Childless Mothers – The Beauty & Grief of Being a Foster Mom

Jason Johnson, foster care, Elaina Avalos,

What makes a woman a mother?

Is it biology? I mean, yes. Duh.

But it’s more than that. Sometimes we are loved best by those who don’t share a single tie to us biologically. We’ve come up with a term for it – framily.

Sometimes a mom by biology doesn’t want to be or is not capable of being a mom.

I’m a mom. I was a mom. “My” boy isn’t with me anymore. But I love him fiercely and always will. Today, in this quiet house void of noise, chaos, and without the boy mess left in his wake, I fight for the words to express the love, loss, grief, and the hope I fight to find.

Beyond the grief of saying goodbye to my boy, I grieve the loss of the family that I had waited so long to have.

Motherhood was my biggest dream and deepest longing. As I’ve faced the reality of having said goodbye to this little boy who I thought made me a mom, I started to wonder if I had also lost motherhood too.

I mean, I was childless before. I’m childless again.

There have been more than a few times in the last three weeks that I’ve wondered if I can ever do this again {foster or adopt}. I don’t think I can answer that question for quite some time.

But I did begin to wonder what truly makes a woman a mother. For my friends who have never given birth, but love another’s child as their own, here’s what I know for sure . . . you are a mom.

I am a mom.

If you comfort a child in their grief and in the midst of them facing tremendous trauma, you are a mom.

If you wipe their tears, comfort them when they’re sick, and cheer them on when they are facing their Goliaths, you are a mom.

If you clean up the puke, the pooh, and your boy’s uncanny ability to get pee everywhere, you are a mom.

If you advocate, fight for, and sacrifice for a child, you are a mom.

If you endure court, biological families that may hate you, constant unknowns, lack of resources & support for a child you didn’t give birth to – but love with all of your heart, you are a mom.

If you endure school fairs with junk food, hyped-up-kids, and blow cash on crazy games your kid can’t win, you are a mom. If you endure Chuck e Cheese, you are also a saint.

If you held your child on his last day of school, when he sobbed, as he said goodbye to his friends and 1st grade teacher, you are a mom.

If you walked hand in hand with him as he started his first day of school nervous about the year ahead, you are a mom.

If you were physically pained because of your child’s pain, you are a mom.

I may not have shared biology. I could never replace his first & forever mom.

But I was a mom.

I am a mom.

You, my hurting friend, if you find yourself here – you are a mom. What you did for that little {or big} child in your care was and is a beautiful gift that will forever be part of their journey.

I know you worry whether it’s part of their healing journey {did I make a difference, you ask} – but I can say with confidence that the only way any child can heal from trauma, is to learn to trust adults, be nurtured & loved unconditionally, and to bond.

What you’ve built into your child, no matter how long or how short, will last forever and will not return a void.

Your pain, your grief, and your loss may not be understood. People may not realize what it feels like. You may feel alone. But you are not. You are going to hurt and grieve. Others may not understand. But I do.

Let yourself grieve. Rest in the knowledge that your grief is a sign of how deeply you loved. The depth of your love is woven into their story forever – the best and good parts of their story. That is a beautiful gift.

Nothing Will Fall Out As You Expect

north topsail island, topsail beach“Nothing will fall out as you expect. Your guide will keep to no beaten path. He will lead you by a way such as you never dreamed your eyes would look upon. He knows no far, and He expects you to fear nothing while He is with you.” – Streams in the Desert

I’ve been reading the Streams in the Desert devotional on and off for many years. I don’t read it everyday anymore. Sometimes I open it on the exact day, in the exact moment, that I need to read it. Today, I opened it to the April 16th entry and it met me right where I’m at.

Nothing has happened like I expected and certainly not how I “planned.” There are days when this overwhelms me with grief. Today started off that way. It’s a holiday. That usually happens on holidays. I watched a video on Facebook {this one} and that threatened to take me a little further down the path to being overwhelmed.

I cried. I’m not going to lie. I started to wander down that ugly path that takes me to the inevitable end: wondering why it is that this life I’ve always wanted and dreamed of still remains so far off. Usually when that happens I don’t come back very quickly or easily. It takes me awhile to work my way back from the hurt.

But something different happened entirely. The sadness happened for the briefest of moments. And then I turned my thoughts towards what God has for me. The questions were there . . . why is what I want so far off? Why do You – God – keep all of this from me?

Something stirred in me though. Something different. The reminders of what I don’t have, were met with reminders of those who clung to hope, and their faith, long after it made sense to do so. The verse that goes along with the April 16th devotional is Hebrews 11:8. Hebrews 11 is always described as the faith hall of fame, in one way or another.

By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. – Hebrews 11:8

Whether it was Joseph {his story always means the most to me}, Abraham, Sarah, or Moses, yjey clung to promises long after reason and logic would tell them to do so.  They didn’t know where they were going. They didn’t take hold of the promise within an amount of time that seems reasonable {to me anyway}. And yet, they held on.

Holidays are always the hardest. I miss what is missing {obvi} and on these days I fear that it will always be this way. But today, against reason and logic, I know it won’t be. I know I’m just gearing up for the next adventure. My prayer today has been – lead me to the next adventure, Lord.

I’m ready.

Messy hair. Thirsty heart.


