A caveat: this gets a bit rant-y. I'm trying to rant less, I really am, but sometimes I just need to get it out. And I feel like my ranting is more productive now than it once was. You've been warned :-)
Grieving after placement is unlike any other kind of grief in the world. It's different, and it's difficult to explain.
I've never lost a child in the mortal sense. Roo is healthy and happy. I don't even like to think of what it would feel like if something were to happen to her. I can't imagine it, and I don't want to. I would never say that I know what it feels like to lose a child.
And yet ... I did lose a child. I lost my child. My baby - the one I took home from the hospital, who had my last name, who was my responsibility - no longer exists. It's like that baby was sucked into a vortex, and in her place is the little girl belonging to P and M. I love her, but she is NOT my baby anymore. This Roo never was. My Roo is gone.
So there's a grief there, to be sure. All birth moms grieve and I'm no exception. I reckon I feel a bit more like I've experienced a death than is usual, because I didn't choose adoption right away; I waited. I came home from placement with an empty car seat, home to an empty crib and stacks of freshly laundered Onesies that my Roo - MY Roo - would never wear again. It very much felt as though someone had died, and the grief was overwhelming and all-encompassing. I'm crying as I type this just thinking about it.
I remember coming home after my dad died and looking around and thinking, he's never going to sit at the end of the kitchen table anymore. His Dr Pepper isn't going to be in the refrigerator. His sunglasses aren't going to be on the counter by the sink, and his laptop from work isn't going to be in its case by the front door ... All around me were places he'd once occupied and now they were empty.
It felt the same after I placed Roo - the empty car seat, the empty crib, even the empty diaper pail. They were all signs that I used to have a baby, used to be a mom ... and that I'm not anymore. I couldn't look at or even think of any of them without a sob fizzing in the back of my throat.
And yet, for all my grief, for all my pain, my little Roo is alive and well. How glad I am! She's delicately chubby and smart and happy and delightful and everything one-year-old should be. I know it's wrong to compare my grief to that of a mother who has lost her child. There is no comparison, in all fairness. In comparison, I've got it easy. And yet I grieve.
Other people draw comparisons, too. And their comparisons are usually impatient ones. The implication is that because the child I birthed and love it still alive, I haven't a right to grieve as long as I need to, if at all. The implication is that I get a month, maybe six weeks, and then I need to get on with it. How on earth is this fair?
I know life's not fair, and that anyone who says otherwise is selling something. That's #1 on my list of the Facts of Life (and yes, I do have a numbered list). But, look, there's unfair, and there's unfair. My dad died almost two years ago and my mother has yet to be told she needs to get on with it already. I was told to get on with it two months after I placed Roo. What's up with that?
When my mom grieved the loss of her husband, no one ever said to her, "You're thinking too much of yourself, that's why it hurts. You need to think of other people. Find some way to serve or volunteer and you'll feel better." And it's not surprising that no one said that to her, because really, who SAYS something like that to a grieving widow?
But that's exactly what I was told after placement. People told me that I was too wrapped up in my own problems and that if I wanted to be happy I needed to think of other people for a change and find ways to serve others. And I thought, excuse me? I gave two people I barely know a BABY. I think I'm good on serving others for a while. And yes, I am a bit wrapped up in my grief. But I think I'm allowed! If anyone's entitled to a good pity party here and there, it's a birth mom. My grief at placement was and is no less valid than my mother's grief at my dad's death. I need to feel my feelings and learn to live with them.
People's suggestion that my grief was selfish and that I needed to stop thinking only about myself was shocking to me - still is, actually. I grieve because I love, simple as that. And I WAS serving others. Just because I don't keep a running tally on my sidebar of my service hours this year doesn't mean I'm not doing anything. I prefer to do that sort of thing quietly, thankyouverymuch.
But people would insist; I was depressed because I was selfish and immature, and how could I not see that? Why didn't I get on with things already? What was my problem?
I have overwhelmingly more good days than bad days now, ten months post-placement. Bad days are very rare. But I still have days here and there that are tough, when I miss Roo so much I physically ache from it. I don't think that's anything to apologize for. And yet people pretty much come out and ask me why I haven't moved on with my life yet and what the heck my problem is and why I'm still thinking about the baby I placed because it's been nine months and I should be all better now.
I will never be all better, because I will never stop loving my little Roo. Certainly the time will come when the pain will be a fraction of what it is now, I will be better, but not ALL better. And I'm okay with that. I can be blissfully happy with that. In my mind, all better means I don't care any more, and I don't ever want to not care.
You want to know my problem, bearers of unsolicited advice? I miss my baby. I miss my baby who isn't my baby any more. I miss her and I reckon I always will. If I want to cry about it, I'm allowed to cry. Holding my feelings back won't accomplish much. Crying helps. Crying helps me to quote-unquote move on.
The question then becomes, what are you supposed to say to a birth mom when she's depressed after placement? Well, here's the answer: Tell her that you love her, and let her grieve. She'll "move on" when she's good and ready, and not a moment sooner.