these women should be minimalized. I think what I am really getting at is, why is Mother's Day the appropriate day to recognize their sadness, pain, and/or secrets?

I hope you know me well enough that you know I don't want to marginalize the women you speak of. Their pain is every bit as real as my joy.

Heather of the EO said...

PERFECT.

I love how you educate and inspire and write so beautifully all at the same time.

Happy (late) Mother's Day!

planetnomad said...

Beautiful post, TM!

Aunt LoLo said...

I thought about the shadow mothers yesterday. The thought started down a familiar enough path - it's the first Mother's day where my grandmother isn't here. My mother's first mother's day without her mother. Who does my mother celebrate? She took it well - of course she would, but I (on the other side of the country) was a bit of a mess on the way home from church. I thought about the women who never had a child in the Primary to make them a silly tissue paper flower...and I thought about the women whose children had grown past that stage and forgotten her. I thought about the women who, for whatever reason, could never have a child...and I thought about how much God loves them. I thought about how every girl child has a spark of divinity in her...to mother. We may not all get the CHANCE to exercise that spark within our own homes...but it's still there. I've lost count of how many women have "mothered" me - neighbors, grandmothers at church, even strangers in a parking lot who gave me a knowing smile during a BBJ Epic Meltdown. I cannot take away the pain, but...at this time of year...I can tell them - you're one of us. For better or for worse, you're one of us, and we're all in this together.
(This is getting to be a novel, so I'll just go blog about this...thank you for always making me think, TM.)

Aunt LoLo said...

@ Jennifer - I have to say something...I think TM's point is that Mother's Day can hold many meanings for many people. On a day when I am thrilled to be called Mom by two beautiful children, I am also aching because my own mother has no one to call to wish a Happy Day. No one, but a grave, to send flowers to. If we can't admit to being sad here, on a friend's blog, then...where should we do it?

I know you mean well, and you're not trying to belittle anyone...but my own heart is rather full today, of joy and sadness, and I thought I should explain that.

Dawn said...

I think all the comments today only prove your point - while there is certainly joy in mothering, there is also the hidden pain, too.

Very well-written post!

Blessings!

3D said...

What a great post! Thank you for writing it and bringing to light the different perspectives and that Mothers Day is not all about roses and hugs.

Keep smilin!

sara said...

I have to admit that this is the first year I thought of anyone other than myself, my mother, her mother. Happy Mother's Day! It never occurred to me that there are people that have mixed feelings, even sadness on MD.

I ashamedly admit I never thought of the orphans, those who had given up their children, those who had lost their mothers, or, as I sat next to on a couch last night, a mother who had lost her own child in an accident.

Thank you for yielding your flashlight & paving a way - recognizing the shadow women. YOU are beautiful!

Jillene said...

What a beauiful post!! I will just have to say that at my church they give a Mother's Day gift to ALL women age 18 and older--for those specific reasons.

Sarah said...

There should be an adoptive mothers day, or better yet a mom sometime in the future day. Something. I know life isn't fair, but it doesn't have to be so (unintentionally) cruel

Cassi said...

Thank you for offering a different perspective.

For someone who has always had a hate/love relationship with Mother's Day, I've never thought of how hard it could be for adoptive mothers as well. I always imagined them the happy ones on that day. The ones holding their babies and celebrating.

I never stopped to think - and should have long ago - how Mother's Day could hit them as well with a bittersweet note. When you talk of those who try to claim you are a non-mom, wonder about your daughter's other mothers, it brings a more clear light of how others outside my world also work their way through.

Thank you for this post. It has given me another insight I never would have carried before.

Michelle said...

Beautiful, TM.

Dita said...

Geezzzzzz TM......you are an AMAZING woman! Fantastic post!

We are all shadow women in so many ways! I stand with all the shadow women alongside you as they are in my heart too.

By the way...I hear that crazy non-mom story all the time. I remember when I got pregnant for my daughter 2 years ago. People actually said to me...Now you'll finally know what its like to be a mother. I had raised my son for almost 8 years....EIGHT YEARS and people still had the collossal GALL to say that to me.

Biology doesn't make a mother.

Patricia/NYC said...

FABULOUS post!!!
I stand right beside you with my flashlight as well!!

RamblingMother said...

I agree. Sometimes for some reason I don't feel like being honored on Mother's Day. It is becoming like a birthday that I just want to forget. Though we did have blueberry pie 'cuz it is my fav. heh!

Rhonda said...

