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How I Discovered the Meaning of Motherhood

by Jennifer Davidson



I knew I had made a wise decision when I chose adoption for my son six years ago. Jobless and still in college, I feared the life we would lead—jeans with holes on the first day of school, a ragged mother who wouldn’t have time for much, except to say, “Goodnight, sweetheart, I love you more than anything,” and voids where opportunity and treasured memories belong.

Still, when I placed my newborn baby in another woman’s arms at the hospital, I grieved like a wild animal who’d lost her baby, carrying around a dead infant in her mouth, unable to let go. I was still Colin’s mother and I believed I always would be. It wasn’t until my daughter, Georgia, was born that I finally understood what my son’s mom had known all along: that the role of his mother belonged to no one else but her.

When I held my newborn daughter for the first time, my conventional view of maternal love was replaced by a flash of understanding that made me feel like the strongest woman alive. I wasn’t just a mother, I was Georgia’s mother. She was perfect.

When I returned home with this precious child, a scary thought crept into my mind: “What if someone had switched babies, and this child I so fiercely loved was someone else’s?” For weeks, I inked up her little feet and pressed them gently onto pages of crisp, white paper, obsessively comparing them to the official hospital footprints taken after she was born. The prints were always the same, but I had to keep checking, as if to say, “Okay, go ahead and love her this much.”

But I didn’t want any other baby. I wanted the one in my arms, even if I found out that, because of some hideous mistake, she wasn’t really mine.

I may have understood what my son’s mother knew, but it was several more years before Colin actually became her son in my heart. He and his mom were going to spend the night at my home. Before they arrived, Colin had asked me if I would put him to bed at night.

I fantasized what this would be like: finally having both of my children under the same roof, tucking them in, waking up to hear them laughing together, feeding them breakfast at the same table.

How different the reality turned out to be. As Colin and Georgia competed for my attention throughout the day, I found I longed to meet Georgia’s needs first and wanted her to know I was there for her before anybody else. At night, when I tried to tuck Colin in, I couldn’t calm him. His mom came in to help, kissed him, and softly recited their special nighttime saying.

As I listened, I felt as if I was intruding on something intimate. Again I tried to tuck him in. Ultimately, nothing worked except cuddling close with his mom, and he fell asleep peacefully next to her. I felt that my fantasy of pretending to be his mom, for even a moment or two, was wrong.

It was then that he became her son in my heart. And I was okay, because that was what I chose for him nearly seven years ago. He is home, he belongs there, and he is loved by all of us.

Jennifer Davidson lives in Sacramento, California.

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