I awake today to the sound of morning prayers. The haunting melody floats from the mosque and hovers over the sleeping city, intermingling with the mist rising from the fields. I hear a man outside my window calling to his livestock: loudly, persistently, in a language that means nothing to me. Even at this early hour I can smell the spices in the air. It seems no matter where I go in Addis Ababa, the distinct aroma of berbere and incense is there.
Ethiopia is a mixture of history and progress. The dirt paths lined with makeshift tent cities run right up against the concrete and metal of the high rises. Herds of cattle weave through the automobiles on the main road, all vying for the best position during rush hour. The farmer standing barefoot on the sidewalk with his piles of mangoes and avocados stares at his phone while he waits for the next customer. Every day, Ethiopia’s past and future press right up against each other.
And today my children’s past and future are going to meet in a dusty rural village on the outskirts of Ethiopia. We will stand together: my children, their little sister, their father, and both of their mothers. My hope is that love can fill up the space between us.
My children’s mother is a part of our family. Her picture hangs in a place of honor in our home. Her name is a part of our vocabulary. But if I am honest, I am most comfortable when there is distance between us. An ocean to separate us. Because as I move towards her, I am forced to examine my insecurities. My fear of losing something I treasure – the relatively new love from my children.
This love has been hard-won. The journey to loving two mothers has been a difficult one for my children. There was a lot of push and pull. Barriers constructed and then torn down one heavy brick at a time. The rejection of one mother in the quest to prove allegiance to another. The eventual realization that love is a vehicle strong enough to carry the weight of two mothers.
The love between my children and I was not the kind of love most women experience when they hold their newborn baby for the first time. There was not an instant connect between their heart and mine.
No, it took years to grow our love. Planted in the fertile soil of our family, watered with tears and prayers, grown with patience and intentional tending. Two years after I held my children for the first time, they finally gave themselves permission to feel and express their love.
While I do not feel our love is threatened by the proximity of their other mother, I worry that its strength will be tested today. I find myself reaching out and touching my children more often than usual, assuring myself that they are here and they are mine. I run my hand over their curls as if they are a touchstone for all we have built together.
As I pull them close, I remind myself that gold is refined in the fire. It is made pure and lovely by heat and pressure. I do believe our love will be better because of this journey home. Yet it will not be easy for any of us, this sharing of hearts.
I spoke about this very thing recently with a friend. He was adopted as an infant and did not have the opportunity to know his first mother as he was growing up. When he became a man he went searching for her.
He found her.
And he suddenly found himself living in the space between two mothers.
He told me how uncomfortable it was there. He felt hemmed in on all sides by the desire to please. He weighed his love and his relationships and always worried that one was lacking. Until one day he came to the realization that this was his story. It was not any better than other stories. It was not any worse. It simply was.
This is who he is: a child with two mothers. Once he accepted the fact that he did not have to quantify or justify his story, he found the freedom to live it.
This is the freedom I seek. The freedom to live our unique story without worrying if it is better or worse or different. The freedom to love with abandon rather than calculation.
I want this freedom for my children: to love two mothers entirely, with no portioning out of affection. To embrace their story for what it is—a masterpiece written by God to include plot twists, unexpected characters, and a final chapter filled with redemption.
I want this freedom for their mother: to love her children without regret, to fully entrust their care to another woman. To believe this other woman is doing a good job raising her babies.
I want this freedom for myself: to know beyond a shadow of a doubt my children’s love is a permanent thing. No matter where we go in life, no matter who we become, we will always be mother and child. I am theirs and they are mine and we are hers.
We are all better together than we ever were apart.