Again, many thanks for all the well wishes, prayers, and love you have sent our way. Schneider continues to do well. He is talking more and more, singing too! He’s working hard to figure out puzzles. And he’s fallen in love with jumping! I am, of course, a bit exhausted as a new mom. So I offer this reflection once again. It is dear to my heart, especially now.
A year ago I was asked to write the prayers of the faithful for Mother’s Day. It is a lay ministry, crafting the petitions that are sent forth by over 3,000 people on Sunday. We prayed for everyone who is a mother, everyone who aches to be a mother, and everyone who declined the role or had it declined for them. It is a day of beauty and of pain.
This May, as I wait for the adoption to be finalized, I have more accoutrements of motherhood than I ever imagined. A miniature table and chairs for my kitchen. A hand-me-down crib. An assorted collection of dump trucks and car carriers. I decided to spend Mother’s Day at a Haitian celebration. It was a lovely luncheon complete with Haitian pate (a delicacy), traditional squash soup (to honor Haiti’s independence), Haitian musicians, and a lot of dancing!
Noticeably absent, though, from all the mothers beaming with pride, was the mother who gave my soon-to-be son life. She is the unsung mother at the table, one of many women around the world who give their children the promise of new life by placing them in another family’s keeping. Their act of deep surrender and faith, not to mention love, enables other women, like me, to become mothers. My grandmother was an unsung mother. Her lament lasted her entire life. She lived to be 99.
My grandmother never spoke to me about her son, the youngest of four, my uncle Charles. He was the baby born with Downs Syndrome in 1952, the baby she and my grandfather were required to give up to the state, the son the doctors said wouldn’t live to be seven. He died recently at 61. At the time he was born, state law only offered specialized care if he was placed into state custody from birth. If my grandparents, who had very little money and an eighth grade education, had brought Charles home, the state would have provided nothing—no services, no guidance, no medical care—for the duration of his life.
The unthinkable had happened to my grandparents and to their beautiful baby boy, who looked just like my grandfather in his later years. According to my mom, my grandmother cried every night that first year after he was born. She used to look for him in every baby carriage she passed on the street. Her son lived in a home not of her making, in a room not of her choosing. She could no more fix him cereal for breakfast than answer his cries in the night or hold him close to her heart. Her grief was unspeakable. At the end of that first year, my grandfather said, “We need to do something different.” He couldn’t bear her tears any longer. And my grandmother stopped crying.
Years passed, and when Charles was an adult, the state placed him in a group home where he met the foster parents who would become his family. This was long before open adoptions were conceived. My mother and her sisters carried their brother’s loss as if it happened yesterday. The call from the hospital, in the days following his birth, had interrupted them making lunch. My mother followed my grandfather into another room and stood there, watching, as his body slowly went rigid. After a few moments, he put down the phone, turned away from her questioning gaze, and wept. “There’s something wrong with the baby,” was all he could say.
In her innocence, my mother at the age of fifteen did what I’ve come to believe is the only gift you can give someone who is grieving. She was present to it, and in her stillness there that day, she allowed her father to unburden his heart, to simply let it out without fear of reprisal or judgment. There are no words, no actions, no cure for grief—only time and patience and an unwavering acceptance of what is.
That peace is what I pray for my son’s birthmother and father. I do not know what it is like to be faced with such a life-defining decision. I only know what is to be on the receiving end of it. My joy is bound to their loss. My hope, to their trust. We are all so intricately connected.
In a few months from now, every day will be a mother’s day of some kind. I imagine some will be more harried than others. I will learn to soothe hiccups and build Lego towers. He will learn a new language and not to jump on the couch. I will learn his heart, and he will learn mine. When I think about all the birthdays my grandparents missed, all the bloody noses and Little League games, I pray to always remember and honor the unsung mother and father who have shared their most precious gift with me.
May the God of infinite mercy and grace ease their long lament and fill their hearts with an enduring peace. And may I and our son make them—and my grandmother—proud.