Another post to answer a question I get all the time. The question is simple. But the answer is so complicated that I think I'll
give up butcher it just trying to get the idea across. My own answer... and I'm not sure that words can adequately describe what I feel.
"Do you feel like she's yours?"
"Is it the same... like do you love her just like your other kids?"
"I just don't think I could love another child the same as I love my own."
Not everyone I know in the foster/adopt world had biological children before welcoming waiting kids into their homes, so maybe the answer isn't the same for us all. Maybe there isn't a "right" answer. Here's the best one I've got for now though-
No, I don't feel like she's mine (yet), but
I feel in every way like I'm her mom.
Imagine that you're at home with your spouse, about to climb into bed after a long day of work and caring for your family. Then imagine that same night someone hands you a stranger's child. Imagine that you parent that child for a few days, get into a new groove as a family, try to navigate the newness of it all, then people start asking you, "Do you feel like that child is yours?"or "Do you love him the same as you love your other kids?" Your answer would probably be, "uhhh, no, it's not quite the same.... it doesn't feel the same....because this is a stranger's child."
Here's the thing, though-- everyone wants to hear us say that it's the exact same. When they ask you can almost feel the eager desire they have to hear that it's the same coming over you like a mist. And because people are searching to hear that everything feels the same, we feel icky admitting that it feels different. See, foster parents are literally reminded every day in about 3,296 ways that these children are NOT ours. We can't raise them however we please. We can't nurse them, snuggle and sleep with them, homeschool them, or even care for their health the same as we do for our biological children. There are rules upon rules that keep us from behaving like these children are ours, and the reality of that is only a reminder that they aren't ours.
No, I don't feel like she's mine (yet), but
I feel in every way like I'm her mom.
So, while I don't feel like she's "mine," I do feel exactly like I'm her mom. I feel the same amount of "momminess" toward her that I do toward my three little clones. I feel like I'm the one who knows her most deeply. I feel like I'm the one who cares for her every need all day long and mothers her. I feel like she needs me. I feel like she looks for me when strangers hold her. I feel like she picks my voice out of a crowd and turns her head to find me. I feel like I know her little secrets, like how to keep her bottle just right so she doesn't break her latch and swallow a bunch of air, and how she arches back and turns to the side when she's tired, and how to get a real giggle out of her. She's a hard sell on a giggle. You gotta really work for it.
See, I am her mom. Today. Today, in every way except the I-grew-her-in-my-body-and-birthed-her kind of way, I AM her mom. So, I don't feel like she's "mine," but I do feel like I'm her mom. I hope that doesn't sound as crazy as it feels.
The question sometimes takes a more pointed, harder to answer turn though. "Do you love her just like your other kids? Like, is the love the same?"
Do we love them? Oh, heavens yes! Is the love "the same?" I'm not sure. That's the part that I have a hard time expressing.
But, if I can be real for a moment, and we can be raw with each other for the sake of growth in our understanding... I don't know that any mother would say her love for each of her children is "the same." The amount of love? Sure. No one kid trumps another. No one kid is more loved than another. But, isn't the love different? Unique in wonderful and sometimes challenging ways with each child individually? It's always the same sacrificial, unconditional, always-and-forever love that mothers have for their children, but our emotions, affections, and connections with each child develop over time based on who they are, who we are from year to year, and how our relationships grow and blossom.
My love for my children FEELS different. There. I said it.
When Owen was born I thought I would feel this amazing connection, this mushy-gushy-over-the-top kind of ooey gooey love for him. He was my first baby, after all. But at first I didn't. I had the baby blues pretty badly. I didn't feel much besides the uncontrollable urge to cry constantly for two weeks straight. Everything felt overwhelming. I felt like I'd failed in about 27 different ways because his birth didn't go like I'd hoped, I wasn't able to nurse him right away like I'd hoped, and he wasn't the kind of person I'd imagined. I'd never met a baby like Owen. He wasn't snuggly and he didn't seem to need me on a mommy level. He was ridiculously alert, and not at all newbornish. He was the most analytical newborn I think the world has ever seen. He wasn't looking at us with emotion or wonder or contentment behind his eyes... but with precise questions. He had questions, and he wanted answers. He knew he could do things before he was able to do things. All of this "knowing" in him led to sheer frustration in the tiniest baby. I didn't get it then, though. I asked doctors for answers. They said he was fine, and some babies just aren't happy babies. What...? I didn't know who he was. I just thought I was a terrible mom, which led me to feel even less like I was connected to him.
