On Sunday night at our church’s college group a few months ago, the leader, Josh, who is a close friend of mine, asked me to make an announcement about KeKe’s upcoming baby shower. The following dialogue took began:
Me: “When I was thirteen years old my daughter, Jackelyn aka “KeKe” was born…
(at this point shock and pity in the looks on some student’s faces led Josh to interject)
Josh: “Don’t forget that not everybody knows you yet, Christen.”
Me: ..to her Mother”…not me…
I then went on to talk about the baby shower, etc., however, the looks on so many of the students faces were priceless and also hilarious. KeKe and I would laugh about it for weeks, but the reality of the situation was that we were all trying to define the undefinable. We so loved her as part of our family, but yet it was awkward for all of us to introduce her as our daughter while she just introduced us as “her friends”. She had been part of so many families as a part of foster care before that she didn’t trust the permanence of us in her life and it was hard for all of us to explain our developing bond to people that had known us all for a while. Although, she said that she was fine with being our “daughter” and “sister”, I know that at the same time she felt awkward and unsure about it.
As we neared her birth date, she and I had the aptly named “define the relationship talk” about what she wanted me to say to the hospital staff about my relationship with her when she was delivering. She told me that I should just say I was her mom because she didn’t want the hospital staff to feel bad for her since her boyfriend was off at boot camp and there was not going to be any biological family there for her. Then the following conversation ensued:
Me: “I would love to be called your mom and who cares if they think I was a slutty thirteen year old. (actual age I was when she was born)”
KeKe: “They will probably think I am a slutty 18 year old since I won’t have my boyfriend there.”
Me: “Well…like mother, like daughter.” lol!
At 41 pregnancy weeks exactly, KeKe was scheduled for an induction and on a snowy, messy, morning, she and I made our way to the hospital. Being the responsible mother that I am, I had called a few days before to ask if they had any pre-admittance instructions for her. The woman on the phone told me that she should eat a very light breakfast of bland toast, etc. Upon getting settled in the room, the nurse asked her if she had a huge last breakfast since she wouldn’t be allowed to eat or drink until after the delivery. KeKe replied that she had a huge last dinner, but only a muffin that morning since she was following instructions. The nurse told us that whoever gave us those instructions was incorrect and that she should have chowed down that morning. My daughter, KeKe, is a total foodie and this news was worse to her then knowing she would be laboring all day. I felt so guilty for being the one to get the wrong info because as the day wore on, she complained more about being hungry then she did about being in pain. At one point a few hours into labor she even said, “I am dying, and the only thing that can save me is food.”
On intake, the nurse started asking KeKe about her family health history. When she came to the question of how KeKe’s maternal grandmother had died, KeKe was unsure. Since I had been introduced as the mother, the nurse looked to me for the answer to which I replied “I don’t know, she wasn’t my mother” mumbling something about how we had a complicated family situation. After that I was referred to by the nurse as the “stepmom” which was really funny and KeKe chastised me jokingly for not being able to come up with a better answer on the spot.
Her labor went fairly quickly and she progressed well. I watched her handle her pain like a pro and I was bursting with pride for how well she was doing even thought I knew she felt awful. I really felt like I had loved her like one of my own children before, but this whole process made that love multiply a million times. The relationship was defined–she was my daughter and I was so proud of her! I knew the pain that she was going through and my heart was traveling through the sea of emotions with her. After nearly 12 hours of long labor, KeKe began to push and I was able to be there to hug her, love on her, encourage her, and see every part of the birth. Her epidural pump machine had stopped working at this point, so she had to push with all the pain of a natural delivery. She pushed like such a champ that after only 13 minutes of really hard pushing, she had popped out a nine pound, giant baby. Baby Julius Alexander Sardis was born…a perfectly beautiful baby boy with the most thick, dark, beautiful black hair. I burst into tears when he was born and so did she–it was the most amazingly, beautifully, bonding experience ever.
With the baby on her chest immediately doing “skin to skin”, she couldn’t take her eyes off of baby, Julius, and I couldn’t take my eyes off both of them…well except to see the placenta delivered which was actually really cool and the doctor described it as “a beautiful placenta”. The doctor had to give her a lidocaine injection to numb her for some stitches and while just 20 minutes before she had just been screaming at the doctor not to touch her with the giant injection needle, she was so in love with her sweet, Julius, that she didn’t even notice the pain of the huge needle. Julius was cleaned off on her chest, but not bathed or anything for several hours later, yet when she smelled his hair she asked what made him smell so good. (Excuse my crudeness in the following…) I replied “the smell is your vag”…to which she replied, “then my vagina smells good”. We were dying laughing and even the doula bravely sniffed him and indeed agreed that he smelled really good.
