Freshly churned out of the adoption machine. The newly minted birthmom unleashed into the world. The attitudes of the freshly minted birthmom have changed over time, and yet, the feelings remain the same. It’s interesting to see, how it is coming full circle. Today, I will tell the story of how I started out. I will speak about how over time, when the reality started to dawn on me, I coped (and didn’t). How I moved (and am still moving) through the cycles of grief. Yes, the cycles. Birthmotherhood isn’t a grief cycle that ends. It moves through its stages, and then starts again, with a different layer. Birthmother grief is a complex, multifaceted grief, meaning that it has many different layers, triggers, places of acceptance (where you get to pause) and times of absolute chaos.
This is going to be a really hard one to write, but that’s why I’m writing now, for people out there affected by adoption, so that you know you are not alone. My feelings are candid. I don’t mince words. I don’t sugar coat, and I don’t lie. Here is something to consider, if you read through this post, and start feeling like I’m being cruel, or harsh…take that in for a minute. Close your eyes, and just let that feeling sink in. That’s what denial feels like. We all have it, and it’s your minds way of filtering your perceptions, in order to facilitate self-preservation. Denial is there for a reason. Sometimes the things we know can be so painful that it has the potential to be our undoing. Our minds have been uniquely programmed through the DNA of our ancestors to survive at all costs. If your mind sees a threat to that survival, it will lock that thought, feeling, or perception in a room until such a time when you feel you can handle it. I call it the hall of doors.
When I became a newly minted birthmom, I got a new door named adoption. It was shiny and new, and full of possibilities. Over time it’s been filled with the realities of what it means to be a birthmother for the rest of your life. You can’t see it from where you sit, but there has just been a very long pause in my writing…I’m letting that thought sink in. I’m letting the awareness of this moment flood my mind and heart. I’m not denying it, I’m not actively shutting it down. I’m letting it just be there. This is very difficult for me to write about, but I need to trust I can find the right words to convey just what this means.
My journey to birthmotherhood started when I was in my 5th or 6th month of pregnancy. This is when I first heard the word adoption. I had been intent on keeping my baby. I was living with my dad at the time, and I had moved my room to the basement so that I would have enough room for me and baby. I was actively looking in my area for resources to help me with my impending motherhood. I went to an appointment with my local crisis pregnancy center, and that is where, in the waiting room, I saw a pamphlet on open adoption. Open adoption was new, at the time. The pamphlet spoke of happy families, and birthmothers in an extended family situation. It spoke of being able to see your child grow up, and to always be able to know how they were doing. It spoke of pictures and visits, and all the things that my mother didn’t have in her forced adoption in the 60’s. I thought this was an interesting concept, and the researcher in me took a pamphlet home. I showed it to my aunt, who had been supporting me during that time, helping me, or so I thought, to get ready to have my baby. I thought perhaps seeing what adoption had become, that my mother might find some sort of peace in that pamphlet, that things had changed, and no girl/woman would ever have to go through what she went through. I had lived with her for most of my life up until a few years before I got pregnant. We had never gotten along, we have always had a volatile relationship. I had seen what living in a closed adoption looked like. That’s why I would have never considered adoption. I would never be my mother, having my baby taken away and never seeing them again. Just for the record, my mother never got to see that pamphlet, my aunt kept it.
After my aunt saw the pamphlet, she suggested adoption as the best option for me. She knew a catholic couple in Toronto Canada who couldn’t have children. I flatly refused. I was keeping my baby. She began to talk about “exploring all my options” as a necessary step into making an informed decision. I couldn’t really argue with that, and before I knew it, she was telling me she had made an appointment with a social worker who did private adoptions. I panicked, I said I was keeping my baby. She again stated it was important to at least look at ALL my options BEFORE making ANY decision. To appease her, I went.
It is so hard for me to go here…this was the beginning of the end. This again…has been a long pause folks, and I’m going to be honest, I can’t write that piece out yet. Please forgive me, it will come in time, you will hear it. (I wrote out that piece here) I need some more time for that piece of the story though, so I’m going to skip to after my son’s birth. We’re talking about newly minted birthmoms today, and well, this is the period for the 10th day. In my province (BC) you cannot sign any adoption papers until the 11th day.
By the tenth day, I was an active chaotic mess. Putting it bluntly, I was bleeding heavily, my breasts were leaking, I had dark circles under my eyes, and my hormones were all over the place. Before I delivered, I felt like I was waiting for a death to happen. I was excited to meet my child, don’t get me wrong, but knowing what would come after was a great unknown, and I had no frame of reference to compare it to. I was very scared. I thought that after the birth those feelings of fear and anxiety would go away, because I got the hard part over with. Imagine that! For all you veterans out there, I actually thought BIRTH was the hard part! I can see all you newly minted birthmoms out there, fresh in that knowledge thinking, “ya, me too”. Birth is only the beginning…it does get harder, a lot harder.
