I became a mother in a very unconventional way. Sure, we took a year to complete classes and trainings and do all the required interviews and paperwork, but there was no heartbeat growing inside of me. My feet didn’t swell, I didn’t have heartburn or morning sickness. I didn’t need to shop for maternity clothes. I didn’t feel flutters inside my stomach. I didn’t lose my period or have shortness of breath. I had no Braxton-Hicks. My back didn’t ache, and I could still bend over to tie my shoes. None of the normal physical symptoms graced my presence.
Instead, I had two hours to wrap my mind around having a 7-month-old baby come live with us. Suddenly she appeared in the back of the social worker’s car, and while not by birth or biologically I was (for now) her primary caretaker. I didn’t have magical maternal feelings overcome me. It honestly felt like a strange baby was living in our house—because this was exactly what was happening. I didn’t know anything about her. We didn’t even know if she had food allergies. I didn’t know what kind of trauma she had experienced, I didn’t know how she liked to fall asleep or what food preferences she had. I didn’t know what made her laugh or smile. I did not feel like a mother. However mothers felt, I was sure I felt nothing like them.
Instead, I felt like an extremely long-term nanny who did not get to go home at the end of the day and wasn’t sure if the parents were coming back at all. In one moment, I felt such immense responsibility to care for this tiny human that I was utterly overwhelmed.
That night, she cried all night. My husband and I took turns trying to rock her back to sleep but her nervous system was still in crisis mode. She didn’t know me or my husband. Her body was stiff against me as she pulled her head away from my chest, peering up at me suspiciously. The hours stretched out as I would make my way back to bed, holding my breath that she had finally fallen asleep only to be jolted awake again by her shrill piercing screams.
As the hot ball of orange rose over our house the next morning and baked us into a mild 90-degree sweat, I contemplated our decision to become foster parents. What exactly were we thinking? I stole a glance at baby girl from the living room while I washed her bottles. She could sit up and was holding some of the colorful blocks we had rushed out to get yesterday in our two-hour frenzy. She was sitting almost too still, eyes blank and unblinking.
The next night was much the same and the one after that and after that. For months, we didn’t sleep. For months we were drowning in visitation schedules, court dates, developmental services, diapers, bottles, sleepless nights, her tears (and ours). I kept praying for dawn—however that may rise—to have the tenacity to get through this unending starless night. The prayers felt flimsy and fragile, but my hope stayed with me in all its incessant and persistent glory. Much like the sun that rises every morning.
Our daughter is five years old now, adopted, and must run or skip or hop on one foot wherever she goes. She spins in dizzying circles laughing at her own antics, chasing our dog in the yard. She loves books and numbers. She plays soccer, and she makes bookmarks for us from cut-out construction paper and her markers. She plays hide and seek and is the best hider I know. The air crackles when she’s in the room with her enthusiasm and energy for life.
Today she ran up to me, “Mama, mama, I picked these flowers for you.” The bright yellow flowers that sprung up due to all the rain. I hadn’t planted them, yet they just appeared one day, tiny reeds standing strong and bursting with color. I became a foster parent in two hours, but I become a mama over the years, week by week, day by day, minute by minute, as our secure attachment was formed.
“Thank you. I love you,” I tell my wide-eyed little girl as she shoves the yellow and green pile of petals and stems in my face.
“I love you more,” she grins back smugly and skips away as my heart squeezes in my chest. I love being her mama.