Love, Loss, and the Power of Words

By Raquel McCloud

May 29, 2024

Through the eyes of an abandoned child and birth mother with the empathy and grace of a kinship adoptive mom.

Mother’s Day is quickly approaching, a day that many will celebrate and others will mourn. A day intended to acknowledge those who gave us life and taught us how to live it but for many within the adoption, foster, and kinship community the word mother may feel complicated, delicate, or even too bitter to whisper through gritted teeth.

How can we hold space in a way that acknowledges a wound without pouring salt into it? Is it better to ignore what could have been in an effort to cultivate love for what is or can we recognize loss and still experience a joy-filled life?

When loss and love are so closely intertwined, how do we hold space for both?

Motherhood has met me in a variety of ways, beginning at fourteen when I became an expectant mother. I held that foreign word in loose hands, knowing I wouldn’t get to experience the fullness of its depth. My intuition rarely fails these days so I like to believe that was true of me then as well, though if it were, I certainly ignored it a lot but I digress. As expected, without the support necessary for a young teenager to parent, I exchanged the word ‘mother’ for ‘birth mother’ a few short months after my fifteenth birthday.

Despite the fear that I’d never be worthy of motherhood in the way it was meant to be savored, my husband and I celebrated a positive pregnancy test six months into marriage and I once again became an expectant mother, this time at twenty. Four months after blowing out twenty-one candles, I became a parenting mother when we welcomed our healthy baby girl into the world. Life did as life does and in yet another unexpected turn of events, three years later, I became a kinship caregiver to my newborn biological half-sister at twenty-four years old. In the same year, I was given the privilege of reuniting with my firstborn. Five years later my husband and I had the opportunity to offer permanent safety and stability for our little wild child who joined us through kinship care. She had called me mama for years but at twenty-nine with the consent of her biological mom, the courts made it official.

Ironically, before any of those moments the words mother, mom or mama had never crossed my lips…at least not that I can remember. I became motherless at two when my biological mother permanently abandoned me in the care of my paternal grandparents making her distance easier to maintain.

Love and loss, much like grief and gratitude, is a concept I’m intimately acquainted with but have discovered most people are. We are rarely alone in an experience, even when the solitude feels palpable. This concept of feeling “both”, however, has become a recognizable emotion within the adoption, foster, and kinship communities as more adoptees, former foster and kinship youth, as well as birthmothers have been given the opportunity to speak up about their experiences…as someone who has experienced multiple sides, I can tell you it affects me differently depending on the lens I’m looking through and yet each perspective is authentic, even when they conflict.

As a child of kinship care, I grew up hearing, “Your mother didn’t want you, but we did.”

This message was repeated to me into adulthood as if it were an affirmation…and in a way, that was its intent. There was no malice in Granny’s gaze as she repeated this phrase time and time again. Her heart was in the right place but since the eighties and nineties did little to embrace emotions, our caregivers were tasked with toughing us up for a hard world and part of my hard was recognizing I had an absent mother. I just recently learned she had just turned eighteen a couple of months before my birth…that was never how I envisioned her. For some reason neglect and abandonment looked like a hard face, aged prematurely by addiction…not a vulnerable young girl, seeking reprieve from the trauma I’m told she endured. Regardless of her age or motive, Granny needed me to know I was wanted despite her absence so she said the only thing she knew to say, “Your mother didn’t want you, but we did.” And she meant it.

Those same words that were meant to soothe me soon became my greatest fear. My mind reeled after placing my firstborn for adoption, a choice that was not really a choice at all. It physically hurt when I considered those same tired words being used to explain my absence to my daughter. Words I was certain she would grow up to believe. While there was no contact between my biological mother and me, I fought for as much contact as possible with a less-than-enthusiastic adoption case worker. As much contact as possible shook out to limited contact fully dependent on blind trust. I was able to send a gift and photos for her birthday and Christmas (through the adoption agency) and was promised an update and photos once a year in return.

