Re-envisioning Motherhood

We are raised with the tacit assumption that motherhood naturally and easily follows marriage (Recall the childhood adage, “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby…”). And for many it does. But for those of us who struggle with infertility, the delay or complete absence of children can bring about a crisis of faith: “Why is God withholding this most beautiful gift from us—the very ability to co-create new life with Him?” When it became apparent that I was unlikely to become a mother the old-fashioned way, I began to pray that God would enlarge my heart to embrace the plan for motherhood that He had for me. My husband was reticent to go the adoption route at first, but we finally agreed to go ahead and get our home study done through the county foster care system. And in the midst of that training we learned of the crisis of children in foster care.

Saint James (1:27) says religion “that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” The children in foster care are truly our country’s modern day orphans. While I had always thought I would be open to adopting children, I had never considered fostering. It seemed too messy, too unpredictable, too possibly devastating if the children a.) returned to their birthmother and/or birthfather after my husband and I had bonded with them and b.) were to go back into a dangerous situation. I am a serious control freak. How could I possibly sign up for something so incomprehensibly beyond my control? I knew that it was going to take some serious grace to walk this path.

My husband and I waited two years for our first phone call to foster. At this point, we still had no children. Because the agency knew of our desire to adopt, they only called us for children who would likely end up adoptable. But there was certainly no guarantee for us. My biggest fear was, “How could I become a first time mother with the possibility of my child leaving me? Could I handle going from being a mother to no longer being a mother?” However, when we got that call for our sweet Anthony, suddenly it was no longer about me being a mother or not. It was about this child who needed a mother now. No longer was this a theoretical question. Suddenly I was face to face with the reality of this particular child who needed me and my husband. And we unhesitatingly said, “YES!”

We celebrated the birth and coming home of Anthony with all the usual fanfare of a new baby coming home. My mother immediately drove up and stayed with us to help that first week. My sister flew in with all of the requisite baby items that I was without. My husband’s brothers, our sisters-in-law and all of their children descended upon our home to celebrate this sweet baby boy—all as it should be. It was remarkable timing. Because we had been childless for so long and desiring new life, we had bred our beloved goldendoodle who had given birth to nine puppies. And when we got the call for Anthony, those puppies were six weeks old. So our home was brimming with new life at last! It was a blessed time and God’s grace and goodness was strongly felt in our home.

When our sweet Anthony was only four days old, I had to pack him up in the car in subzero weather to have his first visit with his birthmother. I thought it would kill me to give him away so soon. I sat in a coffee shop during the two hour visit and pondered how I could continue to give this child to God. He wasn’t mine. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that none of our children are really ours. They all belong to God. And I began to get a glimpse of the painful process of letting go that all mothers must eventually endure. Whether it’s the mother who loses her child to miscarriage or the one whose child turns his back on her love or the one who eventually leaves to start his own life and seemingly has no use for his mother anymore, there is always bound to be suffering in letting our children go.

As I would rock our sweet Anthony to sleep at night, I would sing, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray. You’ll never know dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.” But I cannot overemphasize the grace I experienced during this time of great uncertainty. God was with us. A profound sense of peace had settled into my heart, and I knew that God was protecting me and would heal me if Anthony left. All I knew was that this child needed me. I was his mother for now and for as long as God willed it.

Our story has a happy ending (for us). We were able to keep our sweet Anthony. But that also means that Anthony’s birthmother was unable to keep him. And it does not escape my heart that she herself suffered and likely continues to suffer greatly at the loss of her child. Fostering is hard because it brings us face to face with intense brokenness, loss and the dear children at the very center of it all who most need our love and protection. We currently have our second foster child and once again I feel a tremendous joy and grace in being his foster mother. The grace is almost palpable, and I am absolutely certain this baby is meant to be with us for now. I have no idea how long he will stay, but I will love him with my entire heart and mother him as he deserves. If he leaves, I trust our good and loving God to watch over and guide this sweet boy (and heal our aching hearts). And I know we will have forever impacted this sweet boy’s life by giving him everything he needed as a baby.   

Fostering opens our hearts to help bring healing to a very broken situation. And it has given me and so many other women the opportunity to become a mother. There is such dire need for foster parents at this time in our country that I want to especially encourage those who long to be parents to consider it. I cannot overestimate the unanticipated grace that God provides to those who choose this path that is truly God’s work.               

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