Life Tips for Birthmothers to Manage the Burden of Pain and Grief
In 2007, I traveled to Boston to present at the KAAN conference with the marvelous Margie Perscheid. In a huge conference filled with adoptive parents and Korean adoptees, it’s safe to say I was the only birthmother present. Our presentation was to be about how the loss experienced by adoption is universal and my feelings, as I explained them, we’re very likely to be felt by my Korean counterparts. It was there that I read what was the first draft of what is now the post Learning to Ride the Waves of Birthmother Grief.
I was both shocked and honored to see that Betty Jean Lifton had come to our session. After I spoke, we took questions and BJ asked how was it that I was able to speak about it, how was it that I was relatively OK? I stammered some answer, but in truth, I didn’t know then and I’m still not quite sure now. I have been thinking about that question for many years now. How come I have managed this birthmother grief? How have I survived intact?
Define Adoption Loss Survival??
Of course, I will never be OK about the loss of my son to adoption. I know there is damage in some way, but for whatever reason, there are ways in which I know I am fortunate. I know so many of my sisters will never be able to stand and face adoption absurdities which is why I do. I do because I can, though I am no different really than anyone else inside. You may think me strong, but as I like to say of late, I only play that part online.
I don’t pretend to know the secrets to get through this unscathed. I know there is no way not to carry this weight forever and not be affected. I know my soul will be heavy until the day I die and I expect that my eternal soul will know this loss for many lives hence. Yet, I have a measure of control, I think. We exist in a symbiotic way, my pain and I, this trauma and this hope, a sadness that fuels the fight. As of late, I find more new moms, wrecked with this pain find me, and I have little to offer, but my ramblings of what I think contributed to keeping me..me. I don’t know the answers, but I will share what I do know in hope that it perhaps, maybe, can help another navigate the journey.
I Didn’t Expect to Be Happy Losing My Son to Adoption
Coming back from the Kentucky Adoptee Right Demonstration, Jack asked the same question BJ Lifton had asked years before and this time my answer was short, but emotionally, when I heard the words leave my mouth and enter the air, it triggered me to the core. Perhaps, I was so over tired, that there was no tought and it was pure truth, but I said…I didn’t expect to be happy.
Maybe acceptance plays a part. I think it must. My agency didn’t tell me it was going to be ok, though they never even began to touch the true depth of the well. I knew losing my baby would hurt.
I think often that my past as what was then called “goth” (now emo) actually helped, for I found some dark glamour in this pain. I had romanticized it, glamorized it, reveled in my loss. I have often said that my pain was all that I had left of my son. Some pictures, a lock of fine baby hair, an empty bottle, a stained gown, stretch marks. Of these, the word be no more and they would never be enough, but the pain, oh, that was mine to keep forever and it was never ending. It was mine and I would have it, for surly I had earned the right to these tears, this grief, after all, I had proven myself worthy by giving away my child to those better than I. I had lost my child, but this pain was mine and no one could try to take it away from me.
Anne Rice’s Vampires Bleed into My Adoption Narrative
I used to think I was quite original in my thought.
Just the other night though, again, I could not sleep. Interview with the Vampire was on and I half watched, half surfed and then, towards the end, a line spoken by Louis made me take notice. It is after Claudia, his vampire “child” dies in the sun, after she is sacrificed by the Paris vampires, so that Armand can take Louis as his companion, that these words are spoken;
“What if all I have left is my suffering? My regret?”
Could it be that my whole attitude towards adoption was somehow shaped by Anne Rice? I read interview the summer I was pregnant with Max. I sat on the hot LIRR, hiding in my unseasonable cardigan sweaters, simultaneously sucking in my belly while protecting him from the elbows of the jostling crowds, and read interview again and again. I took Interview and The Vampire Lestat with me to Boston and I believe I read them again. Could I have been emulating the dark suffering of my vampire role models when I returned home and knew all that I had left was my own suffering, my own regret for my own lost child?
It’s silly I know, but I did quicken when I heard those words spoken the other night. It’s entirely possible that somehow Anne Rice kept me grounded, helped me process, let me process my suffering in a healthy way. It is but one line in the movie, made long after I returned home, but as I turned to my old paperback today, I find more words of our beloved Louie that resonates:
” I wanted love and goodness in this thing that was living death. It was impossible to beginning, because you know you cannot have love and goodness when you do what you know to be evil, what you know to be wrong. You can only have the desperate confusion and longing and the chasing of the phantom goodness…”
A Birthmother’s Desperate Confusion and Longing
Whatever the reason, I did process it. I think we try to avoid the pain for it is just so unpleasant, so raw, so mean, but then it lingers. It’s still there, dark and hungry, waiting, coiled, for the moment of weakness, when it will strike. While like many of us, I have a strong tendency, a desire, to wish all the nasty away, to ignore, to find a valley of sweet denial, I go between the two forces…blissful denial and the gates of hell…I have walked so often from one to the other..I have carved a footpath.
Whether one carries pain from adoption or another destructive trauma of life, I do believe that we must not avoid our daemons. We must welcome them, somehow, however unpleasant. Because they are ours, they are real, they are our truths. We must lay with them, learn to be intimate with them, understand them and call them by name. I know the patterns of my pain, it’s cycles, its strengths. I am not surprised at its depths because I have looked deeply into the darkness, got lost in the suffering, and found my way out. There were times, I let me self sink in, wanted to choke on it, waited to stop breathing, have it all be over once and for all, and it was those moments when the tears stopped on their own. I had found the source and my survival instincts kicked in, my legs kicked against my will, my caught my breath and I moved towards the light. It is not to say that I am not triggered anymore by adoption, for I can be just like the next one, but I am not afraid of being triggered.