[all the time you guys, all.the.time]
I had a friend who'd parented 20-something kids (foster, and bio) at that point look at me one day and say, "Kate... he cries a lot. Like, a LOT. He's not an easy baby." I'm pretty sure I cried on the spot. I'm pretty sure she'll never know how liberating her words were. She'd parented a bajillion kids... so coming from her I felt like it was a legitimate claim. Another friend who'd spent a lot of time with Owen said, "I feel like he's not actually crying, but like he's yelling. Like he's just frustrated." She was right. That's how we all felt. Until he spoke perfect sentences at 13months old to tell us just how frustrated he was about everything around him. I'm not kidding. He was a tiny talking baby and it was alarming.
As he got older and we all learned that he's not a touchy feely kid, but an in-his-head kind of kid, we all grew more in love with him because our understanding of who he was grew. We quit being confused, and started being astounded. At the risk of sounding like an annoyingly braggy mom, he's brilliant. Like, kind of scary-smart. When we realized he was a brainy baby things started making some sense and we fell more in love with him. We loved him from the start, don't get me wrong. Please don't miss that! I loved my child before he was born. I would have traded my life for his in an instant. My world changed when he came into it. But, the love didn't feel like I'd expected it to, because I didn't understand him. As I grew in understanding and appreciation, and relationship with him as a person, the way I felt love toward him grew too.
Then there were my other two bio-babies. I didn't struggle with baby blues when they were born. My pregnancies, deliveries, and early days with them were easier. They weren't frustrated little balls of babies, but your average I-just-want-to-be-snuggled-and-fed kind of babies. The way things felt with them was really different. Even the way I love Hadden is different simply because he's my last [born-to-me] baby and not my first. I was eager to see Owen grow and I encouraged him. I find myself babying Hadden because I cling to every last day that he will be little knowing that he's
definitely in all likelihood my last bio-baby. And Eliza-- I'm way more mushy and tender with her than with the boys, because that's who she is! You look at her cross-eyed and she turns into a puddle of tears. Sweet child needs to be loved differently or she'd be an absolute wreck all the time. My relationship with each child is different, so the way that we feel and express our love is different as well.
Because I had different starts with them, I have a different love story with each of them. I connect with them differently because [guess what?!] they're different people. I show them my affection differently, and had to learn how to communicate that to each of them in ways that they wanted to receive it. And they each love me differently, in their own ways. But I'm the same mom to all of them.
So, if we can be real with each other, I think we could admit that we all LOVE differently. We love deeply, wholly, as fully as we know how, without reservation, and with all of our hearts... but it doesn't always feel or look the same. That's the thing about love, though. To love, truly love, you have to be all in, but that doesn't mean that things feel the same with every person you go all in for. When I met my hubby I didn't love him like I do today. I grow more in love with him as I learn more about who he is and see more of who he's becoming. I loved each of my kids from the moments they were born, but OH how my love for them has grown!
Just when you think your heart might BURST from the immensity of the love you feel for these people, it just gets bigger and deeper and wider and fuller and heavier and more and more and more.
And so it is with this sweet, brown, little baby.
Someone handed me a stranger's baby.
I loved her from the moment she was placed in my arms
... but I love her more, and differently, and more uniquely, and deeper as she grows. As we grow together.
I didn't have the usual 9 months of loving her before I met her. Feeling those kicks. Hearing her heartbeat. Choosing her name. Knowing that she would have a certain combination of my familiar features and my handsome man's features. I didn't get that. Someone handed me a stranger's baby.
Every adoptive parent I know says that things feel different when adoptions are finalized. Not because they had guarded hearts, or didn't want to love fully while they were fostering, but because it's reality. To feel like she's mine, not just like I'm her mom, but like she's mine wouldn't be based in reality. It would be fantasy. She's not biologically mine. She's not legally mine. She doesn't belong to me in any kind of official way, today. But my heart isn't guarded. I WANT to love her in every good, tender, caring way I know how. I pour into her just like I pour into my older three, but it still feels different.
It feels different because it is different, and I don't think that's bad. I just think it's different, and different scares people. People want to hear it's the same. But, "same" isn't what we're doing here. What we're doing is different. We're chasing after Jesus through this. I'm told that the way that I love this baby is the way that I love Jesus.