Motherhood: It’s not always what you expect. For these three women, it’s been an uphill road, but they’ve braved the challenges.

 

Motherhood is a beautiful thing. And it seems like such a natural process. But sometimes it’s not the straightforward, simple road we all expect to drive. Sometimes motherhood starts in unexpected ways, and sometimes it becomes something different than what we think it should be. It can be challenging or surprising. It can be miraculous or painful. It can be sudden or gradual. But motherhood is always beautiful.

 

We’d like to introduce you to three mothers and their beautiful stories.

 

Chaya

I first met Chaya years ago in a photography forum. Contrary to what many people might think, we photographers are generally very supportive of each other and many of us become friends outside of the business. Chaya is one of those friends, and over the years I’ve watched from the sidelines the journey she’s been on with her eldest daughter. She’s the one who inspired this feature, when she asked if she could share her story to possibly help others understand, or withstand, a similar situation to hers.

 

The year was 2006, a dreadful and turbulent year in my life. It was the year I got my divorce and the fate of custody for my child would be decided. This was typical of most divorces. In my case there was added difficulty by the fact that my family was abroad and I had nowhere to turn for guidance. I had no resources, no available family to support me, nor any friends to help me with my struggle. This made it more difficult and it limited the resources I needed to engage in a legal divorce and custody battle. In my heart, I felt that the community I’d grown to love had turned its back on me when I was in need. Without getting into the gory details of the divorce, I stood to lose my little girl and this meant that she was going to be raised by her dad.

 

Fast forward to 2009. I was newly married and had a new little bundle of joy, a gift from G-d to lighten my life again. At the same time, I was in court fighting the battle any concerned and devoted mother would fight to better her child’s future and give her the best chance to live a promising life in the presence of a healthy and warm family surrounding. I was trying to extend the little bit of time I was given in the custody agreement. I had 2 hours on Sundays and 2 hours on Tuesdays. I was sticking to them like a faithful soldier. The judge in our case was extremely fair and granted me more visiting hours in each court appearance. Although things were looking very positive, I also noticed that my daughter was being alienated, and convinced that I was harmful and unworthy of being part of her life.

 

As time went on, I realized that the instability and arguments we were experiencing was starting to cause a lot of frustration and friction between me and my daughter. This was causing her a lot of pain. After fighting in court for 2 years, before we went to trial I decided that in the best interest of my child I would forfeit my chances of winning this battle. This was a very painful and agonizing decision on my part.

 

After this ruling was finalized, many people asked me, “How could you abandon your child? How can you leave her without the individual that you believe is the most trusted and caring person she needs in her life? You are all she has!” My answer to these people was that if I was to continue in court, I would have ended up winning “my” fight for 50/50 custody, at the expense of my daughter losing whatever little integrity she had left in her young life. It would have been a yo-yo life for her. Particularly since she had been in the same environment for quite some time and I saw that she was stable and content in that atmosphere, removing her from a comfortable environment would be very damaging no matter whether I agreed with the way she was being raised or not. I also understood that watching her grow up from afar – and this has proven to be true – would be very painful for me as a parent.  I wouldn’t get to hold her as I wish; I wouldn’t get to participate in her milestones. I’d miss her constantly. I would not be the one who is there to listen when something bothers her. With all that in mind, I still chose to walk away. At the end, I determined that this decision was the only one that would be the right one for my child.

 

Although my daughter is not constantly in my presence, I am with her from afar; I am with her in spirit. My daughter is 13 now and she comes to see me and goes as she wishes. Sometimes it will be 3 times a month, sometimes less. And sometimes I won’t see her for quite a while. However whenever she is with us, she is completely here. She will read books, be playful, she will ask things a child only asks her mom. This is very gratifying. We feel that we are her little getaway and are very happy for her to have it.

