We sat holding hands on the edge of the tiny sofa in my doctor’s office. We tried to keep it light, willing success to float down from the drop-ceiling tiles and settle on us through the sheer force of our certainty. It was no big deal. He would fix me.

Around week four or five, Doctor Jan peered at me from behind his desk, his eyebrows stitched together in concern, “Why aren’t you pregnant yet?”

His question hung in the air for a moment, then fell around me like an omen.

Despite hoops, jumps, and shots in my rear, he continued to look at me like an unsolvable riddle until I could no longer bear it. We hopped off the edge of his tiny sofa and into the magnificent ocean of adoption.

Thirteen years have passed since then and my uterus has seen no visitors.

What I know now in the marrow of my bones and to the chagrin of both ovaries, saddled with a job that appears to have no clear purpose, is that God simply had a different family in mind for me. He knew all along that my little boys would have almond eyes and my daughter would have the regal forehead of an African queen. He knew that our oldest son would find us late in life and make us believe he had always been right here. It was no surprise to Him, no plan B.

But I’m easily adrift in conversation about childbirth and breast feeding. I’ve let myself trip down the slim, corkscrew of guilt, feeling angsty and anxious that my formula-fed babies missed out.

I hear celebrities gush about growing a human — “I’ve never felt more like a woman!”  I hear of husbands who gained insight into the whole of humanity as they watched their wives sweat and growl through labor. Women of every type, every socioeconomic strata, every culture hang their Wonder Woman capes on the hook of Life-Giver. This is the fundamental unifier of womanhood.

Sometimes it’s hard not to feel broken.

But it’s bedtime and my fingers are ruffling the silky hair of my youngest while he says his prayers. My eyes are locking his as I tell him for the thousandth time that Mommy and Daddy will never leave him, will always love him.

Daylight seeps through the edges and my arms are wrapped all the way around my daughter as we say our hellos, having missed each other through the night.

It’s late afternoon and I sit next to my 12-year-old, my hand rubbing circles over his back while he pushes through the frustration of middle school. It’s my voice that he needs — the only one he’ll really believe. You can do this. You’re doing this!

The house is quiet, the curtains drawn, and it’s my hand holding the phone. I talk to my oldest son about redemption and dinner. I tell him we love him, we’re proud of him.

My body, the one that was never strong enough, is a warrior for them.

My husband’s eyes linger on me differently than before, not because I helped recreate his flesh and bone, but because I’m helping him create a life — the one he was always meant to live.

It’s true what they say about women — we are life givers. And this life is wild and vast. It isn’t defined by biology or science. It can’t be measured in inches or the degree of a curve. The life that we nurture might look just like the one we had planned. Or maybe not.

Mothering is the thing all women do, with the small and big kids under our care, the neighbor boys up the street, our students, our grown niece, the children we can only hold in our hearts, and the ones we don’t even know yet to hope for. None of us is a mistake, and each of our families, no matter how unconventional or far-flung, counts.

If we were lucky enough to circle up with steaming cups of tea, oh, the stories we would tell about the ways our mother hearts have taken us by surprise.

As we head into this weekend and beyond, may you feel honored unconditionally. May we look out for each other with sensitive solidarity and freely share our best mom hacks. May we offer our shoulder, impromptu childcare, cat treats, an extra roll of quarters for the jail vending machines.

May we really see each other.

May we mother each other well.

It’s what we do best.

For more from Shannan, visit her at shannanmartinwrites.com.

This post was originally published on (in)courage.

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Shannan Martin

Shannan Martin is a writer who found her voice in the country and her story in the city. She and her jail chaplain husband, Cory, have four funny children who came to them across oceans and rivers. Having sold their dream farmhouse, they now live entrenched in community on the wrong side of the tracks. They’re surprised every day by God’s goodness.

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