“We’ve always told her that your decision to place her for adoption was one made out of love, that you were just too young to take care of her.”

My firstborn was nine when we reunited. I don’t remember what insecurities I had the boldness to vocalize but her mama’s words felt akin to a soothing balm on an exposed wound. Our daughter was still young though. Was she telling me what I wanted to hear or the honest truth? I had more experience with the former than the latter and enough trust issues to only hesitantly believe she meant it. Wasn’t I the bad guy in this story? Wasn’t I the one who left? Years later when our sweet girl was a teen processing her story and asking questions, I apologized for any part I played in her hurt and then I thanked her for choosing to have a relationship with me.

“Why wouldn’t I want to know you? My parents always told me you loved me but were just too young to take care of me.”

Tears involuntarily filled my eyes and I knew this was the narrative most adoptees and children in care needed to hear…what I needed to hear.

“Your biological mother wasn’t able to get well so she did the most loving thing she was able to, allow you to be in a home that could offer you safety, stability and love.”

While I recognize there is often a stark difference between an expectant mother making an adoption plan and a parenting mother relinquishing or losing custody of her child, they almost never enter these circumstances due to a lack of love or lack of want. What we see most often is a lack of resources, a lack of support, a lack of sobriety, or a lack of stability but very rarely are women making adoption plans, relinquishing or losing custody of their child(ren) due to a lack of love or want.

This may sound like common knowledge but if you speak to enough adoptees or former kinship and foster youth you’ll realize just how uncommon this narrative is…despite how paramount. Language plays a vital role in how we move forward, not only in healing our old wounds but in helping our children develop a healthier sense of their own stories as well.

My mom loved/loves me.

My mom loved/loves me but she was unable to give me the safety or stability I needed.

My mom did not show me healthy love but that does not mean I’m unloved or unloveable.

My mom loved/loves me the best way she knew how.

As an adoptee, abandoned child, or child of foster or kinship care, if you have a negative narrative you’ve been playing on repeat, I encourage you to replace it with one of these.

Both of my biological parents struggled with addiction. My father was a kind man but his addiction robbed him of his full potential and me of the father I so desperately needed him to be. I still don’t know much about my mother. I know she also struggled with addiction. I’ve learned she had contact with each subsequent child, favored some, abandoned another and wasn’t always very kind…perhaps due to her lifelong addiction. I choose to believe that both of my biological parents loved me the best way they knew how. It wasn’t enough, what I wanted or always healthy but it was all they had to give. Dwelling on their inadequacies or constantly wishing things had been different won’t help me heal…it won’t help you heal.

For the foster or adoptive parents reading this, I know your heart is in the right place, I know you want your kiddo to thrive, I know you are often doing your very best and hoping it’s the right thing. I won’t pretend to always have the answers but I feel confident in this: consider your words before they become your child’s inner voice.

Your mom loved/loves you.

Your mom loved/loves you but she was unable to give you the safety or stability you needed.

Your mom did not show you healthy love but that does not mean you’re unloved or unloveable.

Your mom loved/loves you the best way she knew how.

Whether you borrow my words or use your own, I believe acknowledging the balance of loss and love gives us space to grieve what could have been and experience gratitude for what is.

I say “almost never enter these circumstances due to a lack of love or lack of want” because there are always exceptions and there are birth and biological mothers who have expressed regret or bitter rage over a child who played no part in their own conception. While I hope to show the humanity behind most birth and biological mothers, I acknowledge there are some who may express a lack of love or want. If that’s your experience, I am so sorry. If no one else has validated that trauma or sit with you in that grief, consider this a hug from a concerned friend. You are both loved and lovable, worthy of life, hope and healing. I’m so glad you’re here.

Raquel McCloud Raquel McCloud grew up a child of kinship care and is also a birthmother in reunion, and kinship adoptive mom that uses her lived experience, education and community involvement to cultivate resources like this! You can find her adoption and kinship care children’s books on Amazon at and follow her Instagram @McCloudLife for daily adoption and kinship care content.