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A Mother's Day Not About Me

It struck me that the three children we adopted from Ethiopia thought about their birthmother more often than I realized. I told my daughter she had two mommies who love her. One gave birth to her through her stomach and one gave birth to her through her heart.

by Tara Bradford

Zenash was sitting on the porch, her chin in her hands. I went outside to see what she was up to, and found a little girl thinking about more than any nine-year-old should.

I sat down next to her and asked, "What's up? Are you OK?"

"Yeah, nothing," she said quietly.

"OK, well, tell me what you are thinking about."

"Oh, nothing," she said, and sighed.

"Really? Nothing? I'm not sure about that."

"Well, I was just thinking about my mom," she said, with a somber expression.

"Yeah? Tell me what you are thinking." (My heart was breaking.)

"I was thinking about one time when my eye hurt and she got me medicine. Worku had to go to the doctor, and my mom asked for medicine for my eye, too. We didn't have money, but the doctor helped us."

"Sounds like she took good care of you."

"Yeah, whenever I cried, she asked me, what can I do for you?"

"Wow, it sounds like she loved you a lot!"

"Yeah, she did."

"Do you miss her?"

"Yes." (By now we are both crying.)

I could see the burden of wondering "where is she now?" on my daughter's shoulders. It struck me that the three children we adopted from Ethiopia consider this weighty question more often than I realized. I took Zenash in my arms and told her that she has two mommies who love her. One gave birth to her through her stomach and one gave birth to her through her heart. This mommy, the one who gave birth to her through her heart, thought her other mommy would be proud of her kids and all they have done since coming to a new family in America. I told her it's OK to miss the mommy who gave birth to her through her stomach, that we will never forget her. I said that I want her to talk about her other mommy whenever she wants to, and that nothing she says about her will ever hurt me.

I ached for my daughter and the sadness she was feeling. As an adoptee, I understood too well the feeling of wondering where a birthmother was, whether she was OK. And I decided that, this year, Mother's Day wouldn't be about me. How many mothers in the world have given up their children so that they could have a better life? What if we didn't dance around "sad" conversations with our adopted children? What if we realized that not talking about their birthmothers hurts them more than talking about them? What if we didn't fear that our kids don't want us as their moms when they say they miss their birthmothers?

Tomorrow, as our family gathers to celebrate Mother's Day, there will be an extra place at our table. The guest of honor will not be physically present, but we will make her present in spirit. While I am the one who gets to open the cards, eat that special meal together, and cuddle on the couch, I must not forget how her heart must be aching.

To the birthmother of my three children through adoption, wherever you are, I say thank you for allowing me to be their "other" mommy. I hope that you are alive and safe, and that you know your children are loved and cared for. I hope I will one day get to thank you in person. I hope that I will be diligent in keeping your memory alive in their hearts. I hope I can love them as deeply as you do. You will always be their mother.


TARA BRADFORD is an adult adoptee, an adoptive parent, and the director of Encompass Orphan Care in Bozeman, Montana. She has been married to her best friend, Tyler, for 20 years and is mom to five amazing children through birth and adoption.

PHOTO: Tara and Tyler Bradford with (clockwise, from left) Alex (18), Worku (12, Ethiopia), Evan (14), Meskerem, and Zenash, (16 and 9, both Ethiopia).

Do you incorporate your child's birthparents into celebrations? How do you do it? Share your story at Adoptive Families Circle.

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