Feeling Like an Imposter
On a spring day many years ago, Crystal was about to leave the hospital after giving birth the day before. We’d recently met through an adoption agency, and we’d suddenly bonded when she went into labor two days prior. She spent the morning teaching me how to change a teeny-tiny diaper as her four year-old son looked on. I was full of excitement and self-doubt. Tessa, this precious newborn, was clearly Crystal’s baby — you could see it in the bow of her lips, the shape of her eyes. I was about to leave the hospital with another woman’s baby (with her permission and blessing, of course).
Two years later on another spring day, Michele placed her baby boy, whom she was not in a position to care for at that time, into my arms during an Entrustment Ceremony in the conference room of the adoption agency that we’d both consulted. His tuft of fine blond hair, the same color as hers, emphasized the fact that Reed was hers. Would forever be.
Those early days of gaining my footing in the mom-arena were a challenge. I felt like an imposter. In the moments when I was overwhelmed by the new responsibilities of motherhood, first to one child and then to two, I wondered if there had been a giant mistake. What divine entity thought it was a good idea for me to raise somebody else’s children? (Oddly, it must have been the same divine entity that I bowed to in gratitude on a daily basis.)
The Real Mom Dilemma
I was stuck in an Either/Or mindset. Either they were the mothers of these children or I was. Either they had a real connection or I did. Either they were legitimate or I was. Because the influence of Crystal and Michele on my children was so evident, I feared for a time that I wasn’t bona fide, that I wasn’t a real mom.
But in listening to others in the adoption constellation — birth parents, adult adoptees, other adoptive parents and tuned-in adoption professionals — I was able to make a profound shift, which I’ve documented here on my blog for nearly 10 years.
You might expect that eventually I came to accept that I had replaced their first mothers as “Mom.” And you would be partly right.
I did move fully into the role of Mom. Developing a 20-deep repertoire of lullabies and singing each one every night will do that to you, as will changing countless diapers, becoming a spatterground for body fluids from every orifice, and later being both the tooth-brushing and homework-doing Nazi. Tessa and Reed, now teens, are most definitely mine. I fully claim them and they fully claim me.
But there was no replacing. As Crystal and I share in our book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption, which is on recommended reading lists of adoption agencies around the country — instead of operating from that Either/Or mindset, we shifted to a BothAnd heartset. Crystal claims Tessa and Tessa claims Crystal. Michele claims Reed and Reed claims Michele. My children are claimed by and able to claim both their clans — those by biology and those by biography. Not just by their birth mothers but also by their birth fathers, birth siblings, birth grandparents and birth aunts-and-uncles. You are as likely to see my children’s birth parents cheering from the sideline at a sporting or school event as you are to see my own mom and dad. You might call us a hyper-extended family.
So yes, I am raising someone else’s children. And that’s okay because at the same time, I am also raising children of my own.
Lori Holden, mom of a teen son and a young adult daughter, writes from Denver. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful anytime gift for the adoptive families in your life. Catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.
Lori was honored as an Angel in Adoption® in 2018 by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.