Congratulations to…. Me!

by Michele Fried

I am a mother. Being a mother is the most important thing in my life. It is truly what brings me the most happiness. For as long as I can remember I have always wanted to be a “mommy”.

I have been blessed many times with many wonderful children. I have been touched by the magic of adoption and the experience of childbirth. With these miracles, I have become a mother 8 times.

While most new mothers or pregnant women receive the usual congratulations or words of endearment, I on the other hand did not often experience words of this nature. My motherhood began with words like; “Will you try to have your own?” “Why did you want to adopt?” (He is my very own! Is it a crime to simply want a baby?)

Then when I did become pregnant shortly thereafter, I heard, “That always happens after you adopt.” And “Can you handle two so close in age?” (It doesn’t always happen after you adopt — check the statistics! And I have learned that children close in age become very close friends.)

When our third son came home, people wondered why we would adopt when I became pregnant once before. Family members accused me of being too spontaneous.

Our two adoptions were transracial. Meaning our sons are of a different race than my husband and I. Of course this in itself turns heads let alone leads to interesting if not humorous comments. But nothing could have prepared me when we brought home our blonde-haired blue-eyed daughter at the age of two years, who happens to have Down Syndrome. I was warned, “You don’t know what you will be doing to your other children.” (Yes, it turns out years later, making them into compassionate, patient and loving individuals.) “I don’t know if I can handle the fact that you have a disabled child.” (Sorry, but we are handling it — not you.)

When my next pregnancy was announced most people couldn’t see past the fact that the oldest was only five years old! And when I was ready to deliver a relative who was trying to get pregnant said to me, “I can’t congratulate you because you don’t deserve another child when you already have so many.” (I actually consoled her rather than getting angry!)

Two years later we added two beautiful girls with Down Syndrome to our family and with that we had mostly silent family members which I learned then was the most painful time for me. How strange that though the past words sent my way were not always congratulatory, they were words nonetheless. It was contact, communication, and statements that they cared (or at least worried about me!) But the silence hurt so much that I recall one night shortly after the arrival of our seventh child I sat downstairs in the dark rocking the sleeping baby and apologizing to her for her not being accepted by the family outside of the walls of our home.

And then another pregnancy. And a beautiful baby boy. I remember sharing the fact that I was pregnant (belly bursting out already) with two individuals who worked with me and I was shocked to have one of them (a clergy person) immediately congratulate me. I told him at that moment how happy he made me only then to realize that those words were rarely said to me in the past years. If they were said they were never an automatic thought. The other person responded with, “I just knew it!”

So, I often congratulate myself… not on becoming a mother again but on being truly blessed with the most magnificent children ever. While this is hard for some to understand, I am thankful for each and every child and for each and every parenting experience. Though some have been challenging experiences, I am nonetheless grateful. I may not have had the typical experiences that new mothers have, but I have had the most unique and most special surprises of my life.

My professional life has taken me through the world of adoption, special education and disabilities. It has taken me a very long time to learn one very important thing ~ Tell people what you need them to say.

A woman almost twenty years my senior told me me that she would call her mother and cry when days seemed so hard while parenting her daughter with a developmental disability. During those teary conversations with her mom, she would question her choices and beliefs that she proudly exhibited in raising her child. Her mother (who she was so very close with) would cry with her daughter and then tell her to consider putting her daughter in a group home so she would no longer have to deal with it all. Finally years later, this woman told her mother, “Mom, what I need to hear from you is that you support me, that you trust me and that you are proud of me and the choices I have made.”

I must admit that this lesson only reached me recently though she has told me the story many times. I guess I never had the occasion to use this strategy until now.

So friends and family, I need you to be happy for me, to support me and to love me for who I am and for the choices I have made as I await the birth of my ninth child.

So congratulations to me!