This post is dedicated to my daughter Torey who I love deeply and who has become one of my dearest friends. Thank you for making me a mom! I also want to honor my mom Linda who has loved me and her other three daughters well! We are thankful for you!
And moms, whether you just found out you are expecting, are completing the adoption process, or are in the trenches of changing diapers or trying to survive with a teenager or anywhere in between, I have something to say: Don’t give up. You’ll want to. But don’t. God has given you an unspeakable honor by entrusting these lives to you. It is one of the hardest and most wonderful things you’ll ever do. You can’t do it alone but you can do it.
(This was written on August 25, 2008. Some of you read it on my old blog. I am slowly transitioning all my essays onto this new and improved one. So enjoy again or for the first time!)
My first mother’s day wasn’t in the month of May. It happened on June 27, 1989. That was the day I discovered I was a mother.
It was the summer before my senior year in high school. I was headed to a doctor’s appointment. I had started having these strange symptoms that seemed a lot like those of my best friend’s hypoglycemia. I used her one of her blood sugar tests and, sure enough, my levels were not normal. It never occurred to me when the appointment was made that I might be pregnant. My boyfriend and I had gotten a little more intimate than we intended once or twice but…surely. It wasn’t possible.
My stepmother drove me to the appointment. I had just moved in with my dad’s family and she was doing everything she could to help me get settled and feel welcome. I remember how loving and kind she was on that day in particular, even as her live-in stepdaughter began adding much more complication to her family life than she had bargained for.
After my blood had been tested, the doctor, his nurse, my stepmom and I all crowded into the examination room. I don’t remember exactly what words he used but I remember staring around the room in shock at a white coat, cotton balls, and dark wooden cabinets, trying to take in what I had just heard. When my stepmother asked for abortion information, I snapped back to the present. I told them all with uncharacteristic self-confidence that I wasn’t interested. Trying to help in the best way she knew, she urged me to take the pamphlets for later ‘just in case.’
Everything in my world had just been turned inside out with one sentence. I wasn’t sure of anything else but from the very beginning I knew this: I was not going to stop this child from being born. Even though my faith was then and remains vitally important to me, it wasn’t about politics or religion or morality for me in that moment. It was simply about what was true. The truth was that the baby was real. I knew that no discrete procedure was going to change that.
My stepmom drove me home as I stared at the speeding pavement in a fog. As soon as I walked inside, I called my boyfriend and told him he needed to come over. I was waiting on the front steps when he drove up. Once he was close enough to see my face, he knew. He crumpled up into a ball at my feet and wept. As I knelt to comfort him, my step-mom, embarrassed by his display, hustled us inside the house.
After talking with my dad and stepmom and his parents who were all both loving and supportive, we drove to Kyle’s now deserted office for a few moments alone. In the quiet of that place, we knelt to cry and pray for guidance. We asked forgiveness for our foolish and ungodly actions. We prayed God would show us what to do. We left having made no decisions but at peace.
As young as I was—still a child in so many ways—I knew that I loved Kyle and that he loved me. I was certain it wasn’t a crush for either of us but real, live-the-rest-of-your-life-together love. But I also knew that I was ready to do whatever I had to do to protect my child. If he was too scared or wasn’t ready to be married or a father (or both), I would do what I had to do to keep her safe.
Right then, I silently vowed that this being inside me would be loved. That she would never doubt that she was wanted. That she would be given all the training, discipline, and everything else she needed. I promised myself that whatever sacrifice it took, I would not rest and I would not stop until she was well loved and well provided for. I patted my still flat abdomen and whispered, ‘everything is going to be ok.’
As I lay in bed that night and tried to make sense of everything, I experienced for the first time that almost instinctive, nearly violent protective impulse that I have since come to know as something close to the heart of motherhood. I knew then that whatever it cost me, I would be keeping that whispered promise. I was ready to be a single mom working knee deep in fast food grease. I was ready to place her for adoption with a family who would love her and be the kind of parents she needed. I knew that as far as it depended on me, she was going to be born, grow up, and have a great life. And I was ready to do whatever, whatever, was necessary for that to happen.
I think that is what being a mom is. It isn’t going through labor and delivery, the cooking, the school supplies, or the doctor’s appointments. It is being responsible for another human being who is dependent on you for everything, at least at first. Even though Kyle was the man I loved and wanted to spend my life with, he would live without me. Neither of us would be the same without each other but we would survive. I couldn’t say that about my daughter. I knew that I had the power of life and death. I had the ability to determine what kind of future this microscopic human was going to have in a way that no one else on the planet, including him, had. And I knew what I wanted to do.
Today, I sit at my desk realizing that same daughter is all grown up. I have many amazing days I could talk about that are less bittersweet than the one in which I found out she exists. I could speak of the day I married my husband Kyle later that summer surrounded by sweet smelling roses in my friend’s back yard. I could tell of the day we renewed our vows ten years later. I could describe the day just last week when, statistics be damned, we celebrated our nineteenth anniversary with sushi and a movie. It hasn’t been easy starting so young but we are still together and we love each other.
I could try to articulate the joy of that wonderful day in December 1994 when I graduated from college (only a semester later than my peers). Or the quiet happiness of the day in 2002 when I got my master’s degree. Or the excitement mingled with fear of the day in 2003 when we decided to help some newly made friends start a church in our city. I could describe another fateful mother’s day a few years ago when my family and I finally decided to adopt a little girl from China as we’d been discussing. I can’t wait to be able to tell about the day sometime in 2009 when we’ll get to meet her for the first time.
But for today all I can think about is my grown up little girl attending her first day of class in a university a few hours away. She is studying political science. She wants to be an ambassador so she can help defend the poor or helpless. She wants to see the American political system changed to more closely reflect what our Founders had in mind. I have no doubt she is fully able to do all she sets out to accomplish. And it hits me in this moment: I did it. By God’s grace, we made it. Everything I promised I would do for her is a reality. Everything I prayed wouldn’t happen did not. I won’t stop being her mother or doing all I can to love and teach her as long as I live. But I can finally let a breath I’ve been holding for nearly twenty years go. Everything IS ok. She is beautiful, healthy, intelligent, passionate, out-going and fun. She is everything I hoped she would be and more. And while I can’t take credit for the woman she now is, I am at peace. I have not held her back. I am neither a foggy memory nor a source of pain and disappointment to her. She has grown up with two parents, with a father who has loved her deeply and led her well. I have been her teacher, her comforter, her disciplinarian, and, increasingly, her friend. I have laughed with her, cried with her, prayed over her. I taught her to read, to add and subtract, to love good books and good music. I have loved her with everything I have had to give her. And while that isn’t everything, I breathe easy, knowing it has been enough.