For the time being I’ll tell you though, between that 3rd and 11th day, something happened that changed everything for me. Made the possible impossible, and that knowledge bathed my heart and mind in a warm wave of numbness. It’s part of the “I can’t go there today” story, but I will share it when I’m ready. When I went to go sign the papers, my brainwashing was complete. Here are the things that a woman who was keeping her baby now believed:
1. I was too young to make a good mother. (I was 2 months away from turning 19)
2. I would never be able to go to college or get any other schooling because I wouldn’t be able to afford child care.
3. I would not be able to get any financial help from the government because technically I was still a minor and my dad was still responsible for me.
4. I would be throwing my life away to live in poverty, and due to my selfishness dooming my child to that life as well.
5. That my child would grow to hate me for wrecking his life.
6. That I was selfish for wanting to keep my own child.
7. That my child was better off with two parents who were married.
8. I was not stable, or emotionally ready for a child.
9. That if I didn’t go through with the adoption I would be “breaking their hearts”
10. By signing away my rights to my child, I was making a more “deserving” family.
11. My pain would be intense at first, but as time goes on it would diminish and I would go on with the rest of my life.
12. This child is the first of many, don’t worry, you will have more children one day.
13. I was his adoptive parents last hope, because they had an adoption fall though on them at last minute.
Take that list in for a moment, I’m sure there are many parts of it that sound familiar. By the time my child’s birth was imminent I was no longer sure if what I was being told was truly in mine and my child’s best interests. I could no longer distinguish who was really on my side, and who “appeared” to be on my side, even with my own family. The players involved didn’t necessarily need me to believe one thing or another, they just needed me to have doubt. They needed me to doubt I was “good enough” to raise my own child. They needed me to doubt that I, in my lack of knowledge of the law, government services, and life experience that I would make a good mother. They needed me to, in my doubt, turn to them for guidance. They need me to look at them as trusted advisers, who having the benefit of years of experience, knew better than I the best interests for all involved. In my fear and my desperate need for approval and acceptance, I fell for it hook line and sinker….
I don’t despair over this piece of my story anymore. I realize like many other women who came before me, and after me, I was the byproduct of a well oiled machine. A machine that had been tailored to the time in which it sat, with just the right phrases, said in just the right way, in order to produce the product it needed to run. Womb wet infants have kept this machine running for generations, a victim of “circumstance”, and the birthmothers a victim of “choice”.
I’m trying to find the words to describe what it was like in those early days after I lost my son to adoption. Again…another long pause to enable myself to go to this painful place. To give my heart and my mind permission to let it all come forward. These days, after years of stuffing my feelings down, I have developed an amazing ability to turn my emotions on and off at will. Sometimes, it’s a good thing this self-preservation piece. Other times, it keeps me from feeling anything, when I should be feeling something. That makes it hard to have a “normal” relationship with anybody.
The early days were…well…I was in a state of shock. I would stare off into space trying to remember what I was thinking (as I’m doing now). I often forgot to eat. Only when I felt like I was going to pass out, did I go through a sort of checklist in my head of “self-care” things I knew I should be doing. I couldn’t sleep. I would have dreams about my son. The most memorable one I had and still occasionally have (yes, almost 20 yrs later) is what I call the hospital dream.
I find myself in the corridor of a hospital, sometimes there are people, sometimes there aren’t. I don’t know any of the people, so its irrelevant to share really, just giving you a synopsis. It’s all white. I’m standing there confused for a minute…what am I doing here?…and then I hear it..my babies cry. He needs me, I can hear it in his voice, he needs me. I start to walk towards the sound, along this long hallway of doors (yup there’s the symbolism again) opening each door looking for my son. I’m sure I’m getting closer, and his cry is getting louder and louder and more frantic. My anxiety goes through the roof, I begin to run, sure he’s just around the corner. I finally get to the door of the room I *know* he’s in, and go inside. I walk up to the bassinet, and there is a baby in there sleeping…not mine. Mine is wailing and wailing at the top of his lungs and I start sobbing as I run through these corridors looking for my son, and just when I think I’m going to collapse from grief and anxiety, the dream ends. I wake up, and there are tears on my pillow.
