So I log into my email this morning to discover that I have a whole bunch of comments. I was a little scared. I've thankfully never had to deal with comment bickering and I confess that I don't think I have the emotional capacity yet to respond appropriately to the kind of attacks I sometimes see on other blogs. I love the front porch idea that I think I saw a long while back on Stacy's blog - the idea that rants belong on one's own blog and that when you visit other people's blogs, you respect their beliefs and stuff. So I entered with caution and was happy to see that everyone was playing nice. And kim.kim, I've done some personal emailing because I definitely don't want to attack someone and I feel very strongly about the fact that birthparents and adoptive parents should be partners, not enemies.
Yesterday's post was all about getting some stuff off my chest and of course after all the comments and posts all over blogland, I feel the need to expand my thoughts.
I need to start by talking about grief. We, as a society, don't do well with grief. Someone dies and we're all left wondering what to say to their loved ones: do they want to be alone? Are we going to offend them? Is it okay to mention the person who passed? and so on. There are countless stories of widows or grieving parents who suddenly found themselves alone because no one knew how to be around them. It's hard to know what to say or do and let's face it, it's much easier to be around someone who isn't grieving. Pushing away the grief is pretty normal and it's all complicated by the fact that it may resurface later, after the griever is supposed to be all better.
Then you have adoption grief which is much more complicated because the loss is hard to define (there's a great book called Ambiguous Loss that addresses this stuff). And really, adoption is supposed to be happy. It solves problems. Really wonderful adoptions are even harder because they really are wonderful- so how can there be grief? I liked what speakingformyself said over at Dawn's blog- the grief is normal. It's not about what someone did or didn't do. It isn't a reflection on the adoption situation itself. It isn't about how well everyone gets along or how much support they have. Grief is a natural reaction to adoption- for all the players. Something was lost.
It also doesn't matter that people go on to live their lives and to enjoy them. They are still going to have moments of grief. In all scenarios, it may be a smell or a song or a comment but whatever it is, it brings it back- maybe only for a moment, maybe for weeks- but it's always there.
The idea of grief and regret comes up again and again for birthmothers. There is the pressure not to feel grief. There is the pressure to minimize your grief when faced with a birthparent whose story is so much worse. There is the pressure to feel constant grief. And the same applies to regret. We really could go in circles on these issues. I prefer to acknowledge that they are both natural reactions but that they are mostly fluid, not constant. Still, they are natural reactions, well-documented.
I have to make a brief note about exceptions. I think that when it comes to negative stuff, we all have a tendency to say that it's different for us. Nobody wants to have negative experiences. I believe that most of the time, things are pretty much going to go the way countless research and personal stories say they are going to go, but nothing is 100%. That's what makes the world so special. That's what makes people leap right in to follow their dreams, pursue a new love, take on a new challenge. And it works all the time. Additionally, we all know that every story is unique, that every life takes it's own path, that every person reacts differently. Yet there are patterns and trends that show up everywhere- that provide direction and comfort to those who may have felt they were alone in the world. Loss is that overwhelming trend in adoption- though it varies in how it takes form. You just can't argue with that. It doesn't mean that people don't have different experiences- it doesn't mean that there is one story for everyone- it doesn't mean it's 100%- it does mean that in the vast majority of adoption studies and stories, loss is the central theme. It is normal to feel that loss. It is normal to feel grief.
(As an aside, some researchers now believe that adopted people were over diagnosed and overrepresented in psychiatric populations because nobody recognized that they were in the natural and common process of grieving and so didn't treat these kids like they were grieving.)
I guess we still have a long way to go in acknowledging that grief is normal.
I need also to share with you how I appear to the outside world and to my friends and family right now.
