*This is Part 1 of a 3 Part post. *
PART 1 – DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE
Adoption, and the range of emotions encompassing the word and experience can be difficult to write on. It means so many things to so many people. My experience, for the most part, has been challenging to put it mildly. Ever since the day I signed those papers, I have struggled. I have struggled to trust, I have struggled to believe and have faith, and I have struggled at times, to live, when all I wished for was an end to the ever present pain of birthmotherhood.
When an expectant mother signs a contract with a prospective adoptive couple to have an open adoption, the parties involved become an extended family of sorts. At least this is what a new birthmother is lead to believe. She goes home with empty arms and a heart full of HOPE for the future. I’ll never, ever forget the day I watched my son be taken home from the hospital by someone else. The image of him in his car seat going down the hall is seared in my mind, as is getting into my dads car, and the large grief filled silence, as I silently cried all the way home. The beginning of my life as a birthmother. Numbness. Grief so deep I couldn’t even cry tears anymore, yet I was so raw, every emotion burned.
Almost twenty years ago feels like yesterday. The emotions that come to the surface threatening to again unravel me for this moment, and I let it come because today I can. Today I’m feeling stronger.
Even twenty years in though, I can say that being a birthmother has never gotten easier, I’ve just learned through trial and error how to endure. My endurance has been challenged time and time again by various situations and triggers, but I’ve always been able to right myself again…but at a cost. There is always a cost.
The cost is the little pieces of my heart that get torn and need to be repaired. After this many years as a birthmother, my heart resembles a well worn and frayed patchwork quilt. I just hope I can keep all the pieces of my heart together until my son and I are fully reunited. The one thing I long for more than anything else. There’s that word again. HOPE. Birthmothers, even in their deep grief carry so much HOPE.
“HOPE is when you feel the pain that makes you try again”
I remember finding that quote many years ago in a magazine. I’ve carried it with me for all these years, because no matter how much it hurt, no matter what the cost, I was determined to keep the adoption open. It was such a very high cost though, and ten years later they closed it anyway. I had sacrificed so much more of myself than I realized, as I sit here now thinking about it. I would have died to keep that HOPE alive. Which leads me to the next quote. A quote from Ode to a nightingale by John Keats:
“I’m half in love with easeful death”
Both quotes I have lived. Both quotes I have challenged, and I have given into at different times in my journey as a birthmother.
In the beginning I was so full of HOPE. The HOPE that my sons adoptive parents would keep their promises to me, and that they would honor the terms of our agreement. That very HOPE kept me going until the time of my first visit with him, when he was three months old. It was the first time I would see him since leaving the hospital. I was scared and overjoyed to see him again. I was scared he wouldn’t remember me. I was scared that three months apart in another woman’s arms would make him forget me. That he would cry if I held him. The exact opposite happened. My son only three months old, just a tiny baby, knew me instantly. An unexpected jolt happened when I took him into my aching arms for that very first time and he didn’t just look at me, but looked into my eyes. That defining moment when time stopped. When my heart leaped, and when my soul registered that the bond we have will never be broken. At one point, I remember he got fussy and his adoptive mom was trying to calm him down. He just kept on crying. I asked her if I could try to calm him, and she handed him to me. He immediately stopped crying and snuggled into my shoulder, I looked over at his adoptive mom and our eyes met. Hers were so full of hurt, and she told me that he cried alot when they first brought him home. At one such time, he was crying and she couldn’t soothe him. Her nephew (I believe it was?) came up to her and said, “Maybe he misses his real mommy.” she said those words were like a knife to her heart. After that, she took him from me. He was asleep and didn’t notice, but that day was an indicator of what was yet to come. http://adoptionvoicesmagazine.com/adoptee-view/adoptee-view-what-can-a-tiny-baby-know/#.VT6pm5OITGs
I felt like I was walking on clouds after that visit. My soul was soothed by what I had discovered, but soon, a few days later the “after visit” blues hit me. I had never experienced such darkness, such shadow, such depth of despair in all my 19 yrs. NOTHING could touch the pain I was in. I felt like I had a gaping hole in my heart, and that’s when it hit me…I would never be whole again. That realization was enough to send me over the edge.
