grief

A WORTHY VOICE: "I'll take it to my grave."

I was so grateful to have received a beautifully honest post submission from Jesse, a birthmother. Her voice is worthy to be heard. These are her words:

It was 1958,  I was 16 years old when I had my daughter. I came from a white, middle-class family - no one expected this from me.  I couldn't even tell my family.  I am now 72 years old and I finally understand that all those years of therapy and trying to resolve that grief just wasn’t going to happen.  While watching the documentary, Closure, I lost my breath hearing your birthmother, Deborah say; “I’ll take it to my grave.” I now accept that the pain and anguish will go with me to my grave too, just like Deborah.  I understood Deborah’s secrecy.  I also understood her family’s anger with her for not trusting them with The Big Secret.  Explaining the lifelong grief and pain that comes with losing your baby is a hard thing to explain for anyone.  After searching for my daughter for 30 years, I finally found her 5 years ago! She denied any contact.  I learned that she is a professional musician (jazz pianist) in Chicago, this is beautiful because I also play jazz piano and my mother and both my grandmothers were classical pianists.  It is so sad that she has no idea where her music comes from.  I was able to see her at one of her performances a few years ago - anonymously, of course.  I sat just 15 feet away from her and watched her incredible talent for a couple of hours, then I got up and left without approaching her.  It was hard, indeed, but just seeing her face made the huge, gaping hole in my chest a little smaller.  I know she is well and doing what she loves.

My wish is that people – especially adoptive parents – are educated about the totality of adoption, including the dark side.  Some adoption agencies see people like me (and the other women in my birthmother group) as being bitter, angry birth mothers.  We may be that at times, but losing your child for any reason is life-altering and not in a good way.  People who lose a child due to a death have support and support groups there for them to work through their grief as much as they can.  Birthmothers are not allowed to grieve, we have no support sometimes, and in my generation, we were supposed to be quiet and disappear.  So we’re left with unresolved grief which manifests in depression, substance abuse, failed relationships, etc.  I know I did the right thing in relinquishing my daughter  but it was not a choice.  There was no choice - as it is for most of us, whether due to youth, poverty, family or societal pressure, or religious pressure.

- Jesse 

Musings of a birthparent

"She is mine in a way that she will never be theirs, yet she is theirs in a way that she will never be mine."

I've spent time working with birthparents during tender moments at the hospital witnessing the handover from birth parent to adoptive parent during the baby's first moments. After years of searching, I've learned more of my own birth mom and birth dad's story and their decision for adoption. I've asked birthparents to speak on panels to adoptive families and most recently experienced my own personal loss in the adoption arena. I've gained insight into the feelings of many of the birthparents I've worked so closely with. Birthparents endure a deep and fairly invisible loss that not many understand. The general public is quick to speak about the happier side of the equation - the adoptive family and their big hearts, or the adorable child in the middle of it all.

Birthparents love their children. Maybe they chose adoption after showing up at the hospital with unexplainable pains - only to find out they are in labor, or perhaps they've chosen to place their 6 month old child after couch surfing with the newborn in tow. Whether the birth parents knew that adoption would be the right choice from the moment they found out they were pregnant, or if they changed their minds several times over the course of their pregnancy, the realization that you're unable to provide what the child needs is not a choice that comes easily. Whether the child is now a toddler, tween or an adult, birthparents love their children. In modern adoptions, many birth parents get pictures and letter updates of their child a couple times per year, and they may get to visit the child once a year. Those pictures and letters are like gold to the birthparents. The ability to see tangible moments of a happy and well-adjusted child is paramount in a birth parents healing. The visits with the child and their new adoptive family are a mix of poisonous beauty. Both are reminders that while you've allowed a family to experience great joys, you suffer silently as you stare at the child you've birthed have an attachment with other people, and you listen to the adoptive family share specific details and facts about the child's bedtime, favorite kind of toothpaste and they explain why the child doesn't like to be bounced but rather to be rocked. These are details you feel that you should know.

In light of my most recent loss, I write as a "birthparent" in a sense. It's bitter sweet to see the adoptive parents doing better than what we were able to provide. I feel overjoyed seeing this child happy, thriving and being given opportunities way beyond what I would've been able to do, however it pains me to have to continually realize what I couldn't do. It gives me  joy knowing that this child is the light of someone else's life, however, simultaneously wishing it were me providing the stable, loving family.

Birthparents bellow silent pleas of forgiveness, asking that someday their child understand their choice for placing them for adoption. Adoptees grow up thankful for a "better" life, but suffer in silence attempting to make sense of being the recipient of an altruistic abandonment. Many adoptees admit to feeling a sense of survivors guilt. Adoptive families reel and bask in the beauty of a child that was thrust upon them through extraordinary circumstances. Such complexity in the name of an unnatural need.  Adoption means that a birthparent has made a difficult and selfless choice, a lifelong choice that throughout life will remain invisible to most.