The boy was just over three months old. His little fingers, his big eyes, his smooth skin, he was pure perfection.

Montgomery—it was a sunny February day in 1956. Martha and her husband sat in an ugly, sterile, third-floor government office.

Outside was a blue sky, beautiful trees, and birds. Inside, it was dismal.

Martha was wringing her hands. She looked at her husband and saw him bouncing his knees.

“Would you relax?” she said to him.

“You first,” he said.

But the truth was, she was just as anxious as him. And who could blame them? Their adoption papers had been bouncing through the bureaucratic ping-pong machine for twenty-seven months now.

Twenty-seven months.

That’s long enough to earn a master’s degree.

When they first submitted the application they felt nothing but excitement. They filled out the forms and requested a son. The anticipation was almost too much.

What would he look like? Who would he grow to become? After ten years of marriage, Martha was ready to hold her own child. She wanted someone call her “Mama.”

In years past, she’d only ever held children that belonged to friends or family, and this did nothing to satisfy her two empty arms.

So, they turned in their papers. They hoped, and waited, and stared at their kitchen phone every evening.

But time went on, and the phone did not ring. Six months became a year. A year became two years. Not knowing was torture.

Alabama caseworkers sometimes visited their home in Dothan, without warning. These were friendly social workers, certainly, but only in the governmental sense. The caseworkers would make notes on clipboards, then look at Martha like they were sizing her up for a butcher’s window.

Martha wondered if the phone call would ever come.

Three days ago it did. The bell sounded on Martha’s phone and she almost lost her mind.

The voice on the line said, “You can pick up your son at the State Department of Pensions and Security.”

So there they were. They had been waiting, sitting in those god-awful government chairs for an hour.

Finally, the door creaked open. A social worker entered the room, she was carrying something wrapped in a blue blanket.

“Here he is,” said the woman.

Martha stood. She held her hands outward. She received a baby into her arms.

The boy was just over three months old. His little fingers, his big eyes, his smooth skin, he was pure perfection.

“This is a big decision,” the social worker explained. “This doesn’t HAVE to be the one, you know.”

Martha and her husband held the boy, speaking in high-pitched voices. They cooed at him, gurgled, played peek-a-boo, and whispered sweet things.

There is nothing quite like holding a baby. It does something to a person. It lights up your soul and leaves you better off than you were before.

“Look,” said Martha touching the baby’s chin. “He’s got no hair and three chins.”

She laughed. It was the kind of laughter that almost leads to crying. Her mind started to wonder about things, and it sent a bolt of anxiety through her.

“Wait a minute,” she thought to herself. “What am I doing? This child doesn’t know me, and I don’t know him. Am I doing the right thing? Can I care for him? Can I love him like my own? Am I capable? Can I be a mother? What kind of mother will I be? A good one? A bad one? Have I lost my mind?”

It was almost too much to bear, all the varied emotions became so heavy they could’ve caved in the roof of that ugly office.

She tickled his chubby neck again. He drooled on himself, and made one of those glorious baby noises.

This put an end to all doubt.

“Yes,” was the answer. Yes, she could be a mother. Yes she could love him. Yes, she could kiss scraped knees, cheer at ball games, and hold him tight when some girl broke his teenage heart. Yes, she could be what this child needed. Yes, by God, yes.

It would be her greatest endeavor. The reason for her life, even. Her ultimate achievement. She would go on to have more children, and grandchildren, and family would be everything to her.

And when Heaven finally called her home, at age ninety-two, her children would congregate around her. They would recall the way she raised them. The way she loved them.

And they would remember her as “Mama.”

Rest in peace, Miss Martha.

21 comments

  1. Cathi - February 7, 2019 9:19 am

    Mamas are mamas until they’re not but I think they are still mothering from Heaven. I know mine is.

    Reply
  2. Toni Tucker Locke - February 7, 2019 9:35 am

    Today is my husband’s birthday. He is just nine years older than this baby boy would be. I am glad that there continue to be good mothers, biological or not, because babies need mothers as much as mothers need babies!

    Reply
  3. Steven P Bailey - February 7, 2019 10:47 am

    Beautiful.

    Reply
  4. Naomi - February 7, 2019 12:44 pm

    My daughter-in-love and her brother were adopted. I don’t think that they could have been adopted by two more loving parents. They lost their mother 4 years ago yesterday.

    Reply
  5. Peggy Savage - February 7, 2019 1:32 pm

    ” I remember mama ” …such lovely words, such lovey memories. …

    Reply
  6. MermaidGrammy - February 7, 2019 1:46 pm

    There’s at least one little baby – maybe more- maybe older children – waiting for you and Jamie. Take the plunge. It doesn’t always take years

    Reply
  7. Edna B. - February 7, 2019 2:42 pm

    You might want to listen to MermaidGrammy. There are so many children just looking for that chance for happiness and love. You have a wonderful day Sean, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
    • Kristine Wehrheim - February 8, 2019 12:32 am

      I agree with Edna. What are you waiting for?

