Sharing Photographs of Our Grandmommy

Sharing Photographs of Our Grandmommy

By Jennifer Palmer

I recently found an image of my husband’s grandmother stashed away, hidden on some forgotten corner of my hard drive. I was purging; after years of simply dragging and dropping files from my camera to my computer without bothering to sort, I had many gigabytes of mediocre pictures needing to find a home in the recycle bin. I was flipping through old memories quickly—next, delete, next, delete—when this particular image jumped out at me, gave me a moment’s pause. It is not good in any technical or artistic sense; the light was dim and I did not use a flash and so the image is grainy, the faces blurred ever so slightly. It should not have survived my sweep, and yet it held my attention, demanded my contemplation. I did not delete it.

The photo was taken six years ago, when Grandmommy was in her early eighties. In it, she is hunched, bent slightly at the waist. Her poor posture is not due to age, though that would certainly be a reasonable excuse; after eight decades on this Earth, one earns the right to stoop. No, she leans forward for an obvious purpose: she has a hold of two of her great-grandchildren, cousins of mine, one small hand clasped in each of her own. The kids are young. The girl sports the holey grin of one recently visited by the tooth fairy; the boy is barely past the age of diapers. Grandmommy’s eyebrows are raised, her mouth open with a hint of a smile, her face forming that expression of excitement and fun adults so often assume when indulging a child they love. They form a circle, two blonde heads and one gray.


Other photos in the series offer a fuller explanation of what is happening: in one, the three of them are walking in a circle, in another, they’re seated on the floor. Or rather, the kids are. Grandmommy is bent nearly double, feet still planted, her hands touching the ground so that the human chain remains intact. Ring around the rosy, then, played together while waiting for supper to be served. A children’s game, reserved for those who are very young and those who are young at heart, captured in a moment of pure innocence. The participants are unaware of the camera, unaware of the bustle of food preparation in the background, unaware of anything, really, except each other and the circle they form.


This is a group of images worth keeping, worth sharing.

My hard drive is home to another group of images worth sharing, this set more carefully taken, more lovingly preserved. Five and a half years after the ring around the rosy series, it is now 2014, and, though you can’t tell from the photographs, the intervening half decade has not been kind to Grandmommy. Age has taken its toll. Dementia has set in, devouring memories and leaving nothing but confusion in its wake. A fall and resulting broken hip have made mobility for Grandmommy more of a challenge. But the woman in the photographs does not look much different from the one who played with her great-grandchildren a few years earlier. In fact, if you didn’t know better, you might think no time has passed at all.

Grandmommy sits in a rocking chair in the corner of a room, the walls behind her a pale green hue found only in hospitals. She holds the tiniest of swaddled bundles in her lap—my daughter, just two days old. There are many photographs of the two of them together, taken one after another; a moment such as this, the meeting of one so very young and one so very old, does not happen every day. Most of the images depict what you might expect from such a moment. The baby lies in Grandmommy’s arms, asleep, oblivious to the world around her. Grandmommy’s head tilts downward, her gaze fixed on her great-granddaughter’s face. The scene is one of tranquility, of peace, of wonder.

My favorite photo in the series, however, is the first—the only one in which Grandmommy is not looking at the baby at all. Instead, she looks up and out of the frame, as if at someone who didn’t make it into the shot. Her mouth tips up in a grin, her eyes alight with an unspoken question, and her hands wrap protectively around the little one in her lap. She is a young child clasping some precious treasure, an heirloom doll, perhaps, or an antique rattle, something far too special for her to hold. She impishly begs an older and wiser adult if she can keep it. The Grandmommy in the photograph does not seem to remember she has difficulty walking, or that her memory is fading, and she is no longer able to care for an infant, even for an hour. She cannot recall the work involved in changing diapers, in middle-of-the-night feedings. She has forgotten much, but the look in her eyes implies that she remembers this, at least: that children are precious, that the world is a fascinating place, that there is plenty in our lives that is worthy of reverence.


I have other photographs of her, of course, images with her beside Granddaddy at his 90th birthday celebration; of her reading a picture book to a great-grandson, the younger sibling of those who played ring-around-the-rosy; of her wearing a paper headdress clearly fashioned by young hands, made for fun from a child’s imagination and worn out of a great-grandmother’s love. But these two groups of pictures—of her playing ring around the rosy, of her delighted with the baby in her arms—embody Grandmommy to me more than the others. Gracious, gentle, kind. A lover of children. An observer of the world, not afraid to lose herself in wonder.

Grandmommy passed away this week. I did not know her as well as I wish I had, to my shame and regret. Feeble though the excuse sounds in my ears now, modern life got in the way with all of its distraction and obligation, and kept me from making the time I should have made. Still, even as she aged and her memories slipped away, the core of who she was remained true. These photographs, moments frozen in time, were taken when she was unaware she was being watched, when her defenses and masks were stripped away. They capture this woman, reveal her heart and her spirit to those who will take the time to look. Until her final days, she maintained her fascination with the world and her love for children and babies. Though befuddled and confused, she remained cordial and loving, becoming ever more childlike in her wonder for the smallest things and people around her. Though she is gone now, the images remain, a testament to who she was, to the treasure hidden beneath the surface.

Ring around the rosy, pocket full of posies. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

Author’s Note: Grandmommy passed away on January 15, 2015, and I wrote this piece shortly thereafter. Though the emotions surrounding her death are no longer fresh, the traits I highlighted here stand out ever more clearly in my memories of her. I hope that who I am at the core, when everything else is stripped away, will be as kind and gentle and loving as Grandmommy was. It seems fitting, somehow, to honor her memory with this essay, one year later, and I’m grateful to Brain, Child for including me in their grandparent blog series.

Jennifer Palmer lives in Northern California with her husband and daughter. Her essays have appeared online at Mamalode, Good Housekeeping, and Brain, Child. She writes about finding the beauty in everyday life at Choosing This Moment

Fiction: Silence

Fiction: Silence

WO Silence ARTBy Jennifer Palmer

Jocelyn settles onto the lumpy mattress, closes her eyes. Listens.

The faucet in the corner leaks, a forlorn plop sounding as each drop hits the tarnished sink. The ceiling fan, the lone luxury of the place, clicks with each rotation, keeping time with the beating of her heart. The thin walls do little to mask noise from outside: the cacophony of car horns, the crackle of tires, the dull roar of the freeway. The person upstairs rolls over in bed, the creak of worn-out box springs clearly audible. Next door, she can hear the sounds of playing, a little girl humming to herself.

