The Beauty of Instead

We didn’t get “congratulations.” Instead they said, “oh, I could never do that. I’d get too attached.”

We did it anyway.

We didn’t get to have a baby shower. Instead, we spent nine months practicing CPR on a plastic doll and trying to find the exact right fire extinguisher in a sea of redundant paperwork. We embarked on frantic, 2 a.m. Walmart shopping sprees for the right brand of formula, the shoes they didn’t come with, new toothbrushes and lice shampoo. Instead of a gender reveal party, we created a sage green nursery with hand painted safari animals. When the babies arrived, we didn’t get to keep them. Instead we cried, both happy for the healing and success of their biological parents, and heartbroken to hug them all good-bye, wondering: would we ever be a family?

Then, one day there was you.

When we saw your first picture, it wasn’t an ultrasound. You were six, missing your two front teeth and grinning in front of a carousel, holding your brother’s hand and my entire heart in yours. I didn’t get to hear your grand entrance to the world, your first piercing cry. But I cried with joy at the sight of your beautiful face, and I called up your foster mom. Could we meet you tomorrow?

You didn’t take your first steps to me. Instead, I taught you to swim, and I caught you on the other side of the pool. We celebrated with pizza and you proudly waved your green wrist band from the YMCA at the cashier. Instead, I got to sit beside you on your first roller-coaster. Instead, I got to hold your hand as your toes entered the ocean for the first time.

I wasn’t there for your christening. Instead, we pulled my wedding dress out so you could wear it while I practiced bridal photography. You danced around in the mud and the weeds, tossing your blonde, messy hair back into the sky, laughing as you tripped over the train. I could hardly see you through the lens because my eyes were blurry with the tears of unconditional love.

I wasn’t there to spoon feed you your first solid meal. Instead, I taught you how to fish. Afterwards, we hiked the length of the lake, searching for unicorns in the same woods my family camped in when I was your age. Instead, I taught you how to make homemade pizza, and alfredo sauce from scratch.

I wasn’t there to give you your first haircut. Instead, I was there the first time you tried on make-up, looking like a not-so-friendly clown. We laughed about it in the mirror, and then I re-did it so you would resemble a mermaid. I took you trick-or-treating until your legs ached, then carried you home.

My name wasn’t your first word. Instead, you made me a card for my birthday this year that said, “you are the best mommy I ever had.” You’ve had more mothers than your years on this earth, shuffled from group home to foster home and finally, to me.

I didn’t get to plan your 1st birthday party. Instead, remember your birth mother’s bravery in choosing an open adoption for you. Instead I remember the day that I sobbed all over a courtroom desk because you, little girl, had finally made me a mother.

I didn’t get to fall in love with my minutes old newborn’s sweet face, as most mothers do.

Instead I was given the gift of falling in love with your soul, your precious personality.

I didn’t get to be there for most of your traditional milestones. Instead, we’ve made our own. And I am the luckiest mom in the world, all in thanks to the beauty of instead.


Emily Apsell

Foster and Adoptive Mother and photographer. or


Cover Photo: Mom’s Wedding Dress

(photo credit: Every Love Photography)


Additional Photo: Adoption Day

(photo credit: JJ Photography)



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