I’m writing this on January 31, 2014, sixteen years and twenty days after the birth of my daughter. Before I was discharged from the hospital on January 12, 1998, my daughter had already gone home with her parents. These were the parents who I picked several weeks prior to that rainy, gray day in early January. They would be the ones to lovingly parent our beautiful girl, as I could barely take care of myself.
Hurtful experiences in my past had left me searching for acceptance, companionship, and love. I thought I had found that in the birth father. Within a week of moving in with him, I learned that, again, I had found my way to a well of lies, pain, and abuse. I was absolutely terrified upon hearing the test was “positive.” Among other transgressions occurring in my little apartment, there was also plenty of denial.
But there was no denying it any longer: I was, indeed, pregnant.
I knew adoption was the best for my baby, but I never thought I would be in a position of having to place a child. Shame and sadness enveloped me. One constant phrase that was present with me at that time was the adoption would not be in vain. All the fears I had about the possible pain and confusion my daughter would have upon learning she was adopted detracted from being aware and present of my own sadness.
Isolation was how I survived, but unfortunately left me with no support. There was no one there to tell me I would be devastated when I returned from the hospital empty-handed. I had no idea what those first few days, weeks, and year would be like post-placement. If only I knew of another birth mom or even if the social worker had been honest about the amount of pain I would experience. That was something I had to learn on my own. Yet, out of that pain, I also learned about love, self-acceptance, and that there could and would be joy in my life.
And, the phrase that helped keep me going when I wanted to quit: My daughter’s adoption would not be in vain.
I have only touched on the complexity of my journey in adoption. There are so many emotions related to being a birth mom, especially in that first year of placement. As mentioned before, I had no resources and placed in a pre-Google era. Recently, I have had the honor to meet birth moms who have placed their children more recently. While there are elements of adoption that have changed since I gave birth, I was disappointed that many of these women were informed that after placement, they would be “sad” for “a little while” and then “move on and feel better.” I’ve listened with a heavy heart as these women cried so hard they shook, asking when they would start to feel better because it had been three, six, ten months since placing their baby. They are, as was I, unprepared for the level of hurt that is experienced after placing. My intent is to share that pain of the first year and what you may feel after placing your baby for adoption.
I was in a fog the first few months, mostly sobbing and sleeping. The pain was unbearable. Mornings were the worst for me. My eyes would open, I would swing my feet out of bed, feeling fine, and then BAM! Reality would hit and I would remember that I missed my daughter. My breasts were humongous and leaking no matter how many bras I stretched around my expanding chest. My body was producing nourishment, but I had no baby with whom to share the vitality. I wept heavily every time my shirt became moist from the milk leakage. I was completely blindsided by the depth of agony I was experiencing.
Shame was achingly apparent. I felt worthless, hopeless, and frightened of the depression I was experiencing. I had suicidal ideation. I did not have any sort of plan in place, but mostly a constant loop of wishing I was dead or that I would never wake up. These thoughts doubled the shame I felt. However, I would have blips of clarity when I knew that I did not want my daughter’s story to be that she was adopted and that her birth mother committed suicide. The stigma around therapy almost prevented me from seeking help. Several gentle, yet firm, suggestions of therapy finally brought me to the therapist whom I credit with helping to save my life.
Never in my life did I understand the phrase “one day at a time” more than when I was grieving. Suicidal thoughts began to diminish and were eventually obsolete. In addition to weekly therapy visits, an antidepressant helped regulate my depression. I enrolled in school and began thinking about a career. I took a brave plunge and shared with a friend that unbeknownst to her, months earlier, I had given birth to a baby girl whom I could not parent. My friend cried with me and offered an incredible amount of support when I was still struggling with some aspects of life, such as leaving the birth father. The shift began to occur, and there were fewer and fewer days filled with tears.
One day in particular stands out to me as a day when I realized I was healing. It was a crisp, beautiful sunny day in Southern California. I was sitting in a car near the beach. The radio was on and the song “These Are Days” by 10,000 Maniacs was playing. I had heard that song several times, but somehow it touched me differently that day.
“These are the days you might fill with laughter until’ you break
These days you might feel a shaft of light make its way across your face
When you do you’ll know how it was meant to be
See the signs and know their meaning It’s true, you’ll know how it was meant to be
Hear the signs and know they’re speaking to you, to you”
I listened to the lyrics intently. In a rare moment of synchronicity, I felt a warm sunbeam spread across my face as Ms. Natalie Merchant’s lovely voice strolled out of the speaker. That was my “shaft of light.” It was at that moment a sense of peace washed over me. I was going to be okay. I really was.
My daughter turned one a few months after my sun-filled epiphany. The day was bittersweet for me, but I made it through. I made it through the first year. I reflected on those twelve months and was amazed that I had survived. I was stronger than I would have ever imagined myself to be.
You too are strong.
Stay strong, resilient, brave and hopeful.
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