I’ve told my kids frequently “You know I’d throw myself in front of a moving bus for you, right?” They snicker at my dramatic choice of words, but they know it’s the truth. From the moment they drew their first breath I instinctively began to protect and nurture my children. To me, parenting is a reflex that is as involuntary as a heartbeat.  But the reality is that the desire or ability to mother isn’t always a given. Each year on Mother’s Day the little girl inside of me mourns not having a relationship that for many people is an assumption.  As anyone who has ever lost someone they loved can say, the emotional pain never completely goes away.  It just dulls to a distant, occasional ache.

Mother’s Day has always been a bittersweet day for me. On one hand, I look forward with anticipation to see what my kids are going to do for me on this annual day to acknowledge me as their loving and dedicated mom.  It’s an annual event where in addition to getting served breakfast in bed, I bring out their baby pictures and regale them with stories about how they liked to run around the house naked as toddlers as they roll their eyes.

On the other hand, Mother’s Day also brings into sharp focus the fact that I am a motherless child.  I don’t say this with any anger…it’s just a statement of fact. The second Sunday of May and it’s accompanying sales circulars and TV commercials reminds me that my mother has chosen not to be in my life.  Honestly, it makes me cringe that it’s assumed that everyone has/had a mother who was loving or even present. As harsh as it sounds, not everyone’s mother loves them, nor does every mother choose to actively parent their children.

It’s a hard thing to say, but my mother doesn’t love me. She abandoned me and my two siblings thirty-seven years ago. Aside from a brief reconciliation when I was 27, she has had zero input in my life since I was five years old.  As a mother myself, it’s hard to fathom how a woman can walk away from her kids, but it happens more often than our society cares to admit. Unfortunately, the ability to give birth is not dependent upon a woman having a maternal instinct.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t have a mother figure in my life; from the age of 5 to 17, I was raised by my father’s second wife with Spartan care. Julie wasn’t the most communicative or affectionate person, but she did the best she could under the circumstances of financial instability, my father’s repeated infidelities and social isolation. During my teen years our relationship was extremely volatile. I felt she was controlling, conservative and uptight, which she was. But she was also dedicated to her family, fastidious in her care for our physical needs, and did her best to instill decent values in me and my siblings.  As I’ve grown older and raised my own children my appreciation for her not only as a mother, but as a kind and compassionate human being has increased a thousand fold.

At some point, someone or something killed that instinct in my mother.  When we were briefly reconciled for 7 months back in 1997, she told me point blank “I don’t like you.  I wouldn’t choose you as a friend. You just happen to be my daughter.  Just because we’re mother and daughter doesn’t mean that we have to be in each other’s lives.”  To say her words and actions were devastating would be a huge understatement.  As a mother, I can’t fathom saying those words, yet I don’t judge her for choosing not to be in my life. The grown woman in me understands that not everyone is capable of love, or nurturing. I haven’t walked in her shoes. I don’t know her struggles and I have no real understanding of her state of mind.  Sometimes things happen that are too painful to process, and the only thing we can instinctively do is close up and shut down. My mother is walled off within herself, either too broken or hardened by experience to desire a relationship with the very people whom she gave life.

As I’ve matured, I’ve come to understand that family isn’t just a matter of blood; it’s also and perhaps even more importantly about the feelings in your heart.  While I don’t have my biological mother in my life, I’ve been blessed to have a stepmother and girlfriends who have been my surrogate mothers over the years.

This Mother’s Day, like the others before it, will be a time of reflection, gratitude and hope. I’m grateful for God keeping my mothering instinct intact. I’m grateful to have two healthy, intelligent, and decent human beings as my children.  And I still hope that one day something will trigger an awakening in my mother that will cause her to Google my name and send me an email wanting to reconnect.  For no matter how old I become, I’m still my mother’s little girl.

Sil Lai Abrams is EBONY.com’s Relationship Expert and the author of No More Drama: 9 Simple Steps to Transforming a Breakdown into a Breakthrough and a board member of the National Domestic Violence Hotline.  Follow her on Twitter: @sil_lai and connect with her on Facebook. Want Sil Lai’s advice? Email [email protected] to have your love questions answered in a future column!