I started my fostering and adoption journey about 4 years ago. I made the phone calls. Signed up for the classes. Sat through the trainings, and talked to everyone I could about their experiences as a foster/adoptive mom. As we prepared our home for whatever child would come our way, I prayed that my heart would grow in an instant for the little life I had yet to meet. But nothing could have prepared me for the privilege of heartbreak that was to come.
My first child. He entered our home at just 3 days old, straight from the hospital where he was born. When the social worker placed him in my arms, he took the biggest sigh of relief—and the days and nights that followed became some of my sweetest memories. We fell into a quick rhythm. I knew his cry, his every need. As if it were meant to be. All my years of dreaming to become a mother had finally come true.
But then, the phone rang. The social worker. And just like that, he was gone.
I was his mother, but for only a season. In the days that followed, my heart broke as the silence of an empty, childless house surrounded me. I grieved the loss of my first child, knowing this is the reality of the system I entered. This privilege of love and of heartbreak had only just begun.
My second child. Arriving the day after Christmas at 3 months old, he brought a joy into our home that is palpable. His big eyes told a powerful story that captured everyone he met. Quickly, I became his mother. Watching him grow has been an incredible blessing. He has learned to love life in a way that is truly contagious.
This time, the judge told me, my mothering wouldn’t be only for a season. He took our last name, becoming forever our son. And I, his forever mother.
My third and fourth children. Beautiful girls. At just 3 and 4 years old, they entered our home as weary travelers, bearing more tragedy than any child ever should. Thrown together as designated strangers, we quickly realized how much we needed each other.
Over time, they trusted me with pieces of their story. Quiet whispers in the night that broke my soul. They clinged to me. They needed me—a mother to carry the burdens that for so long were theirs to bear alone.
What came next was truly the greatest gift. Once again, the judge deemed me their forever mother.
Yet even now, as I watch my daughters flourish, my heart still aches for the shattered pieces of their story that I can never truly mend. A broken hallelujah.
My Fifth Child. I picked her up from the hospital at 10 days old. Held her in the corner chair of the NICU, whispering again and again, “I love you.” I studied her face, stroking her dark head of hair as I murmured prayers of hope over her unknown future.
And in that instant, I became her mother.
The months that followed brought more joys and more challenges than I could ever have imagined. We climbed mountains together. We shed tears brought on by the messiness of a broken foster system. And all along, we danced through the trenches hand in hand.
Then, the judge confirmed our worst fears about this broken system. She would be moved away, left with a rushed goodbye from the only mother, the only family she had ever known.
My Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Children. They stepped into our lives for only a few days. Yet, though our time together was quick, they needed me, and I needed them. Each one came and left like a slow breeze, leaving hardly a trace beyond the imprint on my heart.
Still I carry them with me wherever I go, because I am their mother.
My 9th child. Watching you grow through the ultrasound was one of my greatest joys. You were long awaited. Anticipated. You brought tears to your father’s eyes unlike any I’d seen before. A happiness that brought healing.
The days we shared together were such a gift. Every moment cherished as I dreamed of who you would become. And then the doctors whispered what every mother fears. A truth that stung. Your heart had stopped beating, and at that moment, I was certain mine would do the same.
I am your mother, and I had to say goodbye far too soon.
My 10th child. When they brought him to me at just 6 days old, his tiny 5-pound body was already so desperate for rest. His cries broke me in the worst way as he tried to settle into life. Sleep became a foreign concept as his need for me overtook every moment of every day and night. Today, we continue to weather the storm of infant withdrawal together, shedding middle of the night tears that no one sees.
And as I hold him close, his future unknown, my heart breaks at the thought of life without him.
I can’t imagine another goodbye. Can’t imagine my heart breaking into anymore pieces. But one thing is for certain, and it brings me comfort. Today, I am his mother.
Ten children. Ten precious lives. Each one, in their own way, has made me a mother. They have changed the way I see the world. They’ve allowed me to love deeper than I ever knew possible. They are my motivation to keep going on the hard days and to get out of bed every morning, even when it feels impossible.
These ten little loves have taught me that motherhood is a verb. It is joy, and it is sorrow, all rolled into one. Though the pain of loving and losing will always be with me, I know that this grief is truly a gift. It’s the heartbreaking privilege of being their mother.
This blog post was originally published on Million Ways to Mother.