Motherly Collective

I grew up with a beautiful, amazing mother. She was the type to search for caterpillars with us on an autumn day or surprise us with homemade popsicles on a hot, summer afternoon. It was the 80s, and I spent long days running through the neighborhood with other kids. There were no cell phones. We were outside until dusk. Things felt simple.

When I was 16, my mother turned around from the passenger seat in the car, and blurted out, “You have a sister.” Just like that. That was the moment that shifted the script. Fast-forward to later that year: I met my older sister Anne, I was the maid of honor in her wedding and our relationship began.

Anne grew up happy. She had wonderful parents who longed for a daughter. Although we were born seven years apart, we lived only four hours away from each other. Once we met, we marveled at our similarities: she also had a long second toe, she loved nature and she had spent her youth exploring the woods behind her house—just as I had done.

But, over the years, as I unraveled more of the reality of Anne in my mind, I felt tricked. How could I have not known something so important about my own mother for 16 years of my life? Something my aunts, uncles and grandparents all knew but kept secret.

The more I learned about my mother’s story, the more my heart hurt for her. She was young and unmarried. It was the 1960s, and people didn’t talk about these things. She spent the last month of her pregnancy hidden away. She delivered in a special unit of the maternity ward for unwed mothers. And, after her baby was born, she returned home—never to speak of it again.

For a long time, I couldn’t get past the idea that my mom had this whole complicated life before the existence of our family.

I wanted to ask older relatives about their version of the story, but I never did. I knew their lips were sealed. It was what had been expected at the time, and, I believe, they did not think it was their story to tell.

As parents, we are allowed to have our own stories.

I realize, now, I had a false idea of what the concept of truth is. I believed it was linear. I believed it was as simple as stating, This is what happened.

With my mother’s and Anne’s permission, I wrote a novel about their story. I dedicated the book, The Freedom of a Tangled Vine, to my mom. During the course of writing I made a discovery: This is what happened could never really be the basis of any story. It is always much, much more than that.

The true story is this: my mother had a baby she was encouraged not to keep. She chose adoption. She never fully dealt with her grief. But, her life continued.

The truth is also this: my mother would roller-skate past us at the park when I was 10. She smiled and waved—walkman radio on her hip, neon headband around her forehead. After a long day of play, she brought metal cups of Kool-Aid to our fort. On warm days, she set up the sprinkler and encouraged us to jump in it.

The truth is that both truths exist. My mother is a woman who carried immeasurable grief from a child she was forced to give up. My mother is also a woman who showered our family with an immense amount of love years later.

We all know that our parents had a life before us. Our own children will learn that about us too.

If I could travel through time, I would wrap my arms around my young mother and try to absorb some of her pain. I would tell her that her secret could be shared with me. I would tell her she was not alone.

As parents, we are allowed to have our own stories. Some of them need to be shared. Some might take years to voice. And some might remain our own.

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother's journey is unique. By amplifying each mother's experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you're interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.