I Can See the Horizon 

Sleep found me easily and peacefully. I usually suffer from insomnia and will lay awake for hours praying that slumber will come upon me. A peace I’d never known before washed over me as all of my children were under my roof in the same place at the same time. The people I value and love the most in this world. The ONLY people whose opinions about me I care about. I felt complete and whole.

But sad. Sad for what could have been. Sad for the upcoming goodbye. Sad from what my choice had taken from all of my kids without their permission. There had always been a feeling that someone was missing and while she was here that feeling was gone. But it would soon be back. Nevertheless I tried to revel in how lucky I was to even have this moment, this time, at all.

I have three daughters and two sons. Of all of my children, she is the most like me in every way. It’s almost scary how similar we are. Many times people would comment “its like looking at you when you were her age!” Or “She’s JUST like you at that age!”

And she is.

She’s tenacious, she has no filter, she looks like me, she sounds like me, she has the same mannerisms as me. Admittedly she does have my husband’s nose.

Driving to Taco Bell one day we said the exact same thing at the exact same time with the exact same inflection. That happens within families all the time. Families that you share DNA with. “That’s never happened to me before,” she said with surprise. And it kept happening. My sisters and I are always speaking in stereo. It made me think how sad it would be to go through life without ever hearing someone who sounded like you.

And she’s just like her sisters. When a neighbor started up his motorcycle too closely they all screamed, shook, and started crying. All three of them. All at the same time. DNA is some powerful stuff.

But she’s herself too. It was lovely to hear her talk about the things she loves, the places she’s seen, the people in her life she cares about and how they’ve impacted her.

And still there was this thing hanging in the air. All the shared memories we had that she didn’t. My family is big on talking about “Remember when this happened…” and then proceeding to tell a funny or shocking story. So while she was like us in every way, and fit in perfectly, there was always the elephant in the room that reminded us that she had been gone.

So many mixed emotions. So much to untangle.

My husband was smitten. He reminded me of a new father doting over his infant daughter. Except we had already doted on her when she was born. I can read this man better than anyone and the looks on his face said, “I’m in love with this beautiful creature.” As he should be. She’s pretty amazing if I do say so myself.

And here is where I decided that this blog has served its purpose. For now, anyway.

When I was hurting it was here. When I needed to vent it was here. When I was scared, anxious, worried, happy, hopeful, suffering, it was here. You were here. Some of you lifted me with your thoughts and others pissed me off. And that’s okay. Because sometimes I just needed a good fight and you engaged me.

I know this journey is ever evolving and I’m not completely abandoning this space. There may be a time in the future where I need it regularly again. But this journey is no longer just my own. Now that our lives have come together again, and she is again a part of mine, our stories are intertwined and it’s not up to me what to share.

I have let adoption consume my life. That’s not an entirely bad thing. I’ve found sisterhood and courage in this community. I’ve found courage to stand up, stand out, and help make changes. I will always be an activist. Always. But I’m also a mother and wife. I can’t spread myself too thin so I’ve decided to focus my energy on certain endeavors that will allow me to balance things more equally. I lost my grandfather, who helped raise me, and a beloved pet who was my emotional support animal, this year. The wheels of time don’t stop turning for me to sit behind a computer.

So while I’ve already bowed out of this blogging thing pretty much, I thought I’d leave you all with a happy update. I’ll pop in once in a while. But it’s time to take back my life and focus on where I can really make a change, enjoy my family, and still remain a functional member of society.

 

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Unconditional Love

A love that will stay and persist without limits, without prerequisites. No matter what. To show unconditional love is to put yourself aside for the well-being of someone else. A sacrifice of one’s self because of this love. To voluntarily endure pain, hurt, disappointment, and more in the name of this love. To put someone else above yourself.

-Astrid

This is my definition of unconditional love.

Unconditional is defined as “not subject to conditions.” Love is defined, by man, as “an intense feeling of deep affection.”

Furthermore, God defines love as patient and kind, free of envy, boasting and pride. It is not dishonorable, self-seeking, or easily angered. It also keeps no record of wrongs. It rejoices with TRUTH and does NOT delight in evil.

If you are a believer in God then you know that you are required to try your best to love one another in the way he has described, unconditionally. However, let’s take the layman’s view and assume you don’t HAVE to love EVERYONE unconditionally. You are free to just “love” people, no qualifiers required.

