“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.

Turning Over

When I was a little girl, I often went to the lake with my dad. Dad, a professional fisherman, spent countless hours on the lake with me right in tow. There was one time per year that we didn’t get in the water or didn’t even go there very often. “The lake is turning over, Carrie,” my dad said. By turning over, he meant all the junk and dead waste rose to the top, revealing the unseen ugliness in the depths below. It returned to its beauty and splendor once it finished this change.

Over the past few weeks, the image of a turning-over lake has filled my mind. Fires have raged. Grief has poured out. All of it exposing the soiled parts of our country; the stains of our past and dirt of our present time.

We’ve all watched the debates and visceral reactions to these three words: “Black Lives Matter”. Just three words but enough to bring people’s full attention. Hit hard by the yearning of unspoken voices who no longer want to be silenced. Nor, should be.

When I first started telling people about my hysterectomy and struggle with barrenness, no one said to me, “Well, you know, Caroline. All stories of infertility matter.” While this is true – that everyone’s stories of infertility or hardship matter – saying this in response to a cry for help or someone’s attempt to invite others into their world is so belittling; ignorant of the important message carried within each and every single story.

Throughout this time, I’ve reached out to black friends about their experiences with earnestness to listen..

“Can I ask you a question? I want to make sure I understand what I think I understand” I said.

“Sure”, she said.

“I want to make sure I understand white privilege – that it means I haven’t had to face what you’ve had to face.” Her eyes opened up a bit more. She sighed, and nodded.

Our conversation unfolded into one that broke my heart. She told me the things she worries about and has to do in order to maintain a small measure of felt safety in this world. She then moved on to talking about her children. Telling them how they should talk, what they should avoid wearing, the actions they take, etc.

I lost it. Tears came; breaking down my heart piece by piece. Guilt and shame and profound sadness hit me hard. My friend is a person of color living in this land of the free, home of the brave.

As a white girl, I’ve been ignorant of the things I’m free from:

  • being followed around by security guards in stores
  • having to prove I can pay for a meal
  • being accused of shoplifting because I carry a large purse
  • people moving away from me because I sat down next to them in a restaurant
  • being called derogatory names
  • anxiety when being pulled over
  • having to teach my kids what to say, how to dress or act based on the color of their skin (so that people won’t get the “wrong” impression)
  • being questioned if I belong in a certain neighborhood

In the foster care and adoption community, we focus on connecting before correcting. A major part of connection is to validate one’s story and to not minimize the impact of trauma on their lives. So, when I hear people say, “Black Lives Matter”, I say, “Yes, they do.”

And then I turn to Jesus. I think of all the various people he walked with; stories of pain, guilt, sin and loss. Jesus was specific when he addressed each person or crowd. If only we could listen like him. As a believer, I know that racism is the antithesis of Jesus; a slap in the face of every single thing that he lived and died for.

A part of our national history is based on devaluing the lives of non-white people. Systemic racism took root in our landscape and has never gone away. Friends, when we fall at the altar of God, will we be able to say we fulfilled the directive of Proverbs 31:9? (Speak up, judge righteously, and defend the cause of the oppressed and needy.) That we sought justice for those in need of it? That privilege blinded us from seeing the existence and experience of others? Instead of sitting in silence, will we stand and shout?

As our nation is turning over, showing us the yuck and filth below, will we choose to look away because it’s more comfortable? I sure hope not. Resistance to discomfort brings change and progress to a stop – in our own lives, in the life of our nation.

As a young girl, I didn’t like looking at the lake when it turned over. It was gross, especially when realizing all the nastiness that was below me when swimming at one point. However, I waited with hope for it to be made anew. Turning over was essential.

Watching our nation turn over doesn’t disgust me. Instead, it moves me to take a closer look at myself, seek out others whose life experience has been different and to listen like Jesus. I’m standing with hope, eager for change and looking forward to a future free from the debris of systemic racism and injustice.

