#HonorAllMoms

Hands

Mom. A word that evokes…

So many labels:

Biological. Adoptive. Foster. Expectant. Bereaved. “Real.” Birth. Legal. Spiritual. Single. Working. Stay-at-home. Soccer. Helicopter. Teen. Grand. Great-grand. God. In-law. In-love.

So many descriptions:

Sleep-deprived. Stressed. Worn out. Exasperated. Caring. Strong. Selfless. Gracious.

So many emotions:

Grief. Bitterness. Worry. Disappointment. Joy. Pride. Gratitude. Love.

So many seasons:

New. Veteran. Challenging. Fulfilling. Full house. Empty nest. Waiting; waiting; waiting: For the positive test. For “the call.” For the paperwork to go through. For them to come home. For them to leave home. For you to go Home and see them once again.

Whichever your type, whatever you’re called, however you’re feeling, wherever your place…

You are important. You are worthy. You are loved.

Your Heavenly Father is carrying you, His precious child, as you carry yours in your arms, in your heart, in your clinging to Him.

#HonorAllMoms

Six ways to help a friend face the baby-making blues

Super Bowl 2014. The Seattle Seahawks destroyed Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the franchise’s first-ever victory at the NFL’s pinnacle event. As QB Russell Wilson – aka my husband, Colin’s, man crush – raised the Vince Lombardi trophy in triumph, those few handful of Seahawks fans who had cheered for the team throughout its long history of total suckage experienced long-awaited redemption. Colin declared he could die a happy man.

Later that month, we celebrated our 10-year anniversary. Talk about anticlimactic.

Super Bowl 2015. The Seahawks had overcome many obstacles to make it back, and were battling it out with the Boston Patriots in an evenly matched, fairly called game. Down four points, with under a minute left in the fourth quarter, the Hawks were at the Patriots’ 1-yard line and within arm’s reach of a repeat. Then the unthinkable happened. Instead of giving the ball to Marshawn Lynch to punch it in the end zone, like anyone who knows a lick about football would choose to do, the Seattle coaches called a risky pass that was intercepted, securing the win for the Patriots.

Once the initial shock wore off, Colin wept bitterly, on the inside. I didn’t know what to say or do to comfort him, so I simply whispered, “Sorry hon,” patted him on the back, and left him alone to work through his grief.

Track with me here in this terrible transition from talking about how to console loved ones dealing with sports-induced depression to talking about how to encourage loved ones coping with infertility.

Watching a friend or family member undergo the physical, emotional, and financial hardships caused by infertility can make you feel helpless. If you’re already a mother, you long for your loved one to share the exasperating yet joy-filled experience of having children. But how can you support her, knowing there’s a heckuva lot you shouldn’t say, and besides taking it to the Lord in prayer, there’s nothing you can do to help fulfill her desire to become a mom?

While you can’t erase your friend’s pain, you can seek to understand specific ways to express your care and concern. Realize, though, that even if you say the “right things” and treat her with utmost sensitivity, she might still be sad and discouraged and downright ornery. She’ll also be grateful for your love and companionship as she traverses her difficult path to parenthood. 

Colin urged me to use a photo of hugging cats for this post, so here’s what I found. Unfortunately, I didn’t come across any great pics of hugging cats wearing Seahawks jerseys.

1) Weep with those who weep
Words often fall short when someone is grieving, but a shoulder to cry on is almost always welcome. When your friend receives news of yet another negative pregnancy test, or an adoption opportunity falls through, tell her you’re sorry, you love her, and that you’ll be there for her if/when she wants to talk about it.

2) Show interest (to her comfort level)
If your friend says she’s open to sharing her infertility issues with you, go ahead and ask her a broad, open-ended question such as “What options are you considering?” Whether she’s pursuing fertility treatments or adoption or taking a break from it all, demonstrate your concern about what she’s experiencing and feeling. When you know she has a doctor’s appointment or a meeting with a social worker coming up, send her a text or email ahead of time and let her know you’re thinking about her. Allow her to decide when/if to tell you how it went.

3) Exercise extra grace on holidays
Mother’s Day is pure hell for a woman having trouble having kids. As well, the vast number of holidays that revolve around giving gifts to children or acknowledging children as gifts can add to the ache. Even birthdays can be painful reminders of that damn ticking clock. Recognize that your friend may be hurting during these celebrations and do something to make her feel special – write her a note, bring her lunch, or take her out for a mani/pedi date.

