It’s that time again – Mother’s Day. It’s the day that used to be all about me, and my mom, and my grandmas. It used to be a day to light-heartedly celebrate the gift of motherhood and smile while the older mom cries over sentimental cards. SO much has changed for this mom.
When I was younger and romanticized the idea of adoption, I always thought of it as adding a child to my family. I never once thought of it as sharing motherhood. Then I met you. Our first meeting was awkward at best. You were at a very low point in your life, and I was a brand new foster mom without a clue how to put your mind and heart at ease. The reality was that you and I were complete strangers with opposite lives, and your kids were indefinitely living in my home and being raised by my husband and me. I wanted you to feel loved and supported, and yet the HUGE elephant in the room was that I was filling YOUR role of mom. The honor and guilt tangled up in my gut and pulled my heart down into my stomach.
Very early in our foster training, we committed to move forward with the determination to foster the family, not just the children, and do whatever we could to show the love of Christ to whomever we would have the chance to help. We began praying for the kids that would be placed in our home and the parents of those kids. We were praying for you before we even knew who you were, but God knew.
Now here we are, many many hard weeks and months down the road. The days became years, foster care became adoption, and you became a permanent part of my motherhood. You are not just the mother of my children. You are my sister – a part of my family, and a cherished soul. Jody Landers said it best when she declared, “A child born to another woman calls me Mommy. The magnitude of that tragedy and the depth of that privilege are not lost on me.” Our sisterhood…our shared motherhood…was born of tragedy and loss. Ours is an unlikely friendship forged in the fire of heartache and grief.
Since that first meeting we had, when your hands shook and my heart raced, we have come a long way and so have our kids. As I look back at the letters I’ve written to you, I am reminded of God’s goodness and of the ashes He is turning into beauty.
My First Letter
“I never would have imagined sharing my children with another woman. It’s not really how I pictured my family when I was a naïve little girl. I bet it isn’t how you pictured yours either. This bond we share is difficult to put into words. As I write this message, it has been almost 6 long months since I last saw you face-to-face…through the glass. It has been 8 months since our last heart-to-heart on the phone, and nearly 11 months since you saw our babies. My heart breaks for you. For us…”
“…Those who don’t understand, frown or shake their heads. They wonder how can parents not WANT their children? How can ANYthing be more important than your children? How could someone DO THIS to a child. I don’t fault them for their questions, but thanks to the Lord’s grace in my life, I found most of my own questions replaced with compassion many months ago. I do see the facts. I understand the silent, bewildered head shakes, and I know their silence would break into outrage if they knew the details we know. I cry when I hear it recounted. To realize the depth of what took place and the danger our children were in is mind-boggling.
“I can’t say I’ve never been angry with you for it, but anger fades quickly when I look beyond the facts to see you. You – their birth mom. Their first mom. The “right” one (as she once referred to you). You – the friend that I bonded with over long phone calls and frequent texts. The soul I plead to the Lord for Every. Single. Day. You – the other half of my motherhood.
“You will carry the weight of brutal consequences for your lifetime. I will carry the weight of our children’s emotions and future heartbreak as they grieve the loss of their first family and celebrate the love of their forever family. I hope we can carry some of that together. I hope they can know you, someday.
“In the meantime, I know that your heart breaks, your eyes flood with tears, and you long to hold the sweet babies I will be holding. I’m sorry for your hurt and your loss. I will hug and kiss them twice as much, knowing that two Mommas love them – with all that we are.”
The Days That Followed
Four months after I wrote that letter, we completed the adoption process. You and I talked about it on the phone, and when distant family contested our adoption, you were adamant that you wanted them to be with us. Even in the midst of your own pain and loss, you fought for the good of your kids…our kids. When disagreements came and you were hurt by some of our post-adoption decisions, love prevailed. As a woman and a momma, you struggled and faltered, but as a supporter of your kids and us, you were rock solid. We chose to keep an open adoption and because you’ve seen your friends walk through this process, you knew we didn’t have to. “Angels” you call us. We’re not. We’re just trying to love you like Jesus because that’s what He called us to do.
The year after adoption continued to be rough for you. Oftentimes, your number was disconnected and we would go weeks or months without contact. We feared for your life and prayed for you daily. We kept telling the kids their story and keeping our promise to you by teaching them of your love for them. You weighed on my heart continually and, as usual, Mother’s Day brought it out all over again.
My Second Letter
It began by me talking about our relationship with each other and with the kids and then shifted to the heart of the matter.
“…They are just “littles” now – still innocent and unaware of the way their young lives have been altered. They may not fully remember you, but I do. I know your love for them. I’ve seen your tears and heard your muffled cries that accompany the heartache of not holding them in your arms. I’ve heard your generously given praise for my role as their momma, and my ears still ring with the sweetness of you’re giving them exactly what I wish I could – the precious heart-salve-words that only you could give. I love you for giving life to these beautiful children and for desiring a better way for them. I made a promise to you, and I know you hold it close to your heart: I will make sure they always know of your love for them, and I will always honor you in the way I speak to them about you.
