anxiety, birthmom, birthmother, coersion, grief, open adoption, P.T.S.D, pregnancy, PTSD, SHAME, speaking out, survival, unethical adoption
When you enter into the world of adoptionland as a mother of loss, certain events in your family become cause for anxiety. For me, it was pregnancy and birth. When I was pregnant with my daughter after I lost my son (and this was ten yrs later), I was fretful, always worried about my baby’s health, and anxious about the future.
I can understand, most mothers to be would have moments like this throughout their pregnancies. They would also have moments of joy, as they think about their new baby’s arrival. Thoughts of snuggling skin to skin, outfits that you can’t wait to put them in. You wonder what your baby will look like, and for some, you wonder about the gender of your baby.
I didn’t ever have moments of joy. When I was pregnant with my daughter, all I knew was loss. I had lost my first baby to a coerced adoption. I knew how to get to birth. I knew all about being pregnant, I had done that before but what I knew pregnancy to be was shameful, anxious, and fearful. I had no frame of reference for being “normal” about being pregnant. I couldn’t dare think of the future. If you can lose your own baby, then anything is possible. I may be pregnant, but how do I know I’m actually going to be a mother this time? Something could happen to me, something could happen to the baby. I had a room for my baby, but I didn’t decorate it or get it ready. I just put the stuff I had in there. I was scared to let it be real.
There is no certainty. You have learned that from the person who convinced you that having your baby adopted by strangers was a good idea. In my case, I felt that acutely because I walked into that social workers office ten years prior intent on keeping my baby. I walked in as suggested by my aunt, who had called and made the appointment, under the pretense that I should explore ALL my options. The outcome of that meeting, changed my entire life ultimately destroying any chance I could ever be “normal” around pregnancy, birth, and newborn babies ever again. Not EVEN in my own family, but ESPECIALLY in my own family.
When I was pregnant with my daughter I tried to get excited, but the fear would creep up on me like a bad taste in my mouth. What I looked forward to was getting through the birth and then after that, my slate was clean. It wasn’t tainted with bittersweet memories of a life not shared. It wasn’t cocooned in numbness, and trauma. If adoption had not entered my life ten years prior, I know my pregnancy would have been so different. My pregnancies were not cause for excitement in my family. For example, when I told my dad I was pregnant, the news wasn’t met with “congratulations!” it was met with, “oh, what are you going to do?”. When I told my daughters fathers parents, his mother said “You should have an abortion, this is going to ruin my son’s life.” I remember feeling conflicted about how I would feel if it was another boy. I tried not to lean towards either gender. With all my worrying, I went into preterm labor at 7.5 months and it took 13 hrs to stop the labor. I refused to leave the hospital until they gave me an ultrasound so I could see my baby was okay. That’s when I found out I was having a girl. I was relieved. Clean slate. After I had my daughter, my mom was wanting to throw me a baby shower, and she approached my cousin about hosting it. My cousin didn’t want to host a baby shower for me, because she claimed a baby shower was only for your first baby, and this was my second. My mother felt the need to share this conversation with me, and I felt this event that was supposed to be a wonderful time in my life, was met with hostility and ambivalence. I dreaded my shower. I felt no one was really happy for me. It was not something that was planned really, it was thrown together. My baby and I were an afterthought. Half my family members didn’t even show up, despite lots of notice. Adoption is a wall in my family. A judgement, unspoken of out loud, but whispered about in the kitchen. My family seemed uncomfortable when I would speak of my son and our visits. There was a part of me that thought I would be “redeemed” once I was a “real” mother. But I never was.
The thing is, history tends to repeat itself. If I had just looked at my own childhood and how I was treated by my aunts, uncles and grandparents being my mothers first “kept” daughter , I would have seen the writing on the wall. I would have seen that my mother had never redeemed herself, so how could I? I was double damned as the second generation birthmom of my family.
As the months passed my daughter grew in leaps and bounds. I got to see all the firsts. Her first smile, her first tear, her first laugh, her first time rolling over. Every milestone was tinged with sadness, because I wondered what her brothers firsts were like. Were they similar?
When my sons open adoption closed, I shut down. I was numb, and just going through the motions. I lost my son, but I kept my daughter. I was hypervigilant, terrified I would wake up and I would lose her somehow. The definition explains my every waking moment, and a lot of moments when I should have been sleeping.
“Hypervigilance is an enhanced state of sensory sensitivity accompanied by an exaggerated intensity of behaviors whose purpose is to detect threats. Hypervigilance is also accompanied by a state of increased anxiety which can cause exhaustion.”