Thank you for writing this...it was absolutely beautiful.

Wanda said...

Wow - I am almost without words - you have said them all (so well).

After many years of just trying to get through this day I finally could celebrate and have for 5 years. Only, 2 years ago I lost my own Mom on Mother's Day so it's a very bittersweet day for me too.

LaLa said...

Great post...you did it so much better than I did ( I re posted what I wrote 2 yrs ago)

I hope you had a great day with sweet girl : )

Jennifer said...

@Aunt Lolo - Thank you for understanding what I said, and for also sharing your own fullness of heart.

Not having been in any shoes other than that of joy in regards to Mother's Day, I am still trying to learn how other people handle it.

I hope TM knows that I am always looking for more information surrounding these issues and I do try to be as respectful as possible.

Jboo said...

Beautiful post -- you are such an expressive writer.

Janet

a Tonggu Momma said...

Jennifer ~ Of course I know that! And I do think that your words are also quite important. As a general rule, I feel it is SO important to live a life where one focuses on joy and others, rather than allowing grief and self-focus to consume.

At the same time... holidays like this... they don't unite. Holidays should be about a shared celebration... and I truly don't feel that Mother's Day does that. There are too, too many women and children secretly grieving on Mother's Day. Their pain often goes unacknowledged or it's just mentioned as an aside.

Sherri said...

I believe that a 3 year pregnancy is longer than any of my pregnancies! So as far as I'm concerned, you may feel free to raise your hand when that question is asked. I've given birth to children and adopted children. I can most assuredly attest that there is no difference. At. all.

Happy Mother's Day!

Janet said...

Good post. One to make you think. I have to admit, it's hard for me to think of their birth mothers just yet. I think I'm not ready.

Mei-Ling said...

"Their pain often goes unacknowledged or it's just mentioned as an aside."

When people look at me, they do not see me. They do not see me as an extension of my original mother. They only see my adoptive mom and what she has contributed to my life.

It's tough to bring up the subject of my other mother without having someone say "But THIS is the mom who raised you, doesn't she matter? What about all those years? What about all those scrapped knees, night cries, playing & running, extracurricular activities?"

They are all important too and definitely count as being things my mom did for me as a way of love.

But what they often forget is that just because my *other* mother has never done those things does not mean she couldn't have or didn't want to.

vpandash said...

I couldn't have said it better myself. You captured it from all the angles. I was a shadow woman for many years and only now can I openly celebrate Mother's Day. But I will never forget that pain, so part of me will always mourn with the women in the shadows. Very, very well written.

I hope you had a very Happy Momma's Day TM!

discombobulated said...

TM
Beautiful post.

Third Mom said...

Lovely post and thoughts! Belated Happy Mother's Day to you!

Lisa (Briana's Mom) said...

So true - every word. Just beautiful.

Tonggu Grammy said...

I am so very proud of you! You have captured the feelings of many women today. Yesterday I saw tears in the eyes of several women in addition to the smiles of many. It really IS a difficult day for some women and that needs to be acknowledged. More importantly, we all need to be there to walk shoulder to shoulder with them or to "sit beside them" even when they can't express what they are feeling.

Beach Mama said...

I started to write a post yesterday regarding much of what you have written here. I didn't have time to write the post to do justice to it. I too approach Mother's Day with much trepidation. I fall into many of those categories myself and feel much inner turmoil over it. Maybe I make too much of it, my chidlrfen and spouse sure don't:).

Thanks for writing what some of us would write if we could get the words out.

Half Gaelic, Half Garlic! said...

Another beautiful and very well written post!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you! You so often put into words what I feel in my heart.
My sister could not have children, she WANTED children, her husband WANTED children, but by the time they realized they wouldn't havee children by birth their lives were on another path - Mother's Day is so hard for her each day - and it is hard for me because without that sister's encouragement and financial help - I would not be a mother today.

My daughter acted out last night in a way she never has and sobbed when I scolded her and made her clean up the mess. She laid on me as she cried herself to sleep - and we talked about ALL the mothers we should remember on Mother's Day.

A friend of mine is a First Mother, she gave up her daughter because she wasn't married and she and her boyfriend thought their little girl deserved 2 parents...They ended up getting married and having two more children. She has never been the same - when she reunited with her daughter she found out the adoptive mother had died. She regrets her decision more than ever.

There are so many types of "Shadow Mothers" we can't let them be forgotten.

adoptionroad said...

