Back and forth, back and forth.
I cannot decide if I will be attending church on Mother’s Day. I haven’t for the past few years. When I reminded my husband of this, he said, “Did not attending make you feel happy, sad or indifferent?” I didn’t answer, but instead shot him the look that read, “Don’t ask good questions that force me to think.” He just smirked.
Lounging awhile longer in bed makes for a nice morning, yes. Yet doing so doesn’t remove the loss or hurt from the day. The first few Mother’s Days after Munchkin arrived brought tears and heartache in the church pews. One year in our previous church, I actually stood and spoke for the mothers who relinquished babies, in turn making others mothers. The stares and gaping mouths penetrated my being; I never did so again, choosing to stand with the other mothers and silently acknowledge all parts of my motherhood: the two boys next to me, the daughter hundreds of miles away, the baby lost too early but desperately loved.
I stopped going to church on Mother’s Day after one particularly difficult year. Even with a Pastor who knew my story, knew of my feelings and struggles with grief and loss and motherhood as a whole, the individuals participating in special ceremonies on special days can make or break me. I don’t even remember specifically what escaped from the mouth of another congregation member, but it left me feeling less than, as though I didn’t even deserve to be a mother to the children climbing on me during the service. No one should be made to feel that way on Mother’s Day.
And so, for the past few years, I chose to stay home and celebrate in quiet with my husband and sons. I spent time reflecting on my daughter, on her mother, on the baby we lost to miscarriage, on the two little boys who love me to the moon and back. My husband, understanding the mix of emotions brought forth by the day, always treats me as if I am a Queen. One recent year, he made crab legs for dinner and I melted into a puddle of beloved goo. He goes above and beyond — on more than just this one difficult day per year — to remind me of all I am to him, to our sons, and yes, to my daughter.
Sometimes I try to smack a bit of reality into myself with self-talk of how many other mothers have it worse. And they do; I acknowledge my blessings are innumerable. But the Pain Olympics aren’t real. You don’t get a bigger carnation or trophy or cookie for having the saddest story on Mother’s Day. The day comes and the day goes and we still live with our realities — our happiness, our sadness, our everything intertwined. We still have to wake up on Monday morning and go back to work or tend to our families or whatever it is that we do, that we nurture, that we are in charge of making better in this world. Our journeys — our achievements, our losses, our hope, our grief, our faith, our doubt, our souls — may be different, but life continues to pull us all forward whether we’re ready for forward motion or not.
I don’t yet know if I’ll go to church on Mother’s Day. I don’t know how I’ll feel that day. But I do know that I feel eternally grateful for my various roles of motherhood; I don’t take any of them lightly. Perhaps that’s why this holiday remains so difficult to me: I recognize the full importance and overwhelming responsibility of motherhood. As a mother of loss, a birth mother, and an everyday mother to two little boys, I feel a catch in my throat when I think of all that has been placed upon my shoulders when it comes to this quickly growing next generation.
My fervent prayer remains that I can do right by all of my children by being the best mother in my various capacities to each of them.
The woman looks at my two sons as they run up to me where I sit on a bench at the playground. They gulp down some water while trying to talk over one another about the fun they are having. Before I can respond, their feet run in the opposite direction. I smile at the whirlwind of their affection, their joy.
“Two boys?” She doesn’t need to say more. I understand the question being posed.
“Yes. They’re five and seven. They keep us busy.”
Her daughter meanders over, much younger and clad in pink. Their exchange is gentler, a whisper compared to the cacophony of my small but boisterous brood. I return to my book, the happy place where I force myself to go so as not to hover at the playground. I read the same sentence twice as I peek over the top edge, making sure they are safe, secure, not tackling strangers’ children.
She speaks again.
“Are you having any more?”
My vision blurs. I am thankful for the book in front of my face as it blocks my furrowed brow — and my rolling eyes. I think of all the inappropriate questions I could ask this strange woman — a woman I’ve never before laid eyes on — about her fertility, her health, her emotional well-being, her finances, her ability to mother more than one, more than two, more than none. I come up empty handed, because I know how it feels to be asked those questions.