I was detecting threats. It put me in an anxious, worried state. I was exhausted all the time. I never took a break. What if something happened to her while I was gone? I HAD LOST MY SON TWICE. Once when he wasn’t even “legally” mine. I wanted to put a bubble around my daughter that nobody could touch, especially my family. They were the ones who convincingly told me in one breath they would support me in raising my son. In the next breath, three days after he was born, telling me I would be breaking the AP’s hearts, and that they had waited so long for a baby. Then when I became really assertive, and insistent about keeping him, I was told “If you bring that baby home you don’t have a place to live.” My dad had even remodeled the basement for us! He had claimed he was on board to help, and yet, he is responsible for the statement above. I was told that I would be selfish to keep my son.
As parents, we would do anything for our children. Anything. What seems selfish to me now, is that I was two months away from turning 19. I was told at the government office that to qualify for assistance I needed to be on my own. I told them that I was living with my dad, but if they helped me I could move out. They said that because I was a minor, my father was legally responsible for me for two more months and when I turned 19 I could reapply. (I didn’t know back then, that was a lie, in fact I didn’t really know anything about government assistance and/or services or how to access them). What I needed was two months of his complete support. Two months. To avoid a lifetime of pain and suffering, and I was denied. That is selfishness. Pure and simple! As a parent now, I totally get it, and never in a million years would I EVER hang my daughter out to dry like that!
I never had any more children. My sons adoptive mother closed the adoption with “You’ve had another child, you don’t need to see him anymore.” I lose the first, keep the second, and then lose the first again because I had the second. What would happen if I ever had a third? I learned my lesson. It meant possibly losing another one of my children if I dared have another. I lived it, I knew it to be true. It meant being terrified of being abandoned when I was at my most vulnerable moment…because I was. How can you trust anyone, when you can’t trust your own family?
Years later, my sister started having children. I was completely unprepared for how I felt when she told me she was pregnant. Time stopped. I felt sick. I put on a smile and said congratulations. I didn’t understand what was happening to my body. I rushed to get off the phone, and then just held it in my hands shaking. Every sound was echoing like I was in a tunnel. I started to cry. I didn’t know what was happening to me. My sister lived quite far away, so I didn’t see her until her baby shower. When I did finally see her face to face, I felt weak in the knees when I saw her huge belly. She took me to see the new baby’s room while she told me of all the preparations, and I could see she was really excited. I did and said all the right things, but there was a tornado going on in my heart. I felt anxious, scared, like a huge band aid had been ripped off and I was bleeding again. It was much later that night when I could excuse myself to have a moment alone to decompress and check in with myself about what I was feeling. I was having a PTSD meltdown. I had to get out of there.
This is what “normal” looked like. My sister was being “normal”. I got a glimpse of what pregnancy “should” look and feel like. It hit me with a deep solar plexus punch that I would never have that. The trauma of adoption had robbed me of that. All I wanted to do was get away from my sister. I was transported right smack in the middle of my grief again, and I had to pretend everything was fine. This was YEARS before I ever uttered a word about how adoption affected me. I did what I always did. I shoved it down as far as I could. I coped by drinking way too much (I don’t really drink so that was uncharacteristic of me) and gorging myself on food. I was on edge. I was jumpy. I was snappy with my daughter. It got worse when my dad showed up for the visit as well. I felt really distracted and I couldn’t really look at him. I couldn’t keep track of the conversation, all my focus was on keeping myself together. Everybody was so happy and excited for my sister. I wanted to crawl out of my skin. I played my part well, and I was able to ignore the elephant in the room. My mother showed up the next day. It was all just too much. That was the last time I saw any of them. For my own self preservation.
The next time my sister was pregnant, I got a text. I was able to say congratulations and not have to try and make conversation. I avoided most of her phone calls while she was pregnant. She felt like I was ignoring her. I sent her a text gently trying to tell her that I just couldn’t talk to her right now. That it was hard for me. I got a flurry of texts from her saying things like “I don’t get why you’re so upset, you had your chance, it’s my turn now. You’ve had two kids, it’s my turn to catch up.” Like it was a competition. I felt sick. She just didn’t get it. About a week later, I got a long letter in the mail from her with a ton of 3d ultrasound pictures. I was called selfish, and told that all I cared about was myself. That I needed to get over my “issues.” She then brought up my sons adoption, saying that I made a choice, it was best for everyone involved *shudder*, that he was happy and well cared for. It made no sense for me to think about him. That he was someone elses responsibility. His AP’S closed the adoption and they probably closed it because I was drawing too much attention to me being his mother. (she had way overstepped by this time. She hadn’t seen pics of my son in about 5 yrs. She knew nothing about the relationship I had with my son or his AP’S, she herself hadn’t seen him since he was 3 months old, but she knew it all. She was an expert in open adoption because she knew someone who had one (me). The insinuation that I was “doing it wrong” was the very, very last straw. My open adoption was closed because I had another child. Period. I resented her pushing this pregnancy on me. I was able to be happy for her from a distance. Shoving it in my face wasn’t helping. Calling me names wasn’t helping. Poking at my obvious discomfort, and grief was cruel.