“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

When You Know Their Names

My supervisor walked over with a large file stuffed full of documents, set it down on my desk and said, “Here’s your first case. Make sure to read it and let me know if you have any questions.” I looked at it with apprehension; fearful of what I would see. Slowly, opening the binder, I saw her name. It’s odd how personal and raw it becomes when you know their names.

Like the beginning of a new book, I didn’t know quite what to expect but was eager to read it. Graphic details chronicling the abuse that occurred caused my heart to speed up a bit. I pushed the file away, sat back in my chair and took a deep breath; fighting tears.

Reading an account of a child’s life; one that included sexual abuse and neglect, gutted me. Word by word. Sentence by sentence – the unraveling of what should’ve been a happy and safe childhood. Placement disruption and behavioral issues – all of which added to the texture of trauma in this child’s life. Her life carries the weight of those first few years, even after adoption.

Coming from a safe and stable childhood free of maltreatment, I was unaware of the depth of abuse that occurs in our neighborhoods. As a caseworker, I delved into darkness to which has never really left me. Because of it, I’ve changed. Perhaps, for the better.

When you know their names, everything changes.

May is National Foster Care Month in the U.S. The goal is to bring awareness to the needs of children and the system. It’s easy to look at child abuse statistics and think, “What a shame.” It’s much harder to look away when you know the child’s name.

As we close out this month, my hope is that awareness will stir the hearts of people to dig deep and reach out to at-risk families, children and others involved in the system. It isn’t pretty. It won’t feel good (not very often, at least), but I’d like to think every footstep made toward hurting children and families will cause walls to fall. (Think Jericho and the walls tumbling down.)

And from the crumbled up remains of broken down walls, a movement of hope and resilience will grow causing a better future for all of us. It’s more than a “like to think” thing. Actually, I cling on to that hope.

Idealistic? Maybe. Unrealistic? Perhaps.

But as I said earlier, when you know their names, everything changes.

4 Things You Need to Teach to Raise Well-Adjusted Kids

Note: “4 Things You Need to Teach to Raise Well-Adjusted Kids” is a guest post by Kristin Louis over at parentingwithkris.com. Head on over to her blog for more articles on raising children.

In the age-old battle of nature versus nurture, the latter is undoubtedly preferable as it’s well within one’s control. With that said, it’s your responsibility as parents to not leave anything to chance when it comes to raising your children. Here’s a nifty guide on effectively nurturing the most important traits in your children in age-appropriate ways.

Teach Empathy

Empathy is what sets humans apart, but it’s not an innate trait. 

How to Teach Empathy (Ages 3 to 4)

Empathy in the Classroom: Why Should I Care?

How to Help a Teenager That Has No Empathy

Teach Self-Discipline

Discipline should not be about controlling your child. 

The Importance of Teaching Kids Self-Discipline

5 Ways to Manage Tantrums and Meltdowns

An Age-by-Age Guide To Disciplining Your Kid

Home Safeguards Encourage Self-Discipline in Teens

Teach Positive Thinking

Teaching your kids to take the negative in stride and mindfully choose positivity sets them up for success mentally and emotionally.

Kids as Young as 5 See Benefits of Positive Thinking

7 Activities to Help Your Child Develop a Positive Attitude

Prevention of Internalizing Disorders in 9–10-Year-Old Children

For Teens Knee-Deep In Negativity, Reframing Thoughts Can Help

Teach Boundaries

Teaching kids to set and respect boundaries paves the way for healthy relationships.

Why Kids Need Boundaries

When Your Toddler Starts Testing His Limits

5 Books to Help Teach Kids About Healthy Boundaries

How to Talk to Teenagers About Consent, Boundaries, and Self-control

Yes, there’s no question that raising kids will be a challenge that requires a great deal of patience. Being well-armed with the right resources and information such as these will, no doubt, make the job easier, and a successful one at that.


Today is the Day, Birth Mother

Today is the the day, Birth Mother. On this day twelve years ago, we walked out of the courtroom with our forever. But I can’t and I won’t forget that it’s also been twelve years since you last kissed him good-bye.

