Our Mother’s Day Mosaic

How can one be a mother yet not a mother at the same time? How can one be a daughter yet an orphan all at once at never at all?  How can we walk that line of in-between and straddle both worlds of decadent joy and pure loss?

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Mother’s Day is complicated and almost every single person, on this day, can both celebrate while also grieve. For some the loss is more than others, and for some there is nothing to grieve at all – but one day there will be. That is what is eventual. One day there will be. For we are all born into this world from our mothers. Every last one of us has one. Some lost her before our first breaths could be inhaled and others not until their skin had grown wrinkled and worn themselves. Some of us have had more than one mother in our lives and others have had only one. What is unending, undying, and ever true is this one fact – we all exist because we have a mother. It matters not if she is present today, yesterday, or in the future.

Once a year we partake in a celebration, appreciation, and honor of our mothers and foremothers. For many of us we feel ostracized during this national celebration, while thinking of what was or what could have been. It is for these mothers, these daughters, and these sons that I write for today.

I ask you to remember them.

I ask you to be aware of them.

I ask you to take a moment of silence for them.

You may not even realize you know one of them. It may be something they’ve never mentioned. But, chances are, you do. We are everywhere. The world is broken, it is full of broken people and broken pieces of broken lives. For some that brokenness wins. It eats them alive with its insatiable hunger. But if we’re lucky we come together, especially on days like Mother’s Day, and we take all of our broken pieces of our broken selves, and our uplifting words to each other become the glue that puts us back together. The pieces don’t match, there’s some from this person glued to that person, but somehow it makes our mosaic that much more vivid, that much more eye-catching.  It makes us stronger, even in our brokenness. We may be orphaned or  lost, we may be grieving, we may have empty arms with a mother’s heart, but we are intertwined with each other and we do not have to be alone.

It’s Mother’s Day weekend and I have no doubt that many are grieving and thinking of mothers lost, children lost, motherhood lost. I stand in remembrance of us. In honor of us, in silence for us.

This will be the first Mother’s Day I get to spend with my relinquished daughter and I am so thankful for that but, at the same time, I am mourning all the days lost. Reunion doesn’t fix it. It brings it to the forefront and demands attention.

 

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Dear Hoping to Adopt

I’m sure, by now, I’m loathed by most who have found themselves in my corner of the world wide Web via an innocent Google search about how to adopt a baby. That’s okay. I get it. My writing is blunt and I don’t mince words. I’d like to take some time, however, to speak directly to the aforementioned.

Dear Hoping to Adopt,

For you, achieving motherhood is not an easy row to hoe. For you, perhaps, attaining motherhood, in the traditional sense, is quite literally impossible. I can only imagine the heartbreak of learning that all of your dreams, that were most likely fostered from the time you were able to snuggle with your first baby doll, are now slipping from your grasp and there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop it.

The countless negative pregnancy tests, maybe the loss of your children before they even had a chance to be a part of this world, the fertility treatments, the worry, the hope, the anxiety, the tears – I understand. I get it. I’m not heartless. I empathize, maybe sometimes too much, with the millions of hardships that we, as human beings, must face.

I think about the hurt you must face every time a friend or relative announces they are expecting or the pain you must feel watching others care for their little ones. I do understand that it must be lonely feeling like the odd man out while others have, what feels like, an exclusive club that only women who are mothers can join. We are women. Most of us, not all, are wired with a natural instinct and yearning to be a mother. I truly understand and empathize.

When you read through my writing you may not think it’s possible for me to empathize with you. But I do. It’s not that hard because I know what it feels like.

I know how deeply it hurts to dream of a child that will never be yours. I know how gut-wrenching it is to grieve a lost child. I have felt lonely as well – lonely when no one else could understand how much pain I was in – lonely when they were praising me for how selfless I was – lonely when I was told that I had given someone a beautiful gift and that I did the right thing. And for the rest of my life I will feel as though I don’t belong with all the other mommies. I surrendered my motherhood to my child and that’s something most don’t truly understand and most are certainly way off base about what that ultimately means.

