My children have two mothers. Both of us are real mothers.
Both have flesh and blood and love and pain. Both have pieces of our hearts that have been broken by goodbyes. Both of us have spent too many days apart from our children.
In our home we don’t classify the mothers. There is no bio mom or adoptive mom. No first mom or second mom. No tummy mom or heart mom.
Both of us are simply mom. We need no other label.
We are cut from the same cloth. We are both women who walk through life making a lot of mistakes. We try our best. We make wrong decisions. We need extra helpings of grace. We are both living a life that turned out differently than we expected. We are two women who fiercely love their children but don’t always know how to show this love in practical ways.
My children’s mother is a part of our family. Her picture hangs in a place of honor in their bedrooms. Her name is a part of our vocabulary. In ways large and small, her presence fills our home.
A conversation with two moms
When we were in Ethiopia, we had the honor of spending an afternoon together. Two mothers sitting in the courtyard of an orphanage, their children between them. We hired an interpreter to be better able to share our thoughts and dreams with each other. We moved into the corner office so as not to be interrupted by the crowds of orphans. We asked many questions. We knew our time together was limited and wanted to share memories before it was too late.
Me: Is there a special significance to the names you chose for your children? What do their names mean?
Her: What will our children do in America? Will they go to school? Will they work?
Me: What do you hope for their future?
Her: Will you bring them home to visit me?
Me: What is a special memory you have of your children? What is one thing you would want them to know about you?
Her: Will my children have cousins? Grandparents? Will their extended family be a part of their lives?
Me: What circumstances caused you to give up your children?
Her: I did not give up my children. I will never give up my children. They will always be my children. But now they are your children, too. And I want to give them the chance to have a better life with you. I pray that you will now be my sister and we can love these children together.
As we sat in the office, cramped and stuffy and crowded with people and emotions, her words seemed too big for the space. They filled the air between us and pushed me into my corner. The closer I moved towards her, the closer I was forced to examine my insecurities.
Love these children together? I wasn’t even sure how to love them alone.
Time to say, “Goodbye”
We filed out of the office and moved through the courtyard to the gate of the orphanage. We stood back and allowed her time to say goodbye. We watched as our children hugged their mother for what might be the last time. We took their picture together. A mother and her children. And then we walked out of the gate together. A mother and her children.
As we were leaving, we pressed a cell phone into her hand. We decided that although we weren’t sure what it might look like, we needed to love these children together with her the best we could.
Even though the details were fuzzy, we knew we wanted to maintain our children’s connection to their mother. If it was at all within our power to preserve this connection, we could do nothing less. We never want our children to look back and wonder why we kept them from their mother.
At the same time, when I was most honest with myself, I knew I also wanted to maintain some distance. How could they ever fully love and accept me as their mother if she stood in between us? I would rather have her in the shadows, always a part of our relationship but slightly hidden. I was thankful for the ocean that would soon separate us. It seemed a fitting boundary to our relationship.
This cell phone would allow contact across the miles. And it would also allow separation. We could maintain our relationship within the confines of technology.
The journey to loving two mothers has been a difficult one for my children. There was a lot of push and pull. Barriers constructed and then torn down one heavy brick at a time. The rejection of one mother in the quest to prove allegiance to another. The eventual realization that love is strong enough to carry the weight of two mothers.
The journey to loving my children within the context of another woman’s relationship has been a challenge for me. The love between my children and I was not the kind of love most women experience when they hold their newborn baby for the first time. There was not a seamless connection between their heart and mine.
No, it took years to grow our love. Planted in the fertile soil of our family, watered with tears and prayers, grown with patience and intentional tending. My children had to give themselves permission to feel and express their love. I had to determine how to best love their mother. I had to learn how to share their hearts with another woman.
My children have had to say goodbye to their mother too many times.
They said goodbye on the day she walked them into the orphanage and filled out paperwork with a trembling hand.
They said goodbye on the day we walked them out of the orphanage and into a new life with a trembling heart.
They said goodbye every time they called home, reaching across the miles through a staticky and broken connection with trembling voices.
I never want to be the reason they have to say goodbye to her again.
This is an excerpt from Natalie Gwyn’s new book OKAYEST MOM: How God’s Plan of Adoption Doubled My Family. To learn more about Natalie’s story or to pre-order her book, visit her website: www.nataliegwyn.com.
Every child needs a family.