I recognize my old friend and wrap myself in its cold embrace.
Accept the Dark, Take the Rest, Quiet the Soul
Of course, I am still processing…all the time. Again, I have not figured it all out. I know surely as the sun will rise tomorrow, life and adoption will always have something new in store. But again, I know the cycles, the tides of my life. I know when I feel good, when I am stronger, I create more and I must ride that cycle as long as I can. I know after a success, I will cycle down, feel sad again. And again, I don’t fight it. I try to teach my children that all thing in life run in cycles; the seasons, the moon, relationships, marriages, our emotions, our energy and its all ok. We cannot feel good all the time, we do not live in endless summer. We must dial down, recharge, rest, go dark so that we may rise again. Every soul must have a night in order to have a new day.
I used to get so angry with myself, so disappointed, when I paused. Laying in bed, watching endless Law and Order re-runs, while the lists of things I should be doing ran through my head, cursed my lazy soul. I quell the voices, now. I tell them that it’s ok. I have deserved my rest. I remind myself that I am not close to being done, I will live and create and cross things off my lists another day. We must remember to be kind to ourselves, to allow us space to heal, to rest, to forget, to cry. I am not perfect. I make mistakes, but I must accept that, too, and forgive myself for simply being human and imperfect. It’s ok, I say, sometimes, it’s just ok.
Tomorrow is Another Day
I used to watch Gone With the Wind with my mother, my grandmother, over and over. I have my grandmothers first addition hardcover copy, read over and over, held together with yellowed tape ready to pass on to my daughter, yes, she is named, in part for Scarlett. The Scarlett of my childhood taught me to be willful, to insist that things will be because we want them to. She is the queen, my teacher of denial. I won’t think about this now. I can’t. I just won’t. I think about it tomorrow..after all, tomorrow is another day.
And tomorrow is another day and a chance to try all over again. To try to make it forward just big more. Sometime progress is made and sometimes it is a baby step, sometimes we stand still, but tomorrow is always another day.
That’s all we have, the journey, with our hopes and joys caring us on and our fears and scars weighing us down.
I have realized that there is no single point in life where it all comes together and real life begins as we dream. We are human, always moving, always wanting more, always creating. How much of life do we waste, waiting; if only I was 16, had a car, lived on my own, had a job, had a boyfriend, had a husband, had a child. Life, like me, is imperfect, circular, comes and goes, can be kind or can be mean..and we must learn to forgive life for the mistakes it puts in our way. This is not a dress rehearsal folks, no do-overs, so take what you can, accept what we must, adapt as best able and ride that wave.
Someday we all crash, someday we all burn and we all have scars even if you can’t see them.
I was talking to a friend the other day about how we all have those doubting voices in our heads. Some are louder, some are stronger, they ebb and flow, but most of them suck. I think some of us have cheerleaders too, but the daemons fight the cheerleaders and we learn to doubt the validity of the pom-poms. I hear them mock me, whisper behind my back, but I know their names. I know where they came from, what they say. Yes, yes, I know…now shush, I say. I have work to do and do not have time for the likes of you. Shut up, I say, you have no power over me. You are left-overs, just baggage and if you don’t behave, I’ll leave you behind, alone, no longer part of me.
Know thy Baggage
Sometime, yes, we have to unpack our baggage. Oh, we all have weights we carry. Not just adoptees, not just birthmothers, all of us, all human. Anne Romney has voices in her head, Paris Hilton has baggage, Jackie -O, Jon Stewart..no one is immune. The rich go to therapy and cry over their internal skinned knees. Pain is pain, we all hurt. I think we hurt ourselves’ more by thinking we are the only ones with such weakness, such voices saying we suck, we could be doing more, doing better, coulda woulda shoulda…
Sometimes, the bag gets heavy. Maybe you went over a big bump in the road and you get jostled a bit. Your baggage, your box of daemons, your suffering needs to be rearranged. It chafes. it hurts again. Sometimes, we need to stop and rest, unpack our bags and see what we are carrying along.
Just like unpacking after a move, what’s in this box? Why did I put this in there? Why did I even bother to pack this, bring it with me? Sometimes we don’t need everything anymore, and we can leave our suffering on the side of the road. Don’t be afraid to unpack your bags, take out your pain and try it on. Remember why you have it. Call it by name, know from which it came to you, what it means, and what it brings to the table, the voices it controls, the weakness and lessons learned. Sometimes we outgrow what we have been carrying along, like an old sweater, our baggage cam out live it’s purposefulness, be full of holes and can just let it go. We can outgrow what e carry with us. And sometimes, as life adds new hurts and new pains, we have to let go of the old to carry a new weight.
Yet, some of them, we never let go. They are ours, our suffering, our pain. They makes us who we are..we can be comforted by familiar faces, an old wubbie, a security balance, memories, sad or sweet. They are ingrained and we never let go. That’s ok as long as you pack well and can carry the load while still moving forward.
I know them, my daemons, my suffering, my pain, they are part of me, I will never rid myself of this adoption. I know that. I never expect to be alone. I am not waiting for that peace of mind anymore, of my happy ending, my rainbow farting unicorn. I hear the voices of darkness and I say hello old friend. I don’t let them bring be down anymore, but motivate for the part of the journey tomorrow. Yes, I say in my best fiddle de dee, tomorrow is another day and we can do better.
Yes, I’ll rest today and then we will try, we will try. That’s the best I can do.