How It Feels To Be A Birthmother On Mother’s Day

This guest blog is by Melissa Nilsen, a birthmother.

“If I had two wishes, I know what they would be
I’d wish for Roots to cling to, and Wings to set me free.”
-From Roots and Wings by Denis Waitley

People have often wondered what matters more: nature or nurture. On Mother’s Day we honor mothers for the love and devotion, the nurturing they show their children. As a birthmother, I didn’t stay up at night soothing my baby back to sleep.

I didn’t hold her when she was sad or kiss her scraped knee when she fell. But I did make sacrifices for her. And her mother says she sees some of me in my birth daughter still. So what matters more?

My birth daughter’s mother and I know that nature and nurture both matter. I gave my birth daughter roots; her parents gave her wings.

The night my birth daughter was born, I felt all the things a new mother feels. I felt the pain of giving birth, the fear, the self doubt that I might not be able to accomplish this task, and I felt the ultimate triumph of meeting her face to face.

I felt deep, exultant passion hit me in the chest as I held her in my arms and looked into her deep blue eyes. I felt undone by this unfamiliar love just as every new mother does.


My first Mother’s Day as a birthmother

Eight months after my birth daughter was placed, I lived through my first Mother’s Day as a birthmother. It was a beautiful spring day when I sat down in church between my mom and dad.

Just before the sermon, the pastor unexpectedly asked for all the mothers to stand up and be acknowledged. For some reason, this request brought up deep waves of emotion in me.

The waves had been slowly receding for the last eight months. But in the instant between the pastor calling for all mothers to stand, and women beginning to rise, a suffocating wave of grief and sadness and loss washed up in my heart.

I imagined my baby, now eight months old, sitting on my lap, smiling around at the adoring congregants. I imagined being among a community of mothers.

As the tears started streaming down my cheeks, I felt my mom and dad on either side of me pull me up by the shoulders until I was standing between them.

The tears had turned to sobs now and I felt the eyes of the other mothers on me. I felt their sadness for me. No matter how happy I was beginning to be in the wake of a teen-pregnancy, there would always be loss woven into my joy about choosing to place my baby.

I realized that day, part of me would always feel like a mother because I had carried a pregnancy and given birth, even though standing there in church between my parents and without a baby, I knew I wasn’t yet a mom. I was somewhere in between.

What’s the proper way to acknowledge a birthmother on Mother’s Day?

Over the next seven Mother’s Days, I grew more confident about my decision. I studied abroad and graduated from college and got married. I kept in close touch with my birthdaughter and her family.

As she grew from a baby into a young girl, she grew to understand the role I had played in helping create her family. And our relationship blossomed.

But no matter how good I felt about my decision no matter how great my life was, each year on Mother’s Day I felt melancholy. No one knew the proper etiquette to acknowledge a birthmother on Mother’s Day.

Not even me. Looking back, I guess what I craved in those seven years was just that: acknowledgement.

In the same way a mom wants to be acknowledged for the sacrifices she makes and for the love and dedication she displays each day as she nurtures her children, I wanted to be acknowledged for the amazing nature of my birthdaughter, for the strong and healthy roots I had planted before her care and upbringing were entrusted to her parents.

On my first Mother’s Day after my own daughter was born in 2006, I planted a Magnolia tree in her honor. Three years later when my third daughter was born, we planted a Crabapple tree. Absent from my garden is a tree for my birth daughter.

Where is my tree for her? After all, I gave her roots. But it also feels right not to have a tree for her, because the roots I gave her don’t belong to my garden, they belong to the garden of her parents: the people who daily give her wings.

Melissa Nilsen is a birthmother.

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