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’re 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’re 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’re 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 birth mother 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 birth mothers 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 birth mothers?
As our family gathers to celebrate Mother’s Day this year, 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 birth mother 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.