Sometimes, I close my eyes and imagine us back in the room where we used to visit. That stale room didn’t speak of the love flowing from it. Colorless walls didn’t paint the scene of two strangers brought together on behalf of a new, precious soul. We spent so much time in that room. Holding him, soothing him and swapping stories of life.

And then, we had to say goodbye to the room where our story took flight. One final goodbye. We embraced and exchanged well-wishes. But they didn’t serve justice to the journey we just traveled. Our road coming to an end. You held him and kissed him. Oh, the bittersweet taste of that final kiss.

Beautiful and broken all at the same time.

I don’t know what it would be like to exist in your shoes; to carry the ghost of a child you barely knew. I don’t want to imagine it but I can’t help myself. The truth is that a piece of my heart walked away with you on that day and it has never returned.

Today is the day, Birth Mother. As we ate cake and celebrated adoption, you were on my mind. You’ve never left. How could you? I don’t want you to. I don’t ever want to forget you. Because of him. Because some stories should never be erased.

The closer he gets to being an adult, the more I feel the pain; that urging to slow things down, revisit earlier years, and hang on even tighter. Even that feels selfish. For you, he’s still that clumsy little babe who cooed and giggled at the sound of our voices. Moments captured in time. Ones that never aged.

Beautiful and broken all at the same time.

Today is the day, Birth Mother. Years ago, the gavel fell and that chapter closed. But a continuation of our story emerged; one of challenges and cheer, of laughter and fear. You haven’t been here for it, of course, but in many ways your presence is still felt.

In my mind’s shadows of that old visit room.

In his laugh.

And his heart.

In his crooked smile.

And all the other things that make him delightfully who he is; who we are.

Beautiful and broken all at the same time.

The Summer of ’76

It was the summer of ’76 when my dad drove our family to California for a vacation. I was four-years-old in the backseat of a sweaty, hot car as we made our way to the Golden State – approximately 1,900 miles from my hometown. When we arrived, we checked in at the hotel and then headed straight to the beach. Warm sand hitting my toes. Sun setting across the distant ocean. Taking in the glory in front of us.

I cautiously approached the water with my green flip-flops on. Dipped my toes in and then took a few steps. The tide came up, pulled my flip-flops right off of my feet and swept them out to sea. Dad exclaimed, “Jaws got them!” as he tried to cheer up his sad little girl. (The original movie just came out the summer before our trip. Plus, about a mile from our beach, someone caught the largest Great White in California history, at that time.)

The rest of the beach vacation consisted of me digging holes in the sand, running close enough to the water to fill a small bucket, and pouring it in the sand; my attempt at building my own little ocean so that I didn’t have to go where Jaws lived.

Ocean animals have terrified me ever since. I love looking at the ocean, but you won’t ever catch me swimming in open water. I won’t book cruises and can barely watch movies that contain deep water/giant creatures that could eat me for lunch.

My four-year-old brain heard my Dad say, “Jaws got them!” My brain signaled that the ocean and sharks are something to avoid. Digging a hole to create my own little ocean was a way for me to build a safe place where I knew I could survive without the giant monsters looming in the water.

This is similar to what we see with children who have experienced trauma. (For the record, I’m absolutely not saying that my experience at the ocean is as serious as traumatic events of abuse.) This experience instantaneously changed my view of the ocean and it has stayed that way ever since the summer of ’76. The holes I dug really didn’t create more safety for me even though my brain convinced me otherwise.

Just as happy experiences alter development of the brain (in a positive way), trauma does so as well. But not in a good way. Instead, the brain develops patterns for survival. For some kids, it may look like hoarding food even though there is plenty to eat. For others, it could be locking every door they enter just in case someone tries to come in.

Some kids run away from their caregivers (even ones who are safe) and keep running to avoid any type of attachment or relationship. Kids may lie to avoid a beating, although they are no longer in an environment where beating occurs. For others, it looks like claiming control of everybody and everything they can (even animals) because they could not control what happened to them in the past.

Changing the landscape to which kids from hard places view life includes us changing our perceptions of trauma. The brain controls our action – even when we don’t understand it. From fear to elation, everything that happens all comes to down to brain chemistry, connectivity and development.

