Labor is excruciating. Adoption is a long, slow trial by fire.

Having gone through both, I can say with confidence that no matter how you become a parent, bringing children into your family is a mix of death and new life, intense pain and unspeakable joy, grief and hardship somehow morphing into fulfillment and recurring newness.

My husband and I have four children–some of them born to us biologically, some brought to us through the gift of adoption, and some still in the in-between of foster care. Each of our children has been completely wanted, and yet each was still a surprise. Over the past five years, I’ve given much thought to the differences and similarities between adoption and giving birth. I’ve come to the conclusion that, at least for me, the two are more similar than they are different.

Carrying a child in my body, laboring for hours to bring that child into this world, and then recovering for weeks or months (or in the case of my firstborn, years) was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

But then, I had the moments where that child was laid on my chest and I kissed brand new skin for the first time. I have the wonder of looking into brown eyes that look just like my daddy’s, and watching my son develop a brilliant mind he inherited from my husband. There is DNA shared. There is a physical bond from months being literally tied together by a chord that lent lifeblood and nourishment from my body to his.

Adopting a child was the most powerless feeling I have ever experienced. I had no say over my son’s future. I gave him everything within me, and yet someone else was in charge of every detail of his life. Adopting through foster care meant that I wasn’t even allowed to show how much I wanted to keep him as my own. I was in the system, and I had to play the part.

Yet, I had the overwhelming wonder of holding a little child who looks nothing like me, and whispering “Mama’s got you, baby. I’m never going to leave you. You’re safe.” I felt the strong and tender grip of love wrap around my heart the same way those tiny fingers wrapped around mine. After years of viewing this child as my very own, I got to stand before a judge and vow to love him and raise him as my own flesh and blood, my legacy becoming his.

Giving birth ripped apart my body. Adoption ripped apart my heart. Both made me a mother.

The Labor of Becoming a Parent - Choosing Day One // Learning to Live Courageously

I have four beautiful souls who call me mommy and look to me for their every need. I have equal bonds with each of them. My relationship looks different with each child because each of their personalities is so unique.

I find a tendency in our world to want to gloss over differences in order to make sure that our adopted children and our biological children feel equally loved. I have found that trying to ignore the differences in my children has only brought more fear into my heart. When I worried that I felt a stronger physical bond with my infant who I was nursing than with the infant who was being fed through a machine pumping milk into his belly, my tired mind amplified the fear. The truth was that I spent hours every day holding, snuggling, and caring for each of them.

The devil wants nothing more than to drive wedges between parents and our children, and he will use whatever lies necessary to do so. As a parent of both biological and adopted children, I have to actively choose to ignore the lies. To dispel them, even, with truth.

This is the truth:

My children are miracles–every one of them. I have given my heart and soul and body and sleep and all the selfish parts of my personality that desire my own comfort. In return, I have been given LIFE. I have the wonder of watching four children grow up strong and confident, each of them being loved and loving in return. I have been given the opportunity to TRUST, again and again, that God is in control.

My body is no longer in pain from pregnancy and childbirth, but there are parts of me that will never recover. These scars and sometimes aches are an honor to bear. In the same way, there will always be emotional aches as we navigate raising adopted children. Discussions of birth families and the unknowns of their ancestral history and dealing with the thoughtless comments from strangers about whether I am their “real mom”.

But the greatest truth I can find in all this beautiful, aching mess of parenthood is this: Each of my children is my own, given to me by God.

People will often say things about adoptive families, not intending to be insensitive, but just unaware of how their words affect us. I try to give grace in most cases, but the one that is hardest to hear is when people will say, when introducing our family, “They have two of their own, and two who are adopted and in foster care.”. Or “So are these two your own?”. I’ve often heard from people, when they find out that we have adopted, comments like “Oh, yes, my niece and her husband adopted, because they couldn’t have any of their own.”.

This phrase “your own” is like nails on a chalkboard for me, especially as my children grow and become more aware of what people are saying. Because let me assure you, ALL of my children are my own.

I have labored intensely for each of their lives. I have spent countless sleepless nights holding them. I have fed them, changed them, taught them, disciplined them, cried over them. I have rejoiced over their health and cared for them in sickness. I have studied their personalities and learned how each one needs to be loved. I have spilled tears and spilled laughter, yelled and then apologized, made huge mistakes and learned from them and then made more. I have had growing pains right along with my children. Coming from all our brokenness and tragedy and desire, we have become one family, pulsing with life and blood and honesty.

So, yes, these two are my own. And so are these two. There are huge differences in their stories and how they came to be my own, and some of the stories are still ongoing. We will acknowledge and celebrate those differences as we grow together.

Each of my precious children is a gift that I do not deserve. Pregnancy, foster care, labor, adoption–all these are elements that made me a mother. I am unspeakably thankful for the whole painful and glorious story, and I would do it all over again for the privilege of loving these beautiful souls.

Have you considered adoption or foster care? I would love to know your story, and to answer any questions you may have about the process! Leave me a comment, or send me an email!

Photos by Joy Prouty

More posts you might like:
How We Got Started in Foster Care
Embracing the Ancestors of My Adopted Son
I Can’t Be Everything for You – A Letter to My Children