Two Paths to Motherhood :: My Experience as an Adoptive and Biological Mom


I was determined to not be caught off guard. And truthfully, I wasn’t. Of the ways both of my kids came into this world, I was probably the least surprised when the doctor came in and said it was time to consider a c-section. But what did take me by surprise is what happened next, how I felt about it, both physically and emotionally, and how I feel now.

Let me back up a bit. My husband and I began an international adoption process in late 2013. After some really hard things happening in that process, we decided that we really wanted to be parents, so in early 2016 I got off birth control and we began a domestic adoption process in addition to our international process. We were chosen by my daughter’s birth mother to become her parents at the end of August that same year. Three weeks later she was born in Houston, TX. It all happened very surprisingly, very fast, and we’ve loved every minute of this wild ride we accurately named Brighten. About 20 months after we adopted Brighten, I was going to a fertility specialist when I found out I was pregnant (without going through any fertility treatment, but that’s a different story that you can read here). Needless to say, we were a little shocked when the doctor told me I was nine and a half weeks pregnant at my first appointment (whoops!). I was due on December 29th, 2018, but then my water broke on December 19th, and Grady was born via c-section on December 21st. So, that’s the quick version of how both of my kids joined our family.

Holding my baby girl for the first time.
All I could think when we were taking this picture was, “Please don’t drop him.”

I wondered a lot how giving birth would make me feel about our adoption. Not in the sense that I would love one kid more than the other or anything dramatic like that. I was more concerned that knowing what it felt like to carry a child would create a void and a sadness because I didn’t get to experience those precious nine months with Brighten before she took her first breath. Of course I wish I could have been there all along, but I’ve realized that the sadness I feared would loom over me is absent because I’ve been fully present for every minute of her life — except for when I had Grady. And, that the lack of being fully present is the part of parenting two children that has been the most challenging.

My mom delivered all three of her children via c-section. So, throughout my pregnancy I had “c-section, c-section, c-section” in the back of my head. What I didn’t think about at all, however, was how the recovery side of a c-section would affect my family, specifically my daughter, and me.

Let’s put it this way, recovering from a c-section is really just terrible in every way. And meeting my son was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Missing my daughter for five days in the hospital right at Christmas was horrible. But watching my daughter become a big sister was incredible. So many mixed emotions left me bawling to one of my nurses in the middle of the night at the hospital (the hormones didn’t help), and I still reflect on that time with such melancholy.

Brighten’s face still melts me in this picture. This was when she met Grady for the first time and she looks so excited but also really nervous.

What I struggled with most was having limits put on my ability to physically parent. When Brighten was born, I had not been pregnant, I did not give birth, and so I had no recovery. I was able to jump in to being her mommy without the sleepless nights of the last trimester, without the swollen feet and backaches, and without having to heal. I was so physically available that we even took her on her first college trip to Baylor (not really) as we drove past it on our way to Magnolia Market in Waco on her sixth day of life. I was 110% physically capable to give her whatever she needed, whenever she needed it. I only knew motherhood without limits. I went in fully rested, and fully able.

With Grady, I wasn’t allowed to lift anything heavier than him, and let’s be honest, I couldn’t even sit up on my own to lift him out of the cradle at the hospital when he fussed for a feeding. I couldn’t care for my 7 lb. 14 oz. newborn, much less my 30 lb. two year old who didn’t know where Mommy had been and why she came home with a new little human who cried and pooped a lot. I couldn’t play, I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t do anything that felt normal. Motherhood, at least the physical part of it (and so much of motherhood with a toddler is physical), had been ripped away from me, at least temporarily, but for what felt like an eternity. But it’s hard to see temporary when we’re standing in the middle of it.

Even as I type these words I realize it sounds dramatic. But, I was completely unprepared for this. I had no frame of reference for what recovery would feel like, much less how it would leave me feeling emotionally, which was that I was not enough for my babies. I’m not good at giving myself time or grace in transition, so it felt like this would be a season that never ended. With every passing day I pushed myself to walk, stand, and heal faster, willing my body to do more, and more, and more. So much so that I had to go back to the doctor a week postpartum because my incision was beginning to come apart. Talk about a wake up call to force me to relinquish control and just rest (two things that I’m not very good at).

I’ve been asked often what the biggest difference has been between adopting a newborn baby and giving birth, aside from the obvious. Truthfully, it has been this: with Brighten, I didn’t know how to be a mom yet (do we ever?), but I was immediately available and willing to try; while with Grady, I had done this before but was stuck spending the first few weeks feeling completely incapable of being a mom when I had given birth to my biological child. The days and weeks after both births were precious times for our family, don’t get me wrong, but the days after Grady’s birth were much more challenging mentally, emotionally, and physically.

I’m now over half a year removed from having a c-section and my son being born. I’ve healed, at least mostly, and my heart is full. There are days that go by that I don’t even realize my kids came into our family differently. It’s only when people comment on how remarkably similar our son looks to my husband that I think about my daughter’s sparkling green eyes and the woman in Texas who gave them to her. Most days, I’m in survival mode with a toddler and baby and I’m just trying to find a few minutes to brush my teeth before 3:00 p.m.

My two little loves. They love each other so much and their friendship warms my heart.

As time goes on, I know that the conversations we have with Brighten about her birth story will differ from Grady’s. There will be hard moments where she will have to grieve the loss of the life that wasn’t, and fully accept the life that is. And when that day comes, these will be things we’ll walk through with her. I pray we do so gracefully, pointing her to the fact that she was chosen, adored, and loved by a multitude of family, both biological and not. When that day comes, the differences between my children will be much deeper than what I experienced in the first few months of my son’s life, but I truly believe that this experience will prepare us for the days ahead. And for today, as I hold my two little loves on my lap, I am thankful for healing, recovery, and the fact that I get to be fully Mommy again.

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Jessica was born and raised along the white sands and teal waters of Destin, FL right in the heart of the Emerald Coast. Even though she's from "paradise," she wouldn't trade her life in Birmingham for anything. She and her husband, Jason, daughter, Brighten (1), six pound morkie, Swanson live in the Crestwood North neighborhood of Birmingham. Coincidentally, Jessica and Jason are both Floridians and were brought to Birmingham by Samford University. Once they met, began dating, and got married, they decided to make this wonderful city their home. Jessica graduated from Samford with a degree in journalism and mass communication. She's always loved to write and has spent the last several years working for several local nonprofits doing fundraising and marketing. When her daughter was a few months old, Jessica decided to leave the nonprofit she was working for and start a business of her own consulting with nonprofits and small businesses in the community. She is now the proud owner of The Storie Co. and co-owner of A Morales Production, she and Jason’s videography company. Jessica loves that she gets to continue doing things she's passionate about while also spending time at home with her baby girl. Jessica is an adoptive mom and loves writing and talking about her family's journey through their almost four year adoption process over at her personal blog, She is a serve team leader at her church, Immanuel, which serves the downtown area. Jessica is the epitome of an oldest child, which is appropriate since she has two younger sisters who are also both Samford grads and have both settled in Birmingham. Jessica loves coffee more than almost anything, takes frequent trips home to Destin, and relaxes by watching videos of adorable puppies.