Musings on Mothering Sunday

Mother’s Day is a celebration honouring the mother of the family or individual, as well as motherhood, maternal bonds, and the influence of mothers in society. (Wikipedia)

Mother’s Day, here in the UK usually on a Sunday in late March, is a big, important day on which we show reverence to our Mothers or to the act of mothering. As young school children, we got out our gluesticks, egg boxes and glitter and fashioned handmade cards for our Mothers. Everybody joined in this yearly classroom activity then we snuck them home, still sticky, in our satchels and hid them in our bedrooms to present proudly to our Mother on The Day.

As we got older, we may have been taken to a Card Shop, to choose a card for our Mother. You would think this was a pretty simple exercise, but not for me. Not ever. Every year, I struggled with this Day. Nobody knew. Not one person. Not a teacher, nor my parents, nor my extended family, nor my friends. You see, I have TWO Mothers. The one who I lived with, who fed me, clothed me, took me to school, to ballet lessons, piano lessons and so on. And then the one who gave birth to me, who created me, who gave me my nose, my small hands, my funny feet – all of the things that were mine alone, from her, that I felt that I could claim as ME.

Every Mother’s Day, I would wonder if my mother was out there somewhere. Was she even alive or was she dead? Was she in the next town? In my town even? Did I pass her in the street? Was she one of my teachers? Or was she in a different country? A different continent even? I had no clue. I knew nothing.

But my Mother had no place in this Day. She was never mentioned, never honoured, never revered, nor respected. She was replaced. Forgotten. Lost to me. And this silence about my first Mother was a clear signal to me that she was unwelcome under our roof, on this day. In fact, on all days. But on This Day, her absence was particularly painful to me.

So I went through the motions. At church where I was taken every Sunday, we went up to the front to choose a primrose for our Mothers. There were all the Spring colours – vivid yellows, gaudy pinks, a lilac here and there. The other children picked one, and trotted off back to their pews, smiling and proud. There I was, at the front, frozen for too long. I couldn’t decide. It was too big a decision. I never understood why, but I was simply stunned.

We presented our gifts, then it was off to visit our Mother’s Mother, and our Father’s Mother. A Sunday lunch at a restaurant, with our primroses. And lots of other Mothers, Grandmothers. And I just felt lost. Lost among all of it.

As a teenager, I didn’t need my Father to drive me to the Card Shop. I took myself there. And there I stood. In front of the towering display of cards. Hundreds of them. And I had to choose. Funny ones – no, I didn’t find this Day amusing. I didn’t want to laugh. Sentimental ones – no, the words just didn’t feel right. Other customers came and went, occasionally chuckling to themselves, and taking their card to the till.

Many more Mother’s Days came and went. In 1995, aged 21, I started the search for my Mother. In 1998, I wrote my first letter to her and from then on, I had two Mother’s Day cards to buy. Each one so very different. A different card, for very different people, with different roles in my life and different expectations and desires for and from me, both of their Daughters. Again, I was stumped in the card shop.

Fast forward many more Mother’s Days to the one where I myself became A Mother. I had my first daughter aged 29. She was my world. She gave me the greatest, most precious gift of all – she made me A Mother. It was all I had ever wanted. I yearned for my own baby, my own kin. And when I first looked into her eyes, I knew that I would never leave her; that she would always be a part of me, and I her.

The sheer joy I felt at being A Mother on my first Mother’s Day was still tinged with sadness, regret, grief, at all that I had lost – even in reunion with my Mother. It was still deeply painful.

And this Mother’s Day, I find myself again a little overwhelmed. I bought just 3 cards this year. One for my Mother-in-Law, a woman with whom I have a treasured connection, who gets me, who sees me, who knows and appreciates that I love her son so much, who welcomed me into her family like a daughter and still does. Who let me collapse into her arms only a few weeks ago, when the daily life of adoption advocacy and campaigning and pain in my own life surrounding the situation with my adoptive parents all just got a little too much. A second card for my birth Mother, where I have to select the words carefully, to get the sentiment just right. And the third card…this year, there isn’t one. A card is missing because I have had to withdraw from my adoptive Mother, which I won’t go into here.

So this year, in 2023, I’m looking forward to celebrating Motherhood with my two beautiful daughters, and husband, for all that it means to be their Mother, to nourish them, cherish them, encourage them and love them so deeply that it hurts me sometimes. But I am also grieving, for the losses that can’t be replaced, or fixed. And I know I’m not alone in this.

This Mother’s Day, I encourage you to be still for a few moments for those who find Mother’s Day so painful – for those who have lost Mothers, who were taken from their Mothers, for those who are estranged from their Mothers, for Mothers who have lost children, to a cruel system, through death, or miscarriage, for women who cannot have children. And I do think of those adoptive Mothers. Although you may be dealing with your own personal grief, for whatever reason, please, spare a thought for your adoptee, who is without their first Mother and who may not show it, but may be silently grieving inside. Be honest, be open, ask how they are on Mother’s Day. Show respect, reverence, for their other. Please.

For so many, it is such a difficult day.