4) Encourage her to join a support group
Remember the days when you were so pissed at your parents that you ran to your room, slammed the door shut, and shouted with all the self-righteousness of a 15-year-old, “You just don’t understand me!”? A woman who is struggling with infertility feels like no one gets what she’s going through – lonely, isolated, an outcast from our baby bump-obsessed culture. Your friend can combat these lies and experience healing through community by attending a support group for those facing childbearing challenges.

This is, of course, a shameless plug for the ministry I’m facilitating, Graceful Wait, but there are plenty of other great resources out there for finding support groups, either online or otherwise (see list at the end of this post).

5) Tell her you’re praying for her … and actually do it
Ain’t no baby ever came into this world who didn’t have the Lord Almighty breathe life into his or her tiny little body. Commit yourself to pray for your friend, even if she’s given up on it. Pray that she will receive the child she so longs for, that she will have wisdom to know how to walk toward that end result, and that she will grow in faith and dependence on Christ throughout the whole process.

6) Rejoice with those who rejoice
The day we left town to pick up my oldest son, Calvin, from the hospital – less than 24 hours after we got the call from our social worker that we were going to be his parents – we had nothing at our house to prepare for an infant but an empty room and a couple of cute frog paintings I’d bought at a yard sale for my “someday” baby’s room. We returned a day and a half later to find that empty room converted to a fully fledged, well-stocked nursery, complete with crib, changing table, bouncy seat, diapers and dozens of other essentials, toys, wall décor, and a neat little row of onesies hanging in the closet.

Our church small group had come over while we were gone and pulled a surprise home makeover. The friends who had walked with us through months of terrible disappointment, including an epic fail of an IVF cycle, had jumped at the opportunity to minister to us in our time of celebration.

To this day, it is one of the most beautiful things anyone has ever done for me (another being Calvin’s birthmother choosing us to be his parents), and I will never forget the amazement I felt when I walked into that room. Even Colin shed a few tears, on the outside.

Our friends put up signs around the nursery for Calvin’s homecoming. Best use of clip art ever.

“Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5b) Stay up with your friend now, during this long night of waiting, and you’ll get to rejoice with her that day she finally gets to hold her child in her arms. In the meantime, you’ll watch together how the Creator redeems broken expectation and transforms it into delayed – yet very much worthwhile – gratification.

Support group resources
RESOLVE support group list
Bethany Christian Services infertility and pregnancy loss forum
Dancing Upon Barren Land online support group
The Carry Camp weekend retreat
Hannah’s Prayer community forums

A tribute to Tummy Mommy

 

Due to the craziness of life I’ve been pretty terrible at keeping this blog updated. It isn’t for lack of timely topics about which I could wax eloquent: the Susan G. Komen/Planned Parenthood debacle, the Obamacare birth control mandate, and the reported demise of Khloe and Lamar’s marriage partly due to their struggles with infertility – if you think that’s the only thing driving them apart, apparently you don’t keep up with his insanely annoying in-laws.

What finally motivated me to get off my literary butt and write something was the celebration of a special day that for a few years brought me sadness and heartache. I thought about sharing a very Emo poem I wrote one Mother’s Day awhile back, but decided to save that for another time when I was feeling more pensive and melancholy. Instead of singing that same old song about my pain and suffering, I wanted to talk a little about an important person who has significantly shaped my life and blessed me with one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given.

Since adopting Calvin, I’ve fortunately not received many comments or questions about me being his “real” mother. This has always struck me as a silly thing to say, when you think about what “real” means. And I’m not talking about a full-blown Matrix-style ontological discussion; I just think it should be obvious in many cases that the adoptive mother is a real mother, and not some random woman posing as the child’s maternal caregiver. Of course, what people are really asking is if the adoptive mom is the biological mother, and for lack of understanding about the appropriate terminology, refer to the latter as the “real” mother.

Calvin is very blessed to have two women who love him extravagantly. As his adoptive mom, I get the incredible joy of caring for and nurturing him every day, fulfilling the traditional role of being a mother. His birthmother, or Tummy Mommy as we call her when with Calvin, does not get the opportunity to see him or take care of him on a daily basis, but her love for him is no less real or important. She carried Calvin for nine months and made a difficult decision to place him with an adoptive family because she loved him and thought that was the best plan to give him a full and happy life. And because of her decision, she gave me and Colin a much fuller and happier life.