My existence in those early days consisted of the above, and trying to stay busy. During this time too, the Social Worker who facilitated my adoption saw me for “counseling sessions” which involved telling me how wonderful I was, how selfless, how happy the adoptive parents had told her they were. How grateful to me they were for making their dream come true. Come to think of it now, as this piece of the puzzle floods my awareness, I don’t recall ever talking about my grief at any of those sessions. They consisted of be sitting and listening to how wonderful I was….that’s an interesting one to ponder. You see, there was a revocation period in my sons adoption. It was 30 days. I knew about the 30 days, and I had twice brought up with the social worker that I wanted my son back. She would gloss over it (I’m actually in my mind in that office right now..) and say “what is it about the adoption you want changed?” and I told her I wanted my baby back, being separated from him was hell. I didn’t know my contract was not legally binding. I didn’t know that in fact until my son was 10 yrs old. I was direct both times, on both occasions. She would immediately launch into the above mentioned list, reminding me of how unworthy I was, and yet at the same time, and in the same breath, tell me how strong and selfless I was for making a family for these two people who “really deserved” one. She would then finish off with a “well I’ve got another appointment, so I have to run, but you’ve got my number, we should get together next week.” I walked out of there not quite sure what had just happened. I asked for my baby back, and walked out really confused. The term for this type of behavior I describe is gaslighting. It is a manipulation technique used my many social workers or adoption “professionals” to bend you to their will.
“Effective gaslighting can be accomplished in several different ways. Sometimes, a person can assert something with such an apparent intensity of conviction that the other person begins to doubt their own perspective. Other times, vigorous and unwavering denial coupled with a display of righteous indignation can accomplish the same task. Bringing up historical facts that seem largely accurate but contain minute, hard-to-prove distortions and using them to “prove” the correctness of one’s position is another method. Gaslighting is particularly effective when coupled with other tactics such as shaming and guilting. Anything that aids in getting another person to doubt their judgment and back down will work.”
the quote from this article can be found here: http://counsellingresource.com/features/2011/11/08/gaslighting/
That happened the first two times I went in to see her. The third time I went, she suggested that going to the birthmothers support meeting that she held in her offices would be good for me. (Now for all of you who are “in the know” about such things, this was very unethical behavior, because not only was she the same person that did the home studies for the prospective adoptive parents, facilitated the adoption and got paid the “fees” by these same people, she was also the same person who did the birthmother “counseling”, AND ran the birthmothers support group). This was a total conflict of interest. In fact, The year after I lost my son, private adoption was made illegal here in BC, because of these circumstances. I say this now as a warning to all of you in the USA because there is a huge movement towards private adoption there. Through private adoptions, prospective adoptive parents can get a baby quicker, because there is no middle man. The adoption agent has all the power in these scenarios, and stands to make alot more money because prospective adoptive parents who want a baby quick are also willing to pay more.
I went to the support group as “suggested”. There were four of us. One woman who spoke first had told of a scenario in which she agreed to an open adoption, and as soon as the ink was dry, the adoptive parents shut her out. She went on to say though that she was still happy that she chose adoption. She was into two years of that hell. Now I know what your thinking, “you were still in your revocation period, why didn’t you hear that and demand your baby back?” It was because I was smug. I’ll admit it. I had just had a “counseling session” with the social worker prior to the meeting ( I see it for what it was now, a “grooming” session, sprinkled with that lovely gaslighting technique mentioned earlier) and I sat there thinking “She should have seen the red flags. My sons parents would never do that to me, they love me, I helped create their family, they will be forever grateful to me.” and then “She must have done something to anger them, I would never hurt my sons adoptive parents like that, I love them, they are like an extended family to me.” (here’s the thing, can you really say that about someone you’ve known for three weeks?). The two other women spoke, one who had lost two children to the same family. She lost her first son to them, in a closed adoption, but when having her second she wanted the same family to adopt him. They were contacted and as the story goes, they desired to have an open adoption with her, and so after she had her second son, the adoption was opened, and they were all great friends and it was all rainbows and unicorns. A comment she made throughout her story was ” he was never meant to be mine. The whole time I carried him I felt like I was carrying their child.” I recognize this now as a metaphor for her deep denial. I call it “distancing language”. It’s a survival (yes, survival) technique used by birthmothers, especially new ones, to come to grips with what they’ve done. It’s very deeply imbedded in closed adoption birthmoms. In fact, even after her reunion with my half sister, my mother, who is also a birthmom, still uses this language. In open adoptions moms, especially birthmoms that visit, that language comes in handy when getting ready for the visit. When you visit, you do feel that sense of peace that has eluded you since separation. You feel “more whole” (don’t kid yourself, you will never be completely whole again) when you are able to see your child, but the emotions are so intense that the distancing language makes a good buffer for you to function around. When the visit is over, you’re on a “high” of sorts, but later comes the inevitable crash that happens hours or days later as your body and mind relive the reality of that separation.
