“Shouldn’t have been a mother”

“What would you say to an adoptive mother who still feels like God made her infertile because she shouldn’t have been a mother?” I received this message via one of my social media pages. Upon reading it, my heart dropped to my stomach with immediate empathy for the woman asking. The struggle she has with her children’s challenges directly connects to her feelings of unworthiness due to infertility. Sisters, this is such a brutal reality for many of us. I’ve faced this falsehood more than once.

It is vital to separate your infertility from any behavioral, academic, or mental health issues your children have. Children come to us from brokenness – regardless if it’s through foster care, international adoption or domestic adoption. Along the way, something broke within your child’s family of origin thus creating the need for adoption. Many children in need of adoption come from a place of trauma. This creates the need for a different way of parenting, and it can be so very heartbreaking and hard.

Add this on top of the trauma of infertility and you end up having a mix of weariness and sense of not being good enough. Infertility is just as much a spiritual and emotional battle as it is a physical one. I’ve questioned if I was equipped for this role of being a mom to three children with varying needs and difficulties.

We often feel like we weren’t meant to be a part of the motherhood conversation. And then, once we actually become moms through adoption and it doesn’t feel good, we do this thing with our minds where we venture back down that road of despair. The lies we once convinced ourselves of being true are now compounded by the one thing we thought would stop them – motherhood.

Separating infertility from the hardship of (adoptive) motherhood is complex. In every way, it takes intentionality. It takes awareness and vigilance because it’s easy for us to “go back there”. It’s far too effortless to damage ourselves with self-criticism.

But please hear me when I say this, the thoughts of not being good enough do not come from God. They just don’t. We are his jars of clay; his most precious treasure. He doesn’t tell us what we aren’t, can’t or shouldn’t be.

During those hard times when you think you shouldn’t have been a mother, let the whisperer of souls remind you of who you are and all that you were meant to be.

Your Worth is not Defined By Your Ability to get Pregnant

Your worth is not defined by your ability to get pregnant.

Read that again.

One of the many troubles this virus has caused is in the area of “non-essential” medical appointments. Infertility treatments and appointments fall into that category.

But for so many couples, these appointments feel essential. Crucial to their plans. Important to their dreams. Vital in their next step in building their family.

Imagine grieving and struggling with the loss that infertility brings, taking the courageous step to make a doctor appointment, and then getting the call that it has all been postponed. In an instant, fear and sadness creep in. All of that pent-up hope spills out.

But, friend, your worth is not defined by your ability to get pregnant.

I had to learn this over the years; to discover my worth is not caught up in that one aspect of womanhood. It wasn’t easy, of course. Usually, these things aren’t.

On this Easter weekend, please remember this.

You are more valuable than any riches on Earth.

God hasn’t forsaken you.

When Jesus headed up that hill to the Cross, he had you on his mind.

Your worth is not defined by your ability to get pregnant.

Remember this.

Medical Trauma Has Been on My Mind

Medical trauma has been on my mind. Despite, or maybe because of, the current pandemic that is disrupting all of our lives, I’m pressing onward in writing my story. I want to remember every detail; all of the moments of anguish just as much as the squeals of delight. Medical problems are traumatizing and often overlooked when we study trauma-informed care. I knew my mom would have more answers for me but I also knew that a hard conversation needed to occur.

“Mom, I need a favor. I’m working on a writing project and need for you to try to remember all of the details about my surgery and the time you spent at the hospital with me.”

“Um…well…I remember it as if it was yesterday but then I also have times during it that I’ve blocked out or something. I’ll try…I just don’t know if I can remember all of it.”

Within seconds, Mom started pouring out details of that fateful time in 1983. The paper quickly filled up with notes. I barely kept up with her. Her voice cracked a few times, followed by a drawn-out silence until picking back up where she left off. I knew she was holding back tears. I knew this was hard for her to go there again. As you can see in the image, Mom thought she couldn’t remember that much because of the stress involved at that time, but she did.

