For six sweet months, I was a mom. I freaked out over every bump on the freeway as we brought home our foster son from the hospital. I quickly learned how to swaddle his tiny frame to help him sleep more soundly. It also didn’t take me long to jump to pro status in the diaper changing category. I found crazy new ways to bounce and sway as I settled him. And I figured out how handy it could be to keep a few pacifiers in the console of my car, knowing he would spit his out and start screaming not long after we got on the road.
I fed him, burped him, played with him, and advocated fiercely for him as his case moved through the foster care system. He was mine. And I was his—his mom.
Then, one day, he was gone—the judge deciding he should be with his birth family. And suddenly, I was no longer a mom. I had no one to soothe, no one to frantically make bottles for, and no one to cradle in my arms.
As hard as it was to lose him, I would learn in the weeks and months to come just how difficult it was to lose my identity as a mom. I went from struggling through the high highs and crazy low lows of motherhood to nothing—to an empty nursery and a broken heart.
Knowing and caring for him forever changed me. I didn’t revert back to my pre-foster-son self when he left. There was no reset switch—and I wouldn’t have wanted one anyway.
But all around me, life moved on. I felt frozen, stuck in limbo. I had experienced motherhood in all its fullness and frailty, but I no longer had a child to call my own. The world around me no longer recognized me for who I was—and who I still am—a mom.
Since then, every time someone has asked, “Do you have kids?” all I hear is, “Are you a mom?” And I’ll be honest—I’m not sure I’ve always responded as graciously as I should. I’ve found myself saying, “No, but we’re adopting! And we had a foster son—for six months! But he’s now with his birth family…”
Oh, those poor people. They thought they were asking an innocent question. Little did they know they were striking an all-too-raw nerve.
I realized my responses were falling squarely in the TMI category, but I justified it by saying I wanted to validate my foster son and his time with us. While that’s partly true, I’ve realized since that what I was really validating was my motherhood.
My role as a mom felt threatened, ignored. And it hurt me, to my core.
I was talking to a sweet friend of mine one afternoon, and she said, “You ARE a mama, Shannon. And I can’t wait to meet the next little one who will call you that.”
I couldn’t hold back the tears. I felt validated—like someone finally saw me for who I still was, despite my empty nursery.
These days, I’m learning to embrace the part of me that is still a mom, learning that it’s okay to share funny “mom” stories, and to offer tips on what worked for us with our foster son.
I’ve also found that my experience with motherhood gives me beautiful empathy for other moms in the thick of raising little ones, while allowing me to resonate deeply with those still waiting, praying, and aching for a child to call their own.
What a precious gift from our great God.
If you’ve lost a little one, you haven’t lost your motherhood. It’s ingrained in you—and will be part of you forever. It makes you more selfless, more loving, and somehow able to run on little to no sleep.
Friends, if you know someone who has lost a little one, no matter the situation, would you affirm her? Affirm her role as a mom. And affirm that her journey to motherhood hasn’t come to an end.
When we take the time to really see others and to speak into their lives, we get to live in breathtakingly beautiful community. Grateful to do that with each of you.