Let us say that I’m at the beach with my friends, or walking around the mall, and I see a young girl walk by with her newborn in his carseat; she’s too young. Out of nowhere, waves of grief, miles of hurt, and immeasurable amounts of longing wash over my body. My friends now seem like strangers as they look at me, tears streaming down my face. They don’t understand. It’s not fair to expect them to. They can look at my situation and sympathize, but they cannot empathize with what I, as a birth mom, am experiencing. I know that this situation is all too familiar. Instead of being angry at my friends, I have come up with this list to help me understand why they don’t understand.
They’re afraid to feel what you’ve felt.
The first time I attended a group of birth mothers was when I was pregnant. I sat there, staring at these girls, terrified to be where they were in just a few short months. Pain was written in their eyes and I was literally afraid to feel that way. I had no words for them. I yearned to reach out and comfort these precious souls, yet was terrified to open myself up to them as they were doing for me. The reality of what birth moms have done for a child, to willingly allow another person (or persons) to stand in her shoes, is unimaginable. It seems unfair of birth moms to expect their friends and family to attempt empathy, especially when it’s so frightening to be that distressed.
You’re an individual.
The story of how I became a birth mom isn’t too exciting, nor is it uncommon. Girl meets boy. Girl and Boy become friends. Girl and Boy have a one night stand. Boy leaves when Girl gets pregnant. While it’s so very basic, it’s also exceptionally complex. Allow me to be selfish while I say that what I experienced was different than what anyone else will ever know. My personality led me to where I needed to be, my thinking process is what guided me to my son’s parents, and my pain was felt in a way that nobody else will feel. I’m an individual. Take anybody else whose story lines up with mine in every manner, and we will have two different experiences. Birth moms should not expect someone who hasn’t experienced a similar situation to try to grasp the amount of hurt that is endured daily.
They wish they could help more.
I had many friends abandon me when I became pregnant. Others stood awkwardly at the sidelines. It’s been 5 years since placement and I know now that most of the reasoning behind it was simple. They wanted to offer me the world. They wanted to offer me food, a job, a place to stay, a way to provide for me. In my pride, I refused it all and they were left not knowing how to help. It’s one thing to tell them “just be there for me” when nobody knows what “there” is. They gave the advice they would have given to themselves and since they couldn’t do it all, some did nothing. Not out of spite, or anger, but rather out of fear. People fear what they don’t know. Let them know that you just need a shoulder to cry on. When that’s all they offer you, be appreciative.
Everyone handles grief in her own way.
Yes, there are the 5 stages of grief that we all experience after a loss. How we work through them are different. There was a fellow birth mom who dived into school just days after placement. I laid in my bed and cry for a few weeks, then stood up one day and went back to my life as well as I could. Some people may start up a new hobby while others will invest themselves into an old one. There are many ways to cope with loss, everybody is unique. Thus, there aren’t any people out there who know how I handled the loss of a child—nor how I’m handling it right now. My friends don’t know that my sudden outbreak of tears is actually a healthy release. It’s certainly not fair for me to expect them to know, that while my tears are a sign of frustration and longing, they’re also a sign that my healing process is an ongoing process.
Sometimes, they think you need to “get over it.”
I have been told to “move on” from this child more times than not. As I stand there, in tears, I see a friend roll her eyes and look away. It’s not as if my pain is interrupting her life. It’s more that her healing process is different from mine, and she doesn’t understand that. While there’s part of me who wants to cut those people out of my social group, there’s a smaller, smarter part of me that uses this as a teaching opportunity. I explain, and while explaining, I heal. Talking has always helped my mind to organize emotions. While she may scoff and respond with, “I just don’t understand why you can’t move on.” I just smile and say, “I don’t want to”. That child is my heart and soul. He is part of me in a way that he will never be part of somebody else. I hold him sacred in my heart and if I were to cut ties with his memories, I would lose part of who I have become.
If they still don’t understand, and some people won’t, it’s important for us, as birth mothers, to embrace, learn, and teach. Adoption is full of complicated, sensitive, and yet fulfilling relationships. We need to understand that sometimes . . . they don’t understand.