If I asked you how you were supposed to love your child, based on what I’ve written above, what would you say? Unconditionally, right? Of course. That’s how we’re wired. It’s how it’s supposed to be. We are supposed to love our children in a way that puts their needs above our own. Even if it hurts us. Isn’t that what it is all about?

The act of giving my daughter up for adoption was not selfless. I cannot say that it was because to claim that would be to imply that parenting my other children (all unplanned and coming at times that could be considered “crisis”) was selfish. And it wasn’t. However, when I relinquished her, it was because I was willing to suffer a lifetime of pain or never knowing who she was if that is what she wanted. If she never wanted to speak to me, ever, in her life, I was okay with that so that I would not cause her any emotional pain. Yes, it would hurt deeply, but I love my daughter so much (all of my kids really) that I would take that hurt so they didn’t have to. Wouldn’t we all? Wouldn’t we all take our kids hurt in a heartbeat if we could so as not to see them suffer? Of course we would, if we could.

What if you could? What if you COULD take that hurt away and make it a little better. What would you do?

What if you are an adoptive parent of a teenager. What if this teenager of yours is having a REALLY rough time emotionally? So they’ve asked to send their birthmother a letter. You let them write the letter and many things that are said in the letter hurt you. It’s only human to face insecurities. However, you know that sending this letter and hoping for a response back would be something to help a little with the healing of your teenager, even if it hurts you. Even if the thought of losing the child you’ve nurtured from infancy was almost too much to handle. Would you be willing to let your child continue to suffer and hurt so that you could make yourself feel more secure about your place in their life? If you answered “yes” then you do not love your child unconditionally. You do not love them selflessly. You are not willing to sacrifice yourself for them. Regardless of how many late nights you have stayed up with a sick toddler, regardless of how many bedtime stories you have read them, regardless of how many recitals you have been to. None of that stuff defines the true meaning of being a parent, a mother, a father.

The very definition of motherhood should be unconditional love. As a birthmom, I am willing to love my child unconditionally. I am willing to accept her for all of her faults and for all the things she may do that would make me feel bad. I will love her no matter what and do what is best for her. I will live with an unbearable grief for the rest of my life because I thought I was giving her a “better” life, even if that turns out to not be the case. My actions were in good faith at the cost of great personal pain and sacrifice, at the very high cost of great personal pain of my other children and family members. I did all of this because I loved her so. I let her call someone else “mom” because of this. Because I loved her and thought I was making the best choice I possibly could then.

It baffles me beyond reason how a person would not be able to do the same for their adopted child in return. Why they wouldn’t be able to suck it up, swallow their pride (“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.”) and help their child heal. Not leave their child thinking they have been rejected and ignored. Are you that insecure that you would sacrifice your child’s well-being for it?  You would lie (“It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.”)

Adoptive parents who choose to break promises and cut off birth families for any reason other than they are DANGEROUS, I have this to say to you:

If you think that cutting off communication between your child and their birth family is the way to go – Don’t be selfish. Do the selfless thing. Do the loving thing. Put your child’s needs ahead of your own so that they can have a better life. A life that includes all of their family. You are not giving up your child. You are placing her in a healthy environment that includes knowing her roots. Remember, you are in control of the adoption so there is great power in that. Don’t abuse it.

Don’t ya like how all those things that we were told during our “adoption plans” can also be used for you?

Ambiguous Loss

Adoption always begins with a loss for the birth parents (and the rest of the birth family) as well as for the adoptee. Putting your finger on exactly what is lost can be difficult. You have lost a child, but the child still exists. However, you cannot physically touch the child you have lost. Even in open adoptions, with the ability to physically touch the child, you have a loss of your motherhood to that child.

This loss can be defined as an ambiguous loss. Since ambiguous loss is still a theory, there is no official definition. However, I will use Webster’s Dictionary to define each separate word. Ambiguous – not expressed or understood clearly. Loss – failure to keep or to continue to have something; the experience of having something taken from you or destroyed. Wikipedia defines ambiguous loss as “a loss that occurs without closure or understanding. This kind of loss leaves a person searching for answers, and thus complicates and delays the process of grieving, and often results in unresolved grief.”  I really like this definition because I feel it sums up the complicated process of ambiguous loss theory in simple terms that most people can understand.

