If you’ve been here for a bit, you know that CTWM’s primary mission, along with keeping it real, is Judgement-Free Motherhood. The second the idea was born and the tag line was added to the page, it felt like home to me. Not that I’ve never judged another mom before (quite the opposite, actually) but because I had already been tasked with letting go of judgement of one of the most important mothers in my life – my kids’ mom.

As a foster/adoptive parent, you are taught how to manage symptoms of trauma, navigate the court system, and follow the proper protocols for haircuts and doctor appointments, but what I was never taught – probably because it can never really *be* taught – was how to feel about the woman who gave birth, and subsequently lost the legal rights, to the children I was going to come to love. The relationship between foster/adoptive and bio parent is a topic I could write a book on, but suffice it to say that it changes over time and circumstance and the most successful relationships require a lot of give and take on both sides. Perhaps the most important thing of all is to check your judgement at the door. I’ll never forget the moment when that concept truly clicked for me.

My middle daughter was about 9 months old and we were sitting in the kitchen while the rest of the house slept. I was rocking and singing and kissing her delicious cheeks as I’d done so many times before. She softly slurped her formula laced with teething tabs and held my finger in her chubby hand waiting for some relief to the throbbing gums. I glanced up and saw the picture of the woman who created this beautiful child (a permanent fixture on our fridge) and my heart broke for her. Did she ever have someone to rock her and sing to her and to ease her hurts? Did she have any idea what she was missing?

As the weeks went on, I found myself staring at that picture more and more, studying her face and trying to look into the eyes that I imagine are hiding so much. There was once a time when I judged her. I was jealous of her. I was angry with her. But over time those feelings melted. It occurred to me that there were enough people in this world to pass judgement on women in her position and that wasn’t my job here.

Shortly after this moment of clarity, I was on a business trip. I made small talk with the grandmotherly woman sitting next to me on the plane. After looking at pictures of all 12 of her grandchildren, I bragged about my wonderful foster kids and the amazing light in their hearts. As kind as she was, she responded as so many do, “How could a woman do that to her children? It’s just awful. She should be ashamed of herself – and just give them up to someone who can raise them better.”

And do you know what? I got angry. I wanted to defend her – a woman who I hardly know and that I had plenty of reason to be mad at myself, and I wanted to stick up for her. Maybe she was a foster child? Or otherwise had a challenging childhood? Doesn’t know life any other way than this? Feels her kids are a few of the only good things she’s ever done and there’s no way she’s giving them up? Fierce pride and an inability to admit failure? She might have other health or psychological issues to consider. I don’t know…it wouldn’t be fair of me to make any assumptions at all given how little I know about her and her story. It’s easy to think of her as being so different from me, but I’ve come to see over the years that this might not actually be the case. And besides, I’m forever and undoubtedly bonded to her – that’s my children’s mother and if it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be who I am today.

So that night before I clicked off the lights and shuffled upstairs to tuck the snoozing baby in her crib, and hundreds of nights that have followed since, I looked again at that picture on the fridge and said a silent “thank you”. Because no matter what else she’s done or hasn’t done in her life, she created the children that I love so much, and have changed my life in the most amazing way.