 

I strongly believe that the decision of acceptance and closure enabled me to build a stronger relationship with my daughter. I am not a “sugar coating” Mom. I say it like it is. She would ask, “Why did you get divorced? Why can’t I come on trips with you? Why can’t I come sleep over when I want?” The answers were always short and honest. I always said, when you are older you will be able to make your own choices and I will support your decisions in every possible way. I consistently made sure to teach her to believe in herself, to make her own choices and that I trust her with them.

 

As one example, last year my daughter wanted to join us on a trip for Pesach overseas, but we had an issue because she didn’t have her passport renewed after the divorce and her father constantly was unwilling to allow her to leave the country with us. I knew that this was going to be a tough one. I told her, let’s get permission from your dad and if he says yes, we will get you a new passport and surprise my parents. She went on to convince her dad and he said yes! 3 weeks later she was with us, surprising my parents. It was her first trip abroad.  Now she was part of the family she barely ever gets to see! It was such an incredible milestone. When we look at the photos I took, you can see her bright smile and the sight of her gleaming eyes is just so magical. I feel that my relationship with my daughter is one that is bound beyond “material stuff” and is rather a connection of strength and determination that I instilled in her during our times together, and as she grows up I see it all blossoming.

 

As a person that lived through the experience, I strongly feel that every child in a divorced situation should be given the chance to see their parents as often as they can, so long as it is accommodating and beneficial for the child. It is the responsibility of each parent to do their utmost and allow their child to love and respect their mom and dad. Divorce is bitter. It’s painful. It is so hard to see anything positive in the process but don’t forget, your child only sees positive in each parent and you are your child’s hero. The only negativity they will see is what you as a parent make obvious and therefore should always be avoided.

 

Chavi

Rather than writing her own narrative, Chavi asked for some interview questions to guide her story and here’s our conversation:

 

I want to start by saying that I started following your Instagram account when I was searching the upsherin hashtag. Your adorable little guy came up and totally captured my heart. His smile is infectious and those adorable braids that were about to come off just grabbed my out-of-the-box attention. (Also, how did you ever get him to sit still long enough to make all those braids??) I started looking at your pictures a bit more and was fascinated by what seemed to be such an incredible and unique family – with the best smiles on Instagram. Seriously – all of you! And then there was another girl added to the family – one about the same age as my daughter – and I thought, I really wish I could get to know this mom. You just seemed like someone I’d love to have some good conversations with. But, as we know, Instagram is not quite real life. I couldn’t just barge into your life and start chatting. But then I started thinking of this mother’s feature I wanted to do and I couldn’t help reaching out to finally have that conversation.

 

Can you please tell us a little bit about your childhood?  How old were you when you got married?

I grew up in San Antonio, Texas on shlichus. I am the eldest of 9 Ka”h. I had a warm, fun, action-packed childhood which only made it a strong dream of mine to be able to do the same – to have a ton of kids, go on shlichus and create a wonderful family. My parents instilled in me the importance of family and how we are a unit and we watch out for each other. At the same time, I got to be a part of building a wonderful community in San Antonio. To be able to do both well is really special. My parents are my role models and I strive to live up to that everyday. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of siblings. I have 7 sisters, 1 brother and now, 1 sister-in-law, and not to mention my husband’s awesome siblings and their spouses whom I love and  admire. They are my true support and cheerleaders through all the twists and turns I have experienced. I got married when I was 21.

 

At what point in your life did you start thinking of adoption as a possible path to motherhood?  Did you actively pursue the option, or did the opportunity come knocking?

We got married and the next thing on the agenda was to build a family… It didn’t happen right away but we weren’t too concerned. After a while we decided it was time to check things out. We underwent a lot of testing and procedures and after 2 years we were told we would not be having biological children without a miracle. I was 23 and my husband 26 – pretty young to process that life altering piece of news. Building a family, as I’ve mentioned, was my ultimate dream so I couldn’t accept living a life without children. I just needed to find a different way to go about it. So that’s when adoption became a real part of our lives.

 

Can you tell us about your adoption journey? How long was it from when you started the process until you became a mother?