What I experienced is considered medical trauma. For her (and my Dad), it is also trauma induced by the near-death experience of their daughter.

Why am I telling this to you? Because medical trauma has been on my mind. I’ve been trying to dodge the fear of getting sick with this virus. I know, however, that it is a trauma-trigger for me. And, for anyone who has experienced significant, life-changing illness. It is also triggering for people who cared for those of us who survived serious illness.

Tonight, I’m thinking of all the people around the world who have just narrowly escaped death or the ones who are fighting it. I’m thinking about the health care professionals who are battling exhaustion and fear so they can keep someone else alive. My heart is with those who couldn’t be there for their loved one’s final days.

This virus is traumatizing for our society. As we push through it and prayerfully get through it, we will come out okay, but changed. Medical trauma is just as real and valid as any other form of trauma.

Let’s keep each other close in thought. Let’s check on each other, show grace and kindness. We will all remember the fear or worry that we are feeling right now, but we can also do our part in letting compassion and putting others’ needs in front of our own become just as memorable.

Momma-in-Waiting (Part 6)

Momma-in-Waiting, I remember you.

It’s been years but you’ve never left my mind. Standing behind a brochure-covered table at a conference, you made your way over to me. I recognized that sheepish grin. One filled with grief and forced onto your face. Your hands grazed over the brochures about adoption; nervously picking one up.

Before you knew it, your friends showed up. Excitement and eagerness written all over their faces. “Here, take this one!” they exclaimed while pushing the brochures onto you. “You should call them!” You stood there, frozen, politely telling your friends that you will think about it.

I wanted to grab you and run away. Take you far from the pain and the pressure. I couldn’t though. Instead, I was a witness to the turmoil you surely felt. As your friends moved on, you paused for a moment and looked up at me. I said, “Call me sometime if you have any questions or need to talk.”

Momma-in-Waiting, your well-meaning friends have no clue what you’re going through.

They try but will never be able to fully meet you where you’re at. That place is reserved for those moments of anguish. You know this far too well.

Momma-in-Waiting, I don’t know if you ever called me.

I talk to so many people throughout the day. Ones just like you. Calling out of curiosity, wanting to learn about adoption, but fearing the answer might not be what they need to hear.

It is hard navigating this strange new land, isn’t it? You dreamed of being a mommy. Married the love of your life and soon, baby-talk became a part of your conversations.

And, then. Nothing. Silence. Negative test after negative test.

You became fraught with worry. That worry turned into frustration. Frustration turned into despair. A few friends know and reach out to you, but don’t know what to say so they overcompensate with philosophical statements and impulsive reactions.

Others become silent. Their silence is nothing compared to the stillness you come to home every day. Your home isn’t filled with the giggles of children. The spare bedroom you once dreamed of becoming a nursery sits empty. Sometimes, you go in there and visit for a while. Laying on the floor and looking up at the ceiling, you imagine the joy that could fill that room. That room is one of emptiness but also of hope.

Hope creates courage. Courage generates resolve. Resolve produces tenacity. Tenacity gives rise to overcoming. And, sweet sister, you can overcome.

Momma-in-Waiting, hold on to that hope.

Let it be a guiding light.

It will carry you far.

This Journey We Are On

There are a lot of worries about this parenting gig. Raising kiddos who are neurologically different offers me multiple moments of worry. I know I’m not supposed to worry. I know that the Lord who knit them in their biological mothers’ wombs has already weaved the tapestry of their lives. I need to trust more; to trust this journey we are on.

Scrolling through some old pictures today, I came across this one taken by my friends at Freedom Photography back in 2013 (before the adoption of our youngest son & when I went through a dark-chocolate dyed hair phase – ha!). Looking at my kids’ tiny little faces with their scrunchy, sweet smiles greets me with great joy.