      Reply
  8. Shelton A. - February 7, 2019 4:15 pm

    God bless Miss Martha and her family…may she be there at the gates to greet them all.

    Reply
  9. Connie Havard Ryland - February 7, 2019 5:56 pm

    Beautiful. There are so many children that need love and so many people ready to give it. The system needs to work smoother to make that happen. You certainly don’t have to be “blood” to be family. Love and hugs.

    Reply
  10. dogsdolls - February 7, 2019 7:24 pm

    As a childless woman…who will never be mama to anyone, this made me cry. I made my peace with the situation a long time ago,but this made me cry.

    Reply
  11. Lauren Justiss - February 7, 2019 7:50 pm

    Beautiful words. When I first read my Grannymart’s story, being the daughter of that little baby she knew she could be Mama to… my heart was forever changed. Martha was my Grannymart. She lived each day to love family and made sure we all knew love. I’m the oldest of her grandchildren and cherish the time my four children had with her. She truly lit up the room with her beautiful eyes and amazing smile. Her way with words always lifted and inspired me to always live in a way pleasing to the Lord. She challenged me to think and reflect on life. I’m ever so thankful she and my granddaddy made the choice to love my daddy, her first baby. Somewhere, I have a video of her telling her story… thank you for sharing this writing. She adored your writing and would often talk to me about your stories. Oh, how I will miss her.

    Reply
    • Jack Darnell - February 7, 2019 9:07 pm

      There is no better AMEN than that!

      Reply
    • Judy Deal - February 8, 2019 1:43 am

      Lauren, your Grannymart was the true epitome of a southern lady. It was truly a blessing to have known and loved her and to have been loved by her. Her beautiful sparkling eyes and smile will forever be in my heart.
      Thank you, Sean, for paying tribute to such a beautiful lady.

      Reply
  12. Becca Allison - February 7, 2019 7:58 pm

    It is absolutely none of my business, but perhaps you two could consider adopting a child. You would be wonderful. No one is perfect, but children don’t need perfection – just love.

    Reply
  13. Jack Darnell - February 7, 2019 9:05 pm

    Perfect. I knew a woman just like that in Biloxi Mississippi. Her name is Eloise Matthews. She is presently pushing 90 a widow and living in Northern Alabama.! Adopted one and had some! Same sweet personality you described.
    This is amazing. THANKS

    Reply
  14. Betty F. - February 8, 2019 12:15 am

    Sean- What happened to your sister’s daughter Lucy with viral meningitis?

    Reply
  15. Martha Armstrong - February 8, 2019 7:45 pm

    Well, you did again, Sean of the South! You made me cry. Almost 47 years ago, my sister and brother-in-law finally got the call from Social Services letting them know that the baby boy that they had prayed for/hoped for/prayed some more for – for almost 6 years – was finally going to be going home with them. My sister and their 8 year old daughter were visiting my parents at the time and her husband called to ask when they were coming home. My sister responded that they had another 4 or 5 days left in their visit and she and their daughter didn’t want to come home until her husband (who taught part time at the law school) was finished grading papers as he could be quite the bear when he was pouring over his students’ exams. She questioned why they should leave my parents’ home early and his response was, “Because I can’t take care of a baby on my own!” Screams of joy rang throughout my parents home!
    A month later I drove to their home to visit this 3 month old “auburn, wavy haired” baby who bore my dad’s and my middle name, “Clay”. I fell in love at first sight and have adored that sweet “little” baby who is now 6′ 4″. He’ll always be my “Baby Nephew” and we’ll forever be grateful that he is part of our family.

    Reply
  16. Patty Dickson - February 9, 2019 1:12 pm

    This brought back so many motifs of adopting our son 46 years ago. He was six weeks old and Sixteen pounds! He was so perfect in every way. He has become the live of my life. His older sister adores him. His father died last year and he stepped right into caring for me. I am blessed every day.

    Reply
  17. Donnie - February 12, 2019 3:10 pm

    Just beautiful! When you were in Marianna recently, I noticed two friends who don’t know each other had gone to see you and their comments were so heartfelt I just had to see what you had to say for myself. They were sure right, you touch my heart and give me pause to look around and see the wonderful folks all around me. Thank you for sharing your gift.

    Reply
  18. Kathi harper-hill - February 15, 2019 9:54 pm

    The social worker who visited us after our daughter was placed in our home had also been adopted as a baby. then she got married and couldn’t get pregnant, so they adopted. When their new baby was 3 months old, she got pregnant. At first, she said, she was angry, because she now had a baby, thank you very much, and didn’t want two at the same time. Of course, that’s what she wound up with. She told me that she thinks God did that to give her ultimate reassurance that a mama loves her babies all the same, adopted or birthed. And I believe that with all my heart.

    Reply

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