I empathize because my loss is huge. There was no one there to help me or support me. No one to tell me that I could do it. I was told that adoption was the right choice which, to me, meant I was not the right choice. I was not good for my baby is the message I received and I will forever belong to that lonely club.

Loss is subjective. Some may say the loss of a pregnancy is the same as the loss of a child through adoption. I will always disagree. The path I walk in life, as a first mother, has many layers. I’m sure those who have suffered a miscarriage know what it’s like to blame themselves. The fact is, though, that really there was nothing you willfully did to cause the loss of your unborn baby. As a first mom, however, a good portion of society, as I’m reminded of more and more often, continues to act as if surrendering my child, the loss of my child, was a willful act. Yes, I signed relinquishment papers but there was nothing willful about it. My circumstances forced that hand just as your physical circumstances have forced yours in your journey through infertility.

See, we aren’t all that much different, you and I. We’ve both suffered. We’ve both lost. We’ve both grieved and we’ve both gone through trauma and emotional anguish.

If you ever find yourself asking, “Why is she so angry and bitter?” please think back to everything you’ve gone though in your journey to achieve motherhood. Then ask yourself how you’d feel if the whole of society celebrated it and asked you to be grateful for it, asked you to accept others purposely facilitating it. This is what that feels like to me.

Yes, I have empathy for you, but my empathy stops where your willful ignorance begins. My empathy stops when there are hundreds and thousands of children truly in need of a family but you insist on getting a brand new baby. My empathy stops when I see you begging others for donations to take another mother’s child when the donations that you have rolling in would enable that mother to keep her baby. My empathy ends there. I simply cannot do it anymore. To me, it’s the equivalent of you asking for donations to assure the loss of pregnancy in another woman because, for some odd reason, that’s the only way to ensure your own motherhood.

Facilitating the loss of another’s motherhood so that you may attain your own is where my empathy ends.

It is only a few thousand dollars, usually, to give a home to a child genuinely in need of a family, to become a mother. You seem great at fundraising and that money could be used to help another mother be saved from this life of pain.

I empathize with your loss. Will you empathize with mine? Or will you refuse to because my loss stands in the way of your selfish desires? Look at yourself in the mirror. What does that make you?

The Sun and the Ghost

The following is a chapter from the book I am writing, “Whispers of Grace.”

The months following the relinquishment of IKL I had the same nightmare frequently. I still have this nightmare once in a great while. Most of the nightmares I have now are different but revolve around the same theme, saving my baby. This particular dream incorporates childhood trauma from abuse endured at the hands of my stepfather.

The Sun and the Ghost

I awaken on a table in the kitchen of my childhood home. The overhead light is swinging and the brightness radiating from it is making it difficult for me to orientate myself. I scramble off the table and squint my eyes to assess my surroundings. How did I get here? What is going on? Everything is stark and dusty as if life had not seen this place in many, many years. There are no pictures hanging on the walls, no rugs on the floor. There are no dishes in the sink or magnets on the refrigerator. There are no plants and this doesn’t surprise me as I cannot fathom how anything that is alive could sustain itself in this place. Everything is bare and the only furnishings are that of tables, chairs and a couch. Cobwebs hang in long strands from every corner. The walls look grey instead of the radiant cherry wood that I had remembered.

I suddenly hear a newborn baby crying in the distance. It sounds far away but I immediately recognize the cry as Grace’s. In response to her cry I hear thundering footsteps pounding above my head. Someone or something was chasing her! I began to run to prevent whatever stood behind those footsteps from getting her. My first instinct was to head up the staircase. As I reached the top I dropped to my knees at the sight before my eyes. I was no longer in my childhood home but in a maze of stairs like that in M.C. Escher’s “Relativity.” I could not give up, though. I had to find my baby. She was scared and something was trying to get her. As I headed up another round of stairs I turned the corner and saw the back of my stepfather’s head. He did not see that I was looking at him. As he turned his head, I could see a look of malevolence finished off with a wicked grin that showcased how much pleasure he was getting from the hunt. I could feel my heart drop into my stomach as I realized that this was the monster chasing my baby. He intended to do her great harm and I had to stop him. For one moment I hesitated and the fear that had been instilled in me since a very young age tried to take hold. It only lasted for a second. I remembered that I was not a child anymore. This man had no power over me and I would die before I let him find Grace.

