All of my friends are in the throes of child-bearing. At 30 years old, this is to be expected. Just as five years ago we were all planning weddings, and in 20 years we'll be grieving together as our babies leave us with quiet and clean houses again.
We're all trying to survive this new life we have cultivated. The life where a quick trip to Target for even more baby wipes can turn into an epic fiasco because they just HAD to put the My Little Ponies in the check-out line. And no, dear toddler, you may not have another jumbo package of fruit snacks before dinner. It's not just me, is it?
Of course it's not just me. I know this is reality for all moms of young children. This new life brings with it a camaraderie that I've never quite experienced before. Every mom can relate to the pull-your-hair-out difficulty and the I-want-to-eat-you-up joy that motherhood brings.
And yet, there is one aspect of motherhood that I cannot relate to at all: the actual act of bearing a child. See, I am a mother to four stunningly beautiful, utterly amazing children and none of them came from my body. I became a mother through foster care.
These days I often find myself in circles of women, many of whom have just recently had babies, talking about how bearing children has taken a toll on their bodies. One friend even said, gesturing to her postpartum tummy, with a wink and an affectionate smile to her new son, "He ruined me. I love him, but he ruined me!" In conversations like these I feel like motherhood is an exclusive health club and I'm using a guest pass. I don’t know what it’s like to grow my child in my body. I can’t share advice about what stretch mark cream is the most effective, or which pregnancy pillow to buy. I can’t commiserate about the discomfort you feel after delivery, and I have no idea how a breast pump works. All that to say, I can’t possibly be the only mother who feels like she’s struggled to find her sense of belonging.
Becoming a mother in a non-traditional way has made me sensitive to the tendency women have to talk more about pregnancy, C-sections, and epidurals rather than what is at the root of this whole business of motherhood. I know this happens as a way to find belonging and connection, and it’s important to share our experiences, but in doing so, this precious thread that ties us together as mothers can be damaged if we’re not careful. When women compare the hardships of their deliveries, or the physical struggles their bodies have endured, they can sometimes unintentionally create a hierarchy of motherhood. I believe it's important to acknowledge that we’re all beautifully wrecked, just in different ways.
So when I wonder whether I have full access to feeling all the feelings of motherhood even though I didn't birth my children, my answer will always be yes. What I want to say, but don’t, is that I'm ruined too! No matter how you become a mother, it always ruins you.
Seeing two of my children returned to their birth mother and knowing they weren't going to be okay ruined me.
The simultaneous joy and sorrow I felt when they came back ruined me.
Watching my youngest boy have tremors as he detoxed from the drug exposure ruined me.
The twenty pounds I gained from stress eating puffy Cheetos and Nutella as court dates approached ruined me.
My oldest boy, holding my face in his hands after receiving discouraging news, whispering, "Why are you crying, mama? Please stop crying!" ruined me.
Learning that my children's biological grandmother is nearly my age ruined me.
Trudging through "the system" which uses no logic, no research, and no humanity to make decisions for my children ruined me.
Hearing a caseworker once remark how similar my son looked to a mugshot of his biological mother ruined me.
Hearing my girl exclaim as I'm holding her and her brothers, tightly squished on my lap, "Mommy! You have four babies!" ruined me.
I have come to realize this: motherhood is a bottomless pit of unstoppable, unimaginable, undying love that you can never work your way out of and it always, always ruins you. This kind of love always leaves scars, and perhaps you bear the signs of motherhood on your tummy. Or maybe, like me, the evidence is hidden on your heart. Wherever the ruin lies, I think we all can agree, it certainly leaves a beautiful mess.
Guest post written by Lindsey Wyllys. Lindsey is a foster mom to four children under four. She lives in the Chicago suburbs, and can often be found tripping over matchbox cars, lip syncing to Taylor Swift songs with her toddlers, and attempting to keep her house clean. She has been radically changed by adoption and loves how it demonstrates the redemptive power of love. She is sustained by cheap wine, a brave husband, solo trips to Target, and most of all, Jesus.
Photo by Laurie Carrozzino.