Adoption was definitely not a common thing in our circles – almost unheard of – so we really had to start from scratch and research, learn and discover. From when we we were told we couldn’t have children until we adopted our first daughter it was 2 years. Each one of my children’s story is unique and with its own set of highs and lows.

 

What would you like to share with us about your kids? I know that as moms we can write endless volumes about our children, but what can you tell us about them in just a few words?

Shoshana (13) is my eldest but not my first. We adopted Shoshana last year at age 12. She is a beautiful, strong and resilient girl who has overcome so many challenges. Her connection to Hashem is so special and it’s been a privilege to watch her grow into a beautiful woman. I was thrown into being a mom of a teenager and I’m still learning everyday. She pushes me out of my comfort zone and makes me a better mom for it.

 

Chaya (8) is my first and she’s the one who made me a mom. I will never forget that feeling of holding her for the first time! Chaya was born as a preemie in Russia. She is a fighter and her strong spirit serves her well. She is so sensitive and empathic like a mini mommy. She loves taking care of her baby sister. She loves the outdoors and swimming is her favorite activity. Living in Montana with 9 months of winter we don’t get to go out as much as we’d like, but she looks forward to going to Texas in the summer where she gets to swim all the time!

 

Zeesy (7)  is the sweetest little princess. She has taught me to take whatever comes your way with acceptance and grace. Zeesy was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder called glut-1. Her brain does not process glucose which leaves her brain starving for energy. Symptoms include seizures, movement and development delays etc.  She is now on a ketogenic diet (no, not the fad diet – the medical version). All her food is measured and weighed to a specific ratio. She eats a very limited amount and has very limited options. She does not complain. After measuring day when her fridge is full, she is so grateful and always thanks me. I don’t know where her positive attitude comes from but it’s inspiring! BH she is doing well on the diet.

 

Menny (5)  is a bundle of energy and joy. He is smart, quick-thinking and keeps me on my toes at all times! He is biracial which might be unusual for a Chabad family. It’s allowed our family to have very important conversations about race, what’s important and how to be strong and confident with who we are.

 

Chana Laya (9 m) is my Montana baby. She’s such a bundle of joy and I can’t wait to see her personality blossom! She’s already pretty feisty…

 

Do you ever feel like there’s a difference in your relationship with your child/ren because they were adopted rather than biologically connected? How about in their relationship with other people in your life?

I do not have biological children so I wouldn’t be able to compare, but though I came about my children through adoption, once they were mine, they were mine. They are my children. Sometimes people say (and they mean well) that they bless us to have our own children one day, my response is always these are our children and will always be. All the people in our lives – family, community – feel the same.

 

What would you like to share with our readers about your unique pathway to – and through – motherhood?

I thought my life was going to go a certain way. It didn’t – surprise! – and yes, I had and still have hard days, and I question the purpose of challenges. But to me having a family was most important. I just had to adjust how I went about it. We all have challenges and we all expect things to go a certain way and many times they don’t. How we deal with that will make or break the happiness and joy we get out of life, so if it doesn’t go your way, it’s hard but figure out a way to make your dreams come true! Motherhood is hard – period!  Often I find myself wondering what the heck I’m doing but we do the best we can and try to have fun while we are at it.

 

Leah

Way back when Leah’s son was about 7 or 8 years old, he came to my studio for a portrait session. He charmed me in seconds and his mom became one of those social media friends who make the whole social media world a positive and interesting place to be. Yes, she was the one who brought me a tub of mint chocolate chip ice cream simply because I said to the world that I was in the mood!  Leah is a great writer, but because of her super intense schedule these days leading up to her son’s bar mitzvah, she also asked for interview questions.

 

Can you please tell us a little bit about your childhood?  How old were you when you got married?

I grew up in what is a fairly rural and affluent bedroom community of Washington DC, Great Falls, VA.  My childhood was a typical combination of Jewish and American influences, what would now be considered more modern leaning. The first time I married, I was 28.

