Mother’s Day changed for me 14 years ago. We’d recently adopted a baby. It was an open adoption, which meant we had (and continue to have) a relationship with the mom who gave birth to our daughter. When our daughter was an infant and was continually admired by people, I wanted to tell the mom whose genes helped to make her so adorable about this stream of delightedness over this baby’s big spark within such a small body. That I heard this and she didn’t was just one way our roles and experiences of this daughter diverged—her birth mom and I. I thought about this a lot as the first (first few, honestly) Mother’s Days approached. 

While I didn’t tell everyone who noted her sleek hair or long eyelashes that those features did not come from me, adoption was never a secret—not for our daughter and not from anyone else. Only after beginning the adoption process did I learn about Birth Mother’s Day, which is a made-up holiday on the Saturday before Mother’s Day. This felt as insulting as could be. It seemed more honest that the holiday and title somehow be shared, not siloed. 

By the time our daughter arrived, I had been a mom for 12 years. We had three kids between the ages of 12 and 5. In all those years, Mother’s Day was never something I thought about much at all—until becoming a mom through adoption.

Related: This couple adopted 7 orphaned siblings

As that first Mother’s Day after our daughter approached, I sent a gift. Whatever I sent to our daughter’s birth mom for those May Sundays during those early years (most often chocolate) couldn’t possibly convey my gratitude for the chance to parent such a miraculous determined little human. She has grown into a friendly and funny teenager, one who reminds her older siblings to wish me a happy Mother’s Day.

I’d let go of feeling like I had to answer the question of who the day belonged to, or what it meant. As Mother’s Day approaches this year, I’m wondering what happened to my earlier angst.

Over the years, we’ve slowly found our way as a family, figuring out how to integrate each other’s presence in our lives. We’ve had many visits with her birth mom. A few times, when the logistics worked, we arranged to meet so the two of them could see a show or movie while I waited elsewhere. Our daughter knows about having a birth mom (who’s called ‘Auntie’) and who they are to each other—and pretty much always has. 

There’s no question that she’s my daughter and that she has another mom, too.

I’ve never pushed her to make any special deal whatsoever about Mother’s Day for either of us. The things I owe my daughter are honesty—thus, no secrets—and my parental love—which she has. I never want to define whom she should love how, which I guess is why it never occurred to me to obligate her to a holiday like Mother’s Day (I never obligated the other kids or my spouse, either). 

This year, I put the three of us—me, daughter, birth mom—together by text. I did this so that our daughter could text a thank you (for a birthday gift) directly, rather than from my phone. A couple of months ago, we arrived at a family party with her birth mom and extended family, and our daughter wasn’t terribly shy. She easily offered hugs and smiles and conversation, unlike the younger kid years when we needed to help her to reconnect each time. 

Related: The complicated emotions that come with adoption

There’s no question that to our daughter, I’m her mom, and her Auntie is her mom, too. To me, there’s no question that she’s my daughter and that she has another mom, too. I know the same is true, that although the birth mom isn’t raising our daughter, she can say without question she’s mom and so am I. I’ve heard her refer to our daughter as hers and she’s also referred to our daughter as mine.

We haven’t ever needed to cling to some definition of what would make a person “more real” or “real” as a mother. That’s part of the hurt many people experience about Mother’s Day, perhaps. That’s part of my discomfort with it.

But I don’t think it’s having negotiated and lived a shared sense of some definition of motherhood that brought me to an easier place with Mother’s Day—or not entirely. I know I am the most fortunate person in the fact that I gained a daughter and a co-mother, and they are both amazing people that I love. 

What’s changed for me is that I feel like I have done a piece of what I’d hoped to do by each of them—birth mom and daughter. If the goal of parenthood is the ability to have kids become independent people, the ability to engage with one’s birth parent without always requiring an intermediary of the adoptive mom feels significant to me. In this way, we keep growing—all three of us. And that, to me, is something worthy of celebration.

A version of this post was published May 3, 2022. It has been updated.