The statement on the chalkboards sends a ripple through my heart. We weren’t together at birth, but our journeys began together on those days; those laborious, wonderful moments. Those moments belong to their biological mothers. They always will.

If everything we experience is easy, I doubt we could call it a journey. Perhaps, we are meant to stumble a bit along the way so that we can learn how to rise after a fall. Or, maybe, we are meant to mess it all up so that we can know what it is to receive and offer grace. It might be that our hearts are meant to be torn apart so that we can know what it feels like when they are made whole. Maybe, the best part of the journey isn’t so much the final destination, but all the bumps, bruises, and tenderness in between.

I’m not perfect. I won’t ever be all I need to be for my children or my husband. I struggled today and probably will tomorrow. And, do you know what? That is okay. It’s going to be okay.

Pieced together by many little parts of the story – some joyful, some devastating. We are travelers in this journey, each with our own part to play.

My mom always reminds, “The right thing to do is never the easiest.”

And, goodness, this journey we are on isn’t easy, but it is so right. 

Podcast Interview and Thankfulness

Hey friends – Just a little note about a recent podcast interview and thankfulness.

It was 1983 when the words infertility/not being able to ever give birth first became a part of my vocabulary. People just didn’t talk about it, then. Not.At.All. To think of women (and men) throughout centuries who suffered in silence makes me ever-so-thankful for where we are now when it comes to this topic. We still have a long way to go for it to be understood, but we have made significant progress.

Recently, I had so much fun on a podcast called: Foster Care – An Unparalleled Journey. You can listen to my interview by clicking here.

As an adolescent, I knew that I had a lot to say about it but also wanted to keep it hidden out of shame. I thought, “maybe one day, I will write a book”, but it was a burden to carry, becoming heavier as each year passed. When given the opportunity to tell it now or write about it, I still feel a measure of the pain unpeel itself from me – even after all of these years.

Reminded of what the Lord can do with hardship. The Enemy can’t stand for us to be free of the things that were meant to bring us suffering. He would rather us live in misery, sticking to the labels we often give ourselves.

Keep speaking of those things. Keep walking in faith. Keep believing. YOUR story matters.

I also just want to say a big, “THANK YOU” for those of you who have reached out or have read my posts. Your kindness truly means so much.

The 11-yr-old girl I used to be would not believe how far we’ve come; how far she has come. She would be thrilled and dance with joy.

She would also be so encouraged and thankful for you.

Just a Little Longer, Baby

“Just a little longer baby” This thought has been a recurrent one in my mind as my oldest on approaches adulthood. After watching a him singing a song he made (around age 4 or so), I looked at my husband, started crying and said, “I miss this. I miss the little boy he used to be. It goes by so fast.”

We put a lot of emphasis on celebrating and grieving our “last babies”. I get it. I really do. But, oh man, there is something about watching our first babies grow up. It is a slow process of grief and yet, it seemingly happens overnight.

One day, your first baby is stacking blocks to his own amusement. Laughing at all the silly jokes. Crawling into your arms. Asking to be held. In the tiny, sweet voice, you hear, “Just a little longer, Mommy”.

And then, that little boy is gone. That voice is gone. All the silly jokes are gone. The amusement at stacking blocks is gone. Time is cruel. It steals from us – carries pieces of our hearts away. You look at your first baby and think, “Just a little longer, baby.”

I used to cringe when people would tell me that “it goes by fast”. It’s easy to get annoyed by this because you are just so darn tired and busy. I also used to wonder why elder women (and men) would stare at my babies, grinning to themselves, and giggle a bit. I know now. They were going back in their minds to when their babies were young; visiting a place from long ago, a tourist in a land they cannot stay in.

And now, I’m there. I’m a tourist walking through the land of memories of my first baby. We are getting closer to him becoming an adult. Gulp. In the blink of an eye, he went from being that curly-haired, goofy little dude to a teenager just five years removed from adulthood.

