Mother’s Day, Broken Dreams and a Fulfilled Calling

My dream to become a mom

Like most little girls, I imagined I’d be a mom when I grew up. The dream wasn’t lofty. It didn’t seem selfish or unattainable. It wasn’t like I wanted to be a princess or the President. I just knew that being a mom was what I was called to do. Dolls, stuffed animals, pet cats, and stray dogs were all my children during playtime. My nature was to nurture, and the thought of not having kids was never an option. After all, nearly every child on Tiller Street, where I grew up in idyllic Orange, California, had a mommy. Life was close to perfect, the stuff of Hollywood movies. I never imagined Mother’s Day would become a painful holiday for me.

My adoptive parents were amazing.

Mom and Dad, who met in Toronto, quickly fell in love and married after Dad, originally from Sunderland, England, moved there for work. They settled in Santa Ana, California, fulfilling Mom’s dream, but they struggled with infertility, unable to start a family despite their idyllic surroundings.

Diane’s adoptive parents.

My dad, despite his limited education and business knowledge, connected with a lawyer who facilitated a private adoption deal with a pregnant young woman, covering legal fees and medical expenses.

Diane’s birth mother: Edie.

My birth mother, a college student with four sons, gave birth to me in a Catholic hospital. I left the hospital on Valentine’s Day with my adoptive parents, comfortable in my new mom’s arms – car seats weren’t legally required in the late 1960s – and as she noted in a diary I found years later, I sucked on a salty French fry on the ride home. (Certainly not the parenting norms nowadays.)

The loss of my adoptive mom.

Two years later, my little brother was adopted, and our family was complete. Until it wasn’t.

When I was eight years old, my mom died.

She bravely fought cancer for five years and died on Dad’s 50th birthday.

Diane and her brother with their adoptive mother.

My brother and I had always known we were adopted. Our mom told us we were loved twice as much because of the mother who put us up for adoption and the mother who adopted us. But as a little girl, being adopted and then having my adopted mother die, I felt that I had lost two moms.

Thankfully, God gave me a personality that can handle life’s ups and downs. Many who know me well call me “emotionally healthy.” Friends’ mothers took me under their wing, and I felt blessed to have so many women who love and care for me.

I longed to be a mom.

But there was still a hole in my heart. I just knew that God would give me that connection with my own children that I didn’t get with my birth mom or my adoptive mom.

A few of my friends had children when they were in college, and I doted on them. I would visit the babies, celebrate birthdays, watch them grow into toddlers, start kindergarten, and attend soccer games and ballet recitals. During this time, I started getting involved with Olive Crest, a foster family ministry based in Santa Ana, California. (Somehow, this city is the epicenter of my life.)

After college, I married, hoping for children, but a decade of a troubled marriage led to divorce. While initially disappointed, I held onto hope for a loving husband who shared my faith and dreamt of being a parent.

Diane and her birth mother.

What was encouraging was that I had met my birth mother and found I had not just four half-brothers but six half-brothers! Nothing too dramatic about meeting everyone. Certainly, lots of teasing along with tears, and my birth mother expressed sorrow when she found out my adopted mother died when I was young. What excited me was that my mother had so many children and that she conceived her two younger boys when she was in her late 30s. There was hope for me yet.

My struggle with infertility

Two years later, God introduced me to the person I’d marry. We said “I do” the next year, and because I was inching closer to 40, we started trying to get pregnant right away. When we realized a year had gone by and I still wasn’t pregnant, my MD referred us to a fertility specialist. The experience was high-pressure, the cost was extremely high, and the repeated mentions of “if we find the baby to have defects, we’ll just eliminate it” made me angry. I reminded the staff at the fertility clinic that I was adopted and life-affirming and that there was no way I was going to “eliminate” a baby because of a defect. I left the clinic in tears and vowed to adopt.

My husband vowed to stand by me. Although he seemed hesitant about adoption, he said he knew being a mom was the most important thing to me. We looked into private adoptions and signed up with Olive Crest to learn more about the foster-to-adoption program.

