This mother’s day, I will put on pearls and a billowing ballgown. I will load my harp into the car and my husband will load me and the baby, and off we will go for my performance at a nursing home High Tea. The white haired elegant elderly women will tell me that I play like an angel and that my curly haired baby is beautiful. They will ask me when I learned to play the harp, and if this is my first baby. They always do.
The answer to these questions is complicated and intertwined.
I first fell in love with the harp when I was 18 and stumbled upon a woman playing a Celtic harp. I was entranced by the quality of the rippling music, and decided I wanted to learn to play the instrument. My parents told me that this was a great idea- and that I should buy one. With nine children on a Catholic journalist/organic farming salary, there was no way they could buy me one. This seemed reasonable to me, and with the first paycheck from my first job I bought a tiny three octave harp and a copy of “Teach Yourself to Play the Folk Harp.” I made various attempts to teach myself to play, but my world was full of siblings and senior year and heading off to college, and the harp became more of a unique decorating piece than anything else.
This changed, along with everything else in my life, when I was 21 years old and became pregnant. I was unmarried, had just left college, between jobs, between houses, completely adrift and at sea in the world. Just before I found out I was pregnant, I had been planning to move to Peru to do volunteer work in an orphanage there. Instead I was contemplating the end of my life as I knew it, and the beginning of the life of my child.
It took three months of praying and fighting and sobbing and writing for me to decide to give my baby up for adoption. As the eldest of nine, I knew that I could be a good mother. What I kept having to face was that I could not be a father. I felt that it was crucially important for my child to have a mother and a father who would love each other and help each other raise their children. The decision was agonizing, but continually resonated with me as the right choice.
I was living in a silent apartment with my Great Aunt in Chicago and had all the time in the world to face my present and my future. It was terrifying. I read endless books, walked the city streets, and slowly fell deeper and deeper in love with my unborn child. I also began to pour myself into learning to play the harp. I felt that I had so little to give to this child who I loved more each day. Playing every day became my gift for the child and my hope for the future. Slowly, over the course of the months, my fingers stumbled less upon the strings and began to fly.
Brigid Maureen, my first child, was born on May 8th, 2001, a few days before Mother’s Day. The fruit trees were in bloom and the sky was blue and the world was beautiful. On Mother’s Day the adoptive parents came to mass at St. Peter’s on the ridge with my family, and after mass our home was full of roses for all the mothers.
In some ways for me the adoption process was like those big bouquets of roses. Deeply beautiful, vivid, full of thorns. There were hard days and hard years and an incredible depth of pain, but out of the suffering came such incredible beauty. I was broken and I learned a depth of compassion that I could not have learned in any other way. I learned what it really meant to love selflessly, and to put the welfare of another before my own.
Brigid’s adoptive parents, Chris and Michelle, are two of the most incredibly generous, loving, and self-giving people I have ever met. Their love for God, for each other and for their five children (Brigid is the eldest) is incandescent. I have learned so much from them.
I also did learn how to play the harp. While I was pregnant with Brigid, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to keep playing after I gave her up because it would be too sad. Instead, during the months and years that followed, playing the harp was often my greatest joy. These days, the ability to play means that I can help support our family. Last year on April 5th, I gave birth to my second daughter, Olympia Julianna. In the hospital, one of the first calls I received as I held my newborn baby was from a nursing home asking if I could play for them on Mother’s Day. I smiled and thought of Brigid, as I always do. I said yes.
I thought that learning to play the harp would be a gift for my child. In the end, it was a crucially important gift from her to me. Thank you, Brigid Maureen. Happy 10th birthday!
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