A letter to an unknown Chinese birth mother on Mother’s Day

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Mother's Day is complicated for me. An unknown Chinese birth mother occupies my thoughts in random moments all year around but never more so than right before Mother's Day. This is the one day of the year when my family pretends its all about me. It goes a lot deeper than that.

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A day (let’s be real, a few minutes) where it’s all about me is a welcome change of scenery from making snacks, wiping boogers and patrolling the bedroom for closet monsters. You can’t really take an all-day break from important stuff like snacks and closet monsters, so I definitely enjoy my moment to relax over cold toaster waffles.

The night before Mother’s Day is more serious for me. It’s a time of reflection when I think about a woman I’ll never meet. My son is adopted. He was abandoned when he was two days old, probably because of medical needs his birth family couldn’t manage.


I don’t know his beginnings. I don’t know anything about his genetics or the events that led to the decision not to parent. I have zero information about who he got his dimples or his stubborn streak from. In many ways his life began the day we met, in a hot, crowded government building when he was three years old.

But it’s more complicated than that. My child’s life didn’t start the day he met me. I probably won’t ever know anything about his origins, but that doesn’t stop me from remembering the mother who came before me. I can almost-kind-of-but-not-quite see her in the corner of my mind.

And so, I write this letter to an unknown mother who weighs on my mind every Mother’s Day, every birthday, every holiday and many other days in between. At a time of year when we pause to celebrate motherhood, my son’s birth mother is never far from my thoughts:

I’ve spent hours wondering why you made the choice you did. I can’t imagine how difficult it was to walk away from your sick child, and hope he’d have a decent life. I like to think you watched from the shadows to make sure your baby was noticed by a concerned passer-bye and handed off to someone who’d make sure he was safe.

Although I don’t understand your choice, I don’t condemn or judge you for it. I have no illusions that it was easy to walk away from a child you’d carried in your body. I’m sure you cried that day. I hope your pain and guilt have dimmed with the passage of time, although that might be an unrealistic wish.

To say I think about you a lot is an understatement. I wonder if you’re at peace. Do you think about him? Do you wonder about me? I wish I could let you know he’s happy, healthy and thriving. I wish you knew how much I love this child.

He doesn’t ask about you yet, but I know that’s coming. I wish I could talk to you. I wish I knew what you’d want me to tell him about you, what pieces of his heritage you’d want him to know.

I have spent hours wondering what you look and sound like. I wonder if you have a sense of adventure that gets you in trouble or crazy dance moves. I wonder if you’re short, tall, thin or round. I wonder if you have straight hair with one unruly piece that stands up, no matter what you do.

I wish you knew I think of you when our son (because a part of him will always be yours) experiences firsts. Big firsts like going to school and riding a bike and little firsts like helping me make chocolate chip cookies. I wish you knew you’re not forgotten. I wish you knew that in my own way, I love you. People say he’s lucky. You might agree with this, but I wish you knew I think I’m the lucky one. I wish you could know he’s happy and safe and that we won’t forget you.

You’re the person in the world I’d most like to meet, although I know that’s pretty impossible. I think about you when I’m sitting on my couch at three in the morning because I can’t sleep. I wonder if you think of me the same way.

Someone once told me that I changed this child’s destiny. I say he changed mine. And so did you. Thank you for the beautiful gift you gave me on this Mother’s Day.


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  1. Beautiful letter, Jill. The Mid-Autumn Festival is a traditional time for the Chinese to think about far away family members (all gazing at the moon), so the holiday could provide you another opportunity to recognize your son’s birth parents, perhaps with him involved as he gets older.

  2. Wow!

    That was an amazing read, really. I hope you will keep this text somewhere for your son to read when he gets older. When he do start asking questions, this “letter to his birth mother” might be a great way to start the conversation. The love and respect is obvious for anyone to see. To see your love for his biological mother might do him well. As I’m writing this I realize you do not need my advice, you seem pretty amazing at being a mom, adoptive or not. But a small thought of mine 🙂