Sometimes you just want to hear, “I’m sorry you’re sad.”
Or even, “I understand why you’re angry.”
“That must be hard.”
“I’m here for you.”
I don’t necessarily want everything to be fixed, made better. I want arms to wrap around me, pull me close and hold me while I cry tears of confusion and hurt. I want a hand to pet my hair, rub my scalp. I want fingers to wipe away my tears, smear my not-quite-waterproof mascara and kiss the marks on my face.
Maybe mostly because I don’t want to feel this way. I don’t understand why I feel this a crushing blow, a personal affront to everything I have done and worked for and fought for and achieved. For me, not understanding something makes my anxiety skyrocket. I hate that feeling of confusion, of not being in control of myself — let alone a situation over which I will not, do not and should not have any control. The fact that I am feeling something that isn’t logical makes me angry, with myself as well as the situation at hand. It’s a cycle of messy feelings, confusing thoughts and general angst.
I hate myself in these moments, in the deep thick of trying to make sense of things that might not ever make any sense. I avoid looking at myself in the mirror — though my dreams are haunted by the reality of what was and what is. I wake up mad — not at the world, not even at the one who doesn’t even know I’m mad — but at myself. For being mad. For being sad. For being.
Today I stood in the bathroom and stared at myself. I allowed myself to go to the place I had stayed away from, avoided. I hope every time you look at her, you feel guilt for what you did. Bile rises in my throat, an instant reaction to anger and hate so deep and so pure, not watered down with politically correct filters or kindness or gentleness. Pure, unmitigated, the stuff that kills — usually the one feeling it, not the one to whom it is directed. I bent over the toilet, spitting out what I can.
But the truth remains; I feel that way. It makes me even angrier that I don’t know when or if that feeling will eventually lose steam, run its course, live its season and fall from the tree, from me.
I stand with it now, hoping this is the autumn and not the spring.
This post originally appeared on my now defunct adoption blog, The Chronicles of Munchkin Land.
Before I launch into this post, I want to address something important. I am aware that not all birth parents share my faith. This post is about to get all faith-tastic up in here, and more specifically of the Christian faith. I am speaking of my experience, my beliefs and my faith. Just a heads up.
I attended the Women of Faith conference in Pittsburgh this weekend with the women of my family. As a whole, it was a great experience. I love a chance to sing some great praise songs, listen to some faithful and inspirational women, eat nachos with jalapenos and generally have a good faith experience.
But… there was a moment during which it was almost derailed.
Let’s back up to 2003: I was pregnant with the Munchkin. It was a difficult time as a whole. Those who have read my blog for years know that I fell into adoption when my kidney disorder landed me on Level III bedrest. It has worked out for us, as I chronicle here, but it wasn’t an easy time.
During that time, the Pastor at my parents’ church basically threw my family under the bus. For all intents and purposes, I shouldn’t have been able to come out of my daughter’s relinquishment and immediate postpartum phase with my faith in tact.
But I did.
I don’t get all “God meant for me to be used as a vessel for Dee to be a Mom.” I don’t believe that. I believe that free will — which we all have — came into play. I believe that my faith has allowed me certain room to heal — and to be angry and to rant and rave and get back to healing — along the way. I’ve been angry with and/or at God at times, but I always come back to a peace that, despite that free will decision, I can still use whatever free will I have left combined with His grace for good.
Now we can get back to Saturday morning, October 8, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My hometown, where a Pastor put my faith to the test eight years earlier.
Lisa Harper is on the stage. And she is rocking it. She’s funny. She has on great boots. She has this smile that reminds me of one of the women in my family. I want to give her a high five. And then she tells us that she has started the process of adoption.
I start the inward cringe. I know where this is going. But I pray — not just hope, but I pray — that she won’t take it there. She’s a single woman, and I want to believe that she has an understanding of what other single ladies might have been through, gone through, dealt with at one time or another. She starts talking about the kind of child she’d like to adopt. I give her leeway. I allow her space. She’s new to this, right? She doesn’t know what can of worms she is opening, right? I allow her the wiggle room that I don’t always offer others.
And then she slams me into the floor. My breath catches. I can’t feel my toes.
“I’d like to adopt one of those chocolate babies that their birth mamas and daddies have passed over.”
I won’t even get into the race issue. That’s something else entirely.
I just blinked. I felt every woman in my row cringe; every woman in my family who knows the beauty that is my daughter, the love that I have always had for her, the hard work I put into making our open adoption work. They knew. They knew, and they have never relinquished a child. They knew, and they’ve said their fair share of stupid things over the years. They knew.
I didn’t tweet immediately (but I did eventually, to which @womenoffaith didn’t reply like the other ones I tweeted which were full of good things). I wanted to let it slide. Lisa even included a prayer at the end of her time specifically stating that if anything she said offended anyone, that God would erase it so that the message wouldn’t be lost.