It isn’t fair. It doesn’t feel good. Sometimes, I feel that my heart just can’t take it. I don’t like being this kind of tourist. I don’t want to just visit that place from long ago. I’d rather move back there and do it all over again.

Just a little longer, baby.

Just a little longer.

Ramen Noodles and Trauma

A few days ago, I shared a story on my blog Facebook page (@barrentoblessed) about ramen noodles and trauma. Yes, ramen noodles and trauma. My cousin is a foster parent who recently adopted four siblings. She and her husband are also fostering the fifth sibling.

Here is the post as written by my cousin:

“Tonight, after 2.5 years of living here, my oldest son sat down at the table with this. He was about to chow down when I stopped him and asked what in the world he was doing.

He said, “I made myself dinner.”

“But it isn’t cooked. I can cook that you know.”

“Well, I wanted to eat something I used to eat a lot with my old family.”

So we sat down and I asked him to tell me about it. He said that they wouldn’t feed him due to being passed out (you can guess why) and he would have to make dinner for himself and his brothers (2 and 4 months when they came to us). He said that all the money they had would be spent on cigarettes and other fun things and so he would find change in their van and would buy Ramen packets at the store down the street (at 6!!!!).

He said he didn’t know how to boil water, so he would eat it like this. And, he actually grew to like it. So, he would break it up for his sibling, and would try to make bottles for the baby (at 6!!!!!!).

Guys. I asked him to make me some. And, I sat there beside him and crunched it down with lots of water because it’s not great…and he just started talking about how the first time I made them ramen, he wouldn’t eat it and I told him I remembered. He said it’s because it reminded him of his ramen packets and he didn’t trust me (big thoughts for 9!).

He said he isn’t sad he’s not with his “old family” (his words) anymore, but that sometimes HE LIKES TO REMEMBER HOW STRONG HE HAD TO BE.

I write this so everyone knows, trauma isn’t healed quickly (sometimes never), an adoption doesn’t erase the past or the memories, kids can change, they will change with love, and to never give up on a kid because “they are hard”. And then, I walked away in shock, in sadness, and so so so proud of how strong my baby is. He’s so wonderful. And, we love him so much.”

I ended it by saying this:

“Friends, THIS is the life experience of kids who come from hard places. THIS is living a trauma-informed life. We can’t imagine what kids from hard places have lived through. It is not just about one act of abuse or neglect, it is about living in survival mode and doing it day in and day out. It is about making sure younger siblings are also surviving, even at the expense of childhood.

Trauma infuses itself into every pore. Kids just don’t forget it. Their brains and bodies won’t let them. Those of us privileged enough (yes, I said privileged) to enter into the lives of children with hard life experiences must be willing to sit down, eat uncooked ramen noodles and listen. We must not give up.

Our kids didn’t.”

Something about this post shook people up. Before I knew it, the post took off and soon became viral – with a reach close to 18 million people, over 9,000 comments and over 160,000 shares. Good Morning America featured it on their website.

People were sharing their own stories of trauma, eating ramen noodles as children, and their experience with foster parenting kids who come from hard places. Overwhelmed. Surprised. Shocked by it all. I felt all emotions in just a short span of time.

Childhood trauma adversely affects children over a span of their lifetime. Trauma doesn’t happen overnight. It isn’t healed overnight. The more we listen to children, seek to understand their stories, and connect with them in a loving way, the better they WILL heal from trauma. I believe that and science proves it.

Was it kind of neat having a “viral” post? Yes. Thrilling to be featured by Good Morning America? Absolutely.

Do you want to know what really stirred my heart, though?

Witnessing love pouring out. Reading thoughts of people seeking to understand trauma. People sharing kindness, hope and prayers for children as well as foster families.

Imagine it – a world where hurting children are met by embracing love; where every child can call home a safe space.

