“A child born to another woman calls me mommy. The magnitude of that tragedy and the depth of that privilege are not lost on me.” -Jody Landers
This quote hangs on my bathroom mirror, each day I am confronted with the reality that my babies have another woman they call “mom.” My journey into motherhood is different than most, my babies did not grow in my womb but instead in my heart, what a tragic privilege.
This week I received a letter from our birth mom, I stood at our mailbox as I read it. Line after line, expressing how much she missed the kids and how she was going to be sober this time. She shared that the baby was doing well and getting so big, she asked for contact, she called them by their old names. The weight of that letter was heavy, this mom who birthed these babies no longer gets to do life with them, instead I am the one watching them grow, I get to know them.
In foster care classes we are encouraged to take an active role in our birth parents life. We are encouraged to help them by co-parenting, leading by example and be open towards them. That is really uncomfortable at times, it is the juggle in the fact that I love these kids, this person hurt them and I want them and the reality that they are human, lost and hurting, consumed by their addiction, however grown ups who made lots of choices bad choices. This grievous subject is hard to navigate, as a foster parent, adoptive parent, ex-spouse, stepparent or grandparent, I know several stories and situations much like our own.
Foster care is tricky, from the moment it becomes a thing, it is broken. Children are supposed to be raised by their parents, when brokenness enters into that relationship it is tragic. In my two years of navigating this kind of relationship I have seen that good things can come from it, however when unchecked this relationship can become very territorial and toxic. Many of these parents are addicts (unfortunately, but the reality), they have learned how to get what they want, after a lifetime steeping in dysfunction, they proudly bear their victim badge. They have lived broken lives, following generational bondage and victimizing themselves to get their next fix, what a tragedy this truly is and the ripple effect is endless. Some grow up and break free, others do what they know and the things that are familiar.
Having compassion for these little, scared, big eyed babies is easy, we can justify away their behaviors and love them despite it all, extending that to the parents at times is much harder. My journey of motherhood has been a juggle of loving well, not only my babies, but the woman who birthed, harmed and scarred them. I remember a day when I gave our birth mom a ride to the store, she climbed in my front seat, I whispered a quick prayer asking for the strength to love her well in that moment. I saw her as a 8 year old little girl in my front seat, who has never known love, the love that I had in abundance growing up, unlike mine, her home was scary and toxic. Her life hard, she still made her choices but in that moment, I had great compassion for this woman and the little girl at her core who never felt love.
My heart is very open to a relationship with her, she is and always will be their birth mom and I am committed to an open relationship with her...someday. She has shaped her life, made her choices and affected the course of many lives. She alone has to sit in that reality and grieve the choices she made. To catch everyone up on our story we have one birth mom, four kiddos, the older three I have adopted and our baby is still in foster care and currently back with birth mom in rehab. She was forced into rehab and is doing well but her road towards sobriety is long and full of many obstacles.
I am often asked if I think that birth mom will make it, is she sincere? I don’t know and don’t think I have the right to answer that, the reality is that time will tell. I know my job is to keep my crew safe from that reality and hurt until the path she chooses is clear, it is impossible to avoid the hurt in it all but I can help avoid some of it.
Those letters and conversations are filled with the right words, pep talks and the fact that I genuinely believe a part of her wants to be healthy. Addiction is awful and I often think of how I am raising these children who will never be complete, outside of Jesus, no matter how much I love them, I am not their birth mom and that is a reality and such a tragedy, something we will have to navigate for life.
What a grievous thing addiction is, the ripples are forever. It affects loved ones, for years to come. I am open to our birth mom being a part of our unique family. She needs to be sober and find her own healing before I open that door back up. My crew is still healing and hurting and for now my priority is their health and keeping them safe.