My journey adopting

Our journey to foster parenting, much like “Instant Family”, involved a rigorous application process with background checks, counseling, and training. Despite setbacks like traveling 70 miles only to find a child missing, we fostered twin boys, later needing higher care due to behavioral issues. And the family/foster picnic that was so hilarious in the movie? That’s a real thing, at least in Los Angeles. Feels much like a speed-connection session for parents and at-risk kids. That’s where we met the teenage girl we eventually adopted.

Our adoption journey had its ups and downs. While we didn’t instantly connect, we made our home safe and loving. We followed advice from social workers and Olive Crest, doing counseling, doing after-school activities, and maintaining healthy routines. Supported by CASA, our church, and friends in the fostering community, we faced challenges as our daughter dealt with past traumas. She needed extra care and support to stay safe, but we were there for her every step of the way.

My Husband’s Passing

Several months went by, during which time we drove an hour each way three times a week for visits at a residential treatment center. During the week of Thanksgiving, we had a traditional turkey dinner with all the fixings, and it created some wonderful memories. And then the unthinkable happened.

My husband had an undetected AVM rupture while in a meeting. It was seven years and three months to the day after our wedding. I received a phone call at work and rushed to the hospital in Glendale, near all the famous movie studios, where he was on life support. The neurologist told me he was brain dead.

A week later, he was removed from life support. Over 300 people attended his celebration of life. I was in shock.

I told God that this wasn’t fair.

Suddenly, at the age of 44, I was a widow and a single mom to a teenager. I was angry. It felt like I had enough loss in my life, and I needed my husband to help. I lost my birth mom when she put me up for adoption. I lost my adoptive mom when I was eight. And now I was divorced and a widow?

This wasn’t how my life was supposed to turn out.

Do you know the story of the woman at the well whom Jesus ministered to in John 4? I felt like that woman.

But while in the hospital, amid confusion and grief, the Holy Spirit showed me Romans 5:2-5:

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we[c] also glory in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

I had suffered, but I had hope.

Today, I am married to a wonderful man I met online, and I am a step-mom to two beautiful young women. My adopted daughter is in her twenties, is in a relationship, and has resumed contact with her birth family. We text on occasion, and she says she is doing well. I am content knowing that for the brief time, she was with us, she was introduced to and accepted Christ, and we provided a safe place for her and made sure she had the services she desperately needed.

Mother’s Day for me

Like other women who couldn’t have children or have lost their moms, Mother’s Day has always been tough for me. When I sit in church and reflect on my mom, who gave me up as a baby, my mom, who died, and the children I never had, I cry. I haven’t been to church on Mother’s Day in years because it is too emotional.

But this Mother’s Day, I am choosing to reflect on what I do have.

The foster children God trusted me with for a season

The adopted teenager who needed an advocate to keep her safe

The adult step-daughters God blessed me with after so much loss

The goddaughters God gave me

The nieces whom God granted with creativity and tenacity

The young children I teach in Sunday school who love to dance and sing and memorize scripture

My friends’ children are incredibly smart and talented, and now, as teens and adults, they aren’t too embarrassed to send me heart emojis on Instagram

My co-workers’ kids run up to me in the office and give me hugs and handwritten cards

The young women I’ve been able to mentor over the years

You are a mom to someone.

If you’re like me and not a mom in the traditional sense, know that you are still a mom to someone. God has a plan for each one of you this Mother’s Day. Just because we couldn’t conceive or raise a child from infancy to adulthood doesn’t mean we’re not moms.

Abraham was a father to many nations. Bloodlines may not flow from me to future generations, but I am confident that the love of Jesus flows from me as a spiritual mother, friend, mentor, godmother, and aunt.

And I realize that, indeed, God has fulfilled the dream of a young girl on Tiller Avenue after all.

Author’s Bio

Diane P. Ferraro is C.E.O. at Save the Storks, a non-profit ministry that is committed to revolutionizing the meaning of pro-life with love, compassion and action. She loves Southern California beaches (despite a near-death experience on a boogie board!), long walks and snowshoeing, but isn’t crazy about the wintery conditions in Colorado.


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