When does a woman become a mother? Is it when she conceives for the first time? Is it when she becomes aware of her baby? Is it when she first holds her child in her arms?
I pondered those questions as I was decorating a nursery, taking infant CPR classes, buying car seats and driving a minivan. No baby was growing in my womb, known or unbeknownst to me. I had not see my first child’s face, breathed her name or held her in my arms.
Yet, I felt like a mother.
So, I asked God, “When does a woman become a mother?”
It’s simultaneously flattering and terrifying that I have a daughter who wants to be just like me. She sees the worst of me, along with the best. My biggest failures are most often toward those who I love the most: my husband and my daughter. I’ve had to ask her forgiveness so many times. She’s always gracious to forgive. She teaches me. When she offends me, I want to be mad; I want her to know that I’m mad. On the contrary, when I’ve lost my temper with her, she responds to my apologies with so much grace. “It’s OK, Mommy. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. You just try again.”
The other day I was heading out to take care of the chickens. She asked, “Mommy, can I follow you?” She hurried to put her shoes on so she could shadow me on my chores. If I’m working, she wants to work. If I’m vacuuming, she wants to vacuum. If I’m cooking, she wants to cook. If I throw a fit when I’m mad, she throws a fit when she’s mad. If I bark commands at her, she barks commands at me (or others). If I sing and dance in worship, she sings and dances in worship. If I feel sick, she feels sick. When I see how much she wants to be like me, I’m humbled. I’m desperate to be more like Jesus so when she emulates me, she’s emulating Him.
Jesus, help me to be like You. Help me to love my daughter well. Help me to be on her side and to model love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.
The anniversary of Ali joining our family and some recent news I got about her biological mother has stirred up a lot of sadness in me. I’m keenly aware that Alianna is my daughter because she was taken from another mother. September 21, 2011—day that I look back to and reflect on with joy and gratitude is a day that another woman’s heart was deeply wounded…not for the first time and not for the last time. I cry for her because I know what she is missing out on and I can’t imagine the pain of loss after loss.
It seems to be hard for others “on the outside” to understand why I have such sadness about this. Yes, she made mistakes and losing her child(ren) was a consequence. Yes, she released her to us and gave us her blessing. Yes, life is good for us and Ali doesn’t exhibit any signs of trauma or loss. But this woman who I barely know will forever be important to me and honored as such. We have a unique bond as two mothers to the same little girl. She carried for nine months, gave birth to, loved and did her best to care for my daughter for the first two months of her life. That’s a reality that will never be erased or replaced by adoption. Ali had a mom before me—her first mom—and I love and bless her for the gifts she gave to Ali of life, love, beauty.
The best analogy I can conjure for how this feels is to imagine a heart transplant. In the movie Return to Me, the main character Grace is painfully aware that she received a new heart because another woman died. She and her family gained because another family lost. That’s how it goes with adoption. Most of our family and friends only see the benefit to us but we also see the damage done to her original family. So, it is with heavy hearts that we celebrated this past weekend. Saturday we celebrated being a family but Sunday we spent time talking about Ali’s first mom, reflecting on events of the past two years and praying for her.
(Face covered and identity concealed for her privacy.)
The first picture I have of me with Ali:
I felt a little funny about this “mommy adores me” shirt that came to our home with Ali until I realized how much her biological mommy AND I (her foster mommy at the time) both adored her. She was the most content and happy baby I’ve ever seen.
I doubt that Ali’s first mom will ever see this post but just in case you do read this one day:
We will never forget about you. We will include you when we tell Ali the story of how she became part of our family and we will show her photos of you. We always speak about you with respect and dignity. We won’t lie to Ali about the realities of you and her and the part of your lives that was spent together and when she’s ready and old enough to understand we will answer every question we’re able to answer. We think about you and pray for you all the time. We love you.
Ali has been really into mimicking her mama lately—wanting to put on make-up, glasses—and recently wanting to carry a purse. She had taken to using a red plastic bucket with a handle as a purse and I thought it would be fun to make her a special handbag of her own. Actually, I had been itching to do some sewing ever since I got my work room organized with new cabinets (I guess I should post about that some day!) and this was a great excuse to blow the dust off of my sewing machine. Maybe making a dust cover for my sewing machine should be my next project.
I did this quickly during a nap time one afternoon. It’s a perfect fit for her Leap Frog cell phone and a small wallet that I no longer use. I added a couple of fake debit cards for her to play with. When I gave her the purse she immediately pulled out the phone to play with and then later discovered the wallet. She pulled it out and said, “What’s this, Mommy?” with a big grin on her face. It’s so fun to surprise our kids, isn’t it?
You can see her carrying her purse while we were grocery shopping in yesterday’s blog post.
I recently read a post over on one of my favorite blogs of all time about little girls imitating their moms and how important it is that we exemplify the kind of woman we hope they become. Ali is about the same age as Ashley’s youngest and she is definitely watching and learning from everything we do. It’s a good reminder to be very intentional.
I’m thankful that I get to work at home on Tuesdays and Thursday so I can spend 4/7 days a week with this kid. I love her so much it hurts. (Pics from yesterday.) She is too stinkin cute.
It was really difficult to leave for work this morning while she was calling out to me, “Mommy! Mommy!” and I had to just ignore her. Breaks. My. Heart. I love my job and somedays I’m thankful to be out of the house but other days I cry on my way to the office… it’s one of those days.