My life is terrific right now. I'm living on my own, having finally left a miserable relationship. I just started my Master's, a task I was working on when I found out I was pregnant and had since put on hold. My job has really taken off. My school has sent me to national conferences and the principal has really gone out of his way to acknowledge that I'm an asset to the school. I'm also getting some experience toward what I hope will be my future career. I've reconnected with some old friends and find that my social life is more active now than it has ever been. I've grown my hair back out and have lost just enough weight to start to feel attractive again so I'm taking better care of myself and making more of an effort in my appearance. I smile more and laugh more and have started to come out of my shell quite a bit. Those closest to me have said they've never seen me so happy.
My adoption situation has become quite the model for successful open adoptions. My daughter is absolutely thriving- enough that even my mother can't get over how happy and carefree and well-adjusted she is. My relationship with her parents is wonderful. We are truly friends and I find them trying to make plans with me more and more often. When I'm with the extended family, I absolutely feel like a part of the family- it is just like being with my own extended family and in some ways is better. My daughter and I have also developed a very positive relationship. Truly it is wonderful. I absolutely couldn't have asked for it to be any better.
Really, I am one of those happy birthmothers. This is exactly what I wanted for my daughter and there are some very personal reasons for my choice that reinforce that I did the right thing. I am doing very well and my adoption situation is going very well.
But I still grieve and I still feel loss. So does my daughter. Sometimes it is unexpected. Sometimes I know something will be a trigger. Sometimes, I choke back the tears, other days I give in and just cry and cry over the fact that I'm not parenting- that my daughter, my own flesh and blood, isn't with me. As I see her start to look more and more like me, I stop and wonder how she would have turned out had she stayed with me. Some days I feel phantom kicks or an ache in my arms as I long to feel her close to me. I look at other little kids and I feel the loss of my own child. When I got home from school Sunday night and thought about how so much of teacher training also applies to being a good parent, I wondered aloud if given that education, I would have felt like I could have parented her- in that moment, I felt regret.
The fact that I am doing well and that I'm satisfied with my situation doesn't mean I don't feel grief just as feeling grief doesn't mean that one can't have moments of joy or still go on to accomplish great things.
And for the record, there is only one person in my life who would be able to say that I still grieve and that I still have bad days. Every other person in my life would say that I'm doing great, never happier, or that I've "moved on" or gotten over it. I know for a fact that my daughter's mom was relieved that I started my Master's. While I can only speculate about what's going on in her head, I think a large part of it gives her comfort that I wasn't forever damaged by my choice- that I'm back on the path I was on before I found out I was pregnant.
I've already gone on and on, but I do want to take a moment to tell you about where I used to be in regard to adoption. Because I don't mean to judge those who are still learning. I was once still learning, too. I think a lot of the folks who often come off as harsh or even close-minded are really people who learned from their own mistakes and truly want to spare others some of that pain.
I believed that all adoptees were doomed to have severe psychological problems.
I thought that all birthmothers were young and irresponsible and probably drug users (I thought I was the exception, not the norm).
I thought open adoption was weird and that it would be confusing for the child.
I thought that visits and contact were about pleasing me, not about what was good for the child.
I thought that my responsibility was to walk away and let them be a family.
I thought it was horrible of me not to give my child to a couple that really wanted a child because it wasn't fair that I got pregnant so easily and didn't even want to be pregnant. I owed them.
I didn't think I deserved to be called a mother.
I didn't even consider parenting.
I thought the adoptive parents had a right to watch their child being born and made sure to arrange for them to have their own room on the maternity ward so they could room in with the baby.
I didn't think I had the right to call her my child.
I didn't think I would feel like a mother.
I thought that because I really didn't want to be a parent, it wouldn't hurt so much.
And I had absolutely no idea how much adoption would change me and my life or how much it would affect every single person I come in contact with for the rest of my life and possibly for generations.
It was only by listening to some people who had been there that I was able to make some choices during my pregnancy that I'm incredibly grateful for even if I was resistant at the time. And since then I've lived it and researched it and gotten to know other people touched by adoption. As a result, I've built some pretty strong opinions on the topic and sometimes, I just need to speak.