A door crashes against the wall in the little girl’s room and Jocelyn jumps, then curls instinctively, protectively, around her middle, her face against her knees, her hands shielding her head. The humming stops, replaced by a masculine voice, its angry tone cutting through the girl’s protests. A slap, the sharp, sickening sound of flesh hitting flesh, then a dull thump. The child cries out, prompting more shouts from the man. The door slams shut. All that is left are whimpers, soft sobs, muffled gasps.

Jocelyn shakes on the floor for an eternity. Gradually, the tremors lessen, then still. She uncurls, her motions furtive, before she remembers where she is. She looks at the faucet, the fan, the window, marveling at her freedom, then reaches for the wall. Leaning close, she listens, but all is silent next door. Perhaps she imagined it. Surely that’s it.

She gets to her feet, washes her face in the basin, looks at herself in the cracked mirror. She shakes her head slightly, as though to rid her mind of some thought, some ghost, then hurriedly splashes water on her face. Time to get to work; she managed to land a job at the diner down on the corner, and her shift begins soon.

Hours later, she returns, her feet sore, her back tired, a dull ache behind her eyes. Hunger battles against nausea, and she nibbles some soda crackers pilfered from the waitress stand at work. Everything hurts. Waiting tables is a thankless job, but she has money in her pocket, a start towards rent and groceries and a life free of him, and so can tolerate all the rest.

Her bedtime routine is simple. She washes her face, brushes her teeth, crawls onto the bare mattress on the floor. She breathes deeply, willing herself to relax. She is safe.

She drifts toward sleep, but the nightmare one wall over repeats itself. The door crashing open. The angry voice. Slaps and thumps. A child’s cries. Again, she huddles on her side of the wall, shivering in mute solidarity with the girl next door.

When it is over, she reaches for her phone, hands shaking, then stops in terror. He is there, looming over her, fists upraised.

“Little whore! Who do you think you are? Just like your mother. Worthless.”

She shrinks into the corner. Her hand moves involuntarily to her stomach, rests there for a moment. She closes her eyes, inhales deeply, then picks up the phone. It takes her three tries to punch in the number. She whispers to him as it rings. “You’re not really here. I am free of you. You’re not really here.”

A voice on the other end of the line, kind, calm, asks about her emergency, waits patiently as she chokes out her story, encourages her to repeat herself, just a bit louder, please. She says the words for the girl next door that nobody ever said for her.

“He’s hurting her. Come save her. Please, before it’s too late.”

She sits alone in the dark and waits for what seems like hours before the siren echoes outside, before boots ricochet in the stairwell, before fists fall on the thin wood of her neighbor’s door.

“Police! Open up!”

Curses then, muttered threats, a door thrown wide. Muffled conversation—she can’t quite make out the words—but her neighbor grows more and more belligerent. His daughter begins to cry. The man shouts something about his rights and is met by the calm, firm response of the officer. The door slams; the girl’s sobs recede. Jocelyn rushes to the window, sees a uniformed man helping a small form into the back of a cruiser, and a small prayer whistles out from between her clenched teeth.

“Keep her safe. Please, keep her safe.”

She lies down, then, closes her eyes, feels the barest flutter, the hope of the future, in her womb. As the tears leak out from underneath her eyelids, she listens. The drip of the faucet. The click of the fan. The horns and the tires and the freeway. And beyond that: silence.

Jennifer Palmer worked as an electrical engineer until her daughter was born, but has always been a writer at heart. She now scribbles in her journal between diaper changes, composes prose in her head as she rocks a baby to sleep, and blogs about finding the beauty in everyday life at She lives with her husband and daughter in the forested foothills of the Sierra Nevadas in Northern California.

20 Favorite Quotes From Brain, Child Writers

20 Favorite Quotes From Brain, Child Writers


Never Wish Happiness for Your Children

By Adrienne Jones

“The trouble with that kind of thinking is, a child is a person, not a soufflé, and ultimately we come to the place where we can’t control everything. Or anything. Our children are themselves.”



Brave Enough

By Jennifer Palmer

She was mine, this sweet baby girl, but she belonged to others, too.



Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 10.24.21 AM
By Robin Schoenthaler

Then along came adolescence, and my side-by-side parenting began to wane. I noticed it first at the mall, trailing behind the kids like a geisha. And every day it happens more: I find myself hanging back or stepping backwards, turning to move behind them, letting them go forward, out in front. I’m becoming a parent who pivots, scrambling to get out of the way.


The Richest Person in the World

By Adrienne Jones

Well, maybe he’s the second richest person in the world and I’m the richest, because I get to be his mom.




Open and Closed

By Catherine Newman

When they’re little, and you’re scraping them off of your leg at a party so you can refill your wine glass and metabolically transform four or five pounds of cheese into the milk that’s soaking through the front of your dress, you can’t wait for the kids to become separate from you. Thanks to your mind, as open as a flower-dotted meadow, you know that you will rise to any occasion of individuality.


Because I Will Always Do It Again

By Jon Sponaas

“Though I can’t, in a general way, believe much of anything, I especially couldn’t believe that you were IN your mom’s tummy, floating around in that complicated liquid…”



The Days Are Long/The Years Are Short

By Lauren Apfel and Lisa Heffernan

With my nest soon completely empty, I face the day that has loomed before me from the moment I became a mother. I am facing three distinct losses, that of their childhood selves, of my identity as their mother and, most painfully, of the daily intimacy that was our life together.


Baby Weight

By Cheryl Strayed

There aren’t words to adequately describe the love I felt for my son. It was, by far, the most shocking thing that has ever happened to me. To love this way. To become, in an instant, a baby person.



This is Adolescence: 16

By Marcelle Soviero

Sixteen is full of paper thin promise, delicate due to the decisions I can’t make for her anymore, decisions that will determine what happens next.



How to Smoke Salmon

By Ann Hood

The sadness that comes from your first child leaving home is, of course, not the saddest thing of all. But the ache, the sense that something is missing, the way you keep looking up, expecting him to burst through the door in his size 13 shoes, it is real.


On Shame and Parenting

By Adrienne Jones

I did for them everything I believed a good mother would do for her children and clenched my teeth and prayed it was enough, or right, or that at the very least they would be OK in spite of the depth of my brokenness.



I’m Not Sorry for Yelling

By Jennifer Berney

Now that I’m a parent, I want my kids to know anger as a normal part of daily life.



Family Motto: More Love is More Love

By Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

While it’s really hard to explain adoption to a five-year-old—and at times, I fear what the conversations will be with a ten- or fifteen-year-old—the notion that guides me is this: more love is more love.



