MOTHER'S DAY is normally one day of the year when I feel no ambivalence.
As the often exhausted mother of three children, ages 10 years, 8 years and 9 months, I am perfectly clear that I deserve every card and muffin that's heading my way. In past years, I have serenely enjoyed breakfast in bed, fancy brunches and even that rarest of joys - time alone to read. I have graciously accepted gifts of handmade picture frames and pins, and I have received cards praising me in words big and small.
This year, though, everything is different. It might appear the same on the surface - the same brunch will be held, similar gifts exchanged, but new feelings have arrived with my new daughter this year. These new feelings should not have come as a surprise, I suppose; much has changed. She is my first daughter after living a decade as the mother of only boys, and she is my first adopted child, after giving birth to my first two. So, I face this Mother's Day the same mother, and yet not.
I have always felt grateful for my children on Mother's Day, maybe because none of them came to me easily. My introduction to motherhood was harsh and hard: one late miscarriage, one child who needed skull surgery at 4 months and one who threatened to arrive at 24 weeks' gestation. I believe that to end up with two healthy boys after all that was miraculous, and I love my boys with the fierceness of a mother who has seen the darker side of parenting.
But I face this Mother's Day with a new type of gratitude for this new child.
The arrival of my daughter reminds me that I owe her health and easy smile to more than just my or my husband's determination and faith. My daughter was loved and cared for by two other women half a world away before she arrived, at 6 months, to complete our family.
The first was her birth mother. This woman made the selfless choice to give up her child and trust that another woman would mother where she could not. Her birth mother loved her by making a plan for her life, and that plan led to me. But what an unimaginably painful plan to have to make.
When this beautiful little girl first arrived, some of her umbilical cord still clung stubbornly to her belly button, unusual for a child that age. At her first checkup, my doctor showed me how to clean it out.
"Take a Q-tip with peroxide and really scrub," she showed me, as she quickly removed the last traces of my daughter's birth mother from her body. I cringed as she did it, even though I knew it should be done. I sat quietly and just held my daughter as the symbolism of her birth mother's sacrifice struck and silenced me.
The second woman who changed my daughter's life was her foster mother. Imagine loving a child as your own for six months, knowing all the while that you will give her up. That is what her foster mother did, and it is no small task.
Psychologists agree on the critical need for an infant to love and bond with a responsive adult during the early months. Her birth mother couldn't be there anymore, and I couldn't be there yet, but her foster mother became the bridge between us, offering herself as a path for my daughter to follow as she journeyed between us. One look at my daughter's quick smile, her curious nature, her careless assumption that people are good, and there is no doubt how well she was loved. And then gracefully let go.
As I pull up my chair to Mother's Day brunch, I will still feel most deserving of this day when those I normally cook, clean and care for show me a little of the same. But ambivalence will creep in this year as my thoughts travel half a world away, to two women who trusted me with the greatest gift I will ever receive.
May they somehow feel my love and gratitude for giving me a seat at this most auspicious table.
Kimberly Flyr is a teacher, parent educator and writer who lives in Howard County.