There are mothers of all types, and every bond is unique. Hear the unique story of one foster parent who forged an unbreakable bond with a daughter, even from another continent.
When my friend called me up and asked me to write about unconventional motherhood, I was taken aback. Why did I come to mind? I never considered myself to be an unconventional mother. She asked me to write about my unique relationship with my foster daughter in Israel. Before I do that, I just want to say for the record: there is no such thing as conventional motherhood.
Every mother has a story. And I don’t think you will find a conventional one among them. There are clearly universal truths of being a mom and child-rearing; the daily grind from infancy to young adult. The endless meals, laundry, carpool, sick days. But each mother is unique. How she mothers each child is unique. And how she re-mothers herself is unique.
My story begins with infertility.
“What do you mean we can’t get pregnant?” For years, I spend mornings driving into Manhattan to get my blood drawn. I spend evenings having my husband inject large needles of hormones into my tender flesh. I endure 12 procedures ranging from insemination to in-vitro. And in the end, I am no closer to motherhood. I can’t bear to attend another bris. My husband visits an orphanage in Texas. We join an infertility support group. My body and spirit are broken; my faith in G-d, questionable. Maybe I’m not meant to even be a mother.
On the 13th attempt, we get a phone call with good news. My HCG levels are high. I have been here before and cannot let my hopes get too high. A scan reveals not one, not two, but three heartbeats. I am pregnant with triplets. I am five feet tall. I am cautioned that carrying three babies to term at my size is extremely high risk with the likelihood of complications. I am advised that a reduction is the safest way to end up with two healthy babies. At eleven weeks, I watch a sonogram-guided needle stop the heart of the least viable embryo. Motherhood is not for sissies.
My beautiful twin boys are delivered via c-section on a cold January morning. I am a mother, twice over. We are overwhelmed and overjoyed and a family. Shortly after their first birthday, I feel a familiar wave of nausea hit me. I am pregnant. How could this be? After everything I have been through?! And then there are three. Three boys under two.
The first three years of motherhood are a blur. The longest nine years of my life.
My husband comes home one evening (I am sprawled out on the playroom floor). He tells me about a man in his office with three boys who “adopted” a little girl from an orphanage in Israel.
“The boys would love a sister!”
I am so tired that I can’t make sense of what my husband is saying.
“It’s not a legal adoption, just a foster thing. We send gifts and letters and help out financially. What do you think?”
A few weeks later, opening the mail, I get my first glimpse of Odelia; a small photograph of a shy little girl with dark eyes and dark hair who uncannily resembles one of my twins. I can’t help but think, she could be one of my own!
We start by exchanging letters, pictures, and photographs. We send cute little sweaters, magic markers, drawings from my boys (we learn quickly anything purple is preferred). We even record our voices on a micro-chip that’s placed inside a teddy bear that announces “We love you, Odelia!” whenever its paw is squeezed.
Our first face to face meeting with Odelia happens several years later on our first family trip to Israel. Even with a vast cultural and language divide, we manage to smile and laugh our way into a relationship. We take her out for pizza, go to the zoo, plant trees, dig for ancient treasures. My very limited Hebrew is equal to her lack of English, but we quickly find the universal language of shopping. I remember thinking, “So this is what it feels like to have a daughter.”
Years pass. Odelia matures from a timid little girl to a confident young woman. Her letters become more expressive and complex. She shares divrei Torah. She signs her name Odelia Kuflik. Our interactions become more meaningful. Her English improves as does our Hebrew. She helps us on our own spiritual journey; teaching us to make blessings, to daven, to be G-d fearing Jews. She blossoms and so do we. This is far more than a foster relationship. She calls me “Ima.”
I am in full make-up, wearing a sheitel, and walking my daughter Odelia to the chuppah. This is a surreal moment of motherhood I could never have imagined. And poof! I have a yeshiva bochur (from Lakewood) for a son-in-law! It isn’t long before Odelia becomes a mother herself and I become a Bubby.
My three boys are in college now…ushering in a whole new chapter of motherhood. Like I said before, motherhood is not for sissies.
Mothering Odelia is obviously different than mothering my own children. She is 5,700 miles away, living a life far different than mine. She doesn’t have a smartphone. She can’t text or Facetime me (as much as I try to persuade her). I speak with her often and see her several times a year. There is no shortage of hugs, advice, tears, and love. One difference I notice is that when I’m with Odelia, I am far less harsh and critical of her than my other children. I am less likely to yell, slower to react, and generally more accepting. I am keenly aware she comes to motherhood with her own set of limitations. But then again, who doesn’t? There is a lesson for all mothers in that.