Many people ask me what it’s like when we go visit our birthmother and her family, which we try to do 3-4 times a year. In all honesty, I kinda freaked out the first few times, but always before we saw her. In anticipation of our visits, I would worry that she would be jealous of me getting to take care of Calvin, or I would be jealous of her having a biological connection with him, which I believe is important even if the birthmother is living a terrible lifestyle and/or making poor choices (totally not the case with ours). And, because our adoption situation entailed a waiting period before parental rights were terminated, I was afraid that she might change her mind, even though she gave no indication of doing so.

However, by the grace of God, my fears were relieved every time we met up with her and her family, so much so that I was able to truly enjoy spending time with them and seeing them interact with Calvin. And now that we’ve hung out together several times, I look forward to seeing her and her family, and want them to hold Calvin and play with him as much as possible to make the most of our visits. Seeing the joy on her face as Calvin smiles and laughs with her makes me so happy, because I know what a wonderful little guy he is and how being with him makes my heart full, and I’m glad she gets to experience that, too.

This sharing of joy can be difficult to understand for those who have not adopted, or who do not have open, healthy relationships with their birthmothers, and frankly I didn’t get it either until we adopted Calvin. I have to give his birthmother much credit for being so mature about our interactions and for showing us a great deal of respect. The first day we met her, before we even got to see Calvin at the hospital, she referred to us as Mommy and Daddy. She clearly expressed her desires to have an open relationship with us and Calvin, and completely accepted the level of openness and communication guidelines we stated at our initial meeting. That first meeting at the adoption agency with her and her mom was quite incredible, because although everyone was understandably nervous at first, we hit it off right away, and it soon felt like we were old friends hanging out, shooting the breeze talking about sports. Colin joked that her family of Saints fans must’ve really liked us, as they picked our profile – which proudly displayed a picture of us in Seahawks gear – right after the Hawks beat the Saints in the playoffs.

And since then, we’ve felt more and more comfortable spending time with our birthmother and her family. We ask how they’re doing; they ask what’s going on in our lives. It’s cheesy to say, but it does feel like we’re one big extended family. They give Calvin toys and clothes, and she often gives me or Colin a special little gift that she knows we’ll like – for example, she knows I love frogs and did a frog-themed nursery for Calvin, so she got me some frog-shaped soap bars along with antibac lotion from Bath & Body Works, one of my favorite shops.

I know this friendly, close relationship is not the case in other adoptions. Sometimes the birthmother and/or father cannot and/or should not have an open relationship with their children, and that’s OK. I’m a proponent of open adoption but don’t think it should be a requirement, and also understand that there are infinite shades of openness depending on the comfort level of the individuals involved. I’m thankful that we do have a good relationship with Calvin’s birthmother and her family, and that he will grow up knowing that many people love him.

Beyond our mutual love for Calvin, I admire and appreciate his birthmother for modeling God’s love in an amazing way. Most people, when talking about adoption and Christianity, emphasize the adoptive family’s role and the way they demonstrate how God adopted us sinners into His family of redeemed saints. This is true, and one of the reasons why I think adoption is so beautiful. However, people don’t often acknowledge the role of the birthmother, and how her sacrificial love for her child mirrors the Father’s love in sending His Son to die for us, and Christ’s love in willingly choosing to suffer death in order to give us life. Calvin’s biological mother, the one who brought him into existence and sustained him for nine months of growth and development, chose to give her son to someone else because she loved him and wanted to protect him more than she loved and wanted to protect herself. It is such a stunning picture of our Savior’s sacrifice that it brings to mind a refrain from an oldie but a goodie, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross: “love so amazing, so divine.”

I have many, many women to be thankful for on Mother’s Day: my own mom, who never tires of caring for and faithfully serving others; my grandmothers, who lived full lives honoring Christ and are now home with Him; my mother-in-law, who provides continual encouragement; and my grandma-in-law, who makes me feel like an important part of the Hesse family and tells great stories that I get to hear more than a few times. 🙂 And I am forever grateful for the mother who made it possible for me to be a mother. I thank her for the gift of our son.