There have been many times in the past years I have been hopeless. Successful open adoptions are fueled on HOPE, but successful open adoptions are a mirage. I’m not just saying that because of my experience, I’ve seen it time and time again of promises not kept. Of hopes dashed. Successful open adoptions are a rarity.
Most of the time I was a part of an open adoption with my son, the second quote was what I lived, however unconsciously.
“HALF IN LOVE WITH EASEFUL DEATH” – Passive Suicide
I carried on with life as best I could manage but a new trend started to emerge. In my pain, which was also a kind of numbness, I, on some level stopped caring. I took care of myself on the outside but the inside of me was a torn, broken, bleeding wreckage that no matter how much I tried to take care, it was too much for me to handle, so I began to ignore it.
I didn’t care what happened to me anymore. I took risks I shouldn’t of taken, and I got myself into plenty of situations in which could have potentially ended my life. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find the HOPE anymore. I just couldn’t care. My life was about survival, not living.
I was deeply depressed. When the six months arrived and the adoption was final, I was completely engulfed. My DR diagnosed me with depression. I had no idea depression was an illness. I had no idea there was medication to treat it. Instead of feeling hopeful that there was a light at the end of this tunnel, I instead felt worse. Now, not only was I in a very depressed state grieving my son lost to adoption, I had been diagnosed with an illness. A mental Illness. The shame and embarrassment sucked me further down the hole.
I suddenly felt that with this new diagnosis I wasn’t just grieving anymore, but that I had moved into the realm of “crazy”. Like with adoption, I tried to talk about it with family and friends, but at the mention of medication for a mental illness, they changed the subject, or would otherwise distance themselves from me. My life became spending alot of time by myself, and just getting through the next three months till my next visit.
I lived to see my son. Nothing else mattered. It was a vicious cycle though. I would have my visit for my allotted three hours. During that time, as he got older, the first hour would be warming up to me again, the second hour would be us having fun and playing or going for walks etc, and the final hour would be me being distant, and anxious about the time almost being up. Interspersed into that would be his Amoms subversive comments here and there, designed to make me feel less than, and unwelcome. I tried to let it wash over me, I tried to focus on my son, but some of those barbs stuck. It hurt so much to be resented like that. Resented for being fertile. My visits were the big reminder that she wasn’t “completely” his mom. We look (even now) so much alike. We have alot of personality traits in common, even back then when he was young. I know it made her feel threatened, and it just made me feel more anxious to appear more “non threatening” because I was scared that if it got to be too much for her, she would close the adoption.
After the visit, I would go home, and look through the pictures I took. While I was taking them, I would be thinking “oh that’s a cute one” or “oh that’s funny” but getting them developed and looking through them was bittersweet. I was happy I had them, because they were moments that would never happen again, but they brought me nothing but more pain. There was no escape from this unrelenting constant pain. The days following a visit would see me return to the “half in love with easeful death” piece of my existence. I wished I was dead. Anything would be better than living in this misery.
The anti depressants didn’t really help my mood at all. All they did was make me not care more about feeling like I wish I could die all the time. I did what was expected. I went to college, I held down a job, but I wasn’t living I was existing, and I hid it well. I had learned that no one wanted to hear about it. Adoption and mental illness in the same sentence made me a freak, so I tried to make that work for me.
I dove into the darkness. I researched depression and all it’s effects. I researched the medications for depression, and their side effects. I researched different therapies for depression, and got fully engulfed in that as a distraction for my pain as a birthmother in an open adoption.
I saw counselors regularly. Nobody was able to help because mental health services are not equipped to deal with the complex multifaceted issues birthmothers have. Adoption should have it’s own branch within mental health services, where only birthmothers and adoptees are counselors. It’s the old “It takes one to know one” thing. I was bounced from Counselors to Sociologists, to Psychologists, and to Psychiatrists. I was counseled under “grief and loss counseling”, under “survivors of abuse”, under “violence against women”, and I was sent to sexual assault centers, private offices, and hospitals. They all tried to do what they could, but I was always in the wrong place.