Just picture it. I do. This is my hope. This is my prayer.

on this day of thankfulness

On this day of thankfulness, my childhood has been on my mind. Maybe, it is because my daughter is now the age I was when I had my hysterectomy. Sometimes, I see myself in her. Curious. Strong-willed. Lover of fluffy things. Empathetic. Other times, I don’t.

Barrenness rushed in like a thief in the night. It didn’t just steal from me at that time, in that present moment. It kept stealing each and every day as I grew up. A stalker. A shadow that didn’t go away. A reminder of what was missing.

On this day of thankfulness, I’m reminded of the power of restoration. That somehow, grace had the audacity to chase me down, prove me wrong and breathe love and life into my soul.

Thankful for a loving Heavenly Father who took my physical, emotional and spiritual brokenness and flipped the script.

Lightness out of darkness.

Fruitfulness out of barrenness.

Gratitude replacing grief.

On this day of thankfulness, I am truly blessed.

Dear (foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child (letter #8)

You sat across from me; worry and sorrow dripping from your pores. Your mind wracking with concern. Your heart aching for an answer. You said, “I was told this is how the system works. This is what I should expect.” For a brief moment, I froze in my seat; my own heart plunging into despair. Dear (foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child, the least comforting words you can hear are “This is how the system works.”

People say that to you, don’t they? They seem to just let it out without a care in the world. In the upside down that you are experiencing, there really are no care-free words. What you walk through each day is far from that.

I refuse to be someone who reminds you of how the system works. I won’t let you feel less validated or that you are in the wrong for having strong emotions. Actually, on the contrary, I welcome your feelings.

Dear (foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child, it’s okay to feel sad. It’s okay to wonder when you will have to let go or when you can finally rest in permanence. It’s completely well with me for you to be human.

If anyone knows “how the system works”, it is you. Sitting through weeks (maybe even months) of training about how to care for strangers’ children, your own childhood is being explored. Your financial statements are viewed, fingerprints logged, and friends are called upon to give a reference. You are studied over and over again – watching each and every move.

You show up at meetings and speak the truth that needs to be shared – how the stranger’s child you are loving on is doing. Court hearings, therapy sessions, and visits with anyone who is related to the child are just a part of your new normal. Case managers, licensing workers, attorneys and therapists knock at your door. You prep the child for what is to come of the day, wipe away the tears, comfort the wounds, take the wrath of trauma and whisper hope to the Heavens.

As you sit back and listen to everyone discussing a child whose future is unknown, you want so much to voice your opinion and in doing so, you tremble with fear that someone might think you are “sabotaging” this whole thing. You gain the courage to speak but with anticipation of hearing “this is how the system works”.

Dear (foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child, you deserve to be heard.

The reality is that you want so very much to see success. You are gutted at the thought of anyone living in despair. If you could, you would wrap the stranger, that has come into your life through a child, and nourish him or her with just enough healing and love to break the cycle and carry on. You desire to do this, even if it means a total loss for you.

There really is no other scenario in life where raw feelings of loss would be met with callous words. Would we say, “well, you knew it was coming”, to someone experiencing the death of a loved one? Gosh, I certainly hope not. Yet, in foster care, this is said a lot. These words do nothing to comfort. They fall flat on anguished hearts.

Dear (foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child, don’t forget that while the rest of the world might be judging you, the child you are caring for is growing and changing BECAUSE of you.

It’s okay to get attached – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Without attachment, there is emptiness. On the outside of love, there is stillness. When hope is left out, there is no future. This is how love works. It is unreasonable to expect anything less.

To love a child you may let go, is something that most people would not do. If this were easy, everyone would do it. Sure, all of this may be how the system works, but you know how resilience works, don’t you?

Stay strong, (foster) Momma. Never forget the impact you are making in this world. It has ripples. Those ripples become streams that soon turn into waves. It is more than just a “system”. It is our future.

For you, this is life. This is how you mark your place in the timestamp of history. Your love is changing generations.

Dear (foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child, don’t forget that.