May marks an important holiday for those who are mothers or for those who have mothers, as well as for those who have lost their mothers. May also marks National Foster Care Awareness Month, and oftentimes the role of foster mothering is overlooked when Mother's Day is considered.
As John Bradford (circa 1510-1555) is often quoted as saying, "There but for the grace of God, go I," and it was that same sentiment which was recently echoed by several foster mothers and adoptive mothers who gathered together at The Village for RI Foster and Adoptive Parents in Cranston, a foster parent support center (https://www.facebook.com/thevillageri123/).
They came to share some of their experiences with Mother's Day since becoming mothers in this more unconventional way. Each one felt blessed to mother the children they had as foster mothers and adoptive mothers, but also realized that to judge the biological mothers for the situation they were in, was not a part of their job description, nor something they would ever feel inclined to do.
Additionally, the impact of celebrating Mother's Day extended beyond their own personal feelings for themselves as foster mothers and adoptive mothers, but also to the children they were fostering as well as to the enhanced appreciation they now had for their own mothers.
"I had two biological children also, but once I became a foster parent, Mother's Days became way more of an event," said Laurie Tapozada who is raising a two year-old grandson in a kinship placement for her one of her daughters. "To these children, having a mother was extremely important. I received pictures and poems, and so many things were such a big deal. They would say things like, 'I'm so happy you're my Mommy, and I'll love you forever and ever.' It's so heartwarming. Foster parenting is not always easy, and those moments are some of the higher moments."
For Carol Garcia-Benoit and her husband, who do not have children of their own, fostering has provided them the opportunity to care for children and experience the bittersweet feelings that Mother's Day and Father's Day can bring. They have fostered two baby girls and two baby boys, all of whom have been reunified with their biological parents, which is always the ultimate goal in foster care, whenever possible.
"For me, my first Mother's Day after becoming a foster mother, I had a little guy with me and I got to celebrate Mother's Day," Garcia-Benoit said. "For the second year, it was kind of sad. We didn't have a baby in the house at the time, but now Mother's Day is next week and we are waiting for the phone to ring. I don't know if I'll have a child to mother at the time, but there are four babies out there who will forever have a piece of my heart and I will forever have a piece of theirs, even if we are not in the same physical space. It's an unusual situation to be in, it's always different. My husband gave me this necklace with charms for each of the babies we foster, and what it says is so true, 'However motherhood comes to you, it's a miracle.'"
When Mari Brake celebrated Mother's Day last year, it was her first as a foster mother. She and her husband have biological daughters as well.
"I think the biggest change for me was that I really wanted to honor their mom," Brake said. "You love them like birthed them, but I didn't, and I know how important that day is to the child's birth mother as well. I made a canvas with footprints in the shape of a butterfly so that she also felt loved on that day, because I know that I felt very blessed that day, but I kept trying to imagine her at home and because of the choices she made, her baby was not at home with her. It was a learning experience that day for me because if we adopt this baby one day, I want to have a good relationship with the biological mom; that's important to me."
Kim Zandy had her first Mother's Day ever, in 2015, after having fostered and reunified her first foster baby placement a short time later, a process which she said not only brought on real and true grief, but also taught her that she could get through it.
"That baby taught me that I could do it," she said. "Now I have two beautiful children, a little boy who is four and a little girl who is two and a half, and now I have a great relationship with their biological mom as well, but at the time of my first Mother's Day I was just starting to develop a relationship with their biological mom and dad. It was an awkward phase, but it's getting better and better. Regardless, I really wanted to honor her as a mother because I had seen that she loved them so much. We had a nice visit on the day before, and we cried together that day because it was becoming evident that she wasn't going to be getting her kids back."
Zandy knows that as a foster parent, you're all in, but yet on her first Mother's Day, she didn't feel as if she deserved all of the gifts for that special day just yet.
"So all of the gifts from the preschool, all of the things they'd made, they all went to their mom because I knew she'd love them, and because I didn't feel deserving, although I did appreciate everyone wishing me a happy Mother's Day. Last year was my first official one and it was really important to me. I really appreciated my own mother so much more and I paid so much more attention to what I did and said to her that day, especially," she said.
April Thompson, mother of five and her husband, adopted two babies through foster care, both with complex medical needs, and the couple have three biological children as well.
"Since becoming a foster mom, Mother's Day has new meaning for me," Thompson said. "Now, not only is it a day that I spend celebrating my life with my little ones and enjoying their company, it is also a day that I grieve for but also celebrate the biological moms of my adopted children. As a mom it's hard to imagine a day spent apart from my children. I am so grateful for these women who, due to unfortunate circumstances, were unable to parent their children.
"She cites a quote which often comes to mind: A child born to another woman calls me Mommy. The magnitude of that tragedy and the depth of that privilege are not lost on me.
"This sums up my feelings on fostering and adopting perfectly," Thompson said.
"I am blessed due to someone else's tragedy. Having the opportunity to foster and then adopt two medically fragile children has made me a stronger person. It has given me a clarity in my life that I hadn't realized was missing. It has taught me not to sweat the small stuff. When you have this medically fragile baby fighting just to live and desperately needing someone to love them, your perspective on life changes. Watching my children overcome so many obstacles and thrive in such unexpected ways has been incredible. My beautiful children have taught me to strive for progress rather than perfection. I am so grateful."