My sister had absolutely no idea the profound effect her thoughts, actions and words would have on me. I don’t think most families do, really. If you aren’t “in the trenches” you miss the subtle ways that an innocent comment can sting. A few months later, she called me to tell me she had gestational diabetes again. I hadn’t experienced that either time, so I just listened. I listened to her fears and tried to put her mind at ease, and then she changed the topic and said, “We really want a boy this time. Then we can have one of each.” She went on and on about the timing of conception to make it more likely etc. I had to get off the phone. I didn’t want to talk about baby boys. I was honest with her, that I was finding it hard and that I needed to get off the phone. She responded with exasperation. “Honestly! You need to get over this. It was 16 yrs ago!! Stop moping around about it! Celebrate the daughter you do have! If you want a boy so bad, just have another baby!” Again. She totally missed it, and again this is before I started talking about adoption. She knew nothing about how I felt. Only that it was hard for me to talk about. She didn’t know that I had a normal life in my community, and that adoption wasn’t on my mind 24/7. I wasn’t moping all the time, and It wasn’t something I ever talked about. I felt deep shame for years thinking I did something wrong by having another baby. It seemed to her it was always at the forefront because she was always bringing it up with regards to my standoffishness about her pregnancies. In reality, I was just doing the best that I could. It would be another four years before I started writing this blog.
When the day for her c section came, I was on pins and needles. I kept waiting to hear the news, I was weepy, I was anxious and flighty. I left work early feigning sickness. I was a mess. All I could think about was, I hope the baby is not a boy. I just couldn’t deal with it. I was the only one in my family to have a boy in roughly 30 years…and I lost him. It was just too close to home. I felt so guilty feeling that way, so I started hoping for a girl, praying that might help the universe along in granting my tiny wish. Later that night, I learned I had a new niece. I started to cry. Tears of relief and guilt, and shame and sorrow. I was raw and torn wide open again. Thrown hard against the wall of the first stage of grief. Its a never ending cycle for birthmoms. With death, there is closure, with adoption there is not.
My analogy is this: When I was a kid (I’m dating myself here) I loved playing super Mario brothers. I got really good at it, but it was before the internet and I didn’t know all the tips and tricks of the game. Over time, I learned some shortcuts, and I could effortlessly go from one world to the next. Those damn flying fish were the death of me. It took great skill on my part to avoid them on that bridge. They just came out of nowhere and despite my best maneuvering I would get hit. What used to bug me so much was even though I had my shortcuts, once I lost all my men, I would have to start at world 1.1 again. All that hard work, wasted. I never gave up though, I kept trying.
Birthmother grief is like that. There is no closure. So even if you get through all the stages of grief, a trigger event can literally knock you off your feet, and you’ve got to go back to square one. I can’t count at this stage of my life how many times I have revisited every stage of grief. Some I know well and breeze through, others I still struggle with. I never give up, I still keep trying.
Fast forward to a couple of years ago. I opened up about my adoption experience. I found my voice. My mother and sister publicly shamed and bashed me on a public post. I cut them out of my life. Some of you will remember that. There were a bunch of you who came out in droves to support me, and to express your compassion and disgust over the way I had been treated by my own family. I didn’t speak of what happened after by text message between my sister and I.
In a nutshell, I was a liar, I made a choice and turning around and saying years later that I wasn’t happy was BS. My new birthmother friends were responsible for making me go off the “deep end” and filling my head with all these “ideas”. Then she tried to shut me down with that old nugget that had been used by other members of my family, “At least you got to see him, and you know he’s happy”. I tried again in vain to help her understand but she didn’t want to hear it. My views on adoption were all out of the blue to her. We never talked about it. She never asked me how I felt. ever. Back then, I really felt like I needed her to understand. She closed the text session by saying, “I’m pregnant again, and you are never going to know your niece or nephew.” In my anger, I replied, “I hope you lose it, then you will be able to partially understand how I feel, you are dead to me.”
