05/12/2013 02:11 pm ET Updated Jul 12, 2013

I'm Raising Someone Else's Children


On a spring day 12 years ago, Crystal was about to leave the hospital after giving birth the day before. We'd recently met through the adoption agency we'd both consulted, 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 4-year-old son looked on. I was full of excitement and self-doubt. Tessa, this precious newborn, was clearly Crystal's baby. 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, blonde 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.)

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 the real mom, that I wasn't legitimate.

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 on my blog,

You might expect that eventually I came to know 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 all sorts of body fluids and later, being both the tooth-brushing and homework-doing enforcer. Tessa, now 12, and Reed, now 10, 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 new book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, instead of operating from that either/or mindset, we shifted to a both/and 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 Tessa or Reed's sports 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 OK, because at the same time, I am also raising children of my own.

Lori Holden, an award-winning blogger, writes regularly at about parenting and living mindfully. She is the author of the new book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, written with her daughter's birth mom. On Twitter she's @LavLuz and you can also find her on Facebook.