Have you ever stopped and thought about the History of Mother’s Day? I, for one, have never even given it a second thought. I guess I assumed that Mother’s Day was invented by one of the card companies. When I set off on the journey to discover the History of Mother’s Day, I was really surprised by the origin. So, let’s talk about the History of Mother’s Day, and I’ll share a little of how I am learning to embrace Mother’s Day as a biological mom and an adoptive mom. Let’s start by looking back, shall we?
Did you know that a woman named Anna Jarvis created the Mother’s Day holiday in the United States in the early 1900s? Anna came up with the idea after her mother passed away. She wanted a day set aside every year to honor the hard work and sacrifice mothers make for their children. According to history.com, Anna secured financial backing from John Wanamaker, a wealthy man who owned a department store. She organized a special event to be held at a church in West Virginia. While the event in West Virginia took place, a similar event happened at one of Wanamaker’s department stores. The department store event was held at one of his stores in Philadelphia and shockingly drew a crowd of 1,000 people.
Anna Jarvis wanted to create a celebration for mothers at a time when all other national holidays seemed to honor men. While she saw the value and impact of mothering, she was never a mother herself. In fact, Anna never even got married. A mere six years after its humble beginning, and due to the persistence of Anna, President Woodrow Wilson made Mother’s Day an official holiday.
Have you ever wondered why flowers, especially carnations, are everywhere during the holiday? Look deeper into the History of Mother’s Day, and you will discover that carnations were given to mothers to wear as a sign of motherhood. Initially, most celebrations were intimate; however, it didn’t take long for the card, candy, and flower companies to get on board. Soon, the holiday became very commercialized. In a strange turn of events, Anna ended up hating the holiday. She hated that people had taken something that was created to acknowledge the hard and valuable work of a mother and turn it into a way for companies to make money. It was so frustrating that she worked tirelessly to get the holiday taken off of the calendar.
Can you imagine the frustration Anna must have felt toward the complete shift in the meaning of the holiday? I am sure she felt frustrated and angry that something so intimate to her became blown up and got out of hand. She wanted to honor her mother and mothers everywhere as well as stand against the idea that only men deserved special days of recognition.
I have thought about the meaning of Mother’s Day and the many shapes this special day has taken throughout my formative and adult years. As I learn the history of Mother’s Day, I see a pattern of people entering Anna Jarvis’ world and changing the ideals she held into complete frustration. This resonates with me, and while, in the end, she wants nothing to do, I choose to stay the course.
As a child, our family would always celebrate Mother’s Day. My parents would buy flowers and small gifts for their mothers, and my dad would always take us to pick something out for our mom. I remember being so excited when we got to make Mother’s Day projects for our moms and how proud I would be to give her the gift on the special holiday. My dad would get my mom a corsage to wear. It was always fun, and my mom was always (overly) excited to receive whatever we gave her. As I grew into my teenage years, I remember trying to write cards and pick out something just for her.
My husband and I married young. He was 22, and I was 21. We started trying to have a family a few years into our marriage. We were thrilled to find out I was pregnant at just 24 years old and after only a couple months of trying! It was February of 2004, and we excitedly told everyone we knew our wonderful news. Keep in mind, this was before social media, so we had to call everyone. It was such an exciting time, and our friends and family celebrated our good news. It was such a precious time. A little more than a month later, we found out we had lost our baby. We were heartbroken. In the days following our tragic loss, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, and the diagnosis hit hard. Mother’s Day was a few weeks after our devastating loss, and I wanted to crawl into bed and die. I remember feeling the pain of that depth of loss for the first time. That morning, I woke up, got a warm drink, and went out onto my front porch. I was crying and mourning, and as I stepped out onto the porch, I saw a sweet gift left for me by a friend. She had driven all the way to my house and left a gift to acknowledge the motherhood that had slipped through my fingers. The tricky thing about miscarriage, when you have no other kids, is that you are still a mother. Losing a child doesn’t strip you of the title. It makes your heart long for the child who you never got to hold. It was the first time Mother’s Day was affected by the heaviness of loss. It has left a lasting impression.
By the next Mother’s Day, I was blessed to have carried our oldest son to term. He came into the world in March, and that Mother’s Day was a completely different experience. The joy of having a baby in my arms on that day was overwhelming. We went to church, and I wore a corsage. I remember staring at his little face and smelling the sweetness of his little neck. As time went on, we welcomed a second biological son, and Mother’s was something I looked forward to. As the boys grew, they would make little things for me, and the extra snuggles and love given to me would fill my heart for days to come.