She loves Me She Loves Me Not

By Karen Dempsey

Liddy would cup my cheeks and pull my face to hers as if she were breathing me in. “Oh, my mommy,” she’d whisper. “I love that you be my mommy.”




Loving Kip

By Jamie Johnson

It’s because Kip isn’t a face, or a name, or a gender. Kip is a person. And it’s Kip, not the “he” or “she” that I love to death. His soul is still the same.



love-you-the-same1 I Love you The Same But Different
By Rachel Pieh Jones

I love all my children the same. But I don’t love all my children the same. I love them all the same amount. Endlessly, to the moon and back, from Djibouti to Minnesota and back, forever and no matter what. But I don’t love them all in the same way. I don’t know why this realization surprised me. I mean, of course I don’t love them all in the same way. They are unique individuals and I have a unique, individual relationship with each one.


Bury My Son Before I Die

By Joanne De Simone

It goes against everything we believe about motherhood, but I’d rather bury my child than leave him behind.



Armageddon Mama
By Tracy Mayor

Beyond that, in the spirit of planning for the worst while hoping for the best, I guess the most moral thing I can do right now as a parent is to raise my kids to be in some way part of a solution. Not just recyclers or composters or occasional car-campers, but innovators, problem-solvers, team players, good citizens of the world. Non-assholes.


MAMA: Mothers Against More Activities

By Francie Arenson Dickman

I’m not sure when doing nothing after school fell out of favor. As a kid, I was a pro at nothing. We all were.



Till Death Did They Part
By Molly Krause

When my dad came back after two decades of divorce, I wondered if my mom had somehow been waiting for him.



Having a Baby 15 Years Ago/Having a Baby Today: Two Perspectives

Having a Baby 15 Years Ago/Having a Baby Today: Two Perspectives

Having a baby 15 years ago versus having a baby today: how much has changed? Ellen Painter Dollar describes her experience as a new mother at the turn of the millennium, when technology wasn’t so readily available. As a new mother in 2015, technology looms large for Jennifer Palmer, who feels she is constantly navigating the challenges of parenting in the digital world. 

Having a Baby 15 Years Ago

By Ellen Painter Dollar

I welcomed the new millennium in stretch pants, my three-week-old firstborn guzzling at my breast. In the weeks leading up to January 1, 2000, I worried little about “Y2K”—the catastrophes predicted due to our computers’ inability to decipher a year abbreviated as “00.” I was too consumed by the impending and then actual arrival of my tiny girl, and too skeptical of doomsday thinking, to fear government dissolution or planes falling from the sky.

Twenty months later, on September 11, 2001, we would learn that planes falling from the sky was a legitimate thing to fear, though the planes would be brought down not by inept technology, but by old-fashioned human rage. We learned, in blood and fire, just how fraught with both promise and peril our increasingly global connections can be.

As evening approached on September 11, the day’s many charged legacies—for our nation, for parents and children—were yet unknown. All I knew was that I had a 20-month-old who was blessedly oblivious as I watched the towers collapse, my hand clamped over my mouth so I wouldn’t frighten her with horrified whimpering, and that we had plans the following day to go to the beach. I called my friend Cathy and asked, “Should we go? It seems wrong. But what else are we going to do?” What else indeed, especially with a child not yet two years old? So off to the beach we went—me and several other moms whose firstborn children were all around my daughter’s age, and who were the first real friends I made after becoming a mother.

Having moved back to my hometown 11 months before my daughter’s birth and begun telecommuting from home part-time, I often went days without seeing anyone other than my husband and the Kinko’s clerk, to whom I would deliver faxes and page proofs bound for my DC-based employer. While I took to motherhood easily, reveling in the tactile pleasures of caring for a newborn, I needed friends. Online community was a fledgling endeavor, friendship not yet something to be tallied in a sidebar. I met my friends the old-fashioned way—awkwardly and in person, after reluctantly signing up for a local new parents’ class. After our six-week class ended, we would spend the next half dozen years meeting weekly in our homes as our brood grew to 17 children, then graduate to book discussions, dinners out, and rare weekends away as our kids grew. These were the friends with whom I spent September 12, 2001, at the beach.

We, of course, had no cell phones on which to scroll through the latest news while keeping half an eye on our toddlers. But I won’t give into the temptation to look back with pure nostalgia at a time, only 14 years ago, when an hour’s drive to the beach could effectively shield us for one blessed day from the worst news many of us had known in our lifetimes.

To be sure, I am grateful for the brief respite we got that day from 9/11 and its frightening implications. I wonder uneasily what it means for our spirits and our families that such separation from the world’s terrors, such complete attention given to our beloved ones, can now be achieved only with a deliberate act of will, or a trip somewhere remote.

But social media and wi-fi allow me to nurture a writing career along with a home and a family, to comment knowledgeably on the day’s news from the window seat in my dining room, the dog underfoot and occasionally a sick kid in the next room. These virtual connections, too, are laden with promise and peril.

Parents must learn to bear the unsettling truth that our children belong to the world as much as to us. In a poem titled “To My Children, Fearing for Them,” Wendell Berry asks, “What have I done?” Yet even as he grieves his inability to save his children from witnessing and bearing suffering, he also cannot “wish your lives unmade, though the pain of them is on me.”

That Wednesday afternoon, as we dug in the sand and wiped sunscreen onto scowling faces, we must have thought of the pile of steel and debris and bodies smoldering just across the Long Island Sound from our sunny idyll. We—perhaps especially my friend Carol, heavily pregnant with her second child—must have wondered, “What have we done?”

But the image I most clearly recall from that day is of driving back into town, my daughter and my friend’s little boy asleep in their car seats, their deep, steady breath giving off the exhausted contentment of a day at the beach. No, I could not wish these lives unmade, though the pain of them, the agony of the fallen towers and whatever horrors these little ones would know in their lifetimes, was firmly on us.

Questions about how to ease our children into necessary but heavy knowledge have long been part of parenthood. In the past 15 years, such questions have become more immediate, more daily, as the world is never farther away than the smartphones in our back pockets. What has changed since I had my first baby is that the divide between public and private has become far murkier; we must choose more deliberately between engagement and solitude, attention directed outward and inward, and fight to give ourselves fully to each pursuit at the proper time.

What hasn’t changed is our agonized awareness that, as Wendell Berry also wrote, “We who give life give pain.” Our children have always been subject to the promise and peril of human connection, heirs of legacies that stretch far beyond our own family trees.

Ellen Painter Dollar is a writer whose work explores the intersections of faith, parenthood, disability, and ethics. She is author of No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Parenthood, and Faith in an Age of Advanced Reproduction (Westminster John Knox, 2012), and blogs for the Patheos Progressive Christian Channel.


