The media firestorm created by the legal battle between Sherri Shepherd and her ex-husband Lamar Sally over the baby boy conceived during their short marriage isn't just another celebrity scandal. For me, the story is personal.
Almost every report I've read or heard on this story focuses on Shepherd and her role in the situation. Who is she? Is she the child's mother, or does that title fall upon the egg donor or surrogate or no one at all? Is Shepherd a victim to alleged manipulation by her ex-husband? And if she is, is she more or less responsible for the child? Should Shepard be forced to pay child support for a child who isn't biologically hers, but is, according to the courts, legally hers?
Let me be clear: A person doesn't have to biologically related to a child to be the child's real mother.
I am the mother to three children, none of whom are my biological children. I am, nevertheless, their real, full-fledged mother. I kiss their hurting places, tuck them into bed, care for them when they are sick, drive them to school and gymnastics, discipline them, wash their laundry, prepare their snacks, organize their birthday parties, and have talks, deep, heart-to-heart, talks, about God, where babies come from, bullies, and the Tooth Fairy.
No, I didn't conceive them. No, I didn't carry them in my womb. No, I didn't birth them. No, I didn't even meet them until they were several days old. No, they don't have my eyes or my husband's brown hair. But they are mine. I adopted them, intentionally, purposefully, and unconditionally. As an adult, I am capable, responsible, and most of all, accountable for the decisions that I make.
Regardless of what Shepherd decides to deem herself as in relation to the baby boy, what will this situation mean for the child who was helplessly and innocently thrown into chaos? How will he feel when he learns the woman who helped create him refuses to love, protect, and nurture him? How will he interpret the tumultuous and polarizing stories he reads or watches when he is older? How will he learn to fully love and trust women when, from the beginning of his life, love and trust was broken by the first woman in his life? How is it fair that he is denied a relationship with Sherri's older son, his brother, instead learning of his brother through news stories? How will he feel when he sees Sherri singing the praises of the son she is parenting, as she so often did when she was on The View, meanwhile refusing to mother the second little boy she brought into the world?
These are similar questions many of us who have adopted children grapple with. And not only do we and our children have questions surrounding the child's beginnings, but our children struggle with issues deeply rooted in the severance between first mother and child. Attachment issues, trauma, loss, and confusion run rampant in the adoption community, even in some of the healthiest adoption situations.
When a journey begins with brokenness, brokenness will, at some point, reappear. It might be in the form of an anxiety-ridden, confusing season in the child's life, or it might be a life-long struggle. It might be as simple as a few questions about why things happened as they did, or it might involve spending years searching for a biological family member. Unlike Sally and Shepherd, my children don't have cameras following them. How much more difficult baby LJ's journey will be because it is made public.
As a mom by adoption, I'm very aware of how important, and how critical, beginnings are. Connections and attachments matter. Severance creates disconnect and breeds distrust. Transparency and honesty are necessary for children to have the tools to be able to build solid, healthy relationships.
This little boy's story is thus far complicated and messy, but it doesn't have to continue to be so. Both Shepherd and Sally have a small window of opportunity to reconcile their differences and do what is best for the baby they chose to create. They cannot control the invasiveness of the media, but they can control their child's story. The re-writing can begin now.
No matter who a judge deems as "right," no matter which party loses his or her case, the truth is, the person who will be most impacted, to either his detriment or his benefit, is the child.
Mothering children, whether they are biologically born to a woman or not, is a privilege and an honor. It is a responsibility woven with grace, love, and security. Shepherd is baby LJ's real mother, and I hope she has the conviction and courage to step up to the proverbial plate, because the longer she waits, the more irrevocable damage is being done to an innocent child.