To ‘The Other Hearts’: An Adoptive Mother Pays Tribute To All The Moms In Her Daughter’s Life

This guest blog is written by Jennifer Crissman Ishler, an adoptive mother

I am a proud mother of a beautiful little girl adopted from Guatemala. I am also a professor who teaches a course about adoption.

Because many of my students expressed an interest in working in the adoption field but had no classes devoted to this topic within the curriculum, I developed a brand new course.

Creating this new course was a labor of love and a gift to my daughter, who by the way loves to come into class and “guest lecture”!. Within the class, we discuss the triad members in adoption (birth family, adoptive family, adoptive child) and the five core issues that surround any type of adoption (loss, rejection, guilt, grief, and identity).

Misperceptions about adoption

At the beginning of the course, many students have the misperception that adoptions are always a “feel-good, everybody-wins” situation.  And while many people do feel good and have successful outcomes with their adoptions, we cannot overlook the other overwhelming and confusing feelings that come with an adoption.

Now that the spring semester has come to a close and Mother’s Day has come and gone, I am struck again at the bittersweet cycle of beginnings and endings.  While several of my students are graduating (ending) and starting new jobs (beginning), I am left struggling with the wide spectrum of emotions that always hit me around the Mother’s Day holiday.

Mother’s Day is perhaps one of the most emotionally laded holidays for all involved in the adoption triad. I can’t stop thinking about the fact that for me to become a mother, another woman had to give up her role as a mom. There is significant loss that has to be addressed, and that doesn’t feel good. In fact, at times, it feels downright upsetting and unsettling.

I will never forget my first Mother’s Day six years ago. After the pain, sorrow, grief and frustration of infertility, and thinking I would never have my own to child to love, I was finally a mother to an incredible little baby girl. I thought for sure my first Mother’s Day with my daughter would be nothing but joy, happiness, sunshine and pink roses.

Thinking about another mother

And while it was very special and meaningful, I could not help but feel some sadness on that day. And to be honest, that sadness caught me off guard. I felt guilty for feeling this way. How could I possibly feel sad when I finally had everything that I had always wanted and dreamed about?

But I could not stop thinking about another woman, in a country far away, and of the incredibly selfless act she did. I wondered if she ever thought of the child she placed and I worried that she regretted her decision to place her child. After struggling so hard to have our own child, I could not fathom placing my child for adoption, and yet our birth mother did just that.

So on that Mother’s Day six years ago, and every day since then, I think of her, silently offering humble prayers of thanks and gratitude to her, hoping she can somehow know that her daughter, my daughter, our daughter is healthy, happy and thriving.

I also always take a moment on that Mother’s Day Sunday in Church to reread the words to my favorite hymn. We had this particular song played at our daughter’s baptism as a way to honor the birth mother and it just feels fitting and appropriate to read those words again on Mother’s Day:

This is my song, Oh God of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my sacred shrine.
But other hearts in other lands are beating,
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

I don’t ever want to forget those “other hearts in other lands” who have hopes and dreams. I want to honor, respect and appreciate them.  And then of course, there is my darling, precious daughter. I wonder what she will think as she grows up and starts to realize the significance of Mother’s Day.

Will she be hurt? Confused?  Angry?  Will she be at peace?  Right now she is at the delightful age where she thanks God every night for her three mommies, “The one who carried me in her belly and borned me; the one who took care of me until you came for me; and you, my forever mommy”.

And so this year, I think I will sit back and take a cue from my very wise little girl and just say “Thank You” to all those other hearts out there, wherever you are and for all that you do.

Jennifer Crissman Ishler is an assistant professor in the College of Education and a Senior Lecturer in the College of Health & Human Development at Penn State University. She and her husband are the proud parents of their 7-year-old daughter, who was born in Guatemala and was the motivation and inspiration for the college course she developed on adoption.

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