Having a Baby Today

By Jennifer Palmer


My daughter was born one fine spring morning in 2014. By that evening, several family members and friends had met her in real life. But many more had “met” her online. Cradling her to my chest with one hand, I used the other to update my Facebook status, announcing her arrival, and the response—dozens of comments and hundreds of likes from my small circle of social media contacts—came within moments. In the intervening year, I’ve added photos and videos of her every few months, and, while none have come close to matching that first post’s popularity, such updates garner far more interest than the other things on my wall.

My use of Facebook isn’t the only way that technology has affected my parenting. Constant communication and access to instant information are so ingrained in my way of life that I have a difficult time imagining what it would be like to have a baby without them.

Often, the consequences of having so much technology available are obvious: take my tendency to consult the Internet when I have a question. Prior to becoming a parent, I thought nothing of this habit. After all, as my husband often notes with a wry smile, “Google knows everything!” It was only natural, therefore, when my daughter seemed to lag far behind her peers in certain milestones, for me to type “infant developmental delays” into the search bar. Overwhelmed by the quantity of conflicting information available on the subject, I learned my lesson: today, when questions arise about my daughter’s health and development, I consult my mom, my husband, or my pediatrician, but rarely my search engine. I may know less—a crime in today’s information-saturated world—but I also worry less.

Other times, the effects are less clear. Like many Americans of my generation, my phone is nearly always within reach. It is more than just a phone, of course; it is my calendar and my camera and my shopping list. I use it to read and to shop and to write. I listen to audio books and music. I text daily photos of my girl to her grandparents and her dad. In recent months, I have become ever more aware of how much I look at my phone as my daughter has become more curious about her world. She sees me holding it, lunges for it, and I wonder what it teaches her to see her mother so enamored with this inanimate device. How will it affect her, in the years to come, to grow up surrounded by screens?

There’s this, too, as I think about parenting in today’s modern world: there you sit, reading my words, and somehow, I don’t feel quite so alone. I send my words out, talk about what it is to be at home with my baby and know that you read them, that you can relate. I read the words of others, too, blogs about parenting, about modern womanhood, about life, and feel as though these long days at home with an infant are not so lonely, as though somehow I have community and connection, virtual though IT may be. My introverted personality tends towards the ease of Internet relationships; with such an avenue open to me, I must force myself to cultivate meaningful connections in my hometown. While online friendships are valuable and words have power to heal, nothing compares to a physical hug, to a meal shared. With only so many hours in a day, determining the balance between the virtual world and the real one can be challenging, to say the least.

My challenge as a new mother in 2015 is to navigate the ever-changing digital world of social media and smartphones and 24-hour-news cycles, keeping the good and discarding the rest. It’s a task more difficult than it sounds, for I cannot always determine the ways in which the marvels of the modern world influence my thinking, my relationships, my life. I know, too, that the challenge which will only grow as my daughter does. Today, I need only govern myself, a skill I’ve yet to master; the time will come when I will need to guide her as she explores the World Wide Web, show her how to avoid becoming ensnared in its sticky strands.

Though I cannot always quantify the ways in which technology changes the way I parent, I know this: at its essence, mothering an infant, even in 21st century America, requires but a few things. Patience. Kindness. A willingness to shelter and care for and feed a small, helpless human being. Community. Love. Though the details may be different, though my day-to-day may bear little resemblance to that of those who have gone before me, I suspect those things have remained constant throughout the ages.

Jennifer Palmer worked as an electrical engineer until her daughter was born, but has always been a writer at heart. She now scribbles in her journal between diaper changes, composes prose in her head as she rocks a baby to sleep, and blogs about finding the beauty in everyday life at She lives with her husband and daughter in the forested foothills of the Sierra Nevadas in Northern California.

Freedom Tower photo by Scott Boruchov


My Heart Knows a Difference

My Heart Knows a Difference

By Jennifer Palmer


Does a parent’s heart make a distinction between adopted kids and biological kids? Is the attachment, the bond, the connection the same?


“How does this experience compare to, well, to before?”

She asked the question cautiously, not wanting to offend, her gaze moving from my face to my husband’s to baby Katie huddled against my chest. I was recovering from an emergency C-section and was grateful for her company, for the meal she brought with her, for honest questions about love, about the nature of family.

She’s a good friend, one who knew our story—that we had tried to adopt a baby girl, Cara*, a year earlier, that Cara’s birth father had contested the adoption, that he had succeeded and we had lost. Cara had lived with us five months before the judge’s ruling came, and this friend had been there by our side, praying and crying and hoping through it all.

I knew exactly what she meant by her question and I was not bothered that she asked it. After all, it’s a natural question, one I ask myself on a regular basis. I wrestle with it, mull it over, wonder—does a parent’s heart make a distinction between adopted kids and biological kids? Is the attachment, the bond, the connection the same? Ultimately, the big question is this: was the love I felt for Cara the same as the love I feel for Katie?

The obvious answer—the one people expect, the one adoptive parents long to give, the one adopted kids are desperate to hear—is yes. Yes. Yes. The love is the same. The bond is the same. The daughter I chose, who grew in my heart but not in my womb, is the same to me as the daughter who shares my genetics. My heart knows no difference.

The obvious answer is yes, but I don’t believe it is an honest answer, at least not for me, for my experience. Other adoptive moms may feel differently, but for me, the truth is more complicated than that. The truth is harder than that.

The truth is that my heart does know a difference. Not a difference in genetics, not one in biology, but a difference all the same, a difference that can only be attributed to adoption, to the way each daughter came to be a part of my family.

My heart knew all along that there was another who could and did call Cara her daughter, that this sweet girl had another family, one not my own, who had some claim on her. It knew she came to me through loss, that such loss can and often does pose an obstacle to a strong mother-daughter bond, that there are those in the world who would never see me as her “real” mom, no matter what happened. My heart knew that there was risk here, in this relationship. It recognized the terrible, awful risk that they would take her from me, that a judge would rule she wasn’t really mine and I would be forced to say goodbye. It could not ignore the tremendous stress, the horrible fear, the drama and the tension and the heartache of that interminable summer of court dates and visitation and lawyer’s fees. And so it was guarded, careful in its love for Cara. The bond, while very real, was tenuous, only as strong as my feeble courage would allow.

The early months of Katie’s life were an entirely different experience, marked as they were by peace and calm and joy. No drama, no stress. No fear that they might take her from me. My heart was free to love without inhibition, without the instinctual reserve that was present previously, and I forged bonds with her that were strong and unafraid.

