Sunday, May 10, 2015

She's A Mother Too

"A child born to another woman calls me Mommy.  The magnitude of that tragedy and the depth of that privilege is not lost on me."  ~Jody Landers

Today I celebrate my second Mother's Day.  I'm still trying to wrap my brain around that, because I never expected to be a mom (but that's another blog post).  Today I also celebrate another woman who is a mother too, though many would not recognize or honor her in such a way.

In today's North American social climate, adoption is an accepted, beautiful thing - at least from the adoptive family's side.  Though there was a time when a stigma would have been attached to it, nothing could have been further from the scene of Toby's homecoming at two days old.  There were smiles so big that, had they generated electricity, could have powered a small town.  There were screams and squeals of excitement.  Phones rang non-stop and text messages flew through cyberspace at warp speed.  I'm guessing more than one person among our family and friends broke the speed limit to get to our house to see this baby.  Joy and elation abounded.

But none of those people were present in the hospital with us over the two days between Toby's birth and his homecoming to witness what we saw.  The scene was dramatically different.  The nurses and doctors didn't smile at Elisabeth* the way they do with "normal" mothers.  There was a cold, clinical feel to everything going on around us.  Voices were lowered almost to a whisper each time we were identified as the adoptive parents.  At best you could see nurses, doctors, and caseworkers shake their heads upon discussing Elisabeth's case; at worst some showed visible disgust for her.  After Toby had been given over to our custody and we received instructions on his care from a medical school resident, the doctor forced a partial smile and said, "Maybe now he will have a happy ending."  Her comment was in reference to the woman who, 48 hours earlier, gave him life and now was giving him a life.

Certainly there are adoptions that are the result of children being removed from tragic circumstances which inspire anger and hostility for parents who abuse in any number of ways.  But that is a separate issue.  I'm referring to the significant number of women who find themselves in crisis pregnancies, facing some of the most heart and gut-wrenching decisions they will ever make.

I have to say that I've been surprised by the stark contrast in attitudes towards adoptive families vs. the birth mothers who made the adoptions possible. The vast majority of people who hear our story rejoice; some even put us on a saintly pedestal.  Plenty want to know and some even dare to ask about Toby's birth mother.  Even some of the most well-meaning among the inquirers want to hear the horrors of what his life would have been like so they can thank God that we saved him from it, but far too many care only about the juicy details for purposes of gossip (which is why we share only the most basic information, none of which provide ammunition to either intentionally or unintentionally hurt our child later).  Virtually no one wants to hear us talk about her lovingly, as a member of our family, and definitely not as our hero.  It makes family members uncomfortable, friends feel awkward, and strangers stamp their feet in righteous indignation.  How dare we love this woman???  We've heard people condemn both ours and birth mothers in general for getting pregnant in the first place, then further shame them for choosing adoption.  How could any woman just give away her baby?  What kind of person does that?  Whoa! Wait a minute!  Weren't you just praising God for our adoption story?  The baby we adopted is the same baby that a woman "like that" chose to relinquish.  You can't have one without the other…

I don't want to come across as cynical or to communicate that no one in our circle of family and friends respects and cares about our birth mother, because they do.  Nor am I implying that everyone is against birth mothers and out to bash them, because they are not.  But, generally speaking, our culture does salute adoptive parents as saviors, yet we often heap condemnation, shame, guilt, and hopelessness on birth mothers.  When faced with an unwanted pregnancy out of wedlock, Elisabeth could have chosen abortion; she could have ended the life of the ridiculously handsome, energetic, vivacious little boy who calls me mommy.  She could have done so quietly and secretly, keeping her pain to herself.  No one ever had to know.  (I can't help but wonder how many of those who protest abortion, writing one-way tickets to hell for women who go through with the procedure, have taken in a woman in a crisis pregnancy and loved her and demonstrated to her the grace that might lead to a different decision.  How many of them have gone a step further and actually adopted a child?)  She could have chosen to keep him; and while his life probably would not have been a complete disaster, it most likely would not have been the greatest upbringing.  This woman dug deep into her soul and examined herself in ways that most of us wouldn't do if someone offered us a million bucks, and in doing so recognized her inability to be a parent to him under her life's circumstances at the time.  So she did what some would call the unthinkable.  She made a plan to bring her child into the world, then hand him over to virtual strangers, praying that she was making the right decision, begging God to give her peace and assure her that she wasn't delivering him into something worse than what she had to offer. 