The mourning process of an ambiguous loss (referred to here on out as AL) is unlike any other. When there is a physical loss but a psychological presence persists (such as in adoption – open or closed) it can be down right tormenting at times. Other examples of this can include a missing person, a missing body following a disaster, or the loss of a child living at home through divorce. On the flip side, AL can also be in the form of a physical presence but psychological absence such as in the case of Alzheimer’s.

A Physical Loss But Psychological Presence

Your child is not physically with you. Or you have lost the physical role as that child’s mother, father, grandparent, sibling, aunt, uncle. However, in your mind that child is still there. You still think of that child in terms of the way a mother (or other relative) would think of that child. Your mind cannot help but to think of it any other way. You cannot love your child any less than a mother just because you have relinquished your legal rights to that role. It is my opinion that the further in you get being a birthmother, the more this AL is felt. The more time that passes the more likely it is that the reality of what the relationship really is becomes apparent. It is easier, when our children are younger, to still think of them in terms of our own children. And we most definitely are their mothers. However, children become adults and have thoughts of their own and how they think of you is most likely not in the typical way that a child thinks of a mother. This reality becomes more glaringly obvious as the years pass on. The AL is felt more strongly because that psychological presence you have in your mind, as their mothers, is challenged more actively the older an adoptee is. They go on to graduate high school, college, get married, have children of their own. All the while you want to be a part of these things in their lives but you really are not, to them, the “mom.” And in a closed adoption, these realities hit head on during reunion in full force all at one time. If there is no reunion, that AL lingers relentlessly and unbearably until the day you die.  How exactly do you cope with this AL? I have no answers. I wish I did. It really isn’t something they touch on during the adoption process. They should.

The Loss to the Adoptee

The ambiguous loss to the adoptee is a little different than the birth family.

Open Adoption

When a child is part of an open adoption, AL feelings can be present in a number of ways. When visiting with birth family, they may wonder what their life would be like had they remained in their original family. It may be hard, if not addressed properly, for the adoptee to constantly be reminded of this. I am in NO way advocating for closed adoptions. I think they are archaic and cruel to all parties except the adoptive parents. However, it must be noted that even in the most ideal of adoption situations, the adoptee has suffered a loss. Ambiguous as it may be, it is still a loss.

Closed Adoption

The AL is even more powerful and unrelenting in a closed adoption. The adoptee will often mourn the parents that they have never met, they will mourn the life they may have had, they will feel the AL for something they have never known. A psychological presence with a physical absence. Adoptees in closed adoptions may also have a harder time coming to terms with this AL.

I am in no way suggesting that adoptees cannot be emotionally healthy individuals. We are all unique individuals and cope with things in our own unique ways. Some people are able to easier cope than others. Some, not so much. On the other side of the coin, I am not suggesting that all, or even most, adoptees are emotionally healthy when it comes to the AL felt by their adoption.

Imagine that your mother had died during childbirth. She was to be a single mother. Instead her best friend raised you and you have known her as your mother your whole life. When speaking of your natural mother, people express condolences and recognize your right to mourn the loss of your first mother. The woman who gave birth to you. It is not widely recognized as a “good” thing that this happened but rather a tragedy. Your life would not be what it was today had your mother not passed.  You love your mother’s best friend as any child would love a mother. Still, it doesn’t make your loss any less and it doesn’t take away from the fact that you may wonder what your life would have been like had your mother not passed away bringing you into this world. You will never hear anyone say that it was “God’s plan” for your mother to have died so that her best friend could raise you as her own. That would be cruel.

Take this same scenario and apply it to adoption. It’s the same loss. It’s the same feelings. The only silver lining is the possibility of reunion, and even then many people find a grave. Why are people always saying, “It was God’s plan for you to be adopted. It was God’s plan for me to get pregnant so I could gift a couple a child.” Can you imagine how that would make you feel as a person? It was God’s plan to take my mother away so I could have a different mother? This doesn’t mean the adoptee cannot or does not love their adoptive family. It doesn’t mean that they want to change their life. But, they may forever be haunted by the AL of what might have been. How many of you are haunted by the life you may have had if your mother had decided to give you up for adoption? (Okay, maybe a few but I remember my worst fear as a child was that my parents would tell me I was adopted)

My personal AL has been renewed after the contact was made from my daughter. I love that there was communication from her and am over the moon about it. I hope there is more to follow. But, as I stated above, the reality of what really is has come creeping back in. Her letter was amazing and loving, but I am haunted by her words, “I don’t know you…” Intellectually I knew all along she didn’t look at me as her mother. Not in the sense that I would think of her as my daughter. Not that I would ever want to take everything her mother has done for her away, as far as being her mother. But I am reminded, once again, of that loss. That one that I cannot quite put my finger on. I don’t know how to describe it… I probably never will.

