Growing up as an adoptee, I always had the first day of school fun fact down to an art. I was so proud of being an adopted child and would boast of two parents’ abundant love for me. All I knew about adoption was joy and pride. When I became pregnant as a teen, that slowly started to get diluted. I looked into adoption when I was unexpectedly pregnant because it was an obvious choice for me, but at that time, I couldn’t make that choice. I ended up parenting, very poorly mind you, for six months. I had grief. I was a child trying to still be young and free, with a child. It doesn’t work. I quickly realized that life was not what I wanted for my son, and thankfully, my parents offered to adopt him. Fast forward through a couple of years of looking for my worth in men, and I found myself back in the same predicament as before. I was pregnant, single, and a mess. While I was in a better season at 21 than I was at 18, I still was not in a stable place financially or mentally. I decided that I wanted to make an adoption plan. So I went to a local agency and began my second adoption journey.
Stage 1: Denial
During my pregnancy, I was so focused on the outcome of my child’s life is amazing. I lived in a dorm at the agency I was placed through, and many other women were going through the adoption process living there with me. At one point, we had as many as 15 in the dorm. Needless to say, I saw a lot of emotions, grief, hormones, and real life. Part of living in the dorm meant that we had to go to a weekly counseling session called Loving Decisions. To say I hated it would be less than honest. I loathed it. We went through the stages of grief and were told that we would hurt at some point. I didn’t want to hear it, with the grief. I am a product of adoption, and I know from my life that it is a good choice. I refused to believe that I would ever be sad, feel regret, grief, or hurt in any form. Little did I know this was the beginning of denial for the grief process. A few months went by, and I was in labor. I was driven to the hospital where my family met me. While I was thankful that I had so much support, I was still unprepared for the emotional tsunami about to hit me. After birth, I called the couple I had chosen to parent my daughter. They were excited, and I was overjoyed for them. However, I knew my time with baby O was limited. I would never get these precious moments back. I cried a lot, but the hardest moment in the hospital was when I had run completely out of energy and needed to sleep. I felt so selfish for wanting to send her to the nursery so I could sleep some. I texted one of the birth mom’s in the dorm who had just had her baby and said, “How did you do this?” She reminded me of the strength of a mother’s love, and that while it hurt and there was grief, you push through if this is truly what you want. I did want this for her; that was never a question. But I still was in so much pain. I chose to get a little sleep and quickly called her back to me. Once I got out of the hospital, I cried for an entire week and isolated myself in my room. I only got out to visit my daughter daily. Once that week was over, I had signed my relinquishment papers and decided to place them that Friday after birth. Placement day was full of tears and grief too, but I was truly overjoyed at the family I just helped create. After that day, I don’t remember crying anymore. I just shut my feelings in a safe and walked away.
Step 2: Anger
Through the next few years, I was a mess with grief. I had turned back to old ways and still looked for my worth in others. I had little stability and bounced from relationship to relationship. The only positive thing I pursued during the year after was that I got my adoption records unsealed, and I began the search for my biological family. The phone number that was in my record for my grandparents was miraculously still their number! So I quickly was able to connect to my grandmother and made plans to come to visit everyone. They are local to me, so it wasn’t a far drive. Once I got there, I quickly saw people with similar facial features, some of my personality quirks, and big hearts. They were all so happy to see me. I soaked up all of the love and time with my uncle, grandparents, cousins, sisters, and even my great-grandmother. To this day, I am still very close to them. My birth mother and I have an estranged relationship. She has struggled with a lot of things throughout her life, and her choices have led her to addiction and suffering. I spent a lot of time being angry that she did not make something of herself after placing me for adoption. Little did I realize, I was angry with myself too. I was existing, not living, with my grief.
Stage 3: What-Ifs/Bargaining
Brene Brown says, “‘Crazy-busy’ is a great armor; it’s a great way for numbing. What a lot of us do is that we stay so busy and so out in front of our life, that the truth of how we’re feeling and what we really need can’t catch up with us.” So I stayed busy. I moved all over the place, nomadically blowing with the wind. There were days that I would get emotional, but for the most part, I just avoided talking about my adoption story. I was afraid to talk about my adoption with anyone because the world’s expectations that are placed on women at that moment are to “grow up and raise the child.” But it’s simply not that easy, and even though I knew that, I began questioning how I could have been better. How I could have stopped being so selfish. How I could have worked harder to provide more for my kids. The reality, though, is that I was a teenager/young adult who was already suffering trauma and a complete lack of worth that I couldn’t have been better until I worked on putting that fire out first. Secondly, selfish is NEVER a word I would use to describe birth mothers today. The pain that they go through to provide a different life than they can give in that season of their lives is the epitome of sacrificial love, which is selflessness. Lastly, I am now in my 30s, with a college degree, a stable job, and am emotionally capable of parenting. However, there is no way that I can afford a child even at this stability, so how could I expect my broken, grief-stricken, younger self to figure that out? Comparison is a thief and a liar.