I charged him. The evil grin became one of a businessman who was about to close the sale. His eyes lightened and he said, “Julia! How have you been? I haven’t seen you in ages!” I knew it was best to pretend that I wasn’t onto him so I managed small talk while creeping around to the other side of him. This only worked for a few seconds. When he realized my intentions he took pursuit of me and I ran. Suddenly I was outside of my body and watching myself as if this was a movie. Everything was in slow motion. My dark curly hair was bouncing in time to every step I took. My mouth hung open and my brow furrowed as I looked back and realized he was getting closer. He just kept smiling as if he knew it was inevitable that he would catch me. And all the while the baby keeps crying. It’s getting louder so I know I must be getting closer. I take staircase upon staircase and finally I see a door. There is a radiant white light coming from the space underneath it. Somehow I know if I can open this door then the monster will have to go away. The light is too dangerous for him to be in.

I grab the doorknob and pull. I immediately feel the warmth of the sun and hear the crashing of ocean waves. Grace’s crying is getting louder and as I look out into the distance I can see a tiny house floating hundreds of feet from the shore. I know that’s where she is and I know I have to save her. I run for the water and just as I submerge my head in my dive, I see sharks begin to tear the tiny house apart. I swim with all my might. The sharks are relentless and manage to turn the structure into a piece of driftwood and the only thing left is Grace on top of it. Instantaneously I am within arm’s reach of Grace and as I extend my hand she disappears. I panic and start screaming her name. As if in answer to this I can hear her crying from back on the shore. I look back and all I see is the beach, Grace and a door, standing alone. I think to myself, “That must be the door I came through.” Grace continues to wail as I make my way back to the shore. I have some peace in knowing she won’t drown but the urgency is still there. I just need to get to her as quick as possible. I keep swimming. It starts to get darker. As I look to the sky I see the beginning of a solar eclipse. Dread starts to build within me as I realize the only thing that kept my stepfather from going through that door was the sun. I quickly check the door and see it shaking. He is pounding on it and pretty soon he will be able to get through it. The sun is fading behind the moon. I swim faster. Saltwater goes inside my nose and burns. I cough, I swim. I made it back to shore just as the eclipse is complete and the door swings open. My stepfather’s eyes are now glowing red. We both run for Grace. I make it to her first. As soon as I swoop her up my stepfather turns to dust. The relief was immediate and I begin to move her blanket around searching for her face. I cannot seem to find any of her body within this nursery blanket. A new panic sets in as I realize she has also stopped crying. In desperation I start to flail the blanket about and then I realize that Grace is gone. I drop to my knees and sob.

“I Gave Her Loss” – Day One: NAAM

Today starts the first day of a dreadful month in my life. Wait, back up. I can’t say it’s entirely dreadful as it is the birth month of one of the most precious gifts – my child. However, I’m not entirely sure if I even have the right to call her my child. My heart says yes but adoption says no. That’s neither here nor there. Today is the first month of the onslaught of images, stories, and propaganda that will be coming across my news feed on Facebook, television set, radio, and pretty much every other outlet you can think of. The onslaught of adoption. The onslaught of how everyone should love adoption and be so grateful and thankful for it. It’s enough to drive a person insane.

I will watch while people “celebrate” that children could not remain with their families, for whatever reason. I will watch as they rejoice that some other mother wasn’t able to keep her child with her. I will watch as they ignore the reasons for adoption and the pain it has caused so many people. When you point it out most will acknowledge that it’s sad but then follow up with “But look how wonderful this family turned out! What a great gift that was given to this couple!” This negate’s my feelings and sends the message that we aren’t allowed to feel our pain or complain because, well, we wouldn’t want to taint some other people’s great gain of a child by reminding them of our tremendous loss.

the-giver-book-cover“I gave her the memory of a child, a child taken from her mother. I gave her loss. Too soon. The light went from her eyes. The next morning, without telling me, she went to the Chief Elder and asked to be released.”