When our boys were nine and ten, our family grew again. This time, through adoption. Our daughter was 5 years old and came to us through the foster care system. She had spent time with her biological mother before entering the foster care system. I was so excited to celebrate Mother’s Day after she came. I wanted to honor her birth mother. I bought balloons the night before and hid them until the perfect time. We went to my parents’ house for lunch after church, and before we ate, I grabbed the balloons and asked our daughter to join me. We went out to the yard and talked about her birth mom. I encouraged her to say what she would say to her birth mom if she were with us. We prayed for her birth mom and released the balloons. I realize now that releasing balloons into the sky is not a great idea, but back then, I had no clue; please forgive my ignorance. We watched, hand in hand, as the balloons drifted off into the sky. I felt like we had bonded over something. It felt powerful to share this moment with her, and it was important to me for her to know we valued her birth mom. While that may have been true, it did not define our day. The day was filled with painful struggles. She was so angry and hurt that day. She fought our love hard the entire day. Little did I know, Mother’s Day had changed forever.
The truth is, Mother’s Day as an adoptive mother comes with layers of history and loss. It can be a very hard day to navigate. We must remember and acknowledge that an adoptee will experience the grief of loss. We now have 2 adopted daughters. Each of our daughters has come to us with their own unique journey. They have both lived and walked part of their lives without us. Our second daughter joined our family at the end of 2016. As months passed, she was bonding well with everyone in the family, and I could feel our attachment starting to take root. She and I had the opportunity to be together every day when the other kids were at school. It was a precious time, and we were getting to know each other. When I turned the calendar from April to May, I remember thinking about how much harder Mother’s Day would be now that I had two daughters who had experienced losing their relationship with their birth mom. However, she loves Mother’s Day. The grief of losing her birth mother is still present, but she is able to share the day with me. This is a great reminder that, like all children, each adoptee is an individual.
For our family, it has been important to remember that grief is a process. It is something that can come out of nowhere and knock you to your knees. It can be triggered by your senses and overwhelm your thoughts. It can also be silent but present enough to take over your emotions. As an adoptive parent, over time, you will likely notice that your child has trauma memories. These memories can be filling their minds, or you may even notice that certain times of the year are hard for that child. The body will keep track of trauma, and even if it isn’t known to the child, that trauma memory can cause a mild, moderate, or extreme disruption. The body remembers. While all adoptions are unique, they all share the commonality of starting from loss. Studies have shown that even children adopted as infants experience trauma. This will look different for each child. As a parent, you grow in your understanding and ability to identify these moments. For our youngest daughter, she has been processing more of her loss this year. When grief is present, she needs to talk and be closer to me than usual. That means she will want to do something with me and know that I am present in the moment, and she will ask some hard questions. She really wants to understand her story, so we talk. Our older daughter tends to be overcome by her memories, and she pushes me away. It is a hard road, but she is not alone in her processing.
Just like Anna Jarvis, my ideals of Mother’s Day have completely changed. Instead of the idyllic breakfast in bed and homemade macaroni crafts from school, Mother’s Day has been transformed into a hard day. Yes, the homemade gifts are still given, but the day is more like walking a tightrope instead of dancing barefoot in a field of wildflowers. If I am honest, like Anna, I have wanted to cancel the entire day because it has been transformed into something different than I imagined. The truth is, I am the mommy that is present. I want to honor the two birth moms who don’t get to see their daughters on the day created for them, too. It is so complicated. I will wake up this Mother’s Day, and I will look all four kids in the face and give them hugs and kisses. I will look at each of my daughters and silently pray for each of their birth moms. I will embrace the joy of watching my teenage boys take a moment to make a point of telling me that they love me and get extra hugs from them too! I will take a deep breath and be there for the good and the hard. I get to be their mom, and that is worth celebrating.
Happy Mother’s Day.
Becky Dell is a Staff Storyteller for adoption.com. Now married for over 20 years, her journey to motherhood started with a miscarriage, followed by the birth of her 2 biological sons, and brought to completion with the domestic adoptions of 2 daughters. You used to be able to find Becky baking cookies and playing trains with her two tiny sons, but now, you will find her learning to parent through the rough and rewarding world of adoption, attachment, and trauma. She is a fierce advocate for adoption and processes the many facets of adoption through written word.