Doubly Blessed

A Mother's Day Parable

May 13, 2000|By LISA POLLAK | LISA POLLAK,SUN STAFF

One gave her life, and one raised her, but each is her mother.

One is energetic and outgoing, one soft-spoken and genteel. In age they are 20 years apart. Each is her mother.

One didn't see her for 38 years. One dressed her in frills, served her fine Southern cooking and raised her in a family so close and secure and loving that she never wanted for another.

One told people that she had only four children, never mentioning the infant daughter she'd had as a teen-ager and was forced to give up. One proudly told people that her daughter was adopted, believing it was something to be celebrated, not a secret.

FOR THE RECORD - In a photo caption in yesterday's Today section, The Sun incorrectly reported the family relationship of three women shown in the photo.
The caption should have identified Helen R. Sewell as the adoptive mother of Jacqueline H. Thomas, and Harriette Miller as Thomas' birth mother.
The Sun regrets the error.

One understood that a life-changing phone call from her daughter didn't mean they'd be close right away. It would take time. One understood that her daughter, by then an adult with children of her own, needed to know where she came from. It wasn't threatening.

One says the woman who adopted her daughter is her hero. One says she had her daughter to herself all those years; it is all right to share her now.

One is "Mom," though the first few years she was "Harriette." One is "Mama," with an emphasis on the second "Ma" that sounds elegant and special.

One gave her daughter blood and bones and a gift for gab and a big family who she has spent the last 13 years getting to know. One gave her a belief in herself and the power of love, a strong foundation in faith, and the knowledge that there are many ways in this world to make a family.

Each is her mother.

Jacqueline H. Thomas knows her experience is the exception, not the rule, which is what she tells the audiences of social workers and prospective adoptive parents with whom she often shares her story. The Baltimore woman began searching for her birth mother 17 years ago, at age 34. Four years later, she learned that Harriette Miller not only lived in the same city, but had married Thomas' biological father and raised four other children, all Jackie's siblings.

There are many more details, to be sure. But on Mother's Day weekend, the most important is this: 13 years after their reunion, Thomas and her two mothers have come to have a close, caring and respectful relationship. In many ways, their lives have merged. They have taken trips, celebrated holidays, attended church and even spoken at adoption conferences together. When Jackie and her husband Ronald renewed their vows after 25 years of marriage, Jackie felt blessed to have both mothers walk down the aisle ahead of her.

Mama first, of course, followed by Mom.

The success of this unique relationship owes a lot to the generosity of two strong, devoted women. Harriette Miller never attempted to usurp Helen Sewell's place as the primary mother in Jackie's life. And Helen Sewell never expressed resentment toward Harriette Miller's newfound relationship with her daughter.

Mother's Day is especially poignant for Jackie this year. Healthy for most of her life, Mama now suffers from Alzheimer's.

Which means that Jackie speaks to her mothers often these days. One calls her daughter offering help. One calls her daughter needing it. Having them both in her life gives Jackie a sense of completion. Tomorrow, well aware that some of her peers no longer have their mother, she will be thankful for every moment that she is fortunate enough to have two.

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