I just took a delivery of 300 photos (thanks Groupon) and I think at least 95% of them were of my son’s smiling face.
In a lovely and very neat and tidy little coincidence, these photos arrived on the anniversary of the day I first saw a photo of his smiling face. I really like it when things happen that way. I’ll be honest though, very little in the whole process of adopting him has been neat or tidy – including getting me to a point of recognising this was something we should do.
I sometimes feel a bit afraid of saying this for fear of being judged or unintentionally offending people, but the absolute truth is this:
I got married quite young, which wasn’t something I was especially looking for either, but was great when it happened. My husband and I talked then about children and were both in agreement that we weren’t ready at that point, and we made a vague promise to talk about it again a few years later. Of course, this didn’t stop people asking the ‘when will you be having babies’ question, and we got used to skirting around it at church services and family events.
A ‘few’ years turned into ten. I spent my early twenties working and my late twenties studying, and then was working again by the time I hit thirty, without really giving much thought to children.
They had begun to pop up around me though and I actually completely adored spending time with my friends’ children. They are without doubt some of my favourite people in the world and I still very much enjoy their company. But I also enjoyed giving them back.
While I had learned that with God it’s best to never speak in absolutes, I was fairly sure that children weren’t going to be on the agenda for my life and I was entirely happy with that thought.
A few of the children I’d been spending time with were my good friends’ foster children. I have the privilege of being one of their named and vetted babysitters, and my husband and I were overjoyed (and overwhelmed) when our friends asked if we would be unofficial ‘godparents’ to the children they cared for. We now have 23 godchildren.
We never even met a couple of them because they were respite or emergency placements, and they didn’t need the additional stress of extra visitors during the short time they were living with my friends, but I still pray for all 23 of them by name. I remember their little faces. I remember their smiles. I vividly remember the hug one of them gave me as we were saying our final good-bye.
In the summer just before my 32nd birthday, I was holding one of the very little ones during a church service, readily prepared with my forced smile for the many comments that would come my way – ‘oh you’re a natural!’, ‘getting ready for when it’s yours?’, etc. By this point I had learned to let them wash over me and not bother me as they did in earlier years.
But during that service I was suddenly struck by a deeply protective urge for the little one in my arms.
If I could do something – anything – that would reduce the trauma in her life, or increase her sense of belonging, or give her more stability, or ensure she had the opportunity to fulfil her potential, I knew that I would do it.
These scattered ideas became conversations with my husband (who had secretly known for years that we would foster or adopt, but knew not to push me until I was ready), and these conversations became two years of meetings and training and assessments and house renovations, which eventually led to approval, which then became waiting.
There was sixteen months between our approval and the day we met our little boy, and they were some of the hardest months of my life. (I wrote about the wait here, if you’re interested.)
But then, incredibly, we were able to bring him home.
I’ll be honest that the first few weeks felt like extended babysitting. It was a whirlwind of emotion in the midst of relentless, rigid, routine.
I totally and completely loved him, but I love lots of children. I would have done anything to protect him and I’d like to think I’d have thrown myself in front of a bus for him (if needed), but then, I hope that I’d do the same for my nieces or my godchildren or my friends’ children. I enjoyed spending time with him, but that goes for the other children too.
I did wonder if, for me, motherhood was actually going to be just the same. Great, but just the same.
The reality snuck up on me quite gradually and I really can’t pinpoint a day when it changed, but it has changed. I’ve been staring at my computer for the past ten minutes trying to find the words to describe my feelings for him, but quite frankly, it is beyond explanation.
I still love my nieces to pieces but with him there’s, just, more.
I would still do anything to protect my godchildren, but with him it’s so intense.
I continue to enjoy the company of my friends’ children, but I ache for him when he’s not around.
Obviously, there are also moments when I am frustrated or sleep-deprived or lonely or annoyed or he’s just being naughty… but even those moments are filtered by affection. Somehow.
For me, choosing to adopt was never about becoming a mum, but becoming and being a mum has been an amazing, bizarre, challenging, wonderful, extraordinary side effect of the whole thing. It is an incredible privilege and such a huge responsibility to have this integral role in my little boy’s life, but I still find it strange to think of myself as a mother. Celebrating my first Mother’s Day in a couple of weeks will be weird, hopefully also brilliant, but definitely weird.
It will also be part of recognising the bigger picture of his life story. I may be the mummy who looks after him each day but I’m not the only mother he has. I’m also not the only mother who loves him because I believe that in her own way his birth mother loves him too, and I know for a fact his amazing foster carer loves him enormously.
And that's ok.
I think that, really, the important thing is not to put our own experiences of it onto anyone else and expect them to do it like we do or fit our preconceived idea of how things should happen, but to respect that we will each have a different story and to celebrate each and every indivudal who fulfils this role, in whatever way they do it.