Yesterday I celebrated my very first Mother’s Day as a mom. Little Man had a fever, so it wasn’t the calm and blissful day I hoped for. But as he lay sleeping and drooling on my chest, I found myself reflecting on what I’ve learned in my seven and a half months of motherhood.
I’ve learned about how to live in a new kind of selflessness. I like to think I had moments of selflessness before becoming a mom- like most people do- but being responsible for another human being is different than anything I’ve experienced before. I’ve learned what it means to give of myself constantly- to put another person’s needs ahead of my own, even when doing so is tiring or terrifying or frustrating or lonely, and even when that person can do very little to reciprocate. I’ve learned through months and months of night feedings, a midnight trip to the ER, incessant loads of laundry, thousands of readings of Your Personal Penguin, and being constantly (it seems) covered in spit-up. I’ve learned through pudgy-cheeked smiles, contagious giggles, lots of early morning (and late night) snuggles, Little Man's tiny hands clinging to my arm when he’s scared or uncertain, and the look of excitement on his face when he sees me return from a long day of work- or a few moments of being across the room.
I’ve experienced more joy and more love than I ever could have imagined eight months ago.
And yet, I didn’t feel particularly celebratory on my first Mother’s Day.
(And not just because Little Man gets very cranky when he’s sick.)
While I am proud of- and so, so grateful for- my time as a mother, I cannot help but think about Little Man’s other mom.
The one who we haven’t seen in 5 months, but who I know is missing him very much right now.
I can’t help but recognize that this day- which is supposed to bring her such joy- is, in all likelihood, causing her unfathomable pain.
I think about this other mom frequently. Little Man and I talk about her and pray for her every evening. I tell him daily about how much she loves and misses him.
We decided to make her a Mother’s Day card to acknowledge and update her- and to let her know how loved she is. We stamped his footprints in a heart shape on the front (or as much or a heart shape as we could achieve with such squirmy little toes) and glued it onto some colorful scrapbook paper. And then I sat down to write a note.
As I sat there- trying to find encouraging words for a woman I’ve only met twice and haven’t seen in months- I thought a lot about how small of a difference exists between the two of us.
I think it’s easy as a foster parent- or as an upper-middle class person- to lose perspective when thinking about biological parents. It’s easy to judge them based on the fact that their children live with other families and wonder why they can’t seem to figure it out- to land a job, to get sober, to find a home, etc, etc etc.
But then I think about what enables me to manage life as a single parent.
I think about how I am surrounded by an incredible community- family and friends who are willing to drop everything to help when I welcome a newborn into my home, or take a day-long CPR class just to be available to babysit, or spend time with Little Man so I can do chores (or even do chores so I can spend time with Little Man!). There are so many people in my life who make my job as a parent manageable, and I really am not sure I could do it without them.
I also have a secure and stable job- one that pays me a living wage and gives me a lot of flexibility as I transition into parenthood. When I had to take a week off of work to be with Little Man while he struggled through RSV, I was never concerned I might not have a job to return to.
Those are luxuries that countless parents do not have.
And why do I have these things? Because I happened to be born into them.
I don’t want to dive into the philosophical deep-end here because I know it would take me forever to climb out, but- ultimately- what separates me from Little Man’s biological mom- what separates me from most parents who have ever had to place their children (willingly or unwillingly) into foster care- is the fact that I was born into opportunity. Financial, educational, and relational.
That’s not to say I've just coasted along from birth until now and somehow wound up where I am today. I definitely worked hard and made positive decisions to get to this place.
But I have had the opportunity and ability to do that work and make those choices.
Many people- and parents- don’t.
Many parents- despite longing to create the best life possible for their children- face incredible obstacles. Poverty, addiction, lack of family or community support, loss of jobs, mental health issues, physical health issues, crisis situations, lack of education or educational opportunities... the list could go on for ages.
Some parents become exhausted- facing such overwhelming barriers every day. And some, sadly, grow hopeless. But almost every parent tries.
And that’s what I wish everyone knew and understood.
When well-meaning people find out I’m fostering and say things like, “Don’t you just hate the parents??” or “I can’t believe some parents would rather _____ than raise their child,” I feel so, so sad- and very frustrated. It’s hard to see such a lack of empathy for a woman who loves her child so much. I want people to understand that with Little Man’s biological mom (and with most biological families) the problem isn’t a lack of caring- it’s a lack of opportunity and resources.
I have never met a parent who is indifferent about the life he or she brought into the world, but I’ve met many parents who are facing obstacles I can hardly even imagine without the supports and resources I too often take for granted.
Most parents set out to do the best job they can with the resources, skills, and knowledge they have available, but many parents have very few- or no- resources to go on.
In the four hours I’ve spent with Little Man’s biological mom, it was clear to me how much she cares about her son. I have no doubt that she loves him and wants to be able to give him a good, safe and stable life. But it was also clear to me that she’s encountered unimaginable challenges over the years- and she has an uphill climb ahead of her.
And so she’s missing the first months- almost year- of her son’s life.
And as much as I love being able to step in and care for Little Man, my heart aches for the loss she's experiencing.
Eventually, I managed to write a brief note on her Mother’s Day card. I wrote about what Little Man is up to these days and how much we think of and miss her- and I hoped it didn’t sound cliche or condescending.
Because I really do care about her, and I want such good things for her.
So as I celebrated my first Mother’s Day, I made time to pray for Little Man’s other mom- and for all parents who are working and waiting to be reunited with their children.
It was essentially an echo of the prayer Little Man and I say for his biological mom every night: may they be filled with strength, peace, hope, and the knowledge that they are loved.