And so my heart knows the difference. The love is not the same. Not because of any differences in biology, not because of genetics, not because of anything specific about the girls themselves, but because of anxiety, because of stress, because of circumstance.

I wish this were not the case. I wish that I had the capacity to love without fear, no matter the risk, that I could give an unreserved and exuberant “yes” when asked if I loved Cara in the same way that I love Katie. I wish my heart did not know a difference. I wish I were strong enough for that.

And yet, I know this, know it as surely as I know my own mother loves me: I loved Cara. I loved her. I loved that baby girl with a fierce, protective, mother’s love. A love that washed over me, filled me, swept me up in its currents the moment I first held her in my arms, though I selfishly tried to resist it. A love unlike anything I had ever felt. I loved that baby girl. I loved her. I loved her.

How does one measure love? It isn’t as though you can put it on a scale, ladle it into a measuring cup, stack it against a ruler. I do not know how to quantify love, how to compare one love to another, but if one possible measure is what you’d be willing to endure on another’s behalf, then my love for Cara knew no bounds, just as my love for Katie knows no bounds. Though the experience of loving these two girls differs greatly, the expression of that love does not.

And so, if the question is whether there’s a difference, whether my heart makes a distinction between my two daughters, the answer is yes. Much as I might wish otherwise, my heart knows a difference.

But if the question is whether I love my biological daughter more than I loved the one I tried to adopt, the answer is an unequivocal and emphatic no. No. No. I would have laid down my life in a heartbeat for Cara, just as I would lay it down for Katie if necessary. And as somebody who is much wiser than I am observed: greater love has no one than that.

*Name changed

Jennifer Palmer worked as an electrical engineer until her daughter was born, but has always been a writer at heart. She now scribbles in her journal between diaper changes, composes prose in her head as she rocks a baby to sleep, and blogs about finding the beauty in everyday life at She lives with her husband and daughter in the forested foothills of the Sierra Nevadas in Northern California.

Photo by Scott Boruchov

Lifelong Friends

Lifelong Friends

By Jennifer Palmer


Mom is still someone in flux, someone continually being refined by life, by experience, by motherhood itself.


China, two years after the end of World War II. Two American couples, husbands both pilots for the Marine Corps, wives both new mothers. A shared love of flying, a shared enjoyment of golf. A shared language, not to be disregarded in a foreign land far from home. Superficial things on which to build anything lasting, perhaps, but these were the foundation for a lifelong friendship, one that spanned six decades and more.

It’s a bit of family lore now, the meeting in China, the friendship that bloomed there. John and Gloria—my husband’s paternal grandparents—spoke long and often about Roy and Shirley, about their shared history. Though they were well into their adult lives when they met, already parents and spouses, theirs was a friendship for the ages, of the type you only ever expect to find in fiction. Even when the Marine Corps sent them to Southern California and they returned to the familiar sights and sounds of the States, they chose to remain close to each other, sharing meals and stories and life.

When Roy died flying one of the planes he loved so much, John and Gloria were the support Shirley needed as she and her young sons picked up the pieces, providing love and advice and help during her darkest days. Later, she remarried, and John and Gloria celebrated with her, and welcomed her new husband into their lives.

Shirley remained in Southern California for the rest of her life; John and Gloria did not. When Uncle Sam sent John to Korea, Gloria returned to her native Missouri, and after retirement the couple finally settled in Northern California. Still, even when time and distance separated them, Shirley and Gloria found a way to maintain their friendship; until Shirley’s deteriorating health would no longer permit it, the two women spoke on the phone every day.

I never knew Shirley, but there were days when I felt as though I did. Gloria never failed to mention her at our weekly lunches, never failed to share some anecdote from their shared past. It hit her hard when her dear friend passed away; though it was not unexpected, it is no small thing to lose a companion of more than sixty years. When Gloria lost Shirley, she lost more than a gabbing partner. She lost a treasured friend, the one who understood her better than most everyone else.

Those of us who knew Shirley or Gloria think of them as lifelong friends, and, indeed, they were. It is nearly impossible to picture one of them without the other, to imagine what their lives would have been had they never met. And yet this struck me recently, as I looked into the face of my own sleeping infant: Shirley and Gloria met after they were married, after their boys were born, at a time when they were well into their adult lives. Their lifelong friendship, the relationship that came to define them in so many ways, wasn’t formed until they were mothers, until they were in a place in life that looked pretty similar to where I am now.

It is hard to wrap my mind around this concept, for I have lived thirty years on this earth, in all likelihood a full third of my life. To a large extent, my identity and character are established. I have likes and interests and friends and hobbies that have nothing to do with the fact that so much of my time and energy is wrapped up in keeping a small human alive and thriving. Though I know that, in the eyes of that small human and in the eyes of any who may come after her, I will be “Mom,” first and foremost, always and forever, my life and my identity precede children.

What I realize when I contemplate Gloria and Shirley, however, is this: “Mom” is still someone in flux, someone continually being refined by life, by experience, by motherhood itself. I may meet somebody tomorrow, or next week, or next year, who will become integral in my children’s lives, who will shape and mold me to the point that my kids will be unable to picture me without her. Some person or lesson or experience may yet come my way which will change me profoundly, leave me a different woman from the one I am today.

This idea inspires me, for it reminds me that even now, as an adult and a wife and a mother, my life is not static. I have the room and the opportunity to grow and to change and to learn. Who I will be in my daughter’s eyes, the woman she will remember when she is grown with children of her own, is yet to be defined.

More than that, though, Gloria and Shirley’s example shows me that it is not too late for me to form lasting new friendships or to rekindle old ones, that it is not too late to invest time in meaningful relationships with other women. This truth seems to contradict my everyday experience; even in the modern world of Facebook and email and Skype, these early days of motherhood are often quite lonely, and making time for friendships sometimes seems impossible. Gloria and Shirley demonstrated otherwise. Their friendship did not happen by accident; though they had young boys at home, they found a way to spend their hours and their days together, to build a lasting relationship. Their families and their lives were better for it.

Jennifer Palmer worked as an electrical engineer until her daughter was born, but has always been a writer at heart. She now scribbles in her journal between diaper changes, composes prose in her head as she rocks a baby to sleep, and blogs about finding the beauty in everyday life at She lives with her husband and daughter in the forested foothills of the Sierra Nevadas in Northern California.


Neither Did I

Neither Did I

By Jennifer Palmer

Neither DidI

Those of us who have walked through dark times, through pain, through sorrow. Those of us who are still walking through such things today. We have no special power, no innate ability to survive such things. We are not stronger than you. We are not braver than you. We are not anything more than you.


