I used to think strength was defined by moms who did it all without breaking a sweat. Moms who managed a household of babies, preschoolers and teenagers with airbrushed makeup and beach-wave tousled hair. Moms who made fluffy, homemade gluten-free pancakes and still found the energy to hit the gym every day. Moms who drove around in a crumb-free, vacuumed car.
I used to think strength meant having an advantage over another; something that made me stand out in a crowd by way of a particular talent or skillset. But years later, after making an adoption plan for my birth daughter, having three biological sons and adopting another, I now believe strength has less to do with my overall abilities, and more to do with three characteristics: Sacrifice, Courage and Authenticity.
SACRIFICE —“a surrender of something for the sake of something else”
I learned sacrifice was a outpouring of strength as I swaddled my infant daughter one last time before she was permanently placed in the arms of her adoptive family. In those final moments, I thought my heart might shatter. It took every ounce of strength I could muster to give up my dreams of becoming a mom, for the best interest of my child.
I learned I was pregnant during my junior year of college. Holding a positive pregnancy test in my hand, I recoiled in fear and shame. I didn’t know what to do or where to turn for help. I held several leadership positions at the Christian university I attended, was a straight-A student and was in a committed relationship. Like many girls my age, I’d strived for perfection in every facet of life. An unplanned pregnancy was not part of my meticulously planned life.
When I announced the news to my parents, they were silent and stunned. Finally, my mom said, “Have you considered adoption?” Her question stung at first. I’d always wanted to be a mom and couldn’t imagine putting my own child into the arms of another. But the word “adoption” lingered.
Afraid of being released from my leadership positions, I grabbed a baggy t-shirt, a pair of leggings and an old sweatshirt that I wrapped around my waist to cover my growing baby bump. I’d hide my pregnancy for five long months, the entire Spring semester. Whenever I felt my unborn child stirring in my womb, I’d cradle my belly and whisper, “I love you little one,” and dreamed about life as mom. Over time, those dreams faded and instead morphed into heavy tears with the realization that I wasn’t prepared to be a parent. At the time, I wasn’t capable of giving my baby everything she deserved. In the end, my boyfriend and I made the heart wrenching decision to move forward with an adoption plan.
Leaving the hospital without my baby girl was the single hardest thing I’ve ever done. In the end, I laid aside my own dreams so that my little girl could have the chance to achieve hers. Through adoption I learned that sometimes the right decision, is also the most painful one.
Moms are the most sacrificial creatures on the planet. We sacrifice our time, our energy and finances to enhance the lives of our children. We put our dreams on hold for the sake of our little ones. At times, we may not feel rewarded for our sacrifice. We may even feel invisible. But know this—you are doing an amazing work in the lives of your children. Every tear you wipe, every hard conversation you have, every dream you help come true makes a lasting impression on the heart of your child.
COURAGE—“a moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand fear or difficulty”
It took courage I didn’t know I had to drive away from the hospital without my baby and head back to college to finish my degree. It took courage to step foot on campus amongst narrowed eyes of judgement and gossip talk that stripped my confidence on a daily basis. It took courage to forge ahead without my daughter, and trust that she was in God’s hands. It took courage to persevere when all I wanted to do was crumble in a heap.
There were times that I didn’t want to be courageous at all. Soon, I’d learn that courage can take us to places we’d never imagine.
A few months after I graduated from college, I married my high-school sweetheart, the father of my birth daughter, in a winter ceremony as snowflakes fell outside the church. Over the years, we had three boys and I cherished being a mom to each one of them. Because of my adoption experience, I wanted to invest in the lives of other birth mothers and support them through the adoption process. I met one-on-one with young women experiencing an unplanned pregnancy and listened as they shared their heart and shed tears over their difficult circumstance. At the heart of every one of their stories was one similar theme—an amazing love for their unborn child.
During one of these meetings, my life was altered forever. I was asked by one of the birth mothers to adopt her baby boy.
I pondered her offer, searching for the right response. I could’ve told her I needed more time, maybe months, to think about it before I could get back to her. I could’ve laughed in her face and told her she’d picked the wrong person for the job. I could’ve announced I wasn’t up for the task. But when I looked into her longing eyes, full of want for a loving home for her unborn child, I found the courage to simply say, “Yes.”
Saying “yes” didn’t come without fears. When I agreed to adopt, I dwelt on all the things that could go wrong. I wondered, How will I handle raising four boys? What if I didn’t bond with my newly adopted child? What if I wasn’t good enough as a mom? When left alone with my fears, I trembled with doubt. But love and courage swallowed up those fears. As I held my newly adopted son in my arms, I learned to set aside my fears and embrace the journey ahead.
Moms, it takes courage to forge ahead when we are at our weakest. It takes courage to continue along your journey of motherhood, especially when it feels messy, chaotic or isolating. Every season of parenting comes with great joys and sorrows. Embrace new experiences that weren’t part of your original plan. And when the time is right, take what knowledge you’ve gained to help another through their journey.
AUTHENTICITY—“true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character”
Currently, I’m managing a house of preteen and teenage boys, none of which are fully trained to put down the toilet seat or pick up their underwear from the floor. I homeschool, but still cringe at their penmanship and spelling skills. I strive to maintain a healthy relationship between my adopted son and his birth mom. I’ve reconnected with my birth daughter and am blessed by her presence in my life.
While I’ve embraced the changing dynamics in our household, it hasn’t been without challenges. I spent countless years sprinting from one child to the next trying to manage their differing needs with flawless ease. By the end of most days, I’d find myself frazzled and locked in my bathroom, using a hand towel to soak up my tears of perceived failure. I wanted my house to look perfect, my kids to be happy and my life to appear stress-free. Eventually, I learned to dissolve my perfectionist attitudes and create a new mantra—my kids need an authentic mom to lead them into a healthy adulthood. I began to wonder what message I was sending to my five children by trying to make everything in their lives appear perfect. How would my children ever learn to accept the imperfections in themselves and others, when I couldn’t accept my own?
Learning to accept my imperfections as a mother is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. It’s difficult to stare at my flaws day after day, with every one of my kids, and still find the strength to parent every day. Maybe I won’t ever be the Gilmore Girls-esque mom and know the right thing to say in every difficult situation. Maybe I’m not the always attentive adoptive mom. I can’t erase my kids’ struggles or hardships. I can only be my best authentic self, and use my God-given personality and experiences to guide my children to become their authentic selves.
To all the moms everywhere—you are valued, loved and cherished beyond measure.