My first Mother’s Day as a mom was as special as I’d dreamed it would be. My husband got me a bouquet of peonies, a framed picture of our daughter’s handprint and matching shirts: Mama Bear and Baby Bear.
My heart was filled with joy and gratitude, not least because after six years of infertility and trying to adopt, I finally held my beautiful sleeping daughter in my arms.
(See a related video.)
Becoming a mother through adoption has taught me many things.
First, being an adoptive mother has deepened my sense of being a steward of the gift of life.
So often life is treated as something entirely under our control, something we can time precisely or even end when continuing it is undesirable. Experiencing infertility taught me the hard way that no, I’m not the Author of Life; God is.
As my husband and I said at our wedding, our job is to “accept children lovingly from God.” We are ministers of life, not its masters.
I didn’t carry Zelie in my womb or give birth to her. Instead, in God’s providence, she was entrusted to us by her birthparents, to raise as best we can this side of heaven. We are very conscious that she is a gift.
In this way, “adoption clarifies something that is true for all Christian parenthood,” as adoptive father Timothy O’Malley says beautifully: “To have a child is always to participate in a divine gift. While the child may share your genetic material, he or she is never fully yours, never a ‘being’ that you earned.”
Second, being an adoptive mother has enriched my understanding of how Scripture uses the language and concept of adoption.
The word “adoption” often appears in prayers during Mass, and is in many Scripture verses, such as: “You received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry ‘Abba, Father'” (Rom 8:15) and “God sent his Son … to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption” (Gal 4:4-5).
The idea of adoption in Scripture helps to remind us that there is nothing fake or contrived about us saying we are sons and daughters of God — despite how lofty or even scandalous that sounds! “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are” (1 Jn 3:1).
Through adoption, Zelie really and truly belongs to our family, forever. The analogy of adoption on human/divine levels can only be pushed so far, though. Adoption in the human realm involves loss and ethical quandaries, and can cause complex emotions for adoptees.
Finally, being an adoptive mother reminds me — especially around Mother’s Day — to pray for mothers in difficult circumstances and for women who long to hold a son or daughter. There are so many mothers in need of prayers and support, not least courageous birthmothers.
It is no small thing to realize that you’re not able to care for your child and to choose a family for them out of love. We pray every day for Zelie’s birthparents and all who made this difficult, heroic decision.
And we pray every day for couples struggling with infertility. As I know from experience, Mother’s Day is one of the hardest days of the year for a woman hoping to become a mother or a mother who has lost a child before birth.
Mass on Mother’s Day is a golden opportunity for the church to give comfort to women with heavy hearts.
Above all else, may Mother’s Day draw our hearts closer to our perfect mother in heaven. Mary, our mother, pray for us!
Bethany Meola is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Bowie, Maryland, with her husband Dan and daughter Zelie-Louise. She previously served at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.
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