When hearing of our failed adoption, people often express their dismay. “I could never adopt,” they tell me. “My heart couldn’t take it. I don’t know how you survived; I don’t have the strength to make it through something like that.”

Before I lost my daughter, I’m sure I voiced a similar sentiment when confronted with tragedy. It’s a common enough response, one we clutch like a talisman, a ward against pain. Surely only those who are strong enough to survive the heartache of unthinkable situations are forced to do so. Surely those who bear the death of a child or a spouse, who navigate the brokenness of the foster care system, who journey through terminal illness or disability or any number of terrible circumstances have some secret reserve which gives them the ability to stand when anyone else would fall. Or so we hope, for if pain only comes to those who can withstand it and we know our hearts would not survive such sorrow, this must mean we will never be forced to endure the worst. Our weakness is our own protection.

If you haven’t experienced deep loss yourself, you may question your ability to endure in the face of trauma. You might think you just aren’t strong enough to go through serious pain, and you may very well be right. There’s a good chance that right now, you don’t have what it takes to walk through such heartache on your own. But then, neither did I.

Neither did I. Had I known what lay ahead, I doubt I’d have had the courage to say yes when she came to me and asked me to adopt her baby. For four months, as we waited for the courts, as we waited for the judge, as we waited, waited, waited to know whether we would be allowed to keep our girl or not, I was weak. I was scared. I was exhausted. I had no capacity to think of the future. Doing so brought pain, and so I refused to let my mind dwell on anything but what had to be done in any given moment. Prepare a bottle. Change a diaper. Cuddle my baby. I had only the strength for one moment at a time, and even that strength was not my own.

We received the judge’s decision thirteen days before the transfer of custody was to take place. I did not have the courage to walk through those two weeks, caring for the girl who had captured my love, knowing I was about to lose her. Somehow, I managed. My heart couldn’t take it; on the day I said goodbye to her, it shattered, broke into a million tiny shards that still have the power to draw blood all these months later. And yet, here I stand.

My aim is not to invoke sympathy, for though there is deep pain in my past, my life is full and I am grateful for the many blessings I have been given. Instead, my hope is that you will hear this: those of us who have walked through dark times, through pain, through sorrow? Those of us who are still walking through such things today? We have no special power, no innate ability to survive such things. We are not stronger than you. We are not braver than you. We are not anything more than you.

I did not have the strength to survive that interminable summer, did not have the strength to walk through the loss of my daughter, and yet, somehow, I survived. Battle-scarred, perhaps, a bit worse for wear, but whole and alive. I have no explanation for this, except that we are more resilient than we believe ourselves to be, that the hard times themselves sharpen us, build us, give us what we need to continue forward. When tragedy strikes, most of us find the inner fortitude to persevere. To wake up. To put one foot in front of another. To take care of what must be done today. Different people find this strength in different places—in friends, perhaps, or family, in stubborn tenacity, in the desire to be there for a child or a spouse or a parent. I drew on my faith, on belief in a good and loving and present God, though I must admit that on those darkest days, when my own weakness could not find solace in the intangible divine, I relied on friends and family and loved ones whose arms held me up when I could not hold myself, who showed me hope when I could not see it on my own.

I suspect that you too have a strength you do not know, that you too have the resiliency to survive more than you believe possible. I suspect that, should the worst happen, you, like me and so many others, would do what needed to be done, relying on God or friends or family or some as-yet untested inner iron to make it through one moment at a time. I suspect that you would find a way through the pain, that perhaps the tragedy itself would build in you the courage you need. You don’t believe me now; I don’t blame you. Your heart is fragile, your will is weak. You don’t have the strength to survive such trauma. But then, neither did I. Neither did I.

Jennifer Palmer worked as an electrical engineer until her daughter was born, but has always been a writer at heart. She now scribbles in her journal between diaper changes, composes prose in her head as she rocks a baby to sleep, and blogs about finding the beauty in everyday life at She lives with her husband and daughter in the forested foothills of the Sierra Nevadas in Northern California.

Photo Credit: Diana Poulos-Lutz

Relationships That Can Never Be

Relationships That Can Never Be

By Jennifer Palmer

Relationships 2

Time continues her relentless march, however, always forward, never back, and so such relationships between generations must only ever live in the world of dreams.


She sits on his lap, tiny fingers reaching first for his own age-spotted ones, then for his starched plaid collar, then for his mouth, which curves up as her touch flits across his cheek. Her head follows her hand, slowly traveling up until their gazes lock. The look lasts only a moment before she is drawn once again by his shirt, dropping her head and her hand to examine the stiff fabric. I wonder whether some special understanding was reached there, in that instant when their eyes met, some knowledge passed from one to the other that none of the rest of us could comprehend, or if it was just a glance, a chance look not registered or remembered.

My pragmatic side thinks it must surely be the latter; neither of them is likely to remember this encounter for any significant length of time. She is only seven months old, after all, and at ninety-five, his mind just doesn’t hold on to things as it once did. Still, I hope that I am wrong. I hope somehow, my daughter has formed some special connection with her great-grandfather. Though she may not keep conscious memories of this gentle man, I hope, at some level, these brief moments might settle into her heart and soul and she would be better for it.

Before long, she tires of sitting on this stranger’s lap and she twists her head around to look for me. Though I want to draw this moment out, I also want it to end well, so I swoop down and pick her up before her agitation turns to tears. She clings to my sweater with one small fist, looks over my shoulder to grin at him as I move away, and his face lights up to match hers.

The moment passes and life continues and all too soon, our weekend visit has come to an end. This one brief encounter may be the only time he ever holds her, for the drive is long and his days are short and who knows if we will make this trek again before his time on earth is done?

*   *   *

It grieves me some, the thought that she will never really know her great-grandfather this side of eternity. It is likely she will never know any of her great-grandparents; of the eight of them, five left this earth before she was even born. The remaining three are all in their nineties and age, cruel tyrant that it is, has already robbed them of so much. Even should she have memories of them that survive to adulthood, they will not be of the fun, wise, loving, creative, quirky people her dad and I had the privilege of knowing as we grew, but rather they will be some hazy shadow, some half-glimpsed vision of easy chairs and wrinkles and age.

It cuts both ways, this knife does, for they would have loved to have known her, too. I stand in the middle, having known and loved all eight of her great-grandparents, having also been entrusted with the care of this girl of mine, and I long to turn back time somehow, to work some magic so that these beloved people might be more than just a story to her, more than just old photographs, so that she might charm them with her big brown eyes and her sweet little chuckle and the adorable way she wrinkles her nose when she grins.

Time continues her relentless march, however, always forward, never back, and so such relationships between generations must only ever live in the world of dreams.

