Kyrkja and Anagret Rydland have two mothers.
On Mother's Day, mom Karena Rydland is being celebrated by her 4- and 6-year-old daughters and her husband, Thomas.
But the day before is all about the girls’ birth mothers, Jenna Yentsch and Greta Guldseth.
The two Twin Cities women are among a small but growing number of birth mothers who have claimed the day before Mother’s Day as their own — Birth Mother’s Day.
It’s not marked on calendars. Hallmark doesn’t sell cards for it. But as attitudes about adoption have shifted, celebrations to honor the women who’ve made families possible are popping up across the country.
“It’s nice that there’s a day where it’s acknowledged that I’m still a special part of her life,” said Yentsch, Kyrkja’s birth mom. “I’m not raising her, I’m not her mom, but it’s OK to just be a birth mom — that’s special, too.”
Mother’s Day has long celebrated mothers, motherhood and lasting maternal bonds. But the holiday, which officially began in 1914, was established at a time when adoptions were shrouded in secrecy and birth mothers were left in the shadows.
With the growth of open adoption, birth families and adoptive families tend to stay in contact for the benefit of a child. Placing a child for adoption has come to be considered an act of love. But many birth mothers felt they continued to be ignored. In 1990, a group of Seattle birth mothers sought to change that by creating a day of their own.
Since then, Birth Mother’s Day has quietly grown as birth mothers band together, forming networks in person and on Facebook to support one another. Celebrations range from simple gatherings to brunches, candle-lighting ceremonies and other events, often sponsored by adoption agencies.
In the Twin Cities area, New Life Family Services in Richfield has held an annual Birth Mother Dinner at Calvary Church in Roseville since 2000.
“With more openness within adoption, there tends to be less secrecy. Still, for some birth moms, it may be the only time they are recognized for being a mother,” said Jennifer Patrick, director of adoption for New Life. “They find value in being a room surrounded by other birth moms, who get the complexities of making a voluntary adoption plan for your child.”
While not all birth mothers want to be recognized, those who do say having a day of their own feels more natural than vying for a part of the spotlight on Mother’s Day.
“When I was pregnant and it was Mother’s Day, all I could think was, ‘I’m a mother, but I’m not going to be raising this child,’ ” Guldseth said. “It was hard. I grieved my first Mother’s Day.”
At Adoption Minnesota, many of the birth moms who’ve chosen adoption are sent cards around Birth Mother’s Day to honor the “courageous decision” they made, said Lynn Ricchio, executive director for the Twin Cities adoption agency.
“Most birth moms just love it and appreciate being recognized that they are a mom, even though they aren’t raising this child,” she said.
Guldseth, whose baby girl was adopted by the Rydlands in 2014, anticipated suffering through Mother’s Day. Instead, it’s become one of her favorite days of the year.
Just before each Mother’s Day, the Rydlands make time to recognize her and Yentsch, the women who made their family possible.
“Adoption has made us a big family, and we want them to feel honored and loved, and to know that we wouldn’t be a family without them,” said Karena Rydland. “Birth Mother’s Day has become this precious time for us to all be together.”
So Saturday night, two birth moms, two adoptive parents and two little girls with no shortage of love are sitting around a fire, roasting marshmallows, exchanging stories and gifts.
“It feels like a dream, or a Thanksgiving during the springtime,” Yentsch said. “It’s a celebration of our story.”