We are honored this week to share a guest post by birthmother and author Candace Cahill, whose book, Goodbye Again: A Memoir, is slated for publication in November 2022. Candace was also a recipient of one our Create! Birthparents Arts Grant this year. Be sure to visit her web site and sign up for her mailing list to be reminded of her virtual and live events, media appearances, and to get updated memoir release information.
This essay was originally published with Concerned United Birthparents (CUB), an organization that provides support for all family members separated by adoption; resources to help prevent unnecessary family separations; education about the life-long impact on all who are affected by adoption; and advocates for fair and ethical adoption laws, policies, and practices.
As a child, I remember the light-hearted joy of making my mom a Mother’s Day Card. Paper plates and construction paper, hands sticky with glue, and the words “Best Mom Ever” embellished with glitter in uneven print. As a teenager, I penned heartfelt poems on flowery stationery in soft-lead pencil, expressing my deepest love for the woman who, just days earlier, I could barely stand.
But after the relinquishment of my son, I quit celebrating Mother’s Day. I hardened my heart to thoughts of myself as a mother and couldn’t soften to the woman who’d said, “he’s dead to me now,” after signing away my parental rights.
For years, I avoided anything related to Mother’s Day and just pretended it was like any other. It wasn’t until my new husband, almost seven years later, asked me, “How would you like to celebrate?” that my perspective began to change. He asserted that despite placing my child for adoption, I still had the right to claim motherhood, and, perhaps even more importantly, he maintained I have every right to grieve the loss of that child. He assured me I could both honor and mourn simultaneously. This was a foundational shift for me, and my life changed forever.
But I’d spent so long pretending I was okay that it was hard to make space for sadness. And amidst voices that said my choice was beautiful and wise and brave, I retreated into the shadows where I could hide the pain that I thought I wasn’t supposed to be feeling. However, the sorrow pulsed and oozed under the edges, ever ready to spill out.
With my husband’s support, I worked for years to develop the ability to share that I had a son. I’d sit at a Mother’s Day brunch/lunch/dinner and respond to questions about children with tear-filled eyes, facing the questioner’s confused expressions with as much forthright honesty and vulnerability as I could muster. But now, that task has become heavier. I want to scream from the rooftops I HAVE A SON but fear the repercussions of that statement. Because now, I am faced with another reality: my son with whom I reunited died suddenly after a brief reunion. So, what used to be the internal conflict to share a child placed for adoption, now intertwines with that of a dead son, and sometimes I’m just too tired to try.
This year, I am also missing my mother. The woman I was estranged from for more than twenty-five years but with whom I reconciled – sort of – after my son's death. I’d finally come to see that her cruelty hid her pain: she’d lost a grandchild. I am more able and willing to consider moments of tenderness and connection, no matter how few and far between, because those are what I want to remember.
Today, I have mixed feelings about Mother’s Day. I don’t like that Birth Mother’s Day is celebrated as a separate holiday. It feels like I’m being ostracized and excluded. However, I understand how it could be, and is, a balm for other first mothers – how they find solace in the special recognition. So, I hold space for both.
Whether you celebrate Mother’s Day or not, or like the distinction of a separate day for Birth Mothers, I encourage you to be at peace wherever you are in your journey. I try to live by the motto that two things can be true at one time: yes, I mourn for my son and our lost past and future, but I also embrace the joy I have found in his adoptive family. In our son’s absence, they provide memories of his life while I remain a willing listener, ever grateful to share the weight of the sorrow.