I might be a little extra emotional due to hormones. Also, we’re savoring our time with this little guy because he might be leaving on Friday. There is a hearing scheduled for 1pm on Friday and as far as we can tell there is a very good chance he will be returning to his mom, which would be a good thing for everyone. But it will also be sad for Jason and I. And especially for him and Ali…they’ve become best friends over the past 12 weeks. Nothing is ever for sure until the judge makes his decision but we’re mentally preparing. We’ll wait until tomorrow evening to try to explain anything to the kids. Last time we thought he was leaving I ended up (surprising myself by) being an emotional wreck the night before. Praying for strength! He was outside with me this morning while Lucy was doing her business and came up to me for a spontaneous hug. He’s grown so much since he arrived at our house on May 3rd… I’ll definitely be writing about all of that soon.
These three blog posts rocked my world last week and I wanted to pass them on to you.
You want me to look at you, even when you are very angry and I don’t want to look at you. And you want me to wait my turn for talking, even when I have something very important to say. So why don’t you look at me when I’m doing my very important things before you tell me to stop? And why do you get to interrupt what I am doing without waiting until I’m done?
Written from the perspective to the child, this totally humbled me as a mama. It brought tears to my eyes as I realized how often I fail Ali by not giving her the attention and respect she deserves. The day before I read this, I had scolded Ali for demanding “Cacka! Cacka! Cacka!” from the other room. I told her she needed to say “Cracker please” in a nice tone. Then a few minutes later, I caught myself toning out her voice as I was preparing dinner. “Pease. Pease. Pease.” she was saying in the sweetest little voice as she pointed to the package of crackers. She wasn’t rude, loud or demanding…and she totally did not get my attention. Sigh.
My friend and mentor says there are only 2 emotions; fear and love. They are intricately and inversely related. Foster or adoptive children live out of fear, they are afraid that at the drop of a dime they will be picked up and put out of the home they are currently in. It does not matter how old they are or how long they have been there, fear is often the primary emotion that is shaping everything and anything about these children. … God says He is love, and thus far I believe Him. No matter how many moments we want to respond in fear, fathers must ferociously pursue the presence of God…the presence of love.
I don’t come across a lot blogs written by foster/adoptive dads so I thought this one was pretty cool. This father discusses 3 things that he feels very foster/adoptive dad must force himself to lean into daily.
In most cases lying, stealing, selfishness, and the inability to empathize will surface again and again. Get ready, because they all come with the territory. All of these are symptoms of a human being who has been forced into survival mode early on in their little lives.
From the same father as the previous post, here he addresses 3 things to keep in mind when parenting “hurt” kids—behaviors that result from fighting to survive, not to expect gratitude from a child who didn’t choose this life and the long term investment beyond a kid’s 18th birthday.
I disciplined myself to rest from sundown Saturday until sundown Sunday. I’m trying a new thing this year inspired by the way the Jewish people observe the Sabbath (only I’m doing it the following day). I had spent every minute of Ali’s naptime and every evening after she’s asleep for several days nesting–organizing, unpacking the last few things, hanging shelves, curtains, etc. Either that or I was finished up some wedding invitations I designed for my sister’s friend. Jason was in Florida on tour and I had been busy. It was really difficult to rest, especially on a gorgeous sunny afternoon. Once Ali was asleep, I decided to sit outside in the sunshine for at least 20 minutes to get my daily dose of Vitamin D.
Our courtyard offered the perfect spot, in direct sunlight just for an hour or two in the afternoon. Lucy joined me outside while I planned our meals for the week and sent some emails I’d been trying to find time for.
Once I came back inside, I spent sometime reading and started a book that I’ve read several times before, The Power of the Praying Wife. After a few hours of forced rest, I had a list of things I was ready to do as soon as the sun went down, which was just about the time Ali was waking up from her nap. It’s hard to explain but I felt really truly refreshed: full of energy and joy. Ali and I ate dinner, went grocery shopping, I gave her a bath and put her to bed and then I cleaned the house. Wow! I felt ready to start the week and to welcome my man home on Monday after 5 days in a tour bus. Home to a clean house with a full fridge, meals planned for the week, and two happy girls waiting for him.
Precious’ mother requested two more visits before she surrenders her parental rights to us. I really wasn’t sure what to expect from our first meeting. We met her mother—let’s call her Brave, because she is—once before at a meeting at DCS and it didn’t go real well. But at this visit, the interactions between Brave and Precious were much better than I expected and for that I’m thankful. As awkward as it was and considering what a mess this all is, I realize now how truly valuable an open adoption can be.
Because we love Precious so much, I find it impossible to not care about Brave. Even if we’re angry about things that happened to Precious in the past, I see so much value in Brave. She holds a wealth of information about Precious’ family medical history, her ethnicity and heritage, her biological half-siblings, etc. The most valuable thing to me is to witness Brave’s love for Precious. There is no doubt that Precious is loved and wanted.
I call her Brave because what she is doing requires so much courage. She’s obviously a smart woman who has made some really bad choices. And she knows it. She openly admits that she made mistakes, putting her vices before her children. Brave is working hard to get her life back on track. Even so, she wants to release Precious to us so we can adopt her because she believes it’s what’s best for her and for us. Now that takes a lot of strength.
As much as God loves adoption, He loves restoration. I would love to see Brave’s life redeemed. And I am so thankful for the gift of Precious. It’s far from a picture-perfect story but I’m thankful Jason and I could be available for Precious when she needed us and to hear Brave say she’s thankful too—that means so much.
Could you imagine loving your child so much that you would willing let her go? She’s very brave. We’re eternally grateful.