I did not give birth to him, but I forget that part until someone asks me a question about my labor: I am his mother.
I never felt him move inside me, but I don’t even think about that unless someone asks me about my pregnancy (that I didn’t have): I am his mother.
Someone well-meaning told me that Leo was a “community baby”, when he was about three weeks old. Oh, how my head spun. I felt confused.
When I went home and processed that more, all I could think was that if my baby was a “community baby”, where was everyone at three o’clock in the morning? Where was everyone when I walked my house patting his bum, day after day? Why was my baby any more of a “community baby” than yours?
I remember the other time when someone was asking me about my little boy and a friend came up and promptly said, “Well, you know he’s a prison baby don’t you?”
The words burned.
There was truth to those words. My little boy’s loving, biological mother is serving a sentence in prison. This is true.
But my boy, my son Leo…the one I rock time after time, the one who dirties bottles I constantly have to wash out and sometimes creates more laundry than my husband and I together (well, almost); this child is my baby.
I thought I was being sensitive about it. Why did those words, “Well, you know he’s a prison baby don’t you?” eat a hole straight through my heart? It wasn’t a lie and it wasn’t said meanly.
One day we came home from visiting his mommy in prison and he just screamed. Screamed like I’d never heard before. The only thing that soothed him was being in my arms. He’d fall asleep and I’d carefully lay him down like I always do, but he’d almost instantly wake screaming…helpless, disoriented, insecure cries. I would lift him in my arms and hug him tight and tell him, “Leo. You’re okay. You’re safe. You are wanted. You are loved.”
I cried because my mother heart knew he was feeling confused and insecure. I had watched him stare into his mommy’s face and my heart had assented that Leo remembered her voice and knew that this was his mommy. I cried because my mother heart knew that Leo knew we had left his mommy. I cried because Leo still wanted me: his other mommy.
And somewhere it clicked, why those words, “Well, you know he’s a prison baby don’t you?” had dug into my heart deep.
The words were spoken as a pronouncement over my son, as if it changed his identity or mine.
Leo’s mommy is in prison.
This is true.
But for now, it is also true –
that Leo is my son
and I am his mother.
And for as long as we get to cherish & nurture his life and walk the hall sleepless and wash out his clothes and snap pictures of his smiles, this is true.
Even after that.
For I will always love him as the child of my heart and the labor of my love, and I know that he will always see me as his other mother.
– Stay tuned for more thoughts on fostering children. –