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The Velveteen Parent (how I became “real”)

Written by Maralee Bradley

I held three of my squirmy, jostling children close to me as I read them a bedtime story. I picked a favorite from my childhood, “The Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams. I was once a child that loved stuffed animals and felt their “realness” in my soul, so this has always been a tale that resonates with me. As I read it to my precious kids, it took on new meaning and I found myself much more emotionally touched than I had anticipated.

The central element of this story is the question of “realness”. A stuffed rabbit longs to be real and in my heart, I know the feeling. This rabbit’s quest is my quest, too.

I remember when my son was placed in my arms. In a hot and humid orphanage office half a world away I became a mother to a ten month-old child who had never seen my face before. I honestly felt like a kidnapper as we drove away with that child clutched to my chest. While my love for my baby was deep the instant I held him, it was difficult for me to think of myself as his “real” mother. I didn’t know his cries or what made him happy and I certainly couldn’t sing the lullaby his nanny had been singing to him since he first came to the orphanage.

As an adoptive parent, you feel you have to fight to be known as the REAL mother. People will ask you questions about your child’s real mother and it is pretty clear by the context that they don’t mean you. Sometimes you politely tell them that’s a private part of your child’s story. Sometimes you correct their language choice and offer alternatives like “birthmother” or “biological mother” or “first mother.” Sometimes you just answer their question because you know what they meant. But however you choose to handle it, there’s a sting. That bitter reminder that something about your relationship with this child doesn’t seem real to the rest of the world.

And that’s where the Velveteen Rabbit speaks to me. What turned that toy from being an imitation of a rabbit into the real thing? It was his love for his boy. It was through the hours of play that wore holes in his stitching. It was from being washed after being lost in the garden and losing the softness of his coat. His stuffing went lumpy. The velvet on his nose wore off. And finally after weathering a nearly deadly illness at the side of his little boy, the Velveteen Rabbit because real in an ultimate act of sacrifice.

This, my friends, is motherhood. Adoptive motherhood, foster motherhood, motherhood by birth. This is the way we become real.

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It is through the hours of adoption paperwork, and immigration appointments, and the 18 hour plane ride. It is through the morning sickness and stretch marks and the 20 hour labor to bring your baby into the world. It is through the difficult work of attachment amidst the tantrums, tears, and acts of rejection from the 13 year-old that was dropped off at your door.

Realness happens in the everyday moments. I became real the first time I stayed up all night holding my sick baby who was struggling to breathe. I became a real mom when I learned how to brush my daughter’s hair in a way that wouldn’t make her cry. My realness has happened with every meal prepared in love, every diaper changed, every lullaby sung, every library story time survived, and each instance discipline has been given out with patience and grace.

. . . You can finish reading this post at A Musing Maralee. . . 

About the author

Maralee Bradley

Maralee is a mom of six pretty incredible kids ages 8 and under. Four were adopted (one internationally from Liberia, three through foster care in Nebraska) and two were biological surprises. Prior to becoming parents, Maralee and her husband were houseparents at a children’s home and had the privilege of helping to raise 17 boys during their five year tenure.
Maralee is passionate about caring for kids, foster parenting and adoption, making her family a fairly decent dinner every night, staying on top of the laundry, watching ridiculous documentaries and doing it all for God’s glory.
Maralee can be heard on My Bridge Radio talking about motherhood on “A Mother’s Heart for God” and what won’t fit in a 90 second radio segment ends up at www.amusingmaralee.com.