About a year ago, I read a post from an obstetric nurse who wrote, in summary, that no foster or adoptive mom will ever be able to love a child the way a biological mom does. Her intention, I believe, was to validate biological mothers, no matter their circumstance. She described watching these mothers birth and respond to their babies in those first beautiful, raw, primal moments. I think her point was that no other woman will have that exact love for that exact child. And as a mother who can’t have that experience — that love — I felt robbed by her words.
A few months later, I listened as a podcast guest talked about the gift of suffering his wife gave his family in carrying and delivering his children. The thieving ache returned. As I thought about how that’s one gift I’ll never be able to give, no matter how many children I mother, I heard in my heart, “Are you joking? You laboured for two and a half years to become a mother.” I realized that although I may not have had a traditional experience to or inside of motherhood, it was born through a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. It’s a different kind of labour but it’s still a labour of intense love and sacrifice. It’s not the same and it’s not less.
There is an instinct in a woman to love most her own child; and an instinct to make any child who needs her love her own.ROBERT BRAULT
When I set out to write this piece, I wanted to talk about the love hormone, oxytocin. I wanted to present research on how it’s related to maternal affection and behaviour. I wanted to tell you how its levels are just as high in nonbiological mothers as biological mothers. I wanted to edify and encourage myself and mothers like me. I wanted to share the stunning quotes that, well, I still shared because I couldn’t help myself.
The physiology of motherhood is the physiology of love.JAAK PANKSEPP
But I keep thinking about something else. It’s a harder thing, but an important thing. It’s this: I’m not the best mom for my kids. I’m not the ideal option. As a foster mom, I’m perpetually compensating for the brokenness that’s made me an unfortunate necessity. I’m not plan A — or B, for that matter. It’s the kind of bitter truth I’d rather spit out than swallow, but it’s the truth nonetheless.
To be brazenly honest, and stay with me here, I’ve grown up subconsciously believing that I’m the ideal. I’ve been praised for many things throughout my life and given positions of trust, respect, and privilege. I’ve been told that I’m exceptional in the environments I choose to be in — and, by the way, I consciously avoid the environments that I don’t excel in because I’m a chicken shit. Some of these affirmations I’ve worked hard to earn, but a lot of them are undeserved privilege. It took a dear, wise friend and mentor to pull me back a few steps so I could see that this was my context. Her point was that I naturally and latently think I bring the best thing to the table. But here, at this table, I don’t.
Many people tell me how blessed my kids are to have me as their mom. They believe, from their perspective of what’s good in life, that what I can offer my kids is far superior to what their parents can give them. If you’re reading this and you’ve said those kinds of things to me, please don’t be offended and know that I’m also not offended. I understand what you’re saying and I used to, subconsciously, think the same. It’s taken a few years — and letting go of a son — for me to recognize that although I can bring many wonderful things, people, opportunities, and resources into the lives of children I get to mother, there are many irreplaceable things that I can’t give them. And that’s what makes me a second place, second option mom.
I love knowing where I come from. I eagerly absorb anything and everything I learn about my heritage. I love taking part in traditions and eating the food, obviously. I’m proud to come from the families I come from. I love how one of my thumbs looks like my mom’s thumb and the other one looks like my dad’s thumb. I love that I can see myself in my parents, my siblings, and my sister’s kids. I can’t imagine not having that. And that is what I can’t give my kids. Those essential pieces of their identity — their genes and their family’s tales, tragedies, and triumphs — are things that I don’t own to give. And those are big, big things not to have.
In Canada, Indigenous children are over represented in the foster care system. There are ancient, important, and sacred things that are crucial to our kids’ identities. And I can’t possibly give them those things — no matter how many feasts and powwows I take them to. At this impassible crossing is the first place in my life that I’ve felt less than because of my race. I can’t work my way into being the best mom for my kids because I can’t make myself Indigenous. Let me tell you: accepting that has been — and continues to be — frustrating and agonizing. I can’t imagine being limited like that my whole life.
I know that I fill a gaping hole for my kids, but I also know that I fill it imperfectly. There’s some loose edges and my straight lines don’t fit its curves. The hole wasn’t made with me in mind. Hell, the hole never should’ve been made in the first place. But it was and I’m the one waving pick me! pick me! ready to jump on in. There are so many reasons, heartbreaking reasons, why their mom isn’t where she should be. But no matter the reasons, one thing is exceptionally clear: I can never be who she was meant to be. I can do my best and bring my best, but it’ll never be enough. And I have to make peace with that.
The only thing that brings me rest in this uncomfortable place is that as much as my kids are hers, they’re even more His. And He perfectly fills all the deep valleys, all the hidden caves, all the faults in the foundation, and every nook and cranny of their beings. They’re made whole by their Good Father.