*   *   *

My daughter will never know any of her great-grandparents, and this saddens me. Still, I know her story is not my story and this is a good thing. Her life will be supported by a different cast of characters than my own and there will be those—please, God, let it be so—who will be to her what my grandparents were to me. Though I see her in my dad’s dad’s lap and mourn what will not be, she will likely never feel the lack; young as she is, she is already surrounded by many opportunities for rich and meaningful relationships. Her future is bright, her possibilities endless.

And yet, this is one aspect of parenting I never really considered before my daughter was born: that those who have meant the most to me might mean very little to her, that she may never even have the opportunity to meet many of the people who have played important roles in making me who I am today. She comes from a rich legacy of love and faith and family, and yet she will only ever know the key figures in that history through old stories, the stuff of myth and legend, not of flesh and bone.

There will be many relationships, many experiences, many passions and loves I will want to share with her in the years to come which will mean little to her, whether due to a difference in age or personality or preference. As she grows, she will diverge from me more and more, rely on me less and less, and I think this must be the heart of this melancholy I feel: she is yet an infant, and already I feel this break between my life experiences and her own, between those I love and those she will love. Already I feel her slipping away from me, moving on and growing up.

Of course this is a good thing. Of course this is the ultimate goal of parenting: to help her discover who she is, to help her learn how to be a kind and loving and productive member of a civilized society, to help her find and develop the skills she needs to make her own way in this world. Of course it is, and I will rejoice each step of the way even as I mourn the too-quick passage of time. I’ve known from the first time I saw her, a tiny teddy bear on the green-gray screen in the doctor’s office, that she is her own person and that the world is better for it. I just didn’t expect to feel the separation pangs so soon, when she is still so little.

She will grow and she will change and before I know it, I will no longer be the center of her world, and this will be a good thing. And one day, a day not so far in the future, I fear, her own son or daughter will sit in the lap of someone she loves—my dad, perhaps, or my husband’s—and she will wish for a wand to turn back time, for a way to create space for relationships that can never be.

Jennifer Palmer worked as an electrical engineer until her daughter was born, but has always been a writer at heart. She now scribbles in her journal between diaper changes, composes prose in her head as she rocks a baby to sleep, and blogs about finding the beauty in everyday life at She lives with her husband and daughter in the forested foothills of the Sierra Nevadas in Northern California.

Worth the Risk

Worth the Risk

By Jennifer Palmer

Worth the risk

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” – CS Lewis

We tried to adopt once, my husband and I brought a baby girl home from the hospital a few days after she was born in the hopes that we might be given the privilege of raising her. Those early days of new parenthood were so very sweet, even fraught as they were with the constant fear that they might take her from us. From the first moment we held her, we loved her, and we could not imagine our lives without her.

Our worst fears were realized, however, and that which we could not imagine was forced upon us. Though we had done all we knew to do, though we had followed the advice of our lawyer who was experienced in such matters, though the odds of such things happening were vanishingly small, our daughter’s biological father contested the adoption and won. Five months—five months!—after we brought her home from the hospital, we kissed her for the last time and walked away, leaving our shattered hearts on the floor of the ugly courthouse room where we said goodbye.

One month later, two pink lines made a surprise appearance on a stick in my bathroom, and for weeks, I alternated between anger and excitement, between fear and hope. My second daughter, who will almost certainly never know her older sister, was born in the spring of this year. She is a joy and a delight, a happy and affectionate baby, and, while she could never take the place of the girl we lost, she has brought some measure of healing to our lives.

We hope to give this little girl siblings some day, brothers or sisters as companions and playmates and friends. And despite the pain we suffered, despite our ability to conceive without medical intervention, we hope that one or more of those siblings might come through adoption.

Many people don’t understand how this can be the case; they hear our story and cringe, weep tears on our behalf. “How good that you are able to have children of your own,” they say, as if this child I carried inside of me is any more “my own” than the one who first made me a mother. As is the case for so many of the decisions that change our lives, we have myriad reasons for adoption, many of them inexplicable even to ourselves, but the one underlying them all is the same reason most parents choose to bring children into their lives: love.

This isn’t to say that growing a family through adoption and growing a family through pregnancy are identical experiences; even the best adoptions begin with profound loss, and everyone involved requires support and resources and knowledge to handle that loss in healthy ways. But there is room in our home and in our hearts for another, and there are children out there in desperate need of parents to love them. This seems a match made in heaven.

There are risks involved, to be sure, and there will almost certainly be pain along the way. But then, this is true no matter how we come to be parents, is true whenever we choose to love someone or something other than ourselves. Loving another, be it a child or a spouse or a friend, is a risky business. It invites suffering and hurt and sorrow. But it also invites growth and meaning and joy—joy beyond measure. The deeper the risk, I believe, the greater the potential reward, and the hope and love and healing adoption can bring to all involved is worth chancing the heartache.

Had you asked me before all this happened if I could withstand losing a child, if I could make it through such heartbreak, I would have said no. Had I known what was coming, I don’t know that I would have had the courage to walk the path I did. And yet, while I would never wish such sorrow on anyone, while I wish with everything in me that things had turned out differently, that I was living the crazy, hectic life of a mom with two under the age of two, I did survive. More than that, I grew and I learned and I tapped depths of my faith and of my friendships and of my marriage that I did not know were there. Somehow, through grace and love and the support of those who matter most to me, I was given the strength to weather the storm.

And so, if you’re considering adoption, considering making yourself vulnerable in that way, I pray that my story does not scare you away. I pray that you would heed that voice compelling you forward. I pray that you would be willing to risk the pain and the sorrow, trusting you will find the strength for what comes, and in so doing, that you would be rewarded with a joy that knows no bounds. I pray these things for you as well as for myself; though the need for foster and adoptive parents is great, though the faces of children who have no stability in their lives tug at my heartstrings, the pain is still fresh and I, too, am afraid to open myself up again in such a way.

To you on the other side of this journey, wondering if you should take that first halting step forward, to the face I see in the mirror each morning, I pray you hear me when I say adoption is worth the risk. Parenthood is worth the risk.

Love is worth the risk.

Jennifer Palmer worked as an electrical engineer until her daughter was born, but has always been a writer at heart. She now scribbles in her journal between diaper changes, composes prose in her head as she rocks a baby to sleep, and blogs about finding the beauty in everyday life at She lives with her husband and daughter in the forested foothills of the Sierra Nevadas in Northern California.