They don’t tell you about this loss. Not. At. All.

She Will Never Know Them

I received some unexpected and sad news last week. Someone that was very near and dear to my family (and myself) had passed away after a long and courageous battle with Leukemia. It was unexpected because, after months of a downward spiral, things had taken a turn for the better, counts were up, and he was doing so well he was able to finally leave the hospital. This news swept through my family and the hole and devastation it left will probably echo for the rest of our lives.

I know that whenever anyone passes you hear people saying how great they were. It’s easy to remember the good times in the wake of loss and not hold onto the bad times. We are humans and are, by default, imperfect. However, in this case of our dear friend, I cannot think of one bad thing, bad story, bad memory associated with him. Neither could anyone else when we gathered after his funeral. Having had Leukemia for many many years he understood how precious life was and lived his life accordingly. This man was my father’s best friend, but those words fall seriously short. My father and him have known each other since childhood. Both having went through a divorce a few decades ago, and never remarrying, they relied on each other. They were companions. In a totally platonic sense of the word. Each filled that space for the other where we, as humans, have that need. Having a pretty different personality than my father, they were like Yin and Yang. Perfectly opposite yet perfectly compatible for each other.

I remember growing up and having my father’s best friend in my life. He was there when I was a child and still when I was a teenager. He was the comic relief when my sisters or I would argue with our father and quick to pull us aside and remind us that our father loves us so much and that is why he is concerned. In some weird way, to my sisters and I, he was like a stepparent. While reminiscing and talking with others I realized how thankful I was that my children had the same presence of this man in their lives as I had. He had truly impacted my life for the better in a huge way. Upon pondering this thankfulness, it suddenly hit me that not all of my children had the pleasure and privilege of knowing this man. That made me sad and then my mind started to wander deeper.

When the best friend of your father passes away, you can’t help but think of your own parents mortality. One day I will have to say goodbye to them. Along the way I may lose other people I love and care about. Parents, grandparents, siblings, friends… Life is a brief gift we are all given. Sharing it with each other, in love, is how we make it truly fulfilling. How many more people in my life, that mean the world to me, will never know my daughter and my daughter will never know them? This is another loss that I had never contemplated while relinquishing. However, to my credit, I assumed our open adoption would remain that way and it wouldn’t have to be something I would have to worry about.

As my grandfather progresses with Alzheimer’s (another huge influence in my life and someone I was very close to) I have come to accept the fact that, at the very least, he will never know my IKL. He no longer has the ability to keep her in his long-term memory, like my other children. I guess there is the slight possibility that she may be able to meet him before he passes but she will never truly know who he was since he is but a shadow of his former self. How absolutely sad.

God forbid that I lose anyone that would be considered “too young” to die but I have to face the reality that this is a possibility. These people in my family and close friends that have loved IKL from afar may not have the opportunity to ever know her or even hug her, just once, and tell her they love her. She may never be able to have the privilege of having these wonderful people in her life.

It is in this sense that I realize adoption is so much more than a “better” life for a child. The ripples that it leaves and the many facets of grief just keep expanding as I get older and wiser. It is hard enough to wrap my head around my father’s best friend no longer being here in physical form, but to wrap my head around the fact that this person, this piece of my husband and I that we love so much, may never get the chance to have some of the people in her life that we absolutely adore is even harder. It’s such a huge ambiguous loss. And, no doubt, a complicated thing to work out internally.

I’ll leave you with what I have learned from my father’s best friend passing. His legacy to me that I will do my best to hold onto in order to be a better person for myself and my kids, all of them. Maybe this is a way to show IKL a glimpse of the people she will not be able to know.

PS – Doug, if you have any pull with the man upstairs can you ask him to give me a little help down here. Thanks!

Today we said goodbye to someone we all love very much. I also was reminded to live my life the way he did. Slow to anger, easy to give, quick to comfort, generous with love, and to relish every moment of our lives here. It’s not the quantity but the quality of what you have to offer this world. That is a life well lived.