Mid delivery, since she was dying of starvation, she requested an “Imo’s Pizza and a Mountain Dew” to be delivered to the hospital after the baby was born and our friend Juli graciously showed up with just that. So, KeKe was wheeled into her hospital room with a baby in her arms and an Imo’s Pizza and Mountain Dew by her feet. When in the room, the nurse asked how I was related to Jackelyn (KeKe). I replied that I was her mother and happily accepted her compliments of how young I looked to be a grandmother. Then I had the opportunity to redeem myself with the previously slip up with the prior nurse as she asked me the following questions:
Nurse: “Do you mind if I ask you how old you were when you had her?”
Me: I just froze and looked awkwardly at KeKe not knowing what to answer and not wanting to lie either.
KeKe: “In my family, we have babies when we are 18.” (which is a true fact biologically)
Me: Relieved that KeKe had interjected…and mad that I h
ad biffed my chance to redeem myself.
Nurse: “I don’t judge, my mom had me when she was only 17, so I totally understand.”
Later, when we retold the story, people kept asking me why we didn’t just explain the true reality of our relationship, but it is not that easy. To people that have known her a longtime, they know we aren’t her biological family so it is more comfortable to introduce us as friends even though we are more than just that. KeKe is not legally adopted into our family, so she hates it if I say we adopted her even if I say “through love” because that confuses people.. She also doesn’t like being referred to as a foster child and we are not fostering her either so that doesn’t fit. She doesn’t want us to be known as her mentor family either, because that sounds like we are only close with her because we were asked to be there…so that brought us back to square one…defining the relationship.
KeKe later told me that her caseworker of sorts and her doula asked her something to the extent of how she felt about me after going through the birth experience together to which she said that she replied “she liked me 100 times more”. After the birth, she really accepted me as Julius’s grandmother since she and I had bonded through this incredible experience of his birth. While she birthed him, it was as if she was also fully birthed into our family.
She is the most amazing mom and just as when he was born, she still can not take her eyes off of him. She once remarked that she is an awesome mom for not really having a typical mother figure around and she is right. She has lovingly committed to nursing him, nurturing him, and being there forever for him. She is just a wonderful mom, period. Her natural mommy instincts are incredible and she is always full of questions for me and eager to learn everything about being the best mommy that she can be. He is also a wonderful baby, so good, and so handsome. I can not get enough of his snuggles and he draws a crowd of eager Aunt and Uncle onlookers whenever he is over here. We try to have them at least stay here on weekends or as long as we can keep them here, because we love both of them so much and love spending time with them. It also seems strange when they are not here.
Last week, God finally gave me the words to describe how KeKe joined our family. I may not have given birth to her and we can’t legally adopt her, but she is ours just the same. When asked about how I suddenly have an 18 year old…I simply say that “God gave her to us to be part of our family”. When a baby is born, they don’t have to be adopted into their family–God just gives them to their family. That is the same way with Jackelyn. She may not have grown up with us, but God gave her to our family and she is fully our daughter, sister, and mother to the most beautiful grandbaby ever born. (I am not biased at all.)
We love her and Julius so much and Jared and I are both proud to be grandparents. Although, KeKe will say that me becoming a grandmother at 32 is weird, I love it. I get a lot of compliments on how young and beautiful I look for being a grandmother and I graciously thank everyone and hope that I will still be getting those same compliments 20+ years down the road. My mom says I love it because of the humor behind the compliments and that is true, but it is even more true that I love being KeKe’s mom and Julius grandmother simply because I am her mom and his grandmother and I love them so much. When we first met KeKe, we wanted to be a blessing to her, but instead we have been so richly blessed to expand our family and experience the richness of Christ’s blessings as He knits us all together.
This past Sunday was Mother’s Day and the simplest act made me so joyful. KeKe posted “Happy Mother’s Day” as her facebook status and tagged only me in it. That may seem like nothing to most people, but to me that was a huge step. She still test the waters of our permanence in her life, but I think that she is now accepting that a “Forever Family” means just that…forever. Last night I texted her “I love you” which is something I often tell her, but I was unexpectedly brought to tears by her reply as I know that it is not something that she usually says to anybody except to Julius or her boyfriend, Jared (to clarify her boyfriend, and my husband have the same name, but are definitely not the same person). She said simply, “Thanks I love you too you’ve really been there for me and I appreciate it.” Those simple words were so precious, cherished, and dear to my heart.
God gave her to us as her family forever and I think that even in her heart, she knows that now.
Lots of love to all who follow my blog, who pray, and support our ever growing family!