Editors’ Picks: Some of Our Favorites from 2014

Editors’ Picks: Some of Our Favorites from 2014


On Shame and Parenting

onshameand parentingBy Adrienne Jones

I did for them everything I believed a good mother would do for her children and clenched my teeth and prayed it was enough, or right, or that at the very least they would be OK in spite of the depth of my brokenness.




Brave Enough

sunsetBy Jennifer Palmer

She was mine, this sweet baby girl, but she belonged to others, too.





For Life

For LifeBy Sarah Kilch Gaffney

We named her Zoe because it means “life” and we could think of no meaning more fitting for our child.





This is Adolescence: 16

This is 16 artBy Marcelle Soviero

Sixteen is full of paper thin promise, delicate due to the decisions I can’t make for her anymore, decisions that will determine what happens next.





Till Death Did They Part

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 12.57.07 PMBy Molly Krause

When my dad came back after two decades of divorce, I wondered if my mom had somehow been waiting for him.




Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Mom

Screen Shot 2014-10-25 at 5.04.33 PMBy Dawn Davies

At 6:15 a.m., take the children downstairs for breakfast because, even though you are exhausted, the onus is on you. It is always on you.





My Daughter at the Blue Venus

Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 12.03.52 PMBy P.L. Lowe

She tells me she is not allowed to give lap dances or blowjobs. She smiles kindly, reassuringly, as she tells me this, as if I have been waiting for this exact information, secretly hoping she will divulge such details to assuage my motherly worries.




Bury My Son Before I Die

Bury My Son Before I DieBy Joanne De Simone

It goes against everything we believe about motherhood, but I’d rather bury my child than leave him behind.





The Boob Tube

boobtubeBy Susan Vaughan Moshofsky

On my second day in the hospital, the nurse worried that Rachel was getting little, if any, milk, so she suggested formula supplementation. I refused, determined to succeed. New mom though I was, I knew that supplementing was the Dark Side.


Brave Enough

Brave Enough

By Jennifer Palmer


She was mine, this sweet baby girl, but she belonged to others, too.


“Do you think you’ll try to adopt again?” they ask, and the question settles on my shoulders like a shroud. My heart begins to race and my palms begin to sweat and my first instinct is to shake my head violently, to run fast and hard from the very idea lest it lodge itself in my brain and take root. The mere thought of walking that path again makes me want to lash out, to cry, to curl up in a ball in the corner of my room and hide from the world.

This reaction is all beneath the surface; somehow, I try to remain calm. I shrug my shoulders and give a half-smile. “I don’t know,” I answer. “We’ll have to see what comes.”

*   *   *

I was there on the day my daughter was born. My husband and I arrived at the hospital early, having been startled awake by the jangle of my cell phone in the wee hours of the morning, and so I was there to see it all.

I was there with her maternal birth family—her mom of course, but also her grandmother and great-grandmother and multiple great-aunts. We made quite the crowd, there in the delivery room, laughing and crying and praying together, all waiting for her to come.

I was there for the early stages of labor, when the contractions were few and far between. I was there when the pain began in earnest, when my daughter’s oh-so-very-young-and-scared teenage mom was given her epidural. I was there for transition. I was there as her mom pushed, and I counted and I encouraged and I held my breath along with everyone else. I was there when my daughter crowned, when the long hours of waiting were finally over and she slipped, alive and healthy, into the doctor’s competent hands. I was there.

I was the first to hold her after the doctor and the nurses, the first after the cord had been cut and she had been cleaned and weighed and warmly swaddled. They brought her to me, and I reached for her amazed that I might be entrusted with this small, sweet bundle. I looked into her tiny face and her eyes met mine and all doubt fell away. In that moment, I was her mom. In that moment, my heart claimed her as my own.

When I finally tore my gaze away from her face, her grandmother’s eyes were on me, the pain stark in the set of her jaw. She was mine, this sweet baby girl, but she belonged to others, too.

*   *   *

A few days later, we nestled her into her car seat, so small amid the soft, pastel fabric, and we left the hospital. We just walked out, with this precious baby between us, and they let us go. I sat in the backseat with her for the long drive home, watching her face, watching her sleep. We pulled into our driveway changed forever. We had left it a young couple with no kids; we returned a family of three.

What to say of all that came after that moment? The story is long, far too long for a simple blog post, and I do not know that I have the words to tell of those first sleepless and anxious and incredible and wonderful weeks, of her one-month birthday, when her mom’s consent was final and I breathed a sigh of relief, of the call from our attorney two days later saying my little girl’s birth father was contesting the adoption. How can I tell you of that summer, one of worry and fear mixed with love and joy, of one court date after another, of the support of her mom’s family and the venom of her dad’s? What can I say of the love that carried us through those days, of the night before the final hearing when friends and family gathered to pray for justice, for truth, for wisdom? No matter how I try, I cannot express what I felt as my daughter’s biological father took the stand and lied, looked straight into the eyes of the judge and said words I knew to be false.

I took the stand, too, on that day, recounted the events that led to all of us being there together in that courtroom, hoping that my words would have weight. I knew, all too well, that what our lawyer said in her closing argument was true: “No matter the judge’s decision, somebody’s heart would be broken.” I just prayed it wouldn’t be mine.

What words are there to explain all of this, to tell you of the moment when we got the decision and I collapsed on my living room floor, unbelieving? How do I help you know what it was like to place the girl who had been my daughter for five full months in the arms of the one who had conceived her? How can I convey to you what it was like to allow my legs to carry me down the unfeeling tiled halls of the courthouse, leaving her behind, when everything in me wanted to turn and snatch her back into my embrace? And then, the helplessness as we heard of drama and court battles and teenagers who would rather party than care for a child, the deep grief mingled with love and a need to know as the texts and pictures came in those early days before fizzling away to silence, months and months and months of silence.

*   *   *

It’s been more than a year since I said goodbye to my sweet baby girl, a year with its own sorrows and joys, its own defeats and triumphs. Time marches forward and life slowly returns to normal and grief begins to fade.

And this is the amazing thing after it all, after all the tears and pain and loss: I still believe in the idea of adoption, in the beautiful (though painful) gift it can be to all involved. I still know it can be so very good. And deep down, beneath the fear and the hurt, I still hope it can be a part of the story of my family someday.

*   *   *

And so, they ask, “Do you think you’ll adopt again?” and I am afraid, so very afraid, and a large part of me wants to run in the other direction. But I smile, say, “I don’t know,” and my heart whispers the unspoken completion: “but I hope one day I might be brave enough to try.”


Jennifer Palmer is an electrical engineer turned stay-at-home-mom who lives in Northern California with her husband and five-month old daughter. She shares her thoughts about everyday life at

Photo by Scott Boruchov

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