I can tell you that for the women in Row W on the back side of the stage, the message was lost.
I tried to let it go. But the truth is, in a crowd of 8,000+ women, I wasn’t the only birth mother in the crowd. In fact, I know I wasn’t the only birth mother in the crowd. Some of my birth mother (Internet-started) friends who happen to live in Pittsburgh were in attendance. And they were caught off guard by that comment as well. I’m just the most verbal one. My sister-in-law laughed, knowing I was going to blog it. It’s what I do.
I get that Lisa has not yet adopted. She isn’t fully indoctrinated into what is and is not acceptable with regard to adoption-speak. She’s learning on the fly. She’s being baptized by fire.
As a public speaker, you have to be responsible for what you say on a stage. If you don’t know enough about adoption and birth parents and the intricate “stuff” of the in between, then don’t speak about it on a stage to a room of 8,000+ women. You run the risk of doing more harm than good.
So let me tell you, Lisa Harper, something you need to know: I did not “pass over” on my daughter. I wanted her. So desperately. I loved her with all of my being. I was heartbroken when I had to hand her over to her parents. I didn’t “pass over” on the opportunity to parent her. I didn’t just think, “Well, I’ll just hand her over to someone else because I don’t want to do this and it will be all okay.” It has been the most difficult road I have ever had to walk. It has changed who I am, at the very core of my being. I am grateful for the open adoption I have with her, with her mom, but it still remains the hole in my soul — the colander in my heart that won’t be filled by God or anything else. I miss my daughter every single day.
I just want you to think, Lisa, the next time you speak. In that room, there will be a woman who relinquished her child for adoption. It will be the hardest thing she has done in her life. It will be that one thing that she still questions God about: the whys, the reasons, the heartache, the hurt. It will be the one thing that she still cries about in prayer, the one thing that still makes her doubt if she had just been a “good enough” Christian if it would have worked out differently. So before you make some flippant comment about birth parents who “pass over” their children, think about the wedge you’re driving between those parents and the God you are representing on stage.
And then — more importantly — think about the child you might one day adopt. They will hear the undertones in how you speak about their birth parents. They will know that you think less of their birth parents, even if you use God-speak to say what a “gift” they were. They will read this post one day and know that you think their birth mama just “passed them over.” Your child will take your cues about how to feel about their birth parents and thus how to feel about themselves.
Please think before you speak on a stage. Your words hurt me, and I wasn’t alone. Your words run the risk of hurting children in the future, one of whom might be yours someday. Think, Lisa. I’m a real, faithful, hurting child of God who made a decision that altered the course of my life. I am not less than you, and neither is any other birth mother or father.
Please remember that before you speak next time — because there will always be a birth mother in attendance. Always.
Editor’s Note: Years after this post originally ran on The Chronicles of Munchkin Land, someone who attends Lisa Harper’s Bible study let me know that Lisa uses this post as an example of a disgruntled, angry, bitter woman who needs God’s grace. Methinks she missed the point.
The boys and I are visiting Munchkin right now. Hit Chronicles for any real content until we get home. Maybe. We really might just be floating in the pool straight up until we have to get in the car on Thursday.
I am not a unicorn.
One of my dearest friends told me today that her friend (who reads this blog, hi!) refers to me as The Unicorn. I laughed because Charlie the Unicorn immediately popped into my head. As my friend explained that the name stems from the fact that birth mothers like me don’t really exist, I got kind of sad. Not with my friend or even with her friend; their realities and dealings with their kids’ birth mothers are very different than dealing with me. I don’t know how Mandi does it sometimes; she’s an amazing mom and human being.
But I’m still not a unicorn.
I am real. I exist. I am not a figment of society’s imagination.
In fact, once a month, I see — face to face — other real mothers like me. We sit in a circle. We share the joys that have happened since our last meeting. We cry and pass the tissue box. We ask questions. We share anger — most of which is directed at a society that dismisses, diminishes and negates our importance or our existence. For two hours every month, we get to look into the eyes of others who not only know we exist but understand — at the core — how that very existence is often painful and daunting and overwhelmingly sad.
I’ve had this discussion in numerous ways with numerous people over the years. It comes about in many ways. Sometimes people think they’re paying me a compliment. “But you’re such a good mom.” Sometimes it’s a legitimate discussion about which voices we hear in the blogosphere regarding birth mother stories and how some of that is related to access and class. Sometimes it’s the stereotypes of what a birth mother should be or look like or act like rearing their ugly heads. “Oh, but you’re not like those other birth mothers. You don’t do drugs. You have a career. You love and care for Munchkin.” Most people mean well and some even have spectacular and important points about the missing voices in the discussion. But every time I hear a sentiment like one of these, I cringe. Not just for myself or for other birth parents — but for our children who will know, all too well, that society doesn’t place any value on their original parents.