-The Giver (2014 film)

Anyone who has read, “The Giver” or seen the film knows the pre-text of this quote. Let me clarify for those who don’t. The Giver gives his memories to a receiver in order to be carried on since we all live in a “perfect” and “orderly” society now. A society where women are selected to be “birthmothers” and the babies they bear are handed off to the family the elders find fit for them. The first receiver only lasted five weeks after the memory, above, was given to her.

This hits the nail on the head. If anyone truly had to live through this, had this memory, this feeling, passed onto them, it isn’t something they would be celebrating.

I’m reminded of another quote:

“Another woman’s child calls me mom. The magnitude of that tragedy and the depth of that privilege are not lost on me.”

This is an adoptive mother who gets it.

The fact is, NAAM (National Adoption Awareness Month) was not created for people to celebrate adoption. It was created to raise awareness to the thousands of kids who are sitting in the foster care system without families. It was not intended to be what it is today. Even those “orphans” in the system probably wouldn’t appreciate the loss of their family, no matter the reason, being celebrated. They may appreciate that they are in a loving family now, but you cannot celebrate one without ignoring the other. Ignoring why adoption was possible is wrong. We need to focus on ways to ensure that there are no losses, that families can stay together and that parents have the resources and tools they need to successfully and safely parent their children.

Today is day one of a month I have to endure. I wish that I could sit here and contemplate the birth of my fourth child without all this static and fuzz called NAAM. I wish I could think about those stolen moments we had together the first few weeks of her life. I wish I could cry when I needed to cry, smile when I needed to smile, and not have to have how “great” my loss is rubbed in my face at every click of my mouse or push of the button on my TV.

Before you go celebrating how great adoption has been in your life, remember our loss.

“I gave her the memory of a child, a child taken from her mother. I gave her loss. Too soon. The light went from her eyes.”

Top 5 Things Not To Say To A Birthmother

Here we go again. Another blog post about what NOT to say to a birth/first/natural mother. Right? Wrong. I’ve seen them done a few times. The lists. What not to say to an adoptive mother. What not to say to a birthmother. What not to say to an adoptee. I can’t speak for others in the adoption community, but I can speak from a personal place as a first mom. While some things on these lists ring true with me, there just wasn’t one that truly felt all-encompassing or “complete.” Some even had things included that just grossed me out. So, in true Letterman style, here is my top FIVE list of things NOT to say or do to a first mom.

Avoiding Talking About the Child She Has Lost to Adoption Altogether.

Okay, so maybe this isn’t what not to say but it sure is what not to do. Some people truly don’t know how to approach the subject and don’t want to say the wrong thing. Instead they choose to not say anything at all. Even though we have been through a tremendous loss, we still want you to acknowledge our child. We want you to ask questions about them. Even if we have no information, whatsoever, we want to be asked. “Have you received any new pictures of [insert child’s name here]? How are you doing this time of the year without [insert child’s name here]? What do you think [insert child’s name here] looks like now?” It’s really quite simple. Living in a world where you are the only one who acknowledges your child’s existence can be miserable and lonely. Just because they are out of sight does not mean they are out of mind. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. It’s an ambiguous loss for us. There really is no closure. By asking us questions about our child, you acknowledge our pain, acknowledge our child, and open the door for further conversation if we feel up to it. If you don’t know what to say, just say so! “I’m not really sure what to say, but I was wondering if you wanted to talk about [insert child’s name here].” Even if the answer is, “I’m not really ready to talk about that” we will be over the moon that you asked. Really, we will. When people bring up our children in casual conversation it affirms to us that they do exist. They are real. We didn’t dream it up. Sometimes those are the only things that get us through the night.  Furthermore, for some women, it was a shameful thing to have a baby that was then lost to adoption. Many were ridiculed, sent away to be hidden and give birth, and chastised. Talking about their child, as a normal, positive, everyday thing, helps them to break those barriers they have battled their whole lives. It helps them to see themselves through a different set of eyes. Not the eyes that passed judgement and condemnation. Yes, talk about our children. Please do.