We have never spoken again. I found out the other day she did lose that baby, and she blames me. The next day, I saw a post that a family member commented on. Apparently, she was in the hospital, having a c section with yet another baby. Again, my head started to spin, I felt sick and anxious. I didn’t even know she was pregnant, and I really had no time to adjust between finding out about the pregnancy, and taking in the birth. As I wrote about in my last post, I’ve been fighting Lyme disease. Stress of any kind exacerbates all my symptoms. As before, I paced, I cried, I wished fervently for a healthy girl. This was her last one. There would be no more babies.
My wounds were again out of nowhere torn wide open and I was bleeding. I was on edge, and snappy. When I would think about her in the hospital (because by the time I found out, the baby should have been born), my throat was feeling tight, I felt dizzy, and every single muscle in my body felt battered and bruised. I was checking Facebook obsessively, amid crippling nausea. Please let it be a girl. Please, this is the last one. Please let it be a girl. Please end this torment.
She had a boy. I’m still trying in vain to process it. I’ve been slammed head first back into that wall of grief again, I’m somewhere between stage one and two…for the umpteenth time since adoption entered my life.
Part of me wishes I hadn’t found out, but I wanted to find out on my own, because I needed to know when that blow was coming. My health is very fragile right now. I didn’t want to have a flying fish come out of nowhere and knock me down. Now I can deal with it, in my own way, in my own time.
I want to be clear here, I’m not jealous of my sister. My experience of pregnancy and childbirth has been very different from hers. I don’t have a frame of reference for her experience and she doesn’t have one for mine.
I hurt though. For many reasons. I am grieving acutely for my son again. I am hurt upon hearing that my dad came and stayed with my sister for a few days to help her get ready for the baby. When I had my daughter, he came to visit the day after I got out of the hospital for an hour, and once a week later. Then he moved 6 hrs away.
My mother had promised me that she would come and help me with my daughter. Call her anytime. Given our history, I would never leave her alone with my daughter, but three weeks into motherhood the house was a mess, I was exhausted, and desperate for a shower. By myself. It took a lot for me to get to the place where I felt like I needed to ask for help. So I called her. She made all these excuses of why she couldn’t come and then made a date a week later when she could come, and a day before cancelled it. I never asked her for help again. I was deeply hurt to learn she’s staying with my sister for a week. Nope. No favoritism in my family.
I have been expecting an email from my dad any time now to tell me of this new addition. He would be the one elected to tell me, because he is the only member of my family I am currently speaking to. It’s been almost a week. Nothing.
It’s simple. He knows. I was living with him when I lost my son. He was in the trenches with me. He lived it. He watched me become a mother of loss, and he did nothing. He knows how my nephews birth would have affected me. So he says nothing, hoping I will find out some other way. I think, in their own way, both my mother and father are grieving too. They are revisiting the birth of their first grandson. My mother, as a mother of loss. Her grieving may be similar to mine. My dad, I think, is grieving his lack of foresight. He too, was presented with the win/win of open adoption. He was lied to too. He was told his daughter would be fine.
We both had no idea what we were getting into.
Elizabeth Gellatly said:
Absolutely can relate to this. I have been working (for years now) on writing my story too. I feel for you and hope for the best. It is all too complicated for people and it never really gets better. Even meeting my first son has been very painful for over ten years now. Always complicated, always something to have to handle both inside of us, and outside of us. Well said- keep writing and keep focusing on what is good in your life each day, because it really never gets better than whatever good is in front of you in the moment. The past is way too painful, the future is a potential rollercoaster, and right now- the sun may be shining or the snow falling, and right now, at the very least, you have a daughter- and that is something very wonderful. Good luck to you and hold on to her!!!
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I can so relate to how your feeling, glad your able to express yourself honestly here. You are an amazing, wonderful, beautiful woman and I pray you will find some peace and healing soon
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I had a baby boy 21 months after I lost my daughter to a coerced adoption in 1985. For a very long time, years probably, I never let myself think of my son “in the future.” I lived in the moment…never letting myself dream of what he’d be at 3, 5, in school, what occupation he’d choose as an adult…in my head, I assumed I would never get to see that. It’s the most irrational, yet understandable way of thinking after the traumatic loss of my daughter. It wasn’t until 13 years ago that my then therapist diagnosed me with PTSD. The adoption opened up when my daughter was 8, but as of right now she hasn’t spoken to me in a year because I upset her. This just does not get any better, or easier with time. I lost her almost 31 years ago now. I wish my heart could just accept it.
Just wanted to say I understand where you’re coming from.
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