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two moms and one daughter

I’m Raising Somebody Else’s Child

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A Giant Mistake?

One spring day 13 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 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 Crystal and Michele 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 living in adoption — birth parents, adult adoptees, other adoptive parents and tuned-in adoption professionals — I was able to make a profound shift, which I’ve documented at

stack of diapersYou might expect that eventually I came to know that I had replaced their first mothers as “Mom.” And you would be partly right.

Earning My Mom Card

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 13, and Reed, now 11, 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 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. Reed’s birth father claims Reed and Reed claims him. My children are claimed by and able to claim both their clans — those by biology and those by biography. Not just by their birth parents, but also by their birth siblings, birth grandparents and birth aunts and uncles. Alongside my own mom and dad, you are likely to see my children’s birth family members cheering from the sideline at Tessa or Reed’s sports activities or school events. You might call us a hyper-extended family.

So yes, I am raising somebody else’s children.

And that’s OK, because at the same time, I am also raising children who are my own.

Image of Lori, Tessa and Crystal courtesy Mary-Frances Main of MidCentury Style

Diaper image courtesy PublicDomainPictures, Creative Commons 1.0


Lori Holden's book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open AdoptionLori Holden blogs from metro-Denver at and can also be found on Twitter @LavLuz. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, written with Crystal, her daughter’s birth mom, is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful Mother’s Day gift.

Lori is available to deliver her open adoption workshop to adoption agencies and support groups.

Lori Holden
Author: Lori Holden

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  • comment avatar Amber Johnson May 6, 2014

    You have waged all the joys, frustrations and heartaches with open adoption so beautifully. Truly, these child were chosen for you and you for them.

  • comment avatar Blair Greimann May 6, 2014

    All parents are all entrusted with raising someone else’s child, God’s child.
    -Father of 3 adopted children

  • comment avatar Lori Holden May 10, 2014

    I see that there is origin (everything goes back to the Divine), there is biology, there is ownership and there is claiming when it comes to parents and children.

    This post is less about the first one, which you cite, than about the lower ones that fallible humans like me sometimes struggle with.

    I appreciate your comment. It made me think.

  • comment avatar Harriet May 12, 2014

    Love this post SO MUCH! Yes and yes. The more I parent, and I’m only 5 years in, they more I realize at a core level, that my son is NOT just my son. It’s a fallacy to think that he is. He’s temperament, his life force, his spirit, his body, his DNA all come from the people who made him. And we his (adoptive) parents are teaching, loving him and raising him daily. We all play an important role in who he is and who he’ll become.

  • comment avatar Michelle May 12, 2014

    Nice post Lori. I understand what you mean here, “… instead of operating from that either/or mindset, we shifted to a both/and heartset…My children are claimed by and able to claim both their clans — those by biology and those by biography.” I’m very comfortable with the both/and mindset in my role as adoptive mom. I admit that in my adoptee role, that’s a little more difficult for my heart and mind to deal with, but I do agree fully that adoptees need to be able to claim ALL our people.

    I’m struggling with the above comment that we “are all entrusted with raising some else’s child, God’s child.” This seems quite dismissive of the truth that the adopted are, in fact, someone else’s actual child. It reminds me of those in the church who say “we are all adopted”, and the “grown in my heart” sentiment. These are trite, feel-good statements, which gloss over the complexities adoptees live with, as well as the losses inherent for adoptees and families of origin.

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