Stage 4: Depression
I saw a lot of this stage associated with grief during the beginning of my adoption journey after birth. That week was full of clouds, but I was able to put a temporary Band-Aid on it and move forward. Looking back now, there were times when my depression was screaming at me—begging to break through so I could grieve and process those feelings. I just simply was not ready to face all of the pain inside, so I found ways to numb it. But there were moments when I was vulnerable, and I would share my story with people I thought deserved to know that part of me. I faced a lot of judgment. I dated one guy who spat off one day, “Quit calling them your children. They aren’t yours.” In college, I had a girl argue with me for over an hour that I was completely selfish. No matter how many times I argued and cried at her hateful words, she didn’t back down. My friends didn’t stand up for me at that moment either; they just tried to change the subject so we could go back to having fun. Another time my shame was fed, a guy I was talking to on a dating site said he “wanted to build a family from scratch” when I told him about my children. While all of these are painful moments that definitely still make me cringe, these people did not deserve my time. But in those moments, I was extremely sad and hurt with grief. Depression and pain have been a part of the story from the beginning, but when it got ignored long enough, I was finally overwhelmed with grief that I had to pay attention to it.
Step 5: Acceptance
The moment that I realized I was not okay like I had been telling myself, was right after a visit with my daughter. I got into my car, and I just bawled my eyes out. I ended up reaching out to the agency I placed with and asked for help. I knew that I needed to work through a lot of things, and that was the starting point. I had a rough past with therapy, so I was far from thrilled to go. When I went in for my first appointment, I was very skeptical and direct. But after spending some time with my therapist, I realized that I was in full control of what happened in those hours with her. Knowing that I had control, I began to let my walls down, and I am all the better for it. Therapy isn’t an instant fix, in fact, therapy showed me how many dumpster fires I had been hiding away. I daily have to put in work to process how I am feeling. Most days I don’t deal with grief anymore. I’ve gotten past the initial grieving process where I just was sad a lot. Now, I have situations that come and go that are guaranteed to trigger grief. Shopping in a baby store is hard. I have a lot of friends who are married and are having children so of course, I want to spoil them. I have always wanted a family, but that was not my situation all those years ago. As a single woman who is almost in her mid-30s, it’s hard not to feel comparison creeping up with lies that it will never happen for me, that I had my chance, and I blew it. While I know that this isn’t necessarily true, and hopefully my future husband just got lost on the way to me, at the moment those lies scream at me, I am in a puddle of tears. I have to acknowledge the hurt and the loss of motherhood at that moment but move forward so I am not losing my stuff in the middle of Buy Buy Baby. That wave of emotions is usually even tougher to process in the gynecologist’s office—all of the seemingly so happy couples about to embark on parenthood. It’s hard not to envy them, but I acknowledge my hurt and move forward.
The biggest trigger of all with grief is Mother’s Day—the one day where I want to be acknowledged as a mother because I am one. Period. But it’s so complex, and I feel like I spend that day grieving motherhood the most. The beautiful thing about all of these feelings is that I am healing. I have a community of birth mothers that I can talk to about all of these difficult moments, the difficult moments I know are coming someday. I can celebrate my children’s lives with these women. No one can empathize with you like someone who has been in your shoes. I also tell my story a lot. I speak on panels, telling prospective adoptive parents about birth mothers; I write; I began a community organization for birth parents with another birth mom, and I find new ways to continue advocating for birth mothers and adoptees. While a lot of the journey has been emotionally exhausting and filled with moments of grief, I have learned so much about myself and the strength of a mother’s love. I don’t regret anything because it has made me the amazing birth mom I am today.
Are you considering placing a child for adoption? Not sure what to do next? First, know that you are not alone. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to speak to one of our Options Counselors to get compassionate, nonjudgmental support. We are here to assist you in any way we can.