Heather Avis

The Beautiful Great Unknown

by Heather Avis

Mother of three adopted children — two with Down syndrome — Heather has learned that it’s the lucky few that recognize God's plans are best, even when they seem radically different than our own.  She is the author of “The Lucky Few” and can be found online and on Instagram.


“What do you love the most about being a mom?” 

I sat on the living room floor at my friend’s house. There were about five of us there. Sipping coffee and watching the sweet baby girl in the middle of the rug. I looked to my right, to the mama to whom the question was directed.

“I love how I see myself in her. I guess I wasn’t expecting for her to look so much like me.” She leaned over and pulled her daughter up onto her lap.

I politely smiled along with everyone in the room praying someone would change the subject before I burst into tears.

During that season of my life, it was the seemingly innocent questions and comments that stung me the most. The women in the room that day were new friends. I had only known them a few months. They didn’t know the dark corners my infertility had forced me into, or how I felt slightly suffocated when I heard moms talk about their own motherhood. The truth is, unless you’ve sat in those dark corners yourself, there is no way to know the pain of something as simple as a question about motherhood. The truth is, the heart of a woman longing to be a mother is a tender heart, and when that longing goes unmet, the tenderness becomes unbearably raw. 

To be honest, my memories of the broken girl longing to be a mother are blurry at best. You see, today I am the mother of three children, three! Three rowdy, feisty fabulous humans who all call me mom. Today, my longing to be a mother has been fulfilled, three times over. Wow! But during those years of infertility and unmet longing, I was certain the very thing I desired most would never come to fruition.

My road to motherhood looked nothing like what I had planned. During my years of infertility, my certainty that there was one path to motherhood had blinded me to the possibilities of stepping off that path to discover the beauty waiting in the wilderness. In life, we can become so fixated on the path before us that we hesitate to look to our right or left and venture toward the beautiful great unknown waiting to be discovered.

My beautiful great unknown came to me in the form of adoption and then again in the form of a baby girl with Down syndrome. Neither adoption nor being the mother to a child with Down syndrome were on my well-planned path. But it took me all of half a second to recognize how lucky I was to have ventured into this great unknown. My first night as a mama, I sat and rocked my sleeping daughter and it didn’t matter that she spent her first three months in the arms of another woman, or that I would never see my face in hers. I was her mother and she was my child. 

“Infertility” and “adoption” and “Down syndrome” are words that seem to have a towering effect, casting shadows on the world in which we think we want to reside. But at the end of the day the words “mother” and “child” shine brightly enough to cast out all kinds of shadows. 

It has been eight years since I sat in a rocking chair with my baby for the first time. I haven’t once felt the need to venture back to the comfortable, smooth path I had thought I wanted for my life, the path full of easy pregnancies and children bearing my eyes. During these past eight years, I’ve adopted two more children including another baby with Down syndrome. And it hasn’t all been rainbows and wildflowers. Stepping into the wilderness of the great unknown has, at times, left me up to my knees in mud. Adoption is tricky and messy and full of broken hearts. But I’ve learned that when I find myself stuck in the mud, if I sit long enough new growth will begin to sprout up from the ground. And the love stirred up when an adoption takes place is a magical kind of love; messy, strong, and brave. The kind of love that mends broken hearts, making something new. 

This morning I was at the park with my kiddos and it happened again. This magical moment of complete awe just watching them be them and knowing they are mine. 

“Mommy, watch this.” My middle daughter yelled from the play structure, getting ready to take on the monkey bars. I watched her swing effortlessly, her skin multiple shades darker than mine, her eyes those of a woman I will never know, and I found myself grinning from ear to ear, my heart ready to burst. I’ve discovered it doesn’t matter that I will never see myself in my children’s physical features. Matching eyes and DNA do not create a family. I am their mother, for I have given them my heart and captured theirs in return.