Great post! Thanks for honoring those who face this holiday with more dread then anticipation.

Colleen said...

Wonderful post my friend : ) You always think outside of the box. Sometimes I feel we are so self absorbed we forget about those that are hurting. Thank you for the reminder. I do honor my girls birth mother's on mother's day. I don't know what they feel on these holidays but I know that with out them I would not have my beautiful girls. {{{{hug}}}}

Cheri said...

Thank you for this post. Mother's Day is very hard for me. As it was the day that my baby girl was found. I wonder how she will feel in the coming years when our three older children are celebrating. We will also run into this with Evan for Father's Day. :( Not many people understand. I just hold in my tears until I'm alone and pray for their first parents and foster parents.

TeeHart said...

Ahh yes - Mother's Day. One of my least favorite days of the year. After 8 years of infertility while being "only" a step-mom I both felt I wasn't a "real" mom and was told the same one year by a church member if you can believe it.

I had a daughter 3 years ago and still Mother's Day makes me cringe. Two of my three step kids called to wish me a Happy Mother's Day on Sunday, but one didn't which makes me sad. I continue to stand slightly in the shadows every Mother's Day, remembering years gone by and wondering when I will be able to stand in the sunlight again.

Thank you for remembering us.

3 Peanuts said...

Such a beautiful and very important post. Thank you.

Myrnie said...

Amen! Beautiful post, and a beautiful and very TIMELY reminder that there are so many different situations around us.

The Gang's Momma said...

a wonderful post indeed. i'm sure it was as hard to write as it is to read. hard to face. hard to reconcile. and so beautifully written.

i admit to being blissfully, selfishly,and immaturely unaware of the difficulty that this holiday presents for so many women. for too long, i lived this way. in recent years, i've been more aware than ever of the extreme joy, the extreme pain and the continuum in between. for so many women.

Misty said...

oh, tm.... so many words come to mind. i didn't love reading this post, but it was an important one, if that makes sense. yes, i am a mother, and i'm beyond blessed to say that. i can't decide if i'm a shadow daughter or if my own mom is a shadow mother of sorts... we've been estranged for years for reasons not worthy of sharing here, but it hurts. it hurts that she has chosen Else over me, and it hurts that i will never have the ability to bask in my own mother's right and love. my kids will never have a grandmother (on either side, unfortunately). they will hopefully celebrate me on mothers days in the future, but who do i get to celebrate? i mourn for all the beautiful and good memories i have of my own mom, but they make me weep b/cs they are old memories, not ones of her kissing my babies and holding my hand and praying with me. i'm sad. i'm still sad.
i'm so glad i started reading your blog, b/cs you have indeed opened my eyes to the other side of the story more often than not, and it's not always "beautiful" or pleasant/easy, but it's ALWAYS important. i'm glad to number you among my bloggy friends. and after all of this, i still hope you had a lovely mother's day--you have a tongginator who adores you and a mama who clearly loves you more than life.

Alyson and Ford said...

Wonderful post. I have to say that there is alot of pain on Mother's Day. Pain from our experiences, pain from what well-meaning people say to us who have very different Mother's Day experiences, the losses, the gains. I was one who always honored Mother's Day; I do have many women in my family who have adopted so have always, no doubts, no shadows, called them Mother.
However, the pain never goes away (the tears will be with me for a lifetime), the miscarriages, the longing, people who wouldn't recognize me as a mother of my two "step" and now with AA; I am not always considered a "Mother". Plus, those who are kind, giving me "FIRST" Mother's Day wishes even though I have been Mom to my Steps for 23 years! How can they ignore them?
You are so right; we don't fit in with the Mother's Day celebrations, we are shadows that still need to come out in daylight.
Thank you.

Alyzabeth's Mommy

luna said...

this is such a lovely and important post. I remember reading it before -- when our prospective child was about to be born -- and I sat with it awhile. guess I never made it back to comment until now. thank you for sharing this.

Bean stalk ballads said...

Fantastic and so inclusive of all of us on this list who wish we were at the front of the queue for accolades.

Mrs. Gamgee said...

This is why I love the Creme list! I didn't read this back when you originally wrote it, but it is so incredibly powerful... It can't just be relegated to your archives forever.

Billy said...

(here from the Creme)
What a beautiful post!

karlindaadoption said...

Beautiful. And I'll proudly sit with you too.

Lut C. said...

Popping in from the crème de la crème list.

Beautiful post, very moving.

They said what to you?! Non-mom? Revolting.