The reality is that I pray every day to be more like Toby's birth mother.  To embody her unselfishness.  To love so sacrificially that I would choose to put another's well-being above my own, even at the cost of utter heartbreak.  I also pray that those in our world who turn their noses up at birth mothers, or look upon them with disdain, would begin to shower them with grace and mercy and love.  To look beyond the mistakes they have made and validate them as the beings created in God's image that they are.  To embrace them and love them all the way to the arms of the Lord and to being able to love themselves again. 

If you've walked the path of adoption you understand.  If you haven't, you will never truly comprehend.  I am fiercely protective of our birth mother.  Don't judge her, don't cause her to second guess herself, don't criticize her, don't shame her, don’t embarrass her.  Instead, be the mouth and hands of Jesus to her.  Be humbled and grateful that she was strong enough to hold her head up and endure trial and conviction in the court of public opinion as she was unable to hide her unwed pregnancy status.  Or the fact that she left for the hospital, but, after 18 hours of hard labor culminating in an emergency C-section, came home empty handed, faced with the task of getting up the next day as though the last nine months never happened.

Had you been with us during the two days between Toby's birth and homecoming, you would have witnessed an unimaginable mix of joy and pain.  Her pain of letting go of a little being that she truly, undeniably loved, and the joy she felt in giving me the gift of motherhood that without her I would never experience.  My joy of holding my baby for the first time knowing he would live and grow up in my home with two parents who have never wanted anything more, and the absolute devastation and guilt I felt when I walked out the hospital doors with another woman's child.  And if you knew what life for both of us has been like for nearly two years since then you would see a beautiful young woman healing, moving forward, relishing our letters and pictures and sharing with us that each one increases her peace knowing that God traded beauty for her ashes.  And you would see the moments, mostly late at night, when I cry hot tears of both gratitude and grief, of eternal gratefulness and soul-deep empathy. 

Toby has two mothers - one who birthed him and one who parents him.  We share this honor.  But the truth is, he doesn't really belong to either of us.  He is on loan from God.  And God saw fit to intertwine our lives as He writes our perfect stories - Toby's, Elisabeth's, Collins' and mine. My prayer for her is that someday she has another child and knows the joy of little arms around her neck and sweet kisses on her cheeks and hearing a squeaky little voice calling her mommy.  Whether she does or doesn't is beside the point.  She already has a child.  If she's not a mother, then neither am I.

Happy Mother's Day, Elisabeth! Yes, you are a mother too and we honor you as such.  We love you!

*Elisabeth is not our birth mother's real name; it has been changed to protect her privacy.

Recommended Reading

  • The Bible
  • Serving with Eyes Wide Open - Doing Short Term Missions with Cultural Intelligence - David A. Livermore
  • Cross-Cultural Servanthood - Serving the World in Christlike Humility - Duane Elmer
  • Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It) - Robert D. Lupton
  • When Helping Hurts-Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...and Yourself - Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
  • Shadow of the Almighty - Elizabeth Elliot
  • Messy Spirituality - Michael Yaconelli
  • The Irresistible Revolution - Shane Claiborne
  • Peace Child - Don Richardson
  • If God Should Choose - Kristen Stagg
  • In the Presence of My Enemies - Gracia Burnham
  • Inside Afghanistan - John Weaver
  • Same Kind of Different as Me - Ron Hall and Denver Moore
  • Through Gates of Splendor - Elizabeth Elliot
  • End of the Spear - Steve Saint