I used to take the concept of motherhood for granted. Like it was something that was owed to me. Like the moment I decided I wanted to be a mommy my husband and I would just pull the trigger and bam! – new title – “Mommy” I would be.
It didn’t work out like that. I now know that for many, it does not work out like that.
After three miscarriages I was faced with the harsh reality that motherhood was not something I would be able to control. And after three times the loss you would think that Adam and I would have turned next to a family planning method that was a little more… I don’t know… predictable.
Instead, God had us sign up to be foster parents.
It seems his timing was right. We were not even through the entire certification process and a child was placed with us. In no time at all we had a foster daughter in our home.
I had not had the chance to be mommy to our lost babies.
Was I mommy now?
I had been yearning for the moniker of mother, but the despair of miscarriage had taught me that motherhood was not something I was entitled to.
I was about to meet another mother who, for different reasons, was learning the same hard lesson.
Have I told you about the first time I met Little A’s bio mom?
Little A was placed in our home on a Saturday night. The caseworkers left and we didn’t speak with anyone from the department until Monday morning. On a side note, that was weird. They dropped the child off and then trusted us enough to wait 36 hours before checking back in! But I digress.
Monday morning rolled around and the case worker called. She asked how it was going. She said we needed to get A to a visit with her mother. That day. Like within the next two hours. This was a fast intro into the world of needing to be flexible and, just like with the miscarriages, having no control.
Visit with mom? No problem. In between trying to research and set up daycare for the very next day we would bring A down to the DHS office for a visit.
I presented myself and the little girl to a locked door. The buzzer clicked. I met the case worker in the hallway.
“Should I come into the room?” I asked. “Like, should I meet A’s mom? Or should I stay out of it and let you do the hand off?”
“It’s up to you,” the case worker replied.
That is not what I wanted to hear. There were actually some things I did not want control over. We had to make so many new parenting decisions I just wanted one more to be made for us.
“Well, does she want to meet me?” I inquired. I was curious about her, but scared. What would I say? How would she act? Would she be combative? Crazy? Drugged out? Hateful? What sort of villain was she?
“It might put her at ease to see who A is living with,” the case worker suggested. “Having A taken away has been traumatic for her.”
I reasoned with myself that despite my own fears, maybe if A’s mom saw that I was a fairly normal looking human being she would feel more comfortable. Not to mention, I was more than a little curious about her.
The case worker led me to the closet-sized grey box of an office space “play-room” where A’s mother was waiting. My heartbeat quickened. This was going to be so awkward! The baby was clinging to my neck like I was a life raft. I took a deep breath before I rounded the corner.
A slight adolescent girl was sitting on the edge of her seat. Wearing black jeans and a hoodie with a messy topknot, she looked like your average teenager waiting outside of the principal’s office. She was not combative. Not crazy. Not drugged out. Not hateful. She was just there waiting for people with more power than her to tell her what was next. I could see my own anxiety reflected in her eyes. This was uncharted territory for us both.
I couldn’t help but notice the baby did not reach for her. Did not even acknowledge she knew her, save for the tightened grip on my neck and hair. I held this mother’s baby close and sat down in the windowless room.
I said hello. I introduced myself. I told her what a gorgeous daughter she had. I think I told her she was pretty too. (Because THAT is important at a meeting like this.)
There is no script for this sort of thing. At least not that I know of. If there had been I would have forgotten it anyway. My thoughts were spinning a hundred miles an hour but nothing productive was coming out of them.
I asked the mother if she had any questions for me. She couldn’t think of any. I asked her what her daughter liked to eat and a few other questions I had been pondering since Saturday night.
The mother’s responses were measured. I detected only the slightest quiver in her voice. She seemed resilient beyond her years.
The baby squirmed in my lap and snuggled in closer to me. The room got quiet. Was this mother yearning to hold her child? Was she mad that I was? Was she embarrassed that there was no connection? It didn’t seem like it, but what did I know?
We looked down at the floor. More silence.
The case worker jumped in. She was new to this too but seemed to know what to do. “Kara, A’s mother is concerned about what the foster home is like. She said she is picturing a place where adults are just trying to make money and take in as many children as possible. Almost like a puppy mill.”
“Oh God no. She’s our first and only foster child.” I looked at her intently, trying to reassure her. “Not to mention,” I thought but didn’t say, “foster care would be a pretty non-lucrative way to make money.”
After a few more minutes of nobody really knowing what to do the time came for me to leave. The birth mother would get one hour to spend supervised time with her daughter. I peeled A from me. She screamed, cried and pleaded with her arms like I was handing her over to a doctor for a round of injections. I pulled the Band-Aid off quick, turned my back, and walked out the door.
