Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Other Mothers

Have you ever noticed how some of the best “moms” on earth couldn’t—or didn’t—have biological children? I was raised by one. Here’s an irony that proves you can “inherit” something by adoption: I am one, too.

My mom’s “barrenness” was the lingering wound of her lifetime. What an ugly, archaic word. No wonder she felt terrible about it. I’m not sure “infertility” is any better. Is there really a neutral word?

Mom was Italian-American, a culture built around children and family. I was adopted back in the days when my origins were kept secret—even from me. I know my parents meant well, despite the damage “hiding myself” would ultimately do. They didn’t want people to treat me differently. I also think there was a strong measure of self-protection. Mom didn’t want to be booted out of the Mother’s Club, even in someone else’s mind, or worst of all, her own.

If you’ve ever witnessed a good adoption, or another form of people raising children that are not of their body, you know that bonding often has little to do with genetics. Children are born of relationships that are not biological (hopefully!). Two unrelated people bond, and from this strong merger, their children are created, a bit of both of them. If it weren’t for the non-bio relationship, given our incest taboo, there wouldn’t be any children of the biological kind.

Dad didn’t tell mom for a long time that the aftermath of an infection she incurred, followed by an operation to remove a scarred fallopian tube and ovary on opposite sides, meant that she could never have children. Mom was squeamish to begin with and barely had an eighth-grade education. She wasn’t big on understanding or focusing on medical details. She did not question the years of trying without success or relate them to this event. Dad could not bear to tell her; her dreams were dashed. They were already raising my brother, a nephew adopted within the family. He was much older than I was, and Mom still longed for “children of her own.”

One of the most poignant chapters of my memoir recounts the day, at 18, when I told my parents I had known for 10 years that I was adopted. Mom’s was wistful, talking about her sorrow that she could never get pregnant. “But if we had been able to have kids of our own, we wouldn’t have you, baby.” I’ll never forget how she beamed and how he held my hand.

However you perceive Ultimate Creativity, Spirit often brings us family in forms way more imaginative than biology alone—which you have to admit, is one of the most innovative and amazing processes in the universe. My children have come in nieces, nephews, and fur kids and an assortment of other special relationships with younger humans and animals of all ages.

“It makes me sad that some kids missed having you for a mother,” my husband once said when the subject came up. It wasn’t in the cards, and it was nearly as big a heartbreaker for me as it was for my mom. But that never stopped me from nurturing, adoring children, and applying that mom energy in other ways. Abundantly. It’s probably the “damming” of that energy that causes non-biological moms to let it spill over into their other nurturing relationships.

I have a unique vantage point for viewing motherhood. One of my moms abandoned me; the other one smothered me. I had a lot to overcome, and finding my birth mom in my late thirties was the beginning of deep healing for my original mom and me. Out of respect for the mom that raised me, I couldn’t even admit to myself that I had needed to know my birth mom till my adoptive mom was gone.

Ultimately, I got to merge my two moms in my mind and heart and to see how nature and nurture both influenced my life. I became close to my birth mom, too. Our families merged and love one another. But frankly, I will always feel closest to the mom who “did the job.” When I found out at the tender age of eight that I was adopted and tried to process that blow, I could not believe I was not of my mom’s body.

Closeness—perhaps best represented by when we hug—is a desire to merge in a body-and-soul way with another person. Mother and child in pregnancy represent the most physical form of this merger.

Yet, as I have lost loved ones, I have learned that no matter how sweet, the physical bond has certain limits. Now I can conjure all my loved ones in my mind and heart, any time of day or night. It’s the only way I have access to them. I did that sometimes when they were “in a body,” but not nearly as often. Why connect in mind/spirit when I could get a hug and their physical presence?

We carry our mothers in our minds, anyway, sometimes admonishing us, sometimes cheering us on. The most important thing we can know about nurture is that it is limitless, it is without form, it is love in its purest sense …

… it comes from the heart and soul, even if we often use—and crave—our bodies to express it.


Photo: Mom and me, 1948


Susannah said...

A beautiful post Joyce and one I could identify with as I never had children (lots of animals have definitely benefitted from my mothering instincts!)

I should imagine it was so difficult at the age of eight processing the fact you were adopted, my heart goes out to the 8 year old you.

Thanks for sharing your wonderful insights.

Joyce Mason said...

Thanks, Susannah, for your compassion and personal experience about how our mothering instincts can be used in versatile ways! Yes, that was quite a load for an eight-year-old to handle, but the way it forced me to turn inward and directly to God for direct guidance has been the source of my keen intuition and insight. In the end, it was a blessing in disguise. Although I would never advise parents to be anything but open about adoption with their kids. Gotta be an easier curriculum!

Eileen Williams said...

Your thoughts are always so beautifully expressed and this last post is especially touching. Motherhood in all its forms is a complex blending of emotions. In my own life as a daughter and as a mother, I've felt the most amazing love I've known alongside some of the greatest pain I've ever experienced. In my case, both relationships were biological. I can only imagine how greatly the adoption experience might heighten these already primal feelings. You're a real teacher of the complexities and richness of life through your words.

Joyce Mason said...

You are so right--and wise, Eileen. The mother/daughter bond is incredibly complex. I have experienced it times two, and I appreciate your sharing your own experience. The mixed joy and pain seems to be universal! Thanks for your kind words about my writing. Happy Mother's Day to the Mom Within Us All and who we become because--or in spite of!--our mothers.