 

At what point in your life did you start thinking of adoption as a possible path to motherhood?  Did you actively pursue the option, or did the opportunity come knocking?

After about five or six years of marriage to my then husband, we pursued international adoption specifically. It was after quite a bit of research and meeting other couples who had gone through this process that led to our ultimate decision and route down this path.

 

Can you tell us about your adoption journey? How long was it from when you started the process until you became a mother?

From start to finish, approximately three years with some starts and stops. It’s an emotional journey and the bureaucratic process within Russia itself at that time was daunting. It was in constant flux and with paperwork constantly expiring and referrals taking time to procure; it took months between submitting documentation to when we received any kind of feedback. You’re prepared for this in the beginning.  

 

How old was your son when your marriage ended? Were you a single mother for a long time?

He was 2. I was single for about a year. I fully expected to be single for a long time, but my rabbi said it wasn’t smart for me or my son to remain so, and my current husband is the second man I dated after the divorce.

 

What is the custodial arrangement you have with your ex-husband?  How do you handle that while living a significant distance from each other?

I retain primary physical custody of our son. They have always remained in constant contact over the phone. In the earlier years I had to facilitate their connection specifically because toddlers won’t pick up a phone, and we also used Skype. They see each other about every three weeks, alternating between visits here and trips to where his father lives. It’s not easy, but over time it’s become a part of our rhythm. His father has him for most of Chol Hamoed and the first days of Pesach and Sukkot, giving them extra opportunities to bond.

 

When parenting differences come up, how do you maintain the amicable – even friendly – relationship with your son’s father, while sticking to your principles?

I think it would be harder if we were in the same town. We don’t always share the same philosophies but what we do have in common is wanting what’s best for our child. We don’t have disagreements in front of our child – ever. If there’s strife at all it’s through email, and our child doesn’t see that, and if it’s over the phone, he’s not at home when that occurs. Our drop-offs and pick-ups are sans drama. My ex and I remain amicable by realizing that we’re no longer married, therefore whatever issues we had as a married couple no longer apply. We are allowed to be neutral now. If you were to ask our child about his parents he’d tell you they’re good friends and that’s truth. I respect my ex husband very much as a person.

 

And how does your husband view your ex-husband’s role in raising this boy together? Do they ever get proprietary over their roles?

My husband, a survivor of a tumultuous divorce himself, views this as a unique opportunity for ex-spouses to rise above a bad situation and parent their child graciously. He’s always bent over backwards to show my ex husband kovod (respect) while giving him space to be the daddy in this equation. We’ve never had a traditional Mother/Father/Stepfather situation. My son has two dads. There has been a little bit of jealousy now and again, but that’s human nature, I think, and connected more to me than our child. If I had to give these two men a grade for their behavior over the years, it’s a solid A. I’m very, very lucky.

 

What advice would you offer to women who might find themselves in any of the challenging situations you’ve so successfully made into the beautiful life you currently live with your precious Bar Mitzvah bachur?

The advice I give to myself every day and to anyone is to remain focused on the bigger picture. There will be little (and sometimes bigger) things along the way that seem to almost derail you, but with perseverance, the right attitude, and faith in Hashem, it will all work out for the best.

 

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Esti Waldman
Esti is the camera behind the beautiful editorial pages of popular magazines and today’s most successful commercial ad campaigns for food and fashion brands. She’s also a popular family photographer and is a super creative mom with a knack for pulling together adorable outfits and amazing parties. Follow her on Instagram @estiphotography

3 COMMENTS

  1. This post was so inspiring! I would love to see more articles like this one on Between Carpools! So thought provoking!

  2. Incredible article. Thank you to the women for sharing.
    May HKBH continue to give them the strengths required to raise their children and may they only have much Nachas from their children!

  3. Wow. Thank you to these women for sharing a glimpse into their lives. So inspiring! Hashem should bless each one and their children forever

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