It’s all I say. No. No, we are not having any more children. On the one hand, the answer is so simple. No. However and but and beyond there are legions of words behind that solitary syllable. Mountains of reasons and hurt and pain and, yes, even happiness and gratefulness and thankfulness for all we have been given, entrusted with, blessed to be consumed by. The single word with which I reply does not even begin to encapsulate the painstaking decision making process that went into being able to say that word — that “no” — without crying on a park bench in front of this stranger.
I do not move the book from in front of my face, hoping that my semi-cold and solitary word response will discourage her from moving forward, from asking more questions, from going where I know in my heart, in my soul, she is already going to go.
“Don’t you need a girl?”
I physically force myself from throwing the book at her. My stomach rolls. My heart drops. My eyes close. My teeth clench. My body recoils and simultaneously pitches forward. I hurt, physically and emotionally. I sigh. “And here we are again,” I think to myself. “Forever here, in this space.”
If I have learned anything by being the everyday mother of two boys, other than a wealth of fart and poop jokes, it is that our culture is beyond obsessed with girls. With having girls. With wanting to have girls. With pink bows and frills and princesses. With women being required to want those things. When women don’t verbalize wanting those things or when they dare to admit that, no, they don’t really want a girl, they are brandished as some oddity, some heartless woman who obviously has no femininity, no real attachment to the womanly ways of the world. A mother of just boys is to be pitied! She never got to do hair in pig tails or buy fancy Easter dresses. She is obviously missing out on the joys of motherhood, of womanhood at its central and epitomized core. She is less than.
And then there’s me — and others like me — everyday mothers of boys who relinquished their only daughter.
I could have been an integral part of the club that I am supposedly missing out on. I had access. I had the key, the invitation, the secret handshake, the password. I was invited. I grew a little girl in my womb. I cared for her even when my own health was put to the test, when my life was on the line. I loved her more than my own life, more than I will ever be able to convey with letters and words and punctuation. And I handed her over — to another woman, another mother — thus transferring the invitation. I didn’t know at the time I would never get another invitation, that it was a one time deal. I didn’t know I would be shut out from all that moms of girls get to do and experience. I didn’t know.
I watch as my daughter’s mom goes through some of the early tween stuff and I am perplexed. It feels odd to know that my daughter is now this old and experiencing things that girls her age experience, and I don’t know the slightest bit about any of it, other than vague memories of what I went through at similar ages and phases. I haven’t read books on how to mother girls, on what to expect as girls age. I don’t shop in stores for girls. I don’t know what girls her age like; though I know she loves music. I suppose that’s one good thing, that while I don’t understand girls as a whole, I know about my daughter; I know what she likes, what she doesn’t like, what she’s going through, what she is doing. I try not to get hung up on what I do not have and try to focus more on what I do know, what I do have with and through her, with and through her mom.
I return to the park bench, lost in thought for what probably equated to a few seconds but felt like a decade of memories and missed milestones. I think of how to answer this intrusive, sexist, ridiculous question. I wonder how my grandmother, a mother of three boys, might have answered it without the additional weight of adoption loss. I begin to smile because I know that my grandmother would have given this nosy woman the what-for; I am thankful for her light in my life.
The woman seemingly assumes the smile is for her.
“It’s just girls are so fun. You can dress them up. And they’re less of a hassle than boys.”
I think of my boys. I think of my daughter. I smile some more.
I do not need more. I do not want for more. I occasionally get a rash of baby fever, overwhelmed by the cute and the soft and the tenderness of newborns. In those moments, I have a flash of irrational anger that my decision making hand was forced by my health, but it passes quickly, and I embrace the present, the reality and beauty of the life we are living — together.
This is my family. Some are here. Some are there. This is who we are; this is what our family looks like. I breathe in before I answer, the cool, not-quite-spring air pushing down any heated bits of anger and frustration. I exhale.
“No. My family is just fine.”
And we are. And we are.
This post originally appeared on my now defunct adoption blog, The Chronicles of Munchkin Land.
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.