In honor of Mother’s Day, we’re sharing stories from the Brit + Co community about mother figures who shape our lives.

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Mothers come in different forms, shapes, and sizes. Some people are extremely fortunate to be born to loving, supportive women who raise them to believe in their power and worth. Others, like me, aren’t as lucky. But, sometimes, life steps in to give you someone you never expected to meet, but that your heart always wanted. For me, that was A.

I was pregnant with my fourth child when I met A. at a professional networking event. As a very pregnant, newly single mom getting ready to face yet another scary blank page, I could never have known that I’d meet someone who would, in many ways, become like a mother to me — and just in the nick of time.

It was heartburn that brought us together.

“You should take these essential oils,” she said after overhearing me complain to a stranger, as she handed me a vial of Doterra peppermint essential oil from her purse. “The peppermint really helps.”

I hadn’t even mentioned my aversion to conventional medications, so it was surprising to encounter this friendly stranger whose intuition was so spot-on. But people fortunate enough to know A. likely know how insightful she is, magnetic and kind and brazen and all-around awesome.

We ended up talking quite a bit: at the event, at a dinner that folks went to after the event, and online after. It wasn’t long before we became close.

At first, I looked to A. as a bit of a professional mentor. We worked in similar fields, and she was encouraging of my career desires in writing, social media, and more. She thought I could be so much more than what I was.

But it wasn’t long before her support extended beyond professional aspirations. A former high school cheerleader, A. became my cheerleader, too. She cheered my goals; she cheered my sense of style. As soon as she entered my life, she offered support in ways that surpassed what I was used to from friends and colleagues — and, especially, from my own mother. A. was open, kind, and non-judgemental. It was inspiring.

It was A. who gave me the advice — and, as a result, the permission — to take better care of myself. “Change your diet, change your life,” she said when I mentioned how my moods seemed to change with the foods I’d eat. I listened, and it worked.

A. was amazing through the new beginnings of life and an unknown potential ahead. She was there through my son Jonas’ birth on Halloween night in 2013. She cheered as I carefully tiptoed into what we’d thought might be a positive relationship. I had become more successful with consistent writing projects. We celebrated victories in a custody fight over my middle children with my abusive ex-husband. She was loving, empathetic, and kind with hugs and encouragement. Life was looking up.

But unfortunately, my optimism would be short-lived. A little less than a year after my son Jonas was born, a series of intense tragedies came down like a gullywasher — and proved the resilience of my new support system.

My grandmother on my dad’s side, with whom I had been close in childhood, became sick. I put a job on hold to take care of her. My then-boyfriend left during the final days of her life, as I returned from California to my home state of Illinois to care for her during her dying days. I found myself in yet another intense legal custody battle — one that continues, unfortunately, to this day. 

Where my mother made me second-guess my own experiences and wonder whether my suffering was all my own fault, it was A. who saw through everything and reminded me the truth. In times where it seemed I had nobody else in my corner, she did not falter. She offered support and empathy and kindness. Most of all, she offered faith.

“I believe you,” A. would tell me. “I believe in you.”

I needed that injection of faith more than I could have imagined: Compounding the trauma and pain of this time, which was already fraught with death and heartache and separation from my children, it was around this time that my sister Jessica, who lived across the country from me and who had also been a victim of an abusive marriage, would be found murdered by her husband.

It was an unspeakably difficult time that I’m still processing, and it was hard on A. too. Yet, through it all, she helped with my kids and stood solidly by my side. At moments  where many people, including my own parents, would not be emotionally available, A. would be my rock. She gave me the courage to access my own strength. 

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I’ve known A. for almost six years now. She has given me support and strength in some of the darkest times one might ever experience, and pushed me to push further through the storms.

Financially, emotionally, and physically, I am happier than I possibly have ever been. Even in a period of continued uncertainty, I am confident that I will be okay. I’m not afraid of daring to be myself anymore; I stand up, even with sometimes-wobbly legs. I’m still standing. I’m still fighting.

A. reaffirmed something that was missing from my childhood: the solidity in understanding that even if I wasn’t the best at everything all the time, I was good enough, deserving, capable, and worthy. And through even the toughest storms, A. continues to be one of the most real entities I encountered in a near-decade of living in the superficial landscape of LA. Though the battles and scars of the war of life are not over, she has shown me how the chances to meet and find a family — or a mother — are not gone when childhood is.

I’m forever thankful that I stumbled upon an amazing surrogate mother in A. I’m forever thankful that I stumbled upon someone who exudes compassion and firm caring, a soul-shaking love that has been integral in every way that I needed and when I needed it the most. From a bout of vicious heartburn, I found a mother with a ton of heart.

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Jennifer Stavros is a #museforhire and writer who frequently flitters between Los Angeles and San Francisco. She and her work have been featured on LAist, The LA Weekly, and more. Her experiences and musings of personal growth while bouncing between cities and blurring the lines between artistic, corporate, colorful, and dark worlds can be read about on her blog Little Girl, Big City, on her TwitterMedium, or perhaps one of the many books inevitably being drafted.

(Photo via Getty)