“But do you still love them?”

“But do you still love them?”

Karen Hodgson celebrates her love for her adopted children 

I was sitting in the waiting area watching my eldest two children doing their gymnastics class; my youngest was snuggled into me, tired, sucking on a piece of apple and feeling my jumper between her thumb and finger as she is wont to do when trying to sleep, while I stroked her hair. Her sisters were doing their best to join in with the others; Liberty’s visible lack of coordination wrung my heartstrings as she tried and tried to balance on the beam, falling, climbing back up, falling again. I felt tears well up for her and wanted to rush and help, but I blinked them back, knowing I had to stay put. My throat felt tight and I had to remind myself to breathe as she tried again and got slightly further along before falling yet again.

The other mums were chatting. I zoned my focus away from the gymnasium and into their conversation, and then, realising they were talking about childbirth, I looked away and fiddled with my water bottle.

“How’s she doing?” I turned to the kindly mum who had perhaps seen me struggle to join in and had spoken out. We chatted and the conversation turned to breastfeeding, so I said awkwardly, “Unfortunately, we didn’t get the chance to breastfeed, as my girls are all adopted.”

As an adopter, I understand that my experience is different from most parents’, and I know that politeness, curiosity and sensitivity then play a delicate balancing act in how people respond to me. That’s fine. Sometimes people ask questions that surprise me. That’s OK: we can’t all be experts in everything, and I’m happy to talk about my experience. But then one of the mums asked me a question that has haunted me ever since: “But do you still love them?”

At the time I was so blown away that I think I answered, “Yes, of course,” or some other such auto-response as my head whirled and a million words fell apart in my mouth. Later on, other answers kept coming to me in pieces, ones that were slightly fuller, rounder, deeper, as this was not a ‘yes/no’ question. This question burned at the very core of our family, and I wanted her to not only hear my answer, but feel my answer.

“More than I’ve ever loved anything,” “Life-changingly so,” or, “With all my heart and soul,” somehow still weren’t full and round and deep enough to explain away the hurt of that question. Explain Love. Explain how it comes, how it seeds and roots and grows. The answer I’ve always given myself simply poses another question: how can I explain love? Who can do that?

We were driving along our road the other day, looking for a parking space, when we saw a car parked half on the pavement with its ‘bum bum’ out in the road. We laughed and I asked, “Who parks like that?!” to which Molly, the youngest, answered, “That guy.”

That guy.

Who can explain Love?

Ok. Me.

So, I decided to sit down and try to write it out.

The first real hug Liberty gave me felt like coming home. I felt her heart in that hug, the precious heart of this strong, vulnerable and hurt child, and it needed love, she needed my heart and soul unconditionally. The need was so raw and unhidden, so genuine and overwhelming, that it found the part of me that felt the same. I felt a force sweep out of me, over us, through us and around us that pushed tears from my eyes and made me bite the inside of my lips to stop them shaking.

A force that came into existence at the beginning of time, a powerful surge through the universe, of atoms and dust, electrons and light, an energy that gave birth to planets and Life, that was so powerful it perpetuated through every generation of every being on Earth and it found us and surged through us too, and in that mist, which felt as ancient and primal as stardust, I held her tightly as every ancestor has held every infant from the dawn of creation.

We rocked backwards and forwards and she clung her arms and legs around me, sobbing. I held her head and promised her I’d never let her down. I promised to love and hold her in my heart and to do my best for her every single day. I held her until my arms ached and my eyes were sore, and then I held her some more.

Years before, I had stood in a festival crowd and swayed to the words of a local band, which have stayed with me:

“Through this maze of time and space, I close my eyes, see your face, reminds me what I came here to do, to love you…”

I had always thought the words were about a man. That was how they spoke to me – about finding and loving a partner – but now these words are on my wall and are dedicated to the love I have for my children, through the hustle and bustle of everyday life and closing my eyes and feeling the love. Because closing my eyes and seeing their faces brings that surge back; on dark days and difficult days, on crazy days and days when everything feels upside down, that feeling balances it all and brings everything back into perspective. What else has the power to do that but Love? 

My ultimate love story, my children. Unconditional. Soul-changing.

Once, there were three amazing, mind-blowing, incredible children with a need in their life for a mother. And there was I, a childless mother, with a need in my heart for children.

And boom.



Karen Hodgson and her three children live in Dorset with collie Shep and Wally the cat. They enjoy baking (particularly sourdough), hiking and wild camping. They are looking forward to hiking part of the Pacific Crest Trail and camping amongst the giant redwoods of California this spring.

Illustration by Veronica Petrie • studiovink.co.uk

First published in Issue 59 of JUNO. Accurate at the time this issue went to print.  

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