When it was my turn to speak, I spoke of how grateful I was that I had found my son such an amazing family. That “our” sons mother and I were just like sisters. That we had so much in common, and that I couldn’t imagine my life without them in it. (sounds like the beginning of a torrid affair doesn’t it?) There were harps and angels singing, there were unicorns and rainbows, and not one person in that room corrected me about my “reality”. Why you ask? I’ll tell you. Two of the birthmoms who came that night, whose stories I mentioned above? They were on the social workers payroll. They were paid to make sure I got through that 30 days, and they didn’t get paid till I did. I’m so angry remembering that. I found that out about 6 months after the adoption was final, because the social worker had asked me if I wanted to come to a workshop with my sons adoptive mother and talk about the beautiful open adoption we had. I mentioned I was busy and she mentioned that anytime she has a birthmother do anything like this for her whether it be “providing support for new birthmothers at a support group” or “acting as part of a panel for prospective adoptive parents” that there was a paycheck in it for me, that is, if I was interested. I did one workshop, but found it too hard. What struck me, is that a week later when I went to pick up my check, there was also a bonus in it. I asked what it was for, and she said “You were just so moving, and honest about your experience. You put them all at ease to see that all birthmothers aren’t crazy, unstable 16 yr olds”. I felt sick. I feel sick now remembering all of this. I was an accessory. A toy to be put on display. If I acted just the right way, PAPS would want to get themselves a sweet lil birthmother like me! Hurrah!! More money in my social workers pocket! This happened 20 yrs ago in private adoption. Take a look at this pretty lil postcard a birthmom friend of mine got in the mail….sounds familiar doesn’t it? If you convince a woman to give us her child, we will pay you, but you only get the money if the adoption goes through. Just like, those two mentioned above. I was scammed. I also want to clarify, that after this postcard went viral, the agency realized they were in very big trouble and pulled the program.I am just using this postcard as an example of what is still happening today. Because we, as birthmothers spoke up about it, they had no choice to shut it down. There was no one in my corner. No one had the balls to tell me the truth.
It says ” Thank you for choosing A Guardian Angel Adoptions to help you during this difficult time. It was a privilege to work with you, and we commend you for choosing life for your baby!! Now your experience with an unplanned pregnancy and with A Guardian Angel Adoptions can help other birthmothers too!! We have a program for birthmothers who refer other women experiencing unplanned pregnancy to A Guardian Angel. Simply give them our toll free number. Have them call our phone angels and give your name. When they have completed a successful adoption, we will send you a gift card for $500.00 as our gift of appreciation for sharing the miracle of adoption.
I took my “blood money”(cause that’s what it was) and I went out and bought more nail polish. Anyone who knows me will laugh at that. I don’t wear makeup (except lipstick on occasion – Ahem!) and I don’t do my nails! It’s just not my thing! But in those early days, watching Matlock reruns and painting my nails was part of my coping mechanism. It all started with a birthmom that I had met who after losing my son, bought me a gift of sweet almond oil for my cuticles. I was touched because it was one of the few gifts I got to acknowledge my motherhood. I felt like shit on the inside, but damned if I wasn’t going to look good on the outside! In fact, at the workshop I did as noted above, my sons adoptive mother took the time to compliment me on my beautiful nails. I was never going to let her see I was hurting.
She had pulled away from me before when I had mentioned feeling sad and unable to cope. As a birthmother, you learn to adapt quickly to what is expected of you, because if you don’t, they might get upset and cut you out of your child’s life. They only have to say one phrase, and it works for every situation you can think of…”it’s not in the child’s best interest” and as you know from my last post, openness contracts are not legally binding. There is nothing you can do. So my early days as a birthmother consisted of painting my nails, taking really good care of my skin, working really hard to get to my pre pregnancy size..while my insides learned the art of stuffing my emotions to be able to survive the agony I was in.
For you newly minted birthmoms, fresh off the assembly line, I feel for you. I know your torment. I know your guilt. I know your regret within that false dream. I know you can’t sleep and you forget to eat. You are in bare bones survival. That is what the early days are. This is the reality. Do what you can. If you can’t, don’t. Anything that can wait, let it. This is your time. Let yourself cry. If you are working and just can’t, schedule bathroom breaks so you can take a few breaths or cry alone if you need too. When you are at home and have a moment, let it come, let the grief wash over you, let the tears burn your cheeks, but cleanse your soul. Most important of all, don’t kid yourself to the realities of what your life is going to be like. Don’t “distance” yourself from your child. You will always be your child’s mom, just in a different way that you were hoping, and it may take several years to realize that dream. Honestly, some never do. I am almost 20 ys in now, and I long for reunion. I long to hold my son again, I long to laugh with him and share stories of my life with him, I long to have him rejoin my family. The wish that I put out into the world today, is that one day, he will want the same.