Several times in the past few weeks I've heard or read birthmothers express that although placement was a hard thing, there was an accompanying sort of peace and comfort. This isn't something I've never heard before. I heard it all the time when I was pregnant, and also right after I placed. It made me feel abnormal and dysfunctional, because I didn't get any of that. I mean, I knew that I'd made the right decision, and I felt like God was with me. But God was with me in the sense that ... how can I put this?
Okay, remember the '96 Olympics? More specifically, Kerri Strug's vault on an injured foot. She was hurt, and she knew that she was hurt, but her coach didn't say, "Oh, hey, Kerri, why don't you sit this one out? Your ankle looks pretty bad."
Actually, maybe he did, but considering what I have read about her coach, I very much doubt it. I suspect it was something more along the lines of, "You've got the rest of your life to fix this ankle, and only another 90 seconds to do this vault," followed by a couple of swear words in Romanian.
That's how it was for me after placement (minus the swears). God knew that I was hurt, and He put His arm around me, but he didn't let me sit out my second vault. I had to sprint down the mat again and trust that the landing wasn't going to kill me.
So I've always felt like a bit of an outsider when birth moms talk about how they were on a spiritual high after placement, or how they feel like God took away their pain, or how it wasn't that hard because it was the right choice. None of those things fits my situation.
But every woman is different. I've found that comparing myself and my situation to others isn't ever a productive activity. I decided a while ago that I was just different, and that was okay. Maybe placement would have felt different, maybe I would have handled it different, if it had happened within a week of Roo's birth. Maybe if I met other birth mothers who parented for a while, their placement pain and grief would fit with the pattern of mine and I wouldn't feel so maladroit.
I don't know. But here's what I do know: we don't always remember things the way they happened. At my birth mom group tonight, I heard a woman talk about how she had this peace and calm after placement, and how at times she missed that feeling. I know this woman, who placed a few months after I did, and I was there at group the first time she came after placement. She didn't seem to be particularly peaceful or calm. She was a miserable wreck. So it was strange for me to hear tonight that she remembers things the way she does. I suspect that the peace she has with her decision now has colored her memories of her pain. It got me thinking about the other placement stories I heard during my pregnancy and later.
Most of what I heard seemed to be really happy stories, about how even though placement wasn't fun, it was beautiful or peaceful or something like that. I wonder now - how many of those stories are true and how many of them are memories recalled by women whose pain was simply too stale to properly recount? I mean, I'm not saying anyone was lying, or even that they weren't remembering correctly. For all I know I just encountered an unusually high number of women for whom placement wasn't a gut-punch trauma. But I think, the odds are that one or two of them are like my friend who spoke tonight.
That's not a bad thing. I want to stress that. I think that we remember things the way we do for a reason. It's like ... well, to use a relevant simile, it's like childbirth. When you're in labor, it is awful. It's uncomfortable at best and excruciating at worst. It hurts! You don't forget that pain right after the baby is born. The baby makes it worth it, of course, but the pain was recent enough that you're not going to soon forget. You've got a good point of reference for a ten on the pain scale hospitals use. You see your OB-GYN a few weeks after the baby's birth for a check-up, and she asks you about your pain. You might be uncomfortable, but compared to the pain of actually getting the baby out, you're at, what, a two?
But the older the baby gets, the fuzzier that pain memory gets. Your lack of sleep doesn't help your memory any. But while you remember childbirth being painful, you find that you can't quite remember how bad a 10 is. You think, I was uncomfortable then, but my head really hurts now. This migraine is an 8 on the pain scale. By the time your child is two, if a pregnant woman asks you about labor, you'll brush off their concerns.
"It hurts, but you get through it," you tell her. "You won't remember it when you hold your baby." Which is a lie. I still had staples in my gut the first time I held my baby. But time has made the pain memory fuzzy. So, maybe you've decided to have a second child. You can handle the pain of childbirth, you think. And then labor starts.
My mother recalled her second labor once. She said that once things got started, she remembered really fast what it felt like, and she thought, "Oh, no. It really was that bad." But until that moment, she didn't remember the pain properly, and it's a good thing because if she had, my oldest brother would be an only child and I wouldn't be here.
I was going somewhere with my analogy, I know I was.
Oh, right. Placement. I think that time, and acceptance, dulls the memory of placement pain for some women, and when they recall their experience, it turns into a lot of unicorns and rainbows that weren't really there, or that were there but only for a few minutes at a time.
I think that, for one reason or another, some of these women need to forget their pain. Maybe they're going to need to go through something else painful in the future and if they recalled placement exactly as it was, they wouldn't be able to handle it. Maybe their pain has served its purpose and it was time to send it packing. Maybe they don't need it anymore.
I believe that God had, and still has, a purpose in the way I've grieved and hurt after placement. I absolutely believe that He is going to use it for my good. Maybe it's because He doesn't want me to have a metaphorical baby again for a while - maybe I need to remember to keep myself from making decisions that are going to