It turns out that I am more of a mother than I thought I was.
As a woman, somersaulting through various life stages in the early 20s range was not a pretty picture. It’s made me dizzy, kinda angsty, and very mindful that I was never ever cut out for gymnastics. I wanted to raise my children so so well and be good at being married so so badly but sometimes I had trouble identifying as either of those things at all. (Confessions…)
Having a baby, with all the 1-8 months of sleep-training, cry-learning, food-trying, carseat-loading, schedule-building, wellness-checking, milestone-marking…and then NOT, enlivened parts of my motherliness that I just hadn’t realized were there. Mostly through internal alarms and pain, but still. Before the removal, I never realized how much my reflexes and sensations and experience of the day were wrapped up in keeping three little bodies happy, loved and protected. I mean, I knew I was downright busy because Relentless Childish Children and it took every.ounce.of.energy somedays but the lingering loss, the waves of listlessness and the physical upset that abruptly being down one child caused announced to me over and over of the transformation that had occurred in all of my systems because of be(com)ing a mom.
Before the eye-stabbing, I knew foster care was like a reverse pregnancy. A violent, unnatural, soul-wrenching process of loving with no control and losing after all the labor. The stretch marks, the hidden story, the missing person and the bleeding. I knew there would be filling to empty, a caving in and giving out. I knew that differentiation had to happen before it normally does, before any mother and any child should have to grow apart. But there was a plan and we would help her be fully re-born to her permanent family.
In the weeks following the eye-stabbing, I had ovarian cramps. I would hear her crying, and I felt early pregnancy signs. I cannot explain these things except through motherhood. For a time, for all intensive purposes, I was her mom and then I couldn’t be and it effected my body, mind and spirit. We were as in-tune with her as with either of our other children, and then we couldn’t be. We were her whole world and she was a main part of ours, and then it just.couldn’t.be.
In the days after the removal, Ryan nose-dived. He could not stop thinking and he had never felt so deeply. He gained a little equilibrium a few days later as the fight for justice was on with the start of the work week. My descent was more subtle, more timid and agonizing. One moment I was writing a heady, professional letter (because any show of heart is a forfeit of credibility), the next I was sobbing uncontrollably in her bedroom. One moment I was playing cars with the boys like she was upstairs napping, the next I was gulping air with all my concentration, trying to slow my breathing.
And we were all newborn before it—the crisis, confusion, and conflict.
As the days passed, the torture of non-business-day weekends cycled again, and we were horrified by the delays and opposition we suddenly faced, we had plenty of time to examine our intentions and hearts. In our own quiet corners and in front of the many people who questioned us for the Department. (At last count, we were evaluated 6 times in person, with follow-up calls and e-mails to boot. It became boring though my nausea never let up.) It was in those painful moments of searching and reflecting that I first realized I was really a mom. Not in the Home Administration or Behavioral Management fields of the word, but in the all-in, gut-wrenching, search-me-o-God-and-know-my-heart kinda way.
No one in the Department or in the courtroom would consider that we were really worried about her; that we really, truly, did not interfere with reunification and were not intending to by asking for the privilege of being her home once again. No one wanted to hear any sort of sentiment about attachment, stability or love in this case. Before or after the investigation ended. No one wanted to hear that I was a mom, that she thought I was her mom, and that was the best thing for her until a new family was decided for good.
As we sat in waiting rooms, our living room, and courtrooms, knowing there was no room for our sensibilities and parenthood and we were the bad guys, I found some footing in knowing one thing for sure. We truly did and wanted what was best for her, beyond all selfish motives, beyond reason and beyond safety, and for that, I had been a good mom. It didn’t matter if anyone every believed us. It didn’t even matter if she was ever was told. It was true. And when everything else seemed up for debate and up for grabs, and I found that I could not incite justice, I had one crumb of peace that she had been loved in a selfless way for a long, long time before we lost her. She had brought it out of us. I could know that we had been damn good parents.
She taught us so much about being a mom and a dad. Her coming to our family forced the parenthood issue so many nights and days—were we in it for us, or for her? The worst summer ever clarified: we are so For Her it hurts. She may never know it but embedded in her life, in those warm, trusting eyes and that healthy, nimble body, is the love of two parents she grew and developed and left better than they were. We fought for her from the moment we met her, and that is what parents do.
For every ounce of comfort I desire for us, the accused, I want tons more for her. For every moment of strength and resilience I enjoy or long for, I want years more for her. For every embrace and soothing presence we have been given and can offer as a result of this, I want oceans more for her. These hopes become prayers because there is nothing else to do with this flow of love she ripped open.
And that is how I know I’m a mother.