I drove my messy hair and thirsty heart here a short time ago. There are times when the pain is too much, and the ache too deep. Today? It’s one of those days. Oh is it one of those days.

Mother’s Day brings it out in me. At least in recent years. I try hard to let it slip by, but in the south, where politeness is a way of life, the constant refrain of “Happy Mother’s Day,” to every adult female, is too much.

I lost a baby. She would be close to 10. And now, at 40, I’m childless. The one title I’ve wanted for as long as I remember, I don’t have. I made it past my 40th birthday without facing this.

But I couldn’t escape it any longer. A few weeks back, I faced a disappointing moment in my career. I longed for a change because it was the only way I could fathom becoming a single mother through foster care & adoption. My schedule now, in my current job, is too erratic. It’s not that other people don’t do it – they do. But for me? I’m not sure I could choose to do it alone. I was raised by a single mother. I don’t have any lofty ideas about what it is and isn’t. But that’s the one reason why I needed and longed for this career change.

People I know from work were happy about this {they told me so} because it meant I would stay with them. But it broke my heart. They didn’t mean to hurt me, but the hurt piled up. What does one do when the only way you can imagine getting to the dream, goes up in smoke? Especially at a time that seems so ripe with meaning for women {turning 40}. Single women in particular.

Everywhere I turn today, however, are words and songs of encouragement. Last night, Ann Voskamp posted on her Facebook page about being brave. You can see it here. I saw it today however. I needed it. Right in that moment. Not last night when she wrote it. I have cried buckets today. And when feeling frustrated with my messy heart and tears, I read a quote that showed up “randomly” in my Facebook feed, about tears. It spoke comfort to my tired heart.

I could go on. There are other examples. I still don’t know if the pain will ever go away. I still don’t know why God answers some prayers and remains silent other times. I don’t know why some people are blessed with children and other dreams of their hearts, while others long. I don’t know why He hasn’t taken this desire from me if this isn’t to be my life.

But I know He is a good, good Father. Somewhere, beyond my vision, there’s peace – though I don’t feel it now. The things I’ve read & the songs I’ve heard remind me of this. I don’t know if there’s a reason, but I know there’s peace.

From the time I was a kid, the ocean brought peace into my life. My grandparents lived at the beach most of the summer and we stayed with them when it was possible.
We would nap with the fresh ocean air blowing past us and we would walk on the beach for hours. My Grandma Avalos was a woman with messy hair and a wild, artist’s heart. Our countless hours with her, when my brother and I were kids, taught me to dream big and wide. And as wild as my heart could take.

I’m sure she didn’t set out to do that. But messy haired women with wild, thirsty hearts will do that for you if you pay attention. Today, my messy hair & thirsty heart needed to sit by the sea to be reminded how to dream big and wide and as wild as my heart can take.

Because the God that made the ocean that gives me so much peace? He’s bigger still. And as wild and deep and wide as my dreams are, His for me are deeper still.

Everything is Changing

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De Luz, California

I’ve been in California since the 27th of August. My grandmother passed away on Saturday the 29th. I will have more to say on my Grandma, later. She was so special to me and the grief is close. But along with losing Grandma, there are other changes coming.

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IMG_6656My Mom, who has lived with Grandma for nearly ten years, and has taken care of her full-time for several years, is facing a transition. The house has a reverse mortgage so it goes back to the bank. Having spent the last few years taking care of Grandma, with me being in NC, and California being ridiculously expensive, it only makes sense for her to head east.

It’s the logical choice. But somehow, the thought of this has really put me in a bad mood. With my Mom moving to NC, I’m basically saying goodbye to “home.” Grandma’s house has been home base. Mom has been here – where I grew up. I come home once or twice a year, I see my family, eat a ton of Mexican food, stop at In N Out, enjoy mountain views and palm trees and then go back to my adopted home.

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Grandma’s yard – love the view of the mountains. Over the mountain is San Juan Capistrano.

We won’t be back for holidays. I won’t get my at least yearly break in So Cal and that leads to . . . when will I see the rest of my family? Granted, I don’t see them often anyway. It’s hard enough to find time to see my brother when I’m here, what happens when my Mom is no longer here? I can’t even imagine when I’ll see him, my aunts, cousins, etc., again.

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Grandma’s 90th birthday in July 20014. Most of my cousins are in this photo.

Everything is changing.

And then . . . as we’ve begun to go through my Mom’s and Grandma’s stuff, getting ready to pack some up, sell the rest, etc., I’ve had to go through some boxes left here, myself. My childhood flashed before my eyes! The things I’d saved, the things that mattered to me as a kid or young teen speak to the dreams that are still mine – still just dreams.

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Long story, longer . . . this has been an emotional trip home. There’s been plenty of tears to go around. And frankly, I’m uneasy about the future, sad to say goodbye to my beloved Grandma, and California. And I’m trying hard to hold on to the dream.

Somewhere in the midst of all of this, I still cling to hope that though each day is filled with joy, good work accomplished, and meaning, there is more on the horizon. While it doesn’t always feel like that in the moment, I’m going to trust that this is another step in the direction I’m meant to take.

Everything is changing. Challenging yourself to see change as an adventure isn’t easy. But finding the joy, living in the moment and being thankful for the beauty of life as it is, in all of its messy wonder, is worth it.