The first year after I placed my child for adoption was without a doubt the hardest of my entire life. Besides constantly missing her, I was plagued with feelings of shame and worry. I couldn’t help but feel like there was something inherently wrong with me for being so upset over something I chose all on my own. I also noticed that I was a very different person now than I had been before I placed my daughter–almost like my heart was now beating to a different rhythm than the one I used to know. Although there was counseling offered to me, I didn’t feel the need to take it. I felt no one could truly understand what I had been through unless she had been there herself.
I began to search for online support groups and adoption pages. I found a few positive ones, but many were filled with hate fueled by years of bitterness and despair. They tried to convince me that although my adoptive family “seemed” to be absolutely amazing and very honest, it was only a matter of time before they broke their word to me. After a few weeks of Google research, I finally came across a foundation that would change my life.
It’s called the On Your Feet Foundation, a non-profit organization geared toward getting birth mothers back on their feet after placement by empowering them emotionally, providing grants for school, and best of all, by putting on birth mom retreats and special events. After completing the application process, I was put in touch with Jenny Sindel, the birth mother services coordinator for OYFF. She invited me to the upcoming birth mother retreat.
At first, I was absolutely terrified. Despite the fact we were all connected through adoption, I feared these women would be completely different than I was, and perhaps their stories wouldn’t be as open as mine. In that sense, I know how blessed I am. Not many birth mothers can say that the woman who adopted their child became their best friend! I was also scared about opening up regarding my own story. While I now speak of it on almost a daily basis, in the beginning it was something I didn’t talk about all.
The first thing that amazed me about the retreat was the location. The Ralston White retreat house sits on a lush, 43-acre property in Mill Valley, CA surrounded by a forest of gorgeous redwood trees. The house itself was completed in 1913 as a gift for Mr. White’s bride, Ruth Boericke, and it boosts a heart-shaped lawn as well as 3 stories and 9 porches and balconies. I especially loved the 3rd floor, which has a low loft ceiling and plenty of hidden bedrooms and reading nooks.
Meeting the other women involved in On Your Feet Foundation forever changed my life. From the moment I entered that house, I also entered a sacred sisterhood of support. For the first time since I became pregnant with Sarah, I felt normal again. These amazingly strong, beautiful women had all at one point in time been in the same place as I was, and they had not only survived it, but found a way to thrive in their new environment. While each of our individual stories may vary, from co-parenting in some extreme cases, to very open like mine, or the other end of the spectrum, completely closed, the emotions at the heart of the matter were universal. We all LOVED our children, and missed them with a quiet longing we were often unable to acknowledge. We all felt feelings of shame, at times, for letting ourselves get into our situation in the first place. We’ve all felt a myriad of emotions directed toward the birth father: mostly rage, in my case.
As well as a new support system, we were given a variety of tools for coping, as well being able to participate in lots of adoption related workshops. We took place in a therapeutic dance circle, learned breathing techniques to help us calm down, received massages, and were given plenty of time to get to know the other women. For me, the best part of the weekend was meeting women who understood me completely without my having to say a word. I became part of a sisterhood of amazingly strong women. Because of them, I was able to embrace my new warrior self, and my whole outlook on myself changed.
On Your Feet Foundation of Northern California began in 2008 as an offshoot of the successful Chicago foundation. I’ve personally watched it help countless women like myself to build themselves and their lives back up after something traumatically heartbreaking. Because of this foundation, I now have a huge support system of women who understand where I’ve been. I’ve watched many of my friends be given an opportunity to attend college when they wouldn’t have made it there otherwise. As for me. . . OYFF has saved my life, quite simply. If it wasn’t for the love and support I received from them (and of course, the AMAZING adoptive parents I chose), I never would have been able to pick myself back up.
To learn more about the On Your Feet Foundation, or to find out how you can help support these fabulous women, please visit www.oyffca.org.