The story of the mother of God, vulnerable because she is unmarried, but with a man brave enough to stand beside her. The image of the new born child safely in her arms despite poverty, despite the stable. It’s all quite triggering. Really.
We celebrate family at Christmas. At the heart of our families and in the centre of our imagery are babies. Babies kept with their natural mothers although the fatherhood is a little shady. Also children. Children given everything they wish for on Christmas morning. Dreams come true.
Personally I never got over Father Christmas.
If I was good Father Christmas would bring the things I wanted. I could not write what I wanted, as this would be overseen by my adoptive mother and what I wanted was to see my natural mother, but I hoped that Jesus, who did not require lists and could see into my heart might tell Father Christmas about what I wanted. Clearly they were the same type of being. Real of course. Who would lie about things like that? But invisible. My mother, too, was of this manner of being. If I had to see either Jesus, Father Christmas or my natural mother, I would definitely choose her.
The story that they told me was ‘Your mother loved you very much but she wanted you to have a better life and so she gave you up.’ They told me other stories, too. Stuff about reindeer. Also things about Jesus turning water to wine which was like Ribena but better.
If she loved me very much why couldn’t I see her? How did a sleigh fly through the air? If God made men in his own likeness what were women? So many things didn’t add up. I accepted that these were known unknowns. I was only five. Things would clarify.
I thought a lot about my natural mother when clearly I was not supposed to. Discussion of anything to do with her like a comparison between Jesus Christ and Father Christmas would have brought about exceptionally poor results in the adoptive home. I did not need to test these things to know them.
The realisation that Father Christmas was illusory came first. God I kept alive for longer, going so far as a gender-swap to revive to beating her loving heart.
The question of whether my mother loved me, their insistence on that, with the non-sequitur that she had let me go and the impossibility of aligning those things in my naughty soul was a worrying tension at the centre of my being. I carried it to the preposterous therapists of the eighties, with their suggestion that my own ‘inability to bond’ with a mother who was not my own was the root of my identity issues. I carried it on to the ridiculous therapists of the nineties with their suggestion that a child who has no access to their own genetic material is narcissistic if they like to look in mirrors a lot.
I am an older lady now. I know things.
Humans do not imprint. Birds do. We are born of the blood of the umbilicus. We do not bond to the things we are told to. We bond to what is ours. Never mind if that thing does not want us. Never mind if that thing is not good for us. We bond there. To deny her was to deny myself. If she did not exist neither did I. The attempt to render her unreal rendered me unreal. She was not like Father Christmas and she was not like Jesus Christ. She was essential to my being.
I was in my twenties before I realised that my unmarried mother had been a victim of enforced child relinquishment. No one had told her that she was able to claim benefits, no one had encouraged her that she could take care of me. Everyone had said that it would be better for me to be given to a childless couple. No suggestion that I should have contact with her as a basic human right was ever made. I was encouraged that I had no right to make contact, in fact. Some man might have taken her on, as Joseph had. Some man might not know. I could ruin her life.
The Virgin Mary got away with it. My mother did not.
She was told that I would be better off without her. This was a lie. This was a lie told by people who believed in a range of strangely unbelievable things. Transubstantiation. Confession for the forgiveness of sins. That a child does not need its mother. That a sleigh can fly through the air. About the sleigh they didn’t believe. About the sleigh they just lied. Like many of their lies, they thought it was a nice lie to tell.
Maybe Father Christmas is an inoculation against the pain we feel that our parents tell us lies. Maybe in that Christmas narrative we learn at once that they wanted to give us stuff but didn’t want us to know it was them. Maybe the first time we realise that they lied we realise that they loved us too. Maybe.
Maybe Jesus Christ is real. Maybe you intend to act by his laws when you take children from their mothers without checking first that there is no way that their poverty can be supported, that their needs as mothers can be met. Maybe you have done it out of a desire to do good and not out of a desire to ‘have’ children. Maybe.
I will tell you a truth. An adopted child will think of its natural mother on Christmas day.
I will tell you another. She will think about them. If you believe otherwise you are telling yourself stories.