I beelined it to my car. I kept my head down. Oh how I cried.
Is the maternal instinct so strong that after 36 hours with this child I couldn’t bear to hand her over? Couldn’t stomach her tears?
Was I mommy now?
She had clung to me.
Children have instincts. They know what they need and they know who is giving it to them. Just four days after having A in our care she looked up at me with her Hershey Kiss eyes and she called me momma. So many questions. That felt good, but should I “allow” it to happen? Was that “ok?”
Was I mommy now?
I sought counsel from the caseworkers.
“What should I do? What should she call us?”
They too seemed unsure about the whole thing. Here was yet another unwanted opportunity to exercise our decision making power. We didn’t know what would be best for her in the long run. Somebody, please, tell us what to do!
Adam and I reasoned…
This child was just learning to speak. She didn’t have many words. Teaching her our names felt too formal. She was one-and-a-half for God’s sake. The child needed a mother. And a father. Didn’t she?
I had just been to a talk given by Susie Krabacher, a former playboy playmate and the owner of an orphanage in Haiti. She said she didn’t want the children in the orphanage calling her mother because she didn’t want them to grow up thinking that a mother was someone who came into and out of a child’s life.
She had a good point. We didn’t want that for Little A either. But, we also didn’t want Little A to grow up without knowing the joy of having parents.
A few days later when I picked A up from daycare, older kids in her class called out, “A’s mommy is here.”
Was I supposed to sit them down and explain the whole morbid situation to them?
“Well, technically kids, even though Adam and I drop her off and pick her up, pack her lunches and give her hugs, you don’t have it quite right. It would be more appropriate if you referred to me as….”
Ha. Yeah right.
So while I still wasn’t sure if I was a mommy I decided to just run with it.
And run we did, for the life of a foster child is busy. For the next few weeks Adam or I drove Little A to and from visits with her parents. On a few occasions we stayed with the bio mom or dad through the entire thing.
I was surprised that it was never that uncomfortable with her parents. There were moments, for sure. Like the first time A called me “momma” in front of her momma. I cringed, held my breath, and didn’t know what to do.
The crisis was avoided before it began. The case-aid came to the rescue. She addressed the birth mother with something like, “since Kara and Adam are playing such a vital role in A’s life right now, and A is just learning to talk, it is appropriate that she sees them as a mommy and daddy.”
The mother nodded like she understood. “I don’t mind,” she said.
I believed her.
I wish I could say I was as mature as this young girl.
Three visits a week continued and we got into the routine of the visits happening during the workday. The case-aide would pick A up and drop her off during daycare hours. Weeks passed without Adam or I seeing A’s birth parents.
I could not help but wonder, “what did Little A call her mother?”
A few times I tried to pry. I asked our daughter how her day was. One time I asked her what she had done that day with her mommy. She looked at me confused. “My mommy!” she exclaimed, pointing to me. I attempted to suppress a satisfied grin.
On another occasion I asked A how her play time with her mother was, but this time I called her mother by name. She responded with something completely off topic, like toddlers do.
After eleven months of calling ME mommy and one week before her biological parents’ trial I asked, “What did you do today?”
“Um,” she said, “I went to the pool with my mommy!”
The smug smile I had worn in conversations past was nowhere to be found. Indeed, she had gone to the pool that day with her biological mother.
Was I still mommy now?
Little A’s statement was bitter-sweet. Two days after the mommy comment and five days before the case went to trial A’s biological mother relinquished her rights.
I was finally going to be a mommy!
Except that I already was.
And I had been for a long time.
And now, despite the relinquishment, A’s bio mommy was too.
Here is what I’ve learned through the foster to adopt process: custody is something that the court can order. The privilege of being “mommy” is not. Our small daughter knows that better than anyone.
I am beyond words excited to be the “on paper” mommy of Little A. I am also hopeful for the future of our relationship with Little A’s bio mom. We are proud of her for the progress she has made and grateful that our daughter has a courageous woman to look up to. God is good.
Whether you are a “normal” mother, a foster-mother, a step-mother, an in-law, an adopted mother, a bio mother, a yet-to-be mother, or whatever else I am missing, motherhood is not something any of us are entitled to.
I pray that not one of us takes for granted what a privilege it is to be called “mommy.”
p.s. The pictures on this post of our family almost did not happen. They were taken just weeks after Little A came into our life and there was so much that was uncertain. I had so many doubts. Were we allowed family photos with this little girl who may not be with us very long? I watched on Facebook as friends posted snapshots of themselves with their adorable babies and children. Was I allowed this same joy?
Was I a fraud? Or, was I mommy?
Now that we are where we are I am so glad I let my sister convince me to do this shoot!