I recognize that comments like this often stem from the failed adoption industry that allows all potential adoptive parents to believe that all birth parents are like me; that we are cookie-cutter good girls who got pregnant despite being relatively good human beings and because we’re all pro-life, we chose adoption. If our system was doing right by birth parents, adoptive parents and our children, they would tell the truth that drug use does occur by birth parents and adoptive parents alike, that relationships will be difficult at times in the post-placement years and that we’re all so different — politically, spiritually, emotionally, personality wise, and so on — that no guarantees can be made about anything. But that’s not what the industry wants families to believe; they paint it with rosy colors and claim best case scenario and expect families to not just believe it — hook, line and sinker — but to feel like they are somehow the exception when they find difficulty or failure on their path, so that they don’t turn to the agency and say, “What gives?”
But it doesn’t change the truth: I am not a unicorn.
And no, not every birth mother is like me, like the other amazing women in our group. All of our stories in that group are different; how we came to adoption, how we view our past and our future, how we feel about adoption and policies and politics, how we live our daily lives. But we’re all real, every last one of us. Some may struggle with various life choices. Some of us may struggle with mental health issues and depression. Some of us may struggle to make ends meet. Some of us may be angry — with the system, with people in our lives, with ourselves. Probably we all struggle with various points at various times. And I can say — for myself — that as a birth mother, a mother, a wife, a friend and a human being, sometimes I’m difficult to understand, get along with and maintain a relationship with… but I doubt that there are many people alive, birth mothers or otherwise, who don’t have a time in their life in which they ooze a bit of difficulty.
Perhaps, to make this discussion hit home just a little bit, I’m going to say that Dee is better than all of the other adoptive parents out there. She communicates clearly. She keeps promises. She is fun, smart, and amazing. She doesn’t do drugs and she is a wonderful parent. Is she then a unicorn? No. She’s a human being who has made choices. As am I. As are you. As are your children’s birth parents. As are the rest of us.
And so, while I am kinda cool — according a recent statement by my oldest son, emphasis on the kinda — I am not a unicorn any more than my amazing children, any more than my compassionate husband, any more than my daughter’s wonderful mom. I am an individual with a unique story and a very personal path, but I am not alone. Please don’t count my story as unimportant to adoption because I don’t fit in with your view of a birth mother or your experience. Please don’t dismiss the other birth mothers and birth fathers who live lives that are greatly different from mine. The truth is that no one starts out life with a goal of becoming a birth parent. To become one means that something went horribly wrong and every person deals with crisis and trauma in different ways. I’m not asking parents to dismiss real issues or expose their children to dangerous situations. I am asking parents to remember that people are human.
I wish I was a unicorn — because then the grief that I live with would be imaginary. But I’m real. And this pain is real. And, yes, I deal with it in healthy ways most of the time, but I’m not perfect and we live in an imperfect world. Until you’ve held me as I sob in your arms because the hurt of missing my daughter is so overwhelming, you have no idea how often I put on my brave face for the rest of the world. I’m pretty sure unicorns don’t cry. And if they do, the world makes no sense anyway, does it?
Because who wants to live in a world with crying unicorns any more than they want to live in a world with cookie-cutter people? Not this woman! I like my unicorns happy and my people with their freak flags flying. Otherwise, the world would be a boring place.
No unicorns were harmed during the writing of this post. That I know of, at least.
If the Advent calendar didn’t exist as it does — so prominently on the dining room wall — we wouldn’t have done jack today. A frigid Snow Day. A hard day in itself. But the Advent calendar exists specifically for these reasons. So, we tackled a difficult activity.
And yes we stayed in our jammies all day. Snow Day + one of my regular days off from the office = kickin’ it pajama style.
The boys made them — seven of them. I just broke the eggs. So they’re lumpy and imperfect, which someone told me is perfect in itself. We’ll each eat one after supper tonight.
I froze to death capturing the annual cupcake in the snow picture. I used my heart bokeh filter, which isn’t overtly obvious — until you look a bit closer — and you can see love everywhere, even falling from the sky.
Happy Birthday, Munchkin. Always in my heart.
It’s raining today. Appropriate.
We made these cupcakes yesterday. I shared them here, in their finished state, for those who maybe don’t know our story. It would have helped if I had written a long, eloquent post about the Munchkin, her birth and our open adoption but today’s post space at Chronicles was taken up by the Primal Wound blog tour. Possibly appropriate but definitely heart-wrenching. Suffice it to know that six years ago I gave birth to the most amazing girl this world has ever known.
I’m off to email these shots to her. She’s enjoying Disney World today. I hope to catch some of the boys devouring their cupcakes later tonight and send those off as well. For now, we’re off to BigBrother’s Christmas program. Our lives seem so separate in paragraphs like these but, at the same time, so closely tied together.
Happy Birthday, Munchkin. Forever in my heart.