In 1992, when I was 25, I became estranged from my own mother. She's long had her own issues, but when I moved back to California from Washington and temporarily stayed with her, she transferred her anger over her own issues to me. I had plenty of my own things to deal with, and wasn't going to take responsibility for her problems (that were definitely not my problems) - so I moved out and haven't really spoken with her voluntarily since. One glaring exception was when I agreed to go to a family reunion in Kansas City, MO in 2006 - and only because both of my sisters would be there. Not really much since. There's too many additional things about my mother that aren't what this is all about, but I can't imagine we'll have anything resembling a relationship again.
After that - I spent time being annoyed at the generic "holiday" greetings thrown at people by retail or service workers; often under threat of discipline by their managers. People, please - don't throw such generic things at people. For Mother's Day - you cannot assume that every female of child bearing age or older is a mother. They may have just lost their mother, or lost a child. They may be living that special, lonely hell of desperately wanting to be a mother but for a variety of reasons have not been able to achieve that. Your generic "Happy Mother's Day" can make them anything but happy. It might just be a slight annoyance at the assumption, or you may find yourself with a woman suddenly trying to hold back sobs while putting her credit card back in her wallet and trying to make a mad dash to her car in the parking lot.
Just Don't Do It.
But for one beautiful day in May, 2010 - I was a mother. I've mentioned briefly that we used to be foster parents. Baby J came into our lives in early September 2009 when she was just 8 days old - freshly discharged from the hospital. She was the happiest, most adorable baby ever. With foster children, you cannot assume that you will have them for any specific length of time, though due to her birth circumstances we knew we would have her at least 6 months. To say that she was a delight is a historic understatement. While the Man hates photos, this one of the two of them when she was 6 weeks old speaks volumes to how we felt about her (her face is blurred, as identifying photos made publicly available were not allowed - though I think she'd be hard to identify from this photo, I won't take that chance. Those who have a Friends connection with me on Flickr have access to un-retouched photos.)
Early in 2010, as J approached 6 months old, we decided we were ready for a second child - we were licensed for two, so we told our licensing worker that we would open our home for another child, preferably one age 3 or under.
Very shortly afterward, we got a call about a little girl T, who was 5 days shy of her 3rd birthday. I remember I was in the middle of a select luncheon at school with the former CEO of Wal-Mart -and my cell phone goes off. Out on the balcony of the building on campus I had back and forth calls between our worker and the Man, trying to decide if we should take the placement. I actually twisted his arm a bit (ironically) and we accepted. I had to return to school that night, so she'd arrived at the house about 20 minutes before I had to go - frightened, not wanting to leave the social worker that she knew, and clearly not sure what to make of Baby J, the Man, and the cats. She crawled under the coffee table with a baby blanket and fell asleep, and wouldn't let either of us put her to bed - she slept there all night, and the Man slept on the floor with her.
T arrived still in diapers, barely verbal, and with that dead, 1000-yard stare you see in shell-shocked soldiers, not something that should be on the face of a barely 3-year old child. We advocated fiercely and frequently for her, but very few of our concerns were addressed. By the time she had an early pre-school intervention she'd been with us 5 months, and had actually grown into quite a chatter box - though her enunciation and diction still needed more work than a developmentally typical 3.5 year old.
So Mother's Day 2010 I was actually a mother. If anyone said or says to me I was "only" a foster mother, I'd have shanked them. No, these girls were not mine by blood, and not even mine legally except through temporary guardianship of foster parenting, but I was their parent. The Man bought me a beautiful card "from the girls" that talked about being Mom had nothing to do with DNA, but instead was about love. I cried. While I was slightly annoyed I had to share the day with his mother (something I had previously expressed not wanting to do) - in the end it didn't matter, we got to celebrate Mother's Day for me.
T blossomed over the summer, but as she grew more comfortable with us the issues that were brought about by her background continued to come to the surface. We were continually dismissed in our requests for her as being inexperienced parents, or that she was "just 3" - both of which were true, but were not the root cause of the problems we were trying to solve. As fall came around, things just devolved. We gave it our all - we were committed to T, willing to go the long haul with her, but we weren't getting any support, and were specifically forbidden to seek some help we had been asking to be given.
It came to a head in November in a way I won't describe here now - as I mentioned at the beginning of this blog I am still considering writing a book about it, but there's too much to it for a single blog post. On one awful night, the decision was made (by others) to move T from our home. In doing so, they chose to take J as well. We were heartbroken. J's case had progressed to the point where parental rights were being terminated, and we were in the very early stages of working to adopt her. She was 15 months old, and we were the only parents she had ever known.
What happened afterward is an experience I'd not wish on my worst enemy. We spent months and thousands of dollars trying to regain custody of J, but in the end were blocked at every turn. Our relationship with our local social services agency was irreparably damaged. We were no longer parents, and were not going to be parents again in this way.
Mothers Day 2011 was beyond painful. We had just effectively come to the end of fighting for custody of J, the Man's mother was dying of cancer (she would pass a month later on June 8), and I was struggling to finish the last year of my MBA program. I think I probably did shoot daggers at many people who gave me that crappy generic "Happy Mother's Day" - I was no longer a mother, and it stabbed me through the heart every day. The girls' room had the door closed - like this black hole of grief kept at bay only by this small wooden barrier. I had to take the portraits down off the walls of the living room and the hallway - they were hidden away in that room, I couldn't bear to see them.
As I began my weight loss surgery journey, Dr. Fuzz told me that he wanted all of his pre-menopausal female patients on birth control, as those with fertility issues often had their fertility come roaring back, often very soon after surgery. I rolled my eyes at him, but agreed. I didn't expect a positive response, but I also asked if he thought fertility might come back, would he consider allowing me to attempt an IVF perhaps a bit sooner than the 2 years they want most patients to wait - after all, I was 45, and at that age, every month counts.
Fuzz told me that if I complied and got into my goal range, he'd consider approving my working with the reproductive endocrinologist again (we'd tried multiple rounds of injections without and with IUI in 2006/2007, but stopped short of IVF due to lack of funding at the time). I'm still 30-odd pounds above the top of Fuzz's goal range for me, but when I have my 6-month follow-up appointment with him on May 31 it's something I'm going to bring up. I just had another Depo shot the other day, so it will be a few months before that wears off, and any IVF attempt takes months of prep - I want to coordinate all of that appropriately.
While I cannot yet bring myself to fully believe that this will be successful, I cannot walk away from the possibility of one last attempt at being a mother. Despite all the trials we went through during that time, and despite the horrific ordeal afterward, it was something that I desperately want to have in my life.
Now in 2012, this Mother's Day is a year of transition. the Man's mother is no longer with us - something we'll definitely miss. I'm desperately trying not to eviscerate people who spout the generic Mother's Day crap. And finally, of course, I'm recovering from a month of hell with the fissures and surgery. I'll be doing my best on Sunday to ignore everything about Mother's Day - but I can't help but have that tiny bit of hope in the back of my mind that perhaps at this time next year, we may be expecting a child of our own. I can't believe it, but I cannot give up.
I was a mother - for one precious year. Please, universe, let me be so again soon - for the rest of my life.