When I revealed that his words forever altered my view of the ocean and aquatic life, my dad was quite surprised. He had no idea that experience in the summer of ’76 had an impact on me. Families who care for traumatized children mustn’t be surprised when the child pulls away from nurturing or hides food in their sock drawer. Or, runs away from the home. They need to know that it isn’t the child’s response to them but to trauma.

As we end National Child Abuse Prevention Month and move into Foster Care Awareness Month in the US, let’s strive to truly and deeply understand trauma and the subsequent life-long impact it has on the developing brain.

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.

April Showers Bring May Flowers

April showers bring May flowers. Seems like a perfect time to focus on this thought. I wanted, better yet, needed to change the tone of our home life since being in a shelter-in-place status. The moods of our children and my husband and I have not been the best. (Embarrassed to admit that.)

Last night, after taping a paper petal-less flower that I created to the wall, I called the kids together and had them sit down in front of it.

“You know this is a difficult time for everyone and I haven’t been in the best of moods, lately. But God reminded me today that there we can always find things to be thankful for even in hard times. You may not know this, but you are living in a major historical event.”

“Really?!”

“When I worked in a nursing home, I got to talk to an elderly man who was a child during the 1918 Spanish flu. What we’re going through right now is like it because this virus is happening right now around the world. Do you know what the man remembered about it? How his mom and dad kept him and his siblings safe and alive because they had to stay indoors all of the time.” (I didn’t tell them about how his mom used whiskey as medicine. They don’t need that idea.)

I went on to tell them that even though this older man remembered how bad the flu was, he also remembered the good things that happened while being kept safe in his house.

“I know it’s hard to be in the home all of the time, but we can always find things to be thankful for. April showers bring May flowers and what we’re going through right now is similar to a storm. But, guess what? There are things each day that we can be happy about and hopefully, in May, there will be lots of flowers.”

I then pointed to the giant flower on the wall. “I made a lot of petals out of paper. Each day when you wake up or throughout the day if you think of something you are thankful for, write it down, put your name on it and give it to me to tape up. When this is over, we can look at our flower in full bloom!”

Each kid grabbed a petal and wrote something they’re thankful for today. My husband and I did as well.

April showers bring May flowers. My hope is my kids will learn that even when things seem uncertain, we can always find a reason to be thankful.

“I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.” – Psalm 9:1

Faith over Fear but Not Being Foolish

“I’m scared I’m going to get the virus.” His chocolate eyes looked up at me as he mumbled these words. “Don’t be scared” I said to assure him. “Remember when I told you guys that we need to have faith over fear but not be foolish?” This is why we are staying in the house as much as we can. “Okay…”, he said before relaxing into his bed.

Faith over fear but not being foolish. I’ve done my best to teach my kids this thought while also clinging to it as well. It’s hard, isn’t it? Not hard to be faithful. At times, not hard to be foolish (although we can do a really good job at being quite foolish). The fearful thing – yeah, that one. It’s a challenge to not fear.

Even as believers, our minds wander into the world of “what if”. I know I’ve found myself wondering what life would look like if I got this virus or if anyone I treasure does. These meanderings of my mind do not help. They don’t keep us safe or prevent us from getting exposed to it. Instead, they remind me of just how human we really are; how vulnerable we are.

Friends, this is what I have experienced in my life and believe: we may be strong and healthy one day, then completely broken down the very next day. Our physical bodies – flesh and bone – are Earthly. Our soul is not. And maybe that is one of the main consolations we can hang onto at this time.

Instead of focusing on what is going wrong or our fears, perhaps, focusing on what is going right would do our souls well. In my city, a Facebook group dedicated to helping each other through this has revealed so much. I’ve lost count on the number of times people have offered to shop for someone else or give advice on how to remedy a situation. I’ve woken up to messages checking on my family and have exchanged lots of “I love you’s” this week.

Faith over fear but not being foolish. In some respects, watching the chaos and ashes unfold around us reminds me that the Lord can make beautiful things out of dust and ashes.

Love is greater than fear. What a gift that is to witness.

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.