“You are their first-mom, and I am their forever-mom; what a complex partnership we have. Not only am I their forever-mom, I am also the self-appointed keeper of their memories. The importance of this presses into my heart with such weight that I lose my breath. I want to build a hope-filled future for them, but I don’t want to rob them of their past simply because they can’t remember for themselves. I want our children to experience such a beautifully honest adoption that they never bear the weight or feel the pain of the loss like we have. It may be a hopeless battle, but I will give it my all. They already lost you in one regard. My heart breaks to think of them losing the strings that tie them to their starting place in this world. I collect pictures, letters, stories, memories…anything I can give them to hold on to. I imagine these strings running from your family to ours like a graceful instrument on which they can play songs of love and come to see the divine orchestration of their lives, all of the parts of them, in harmony.
“I often wonder if you and I will ever sit together again – if we’ll ever share a hug or a conversation over a warm meal. I wonder if you will return to our lives in some fashion. I wonder if you’ll call again or if you’ll write. I know sometimes it hurts you to even think about those things, so I try to focus on having compassion for you and lifting you in prayer every day. The reality is, even if we never shared those things again, there is one thing we will share forever: our motherhood.
“I pray our tangled heartstrings will someday play the music of that bond so beautifully that the children we share cannot help but dance to its rhythm.”
A Long Way Down The Road
The story isn’t over. I’ll probably always have questions, and sometimes they’ll go unanswered. I am incredibly grateful, however, that when I look back at that letter, I see God’s redemptive power in the answers that have come through the years. Our communication has ebbed and flowed, but it has been steady enough that our kids know you and look forward to their opportunities to see you. We are so proud of how hard you have worked to make a better life for yourself. It’s challenging that you’re far away, but we know that is what’s best for you. You have established a home for yourself and have found rewarding work that you enjoy. I know there are probably still moments when your heart is overwhelmed with grief and loss and times when regret and guilt rear their ugly heads, but we continue to pray that you will find true hope and joy. We love you beyond words. In spite of the hard times and the ups and downs the past few years have held, we know we share with you our gratitude for the greatest gift we were able to experience this past fall.
The Greatest Gift
Last October, you had a few days off and the opportunity to come “home” to our area. Thankfully, we also had some free time and were able to meet up with you. I know it meant so much to you to treat us all to mini-golf and ice cream – the “little things” we both know are not the least bit little. Even as we drove from golf to ice cream, the kids were saddened to think that this would be our only time together. We decided to invite you to church with us the next day. I can’t remember which one of us mentioned it first, but I know we were thinking the same thing and you agreed to join us. You have come such a long way from that first day we met and while we had never before shared our home with you, we felt it was time to open that door.
There is no way to describe the joy in my heart as you stood in the pew with our smiling kids at your sides singing praise songs to the Lord who has brought us to this place. Songs of salvation and redemption brought tears to my eyes as though gratitude had taken on liquid form and was spilling out. You and your boyfriend, along with our family enjoyed the service together and then a most beautiful and longed-for thing happened…you came to our house. The kids were so excited to have you over and contrary to what many people assume, nothing at all was awkward about it. It felt exactly like having grandparents or other family members over. While I finished prepping lunch, and my guys carried on with various tasks, you and your man sat on the floor helping the kids build the Lego sets you had just given them. Not only did it seem comfortable to have you with them in our home, it felt RIGHT. They were relaxed and happy. I was relaxed and happy. You were relaxed and happy. I just wanted to step back and freeze it all in a picture, but there was no way to capture it all. It was beautifully overwhelming. I found myself continually and quietly thanking the Lord for the gift of you – the gift of you being here – with us, with them. I didn’t know how to express what I was feeling, but then you said it. “I am so amazed that I am here. I can’t believe that I’ve gotten to a place where I can be here in your home. I’m just so thankful.” You went on to explain that to most people it’s probably no big deal, but to you, it’s huge. I assured you that it was huge to us too. It is still huge to us. Even as I recall the events of that day, I wish I could go back and sit in that moment again. It was beautiful.
It has been several weeks since our last text or video message. I sent you the kids’ school pictures the last time we talked and promised to mail you copies. I still haven’t gotten my act together to get them printed. I’m a hot mess most days and sometimes struggle just to keep up. It’s a crazy-fun and sometimes overwhelming life we live, but you meet me with love and understanding, being gracious with my shortcomings. I appreciate that about our relationship. I think along the way we have both learned to do that for each other.
The more the kids grow, the more they understand, and they happily tell their teachers and friends about their adoption story. They treasure the time they have with you, and they think of you regularly. I think of you too . . . sometimes at unexpected times. Of course, you are on my mind when we pray for you together each night, but sometimes there are daily life issues that make me think of you. This week, our daughter was ill, and I was up with her for hours in the night comforting her and taking care of her. It is a hard privilege to serve a little one in love when a stomach bug strikes, but I realized it’s exactly that: a privilege. You didn’t know she was ill and when that thought hit me, it made me sad for you. In the process of me gaining the blessing of parenting these precious children, you lost so much. You miss long nights of stomach pains and sickness and you miss joyful days of new adventures and milestones. I know that both of those realities make you ache. I’m sure that the unexpected times that you think of them are even greater and more intense than the times I think of you, and it makes me all the more grateful for you.
We couldn’t have known from that first meeting years ago that we were embracing each other for life, but there’s no one I would rather share my motherhood with than you. While the honor and guilt will probably always tangle up in my gut and pull my heart down with them, my gratitude for you and the gift of seeing Redemption’s Story played out will continue to give me hope. Happy Mother’s Day, my beautiful friend, beloved birth mom of my children, my forever sister mom. I love you!
(Julie, right, with her youngest children and their birth mom)