About a year ago, I wrote about something no one told me about being an adoptive mom: namely, that I carry my daughter’s birth mom in my heart every day.
When I rock Zoe in the afternoon light, I see a hint of blue and green in her eyes and think of the eyes they came from. When I saw Zoe take her first steps, I half-wished her birth mother could be sitting next to me seeing the baby who came out of her body taking these final steps out of infancy. When I watched cool winds blow through Zoe’s hair on a mountain vista this summer, I thought of her birth mother, who has never left Florida, and wondered if she could imagine the things her nine month old had experienced.
I don’t think about her a pathological amount or anything. But I do think about her, and especially on the weekend of Mother’s Day.
Because she is a mother.
I’ve never written about this, but for the first year of Zoe’s life, I felt a lot of guilt. I felt like I had taken something precious from someone else, like I had gotten a blessing while her birth mom had only lost and suffered.
When I opened up to others about this, they always said something like “oh, but you helped that birth mom!” To me, this was never sufficient as an answer. I know the deep love that I feel for Zoe and the joy and purpose that I get from being her mother. I cannot fathom living without that or willingly giving that up. I cannot imagine the loss as your milk comes in and there is no child there to feed because you’ve evaluated your life situation and decided that your child is better off with someone else. How can you go on after that?
So for a year, I felt guilty for “taking” a baby from someone else. I felt guilty for having a better start to my life than Zoe’s birth mom did, for having more resources than she did, for having the ability and background to make different choices than she did. I LOVE adoption, but I almost felt presumptuous to have participated in it, like who am I to say that I could be a better parent than someone else?
Throughout our (ultimately failed) second adoption process, I got more information about Zoe’s birth mom’s situation than I got the first time, and it’s alarming. I am so proud of her for placing Zoe for adoption, for having the courage to say I want better for my girl.
I’ve finally accepted what David, our social worker, and basically everyone involved has said from day one: we helped this birth mother find a situation she felt was best for her child and we provided resources that she needed. We helped solve a problem—we did not create one. We didn’t say “we’re good and you aren’t.” We said “our world is broken and it affects all of us. We want to do something to help.”
And yet I understand why she couldn’t do it again.
I have some firsthand experience now of just how difficult it is to lay down your desire to be a child’s mother. I know the months of tears you can cry for a child you barely knew. I know the unfulfilled yearnings to hold a baby against your chest, to learn her cues, to see her happy milk-drunk smile, to brush your hand against her cheek, to see her hold her head up for the first time. I know the curiosity of what she is doing right now, the hopes that she is safe, the wondering of what she will grow into when you can’t see her every day.
I don’t feel guilty anymore. But I still feel for Zoe’s birth mom, and for myself, and for every mother who knows the pain of love and loss.
Motherhood isn’t just about the babies you can see in front of you. It’s about the babies that you never met, the ones you met briefly, the children taken too soon, and the ones you’ve lost to this broken world with its failed relationships, difficulties, and hardships.
Every child counts. And every mother counts.
Whether your child walks this earth or walks with Jesus, whether your child holds your hand or someone else’s, whether your child acknowledges you today or not—you are a mother.
And although you may not be celebrated or remembered by the world today—though no one may know the feelings you experience today—the Lord is with you. He knows you intimately, He loves you deeply, and He will not forget you.
He says: “I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…” -Isaiah 49:16a
Let Him embrace you today with it.