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Why Mother’s Day is still special to me, even without my daughter

One woman shares her story of what it means to be a mother—now and forever.

Why Mother’s Day is still special to me, even without my daughter

I found my daughter on my thirtieth birthday.

It was early May and we drove to Albuquerque from our home in the mountains of northern New Mexico to meet Jenny at her foster home in the South Valley.


I had been prepped for the encounter, and had cultivated a degree of reserve so that I would neither overwhelm the child nor give her false hope in case it was not a good fit and we wouldn’t be following through.

Most children in the adoption system have been abused, neglected, abandoned, and have serious trust issues. I envisioned Jenny as a wild bird landing for a moment in my hand. I must not scare her off.

We pulled up to the dilapidated adobe and parked at the curb—my soon-to-be ex-husband, my older daughter, Daniela, whom we had adopted two years earlier on her eleventh birthday, and me.

I stepped out of the car and there she was, a toddler on a tricycle, peddling toward us with a shy smile.  Look, Mommy, her face said to me, I can ride my bike.

I flung my purse into the sparse grass, flung my intentions skyward, and ran up the driveway to scoop her into my arms.

“Nice bike, honey,” I murmured into her cascade of black curls.  She did not reply, but I could feel her stiff body begin to relax against me.

We took Jenny to the zoo, where she asked to see the “pink swimming goats” (which we finally figured out were flamingoes), then to a family pizza place, stopped by a sporting goods store for a fleece jacket, and dropped her back at her foster home as the sun was setting.

A week later, on Mother’s Day, we brought her home.

Jenny’s social worker met us halfway, at the Dunkin’ Donuts in Santa Fe. Jenny clutched the paper bag containing all of her possessions—a couple of pairs of pants that were too small and a flowered blouse that was too big (the new jacket conspicuously missing).

She had a “memory book” put together by the staff at her foster home. It contained a picture of a little black baby cut from an ad in a magazine because Jenny did not have any real baby pictures and the Gerber child looked a little, but not very much, like her (and not a thing like me).

Jenny became the love of my life—more entwined with my soul than I could imagine if she had been born from my own body.

Right from the beginning, she reinvented our history, drawing stick figures with giant bellies (me) in which little stick figures nestled (herself). She had a frantic fear of my dying, which sometimes sent her into fits of weeping at the mere contemplation of my eventual demise.

Jenny herself dubbed Mother’s Day as our “anniversary.” Every year on that day we celebrated with cake, mostly on our own, as the man who was supposed to be her father never was, and her sister became a teenage mother early on and left home.

The year I turned forty, Jenny turned fourteen. One night in a fit of teenage rebellion, Jenny took my car for a joy ride and never returned. She crashed on the downward slope of a steep mountain pass and died alone under a full moon.

Mother’s Day is a fire in the heart of any woman who has lost a child.  

For me, it lines up exactly with the day I said “yes” to the most beautiful, loving, interesting creature I have ever known.  “Yes” to being her mommy, “yes” to the mystery of our future.

It never crossed my consciousness that I would outlive my child or that Mother’s Day would become an unbearable reminder that the daughter into whom I poured the full cup of my love would leave this world, and that I would shatter.

Twenty-five years after I picked up my new child at the donut shop and fifteen years after her death, I am beginning to integrate the extraordinary way Jenny shot across the horizon of my life and changed everything.

The late Irish poet, John O’Donohue, describes grief as being a raging fire at first, too hot to get near, but which gradually becomes a warm hearth by which we take shelter.

Mother’s Day is still painful, but little by little, as I harvest the fruits of Jenny’s love and warm myself with memories, it becomes another opportunity to bless her, to honor my own broken-open heart, and to renew my vow to carry her with me wherever I go, weaving her spirit into all I do and am.

Happy anniversary, my love.

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Motherly editors’ 7 favorite hacks for organizing their diaper bags

Make frantically fishing around for a diaper a thing of the past!

As any parent knows, the term "diaper bag" only scratches the surface. In reality, this catchall holds so much more: a change of clothes, bottles, snacks, wipes and probably about a dozen more essential items.

Which makes finding the exact item you need, when you need it (read: A diaper when you're in public with a blowout on your hands) kind of tricky.

That's why organization is the name of the game when it comes to outings with your littles. We pooled the Motherly team of editors to learn some favorite hacks for organizing diaper bags. Here are our top tips.

1. Divide and conquer with small bags

Here's a tip we heard more than a few times: Use smaller storage bags to organize your stuff. Not only is this helpful for keeping related items together, but it can also help keep things from floating around in the expanse of the larger diaper bag. These bags don't have to be anything particularly fancy: an unused toiletry bag, pencil case or even plastic baggies will work.

2. Have an emergency changing kit

When you're dealing with a diaper blowout situation, it's not the time to go searching for a pack of wipes. Instead, assemble an emergency changing kit ahead of time by bundling a change of baby clothes, a fresh diaper, plenty of wipes and hand sanitizer in a bag you can quickly grab. We're partial to pop-top wipes that don't dry out or get dirty inside the diaper bag.

3. Simplify bottle prep

Organization isn't just being able to find what you need, but also having what you need. For formula-feeding on the go, keep an extra bottle with the formula you need measured out along with water to mix it up. You never know when your outing will take longer than expected—especially with a baby in the mix!

4. Get resealable snacks

When getting out with toddlers and older kids, snacks are the key to success. Still, it isn't fun to constantly dig crumbs out of the bottom of your diaper bag. Our editors love pouches with resealable caps and snacks that come in their own sealable containers. Travel-sized snacks like freeze-dried fruit crisps or meal-ready pouches can get an unfair reputation for being more expensive, but that isn't the case with the budget-friendly Comforts line.

5. Keep a carabiner on your keychain

You'll think a lot about what your child needs for an outing, but you can't forget this must-have: your keys. Add a carabiner to your keychain so you can hook them onto a loop inside your diaper bag. Trust us when we say it's a much better option than dumping out the bag's contents on your front step to find your house key!

6. Bundle your essentials

If your diaper bag doubles as your purse (and we bet it does) you're going to want easy access to your essentials, too. Dedicate a smaller storage bag of your diaper bag to items like your phone, wallet and lip balm. Then, when you're ready to transfer your items to a real purse, you don't have to look for them individually.

7. Keep wipes in an outer compartment

Baby wipes aren't just for diaper changes: They're also great for cleaning up messy faces, wiping off smudges, touching up your makeup and more. Since you'll be reaching for them time and time again, keep a container of sensitive baby wipes in an easily accessible outer compartment of your bag.

Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on www.comfortsforbaby.com to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

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