I remember the Mother’s Days all those many years ago. The years when I lost our first baby, then our second, then our third. (13 years later, a fourth.) I remember how, when they were giving out some memento to the mothers of the congregation during one of the early years after we had lost our babies, when we were foster parents but not adoptive parents yet, that there was some question as to whether or not it was okay for me to get one. I remember not even thinking about whether I got one or not. I got in line and went right on up there and got it. I was a Mama to (I think) three little ones at the time, had been a foster parent for over two years and it never occurred to me that some of the people maybe thought it wasn’t quite right somehow.
A little old lady came up to me after the service. “Did you go and get one, too?” she queried. “Because you should. I think you are just as much a mother as anyone else!”
It was the first I had even thought that maybe some of the people in our congregation didn’t really consider me a mother. But when there was some discussion about whether there would “be enough to go around if she took one,” I felt suddenly insecure about my status.
What is it that makes a woman a mother? I was a foster parent to over twenty children, adoptive mother of one when I gave birth to Deborah. “Well,” said another old crone at our church some months later, “I guess you are finding out that there is a whole lot more to babies than ribbons and bows!” This was another older lady that had always been kind and supportive of me, and my astonishment must have showed on my face, because she quickly said, “Oh, well. I guess you did already know that!”
I guess I did. And I would like to venture that maybe I knew even more the cost of motherhood than some of my peers. Even without the physical giving of birth (And YES! That is a very REAL experience of mothering that I in no way want to detract from!) mothering is a whole lot more than ribbons and bows. I remember that one of my friends from Community Bible Study years ago said that over the doors of the delivery room in the hospital where she gave birth was this adage: “All who enter here leave self behind.” I remember thinking, as a young mom, how wonderful it would be if that was an automatic transformation. That somehow, passing through the doors of a delivery room would make an unselfish mother of all females giving birth.
When I say that I felt that I knew the cost of motherhood more keenly than some of my peers, I am not bragging. It’s just that I knew loss — as two babies died in early pregnancy and then our little boy died mid-term. Well meaning people said things like, “You are young. You can have another one.” (This was especially difficult after the doctor told us that my chances of carrying a pregnancy were about 1 in 20) Or the one that made me go home and weep quietly into my pillow; “It was probably a blessing. There must have been something wrong with it.” (Believe me, you learn not to say or do the first thing that comes into your head in response to this sort of thing. And people really do mean well. They just don’t think!)
Also, speaking of loss, we had foster babies that we loved for long periods of time — two in particular that came to us, one at eight months, one at 11 weeks, that we had for almost two years before they went on to adoptive homes. “Well, you knew all along that you might not keep them,” people would say, like that somehow made it easier for us to give them up. What do you say to something like that? The grief of knowing that a child you loved so intently was somewhere living, laughing, growing up and you had no say, no input into their lives, no contact, no pictures, no anything was sometimes beyond what I could bear. But there was no one to tell, no one whom I felt I could be honest about how raw the feelings were.
I remember going into the room where our toddler had slept to strip the bed after he left. I tugged the corner free, and as the sheet and mattress pad came loose, the smell of Joseph came faintly up. At first, I felt paralyzed, then I pulled the other corners free almost in a frenzy and buried my face in the smell of his now gone little person and muffled the screams and tears until I was spent. Then plunked those tear stained sheets and mattress pad into the washer and washed it all away. Sometimes it feels like I wrapped that grief up somewhere inside, too. I knew it was real. I never denied it, never pretended that I didn’t feel it. But it was very, very private, something I felt that no one would really understand. I would have to say that it was in those days that I truly discovered that I had a Heavenly Father who loved me, carried me, and would walk with me even when I was misunderstood, or people were uncomfortable with my grief or felt that I shouldn’t feel it somehow — at least not so acutely. And Jesus never failed me. Never turned aside from the incredible avalanche of emotions that I dumped on Him.
Another lesson I learned from those days was that I would never, never, never take the time I had with a child for granted. “How long are you going to have him?” asked one couple when we brought our first foster child to a church gathering. I looked at Daniel. He looked at me. “We don’t know,” he said quietly, “it all depends.” In my heart, I was screaming, “How long are you going to have your child? How can any of us be promised tomorrow?” And I was so defensive and angry inside. The years have passed, and I have to own the fact that it ISN’T the same. There is a whole lot more uncertainty with the future of a foster child than there is with a biological or adopted child.
Except for one thing: Our times are in HIS hands. And there came a day when all of this settled into a kind of peace for me. I choose to believe that the times of our foster children, the times of our four babies that never breathed, the times of the wonderful five young adults who call me “Mama” or “Momma” or “Mom” or even just “Hey!” are all in HIS hands and this day and every day heretofore and every day future is a gift that makes me a mother.
My heart gives grateful praise.