Don’t Withhold Personal Stories of Grief For Fear of Making Her Feel Bad

No one likes to be tiptoed around. Sometimes people can be super aware of the “adoption situation” and feel bad sharing their own loss stories. Sometimes their personal loss, they think, can pale in comparison to the first mom’s loss. This may be true sometimes but, as human beings, one thing we are great at is empathizing with each other. Sharing stories of personal loss with one another will sometimes find you at the beginning of a road called “healing.” Sometimes others are further in their journey and can offer some great advice or encouraging words. And sometimes being able to be the one to offer the encouraging words assists in your own personal journey of healing. Don’t be afraid of her grief (shoot, don’t be afraid of yours). Know it is a normal part of life when there is a loss. Know that tremendous learning can be gained from it as well as compassion, empathy, kindness, and understanding. Don’t rob each other of these opportunities. Open the door of grief together. Explore what’s inside and walk with each other on that path.

Avoid the Cliche Comments

“You can always have more children.”

“It was part of God’s plan.”

“What you did was brave and selfless.”

You know, all the things you’ll see pouring out of rainbow-colored lips on every “feel-good” adoption story you’ll ever read online. But here’s the deal. 1) Some women can’t always have more children. It’s called secondary infertility and it’s prominent among first moms. Even if she can have more, it doesn’t take away the pain of the one she lost. 2) You aren’t God and you don’t know His plan. And even if it was part of His plan (which I wholeheartedly believe 99% of domestic infant adoptions, done the way they are in America, are not) does that make her pain less? 3) It’s really not that brave when you have no other choice. Imagine standing at the edge of a cliff. The drop is 200 feet. Someone pushes you. You survive the fall. Someone tells you that you were brave to choose to jump off that cliff. Huh? You didn’t choose to jump, you had no choice, someone pushed you. That’s kind of how adoption works. Anyone who truly had any choice, at all, would have parented their child. No one wants to give away their child and go through this grief. They had NO CHOICE. And selfless? Well, it’s a horse a piece. It can’t be selfless because that means parenting a baby is selfish. Still….does this make her grief go away? Do not invalidate a mother’s grief from her adoption loss by throwing out the cliché statements that run a muck in the adoption world. It doesn’t help. Instead say, “I’m sorry you are hurting. No one will ever be able to replace [insert child’s name here] and I am sorry for that. Your circumstances were really crappy and that really sucks.” Validate their grief. Give them permission to have these feelings by affirming it to them. It DOES suck. It WAS crappy. And you ARE sorry they are hurting, right?

Who?

This one probably irks me the most. “Who?” When you openly say something about your child such as, “[Insert child’s name here] started horseback riding lessons last month! He’s doing really well!” If a first mom is talking to you in this context, about her child, it is going to be assumed that you know of the child she is talking about. Your response of, “Who?” says to her that you don’t care enough to remember her child’s name just because she isn’t parenting them. This will also make her less likely to openly discuss her child with you in the future (see my first list entry). Whenever I get this response I have to then say, “you know, the child I gave up for adoption.” Saying those words cuts like a knife. Usually it’s the only way I can make people understand who I’m talking about. Then I become a little angry at them. Come on, really? You don’t care enough to know who I’m talking about? I know I don’t bring her up much, but how long have we known each other? Please….at least remember her child’s name.

You Gave Him/Her a Better Life

You don’t know that. No one knows that unless they own a crystal ball or can time travel. The outcome of one’s life compared to the potential outcome of a potentially different life is something we, as mere humans, are not privy to. Even if that weren’t true, would you like me to tell you that you should have given your children up for adoption so they would have had a better life than what you’re giving them? Maybe they would have been better off with someone making $200,000 a year instead of the measly $70,000 you’re pulling in. Are you divorced? Your children would have been better off if you had given them up for adoption. Then they would have had a two-parent household. Oh! I know! It’s never too late! You should give your children up for adoption so they can have a better life. Do you see how asinine that sounds? Saying “You gave your child a better life” is probably the most cruel things you can say to a first mom. It reaffirms, to her, all the things the industry told her. She wasn’t good enough and her child is better off without her. In most situations, this simply isn’t true. Instead of saying, “You gave your child a better life” how about just not saying anything at all.

#ShoutYourAdoption