After the experience of having a hysterectomy at the age of eleven, I often found myself doubting my ability to parent. I questioned if being a mother was somehow carried away when my uterus, right ovary, and fallopian tubes left my body. It sounds ridiculous, but the struggle between hope and heartbreak seemed to be entwined with self doubt about my maternal instincts.

I’m not really sure why, and perhaps it was because of my young age, but I just assumed that the female organs went hand-in-hand with the ability to be a good mother. Growing up, I barely allowed myself to visualize being a mother. I had moments when I would dream up my fantasy child, but I never saw those dreams coming to fruition. These thoughts stayed with me throughout my growing years and even right up to the moment when I became responsible for caring for a child. Perhaps other women who have experienced infertility feel this way.

Reality hit me the moment I became responsible for a life other than my own. My first care of a child came when we accepted temporary guardianship of my 9-year-old second cousin. Immediately I just knew I was meant to be a parent despite my medical history and the insecurities that followed. Something awoke in me. The inner momma that had been suppressed by life experiences began to speak, and I liked the sound of her voice.

Parenting became this complex—yet completely fulfilling—experience. During that time, I gained the ever-present sense that mothering was something I needed to do. Suddenly, things seemed to have more meaning. The instinct of caring for a child was immediate, natural, and, simply, felt good. Sure, there were moments of hardship and questions about whether or not I was being the best parent I could be, but for the most part, parenting was something that completely moved my soul.

My experience parenting my relative was a catalyst of sorts for my husband and me to consider adoption. We chose foster care with the knowledge that reunification is the goal of children in the system, but also with the hope that, one day, we would be able to adopt. We knew that nothing was going to come easy as foster parents, but once we started fostering, it seemed that the most innate and organic part of it was actually parenting the kids.

With social worker visits, court hearings, meetings, and visits with biological parents, my mothering experience was vastly different than my friends’. However, it was also incredible. The natural instinct to protect the little ones in my care was not diminished by the system, nor was it lesser than my counterparts who had given birth to their children. In some ways, it may have been enhanced.

I never knew really how easy mothering would come for me. My instinct to nurture never really left, despite my fears. It was not damaged. The scar on my belly did not reflect the image of the mother I was capable of being. It was not cut away during my surgery. It just needed time to blossom, to explore, and to experience the sustenance that is motherhood.

The inner momma in me found her voice, grew her wings, and took flight on the most amazing journey available to us on Earth. Motherhood is the daily walk of selflessly putting ourselves second in order to care for and love children.

Infertility and the inability to have children biologically does not sweep away the inner momma in us. It does not toss our abilities out. It does not hold captive the love, nurturing, and determination we have to be mothers. No—that does not define who we are as mothers.

Adoption grasps on tight to our instinct to protect, provide for, and instill love into the lives of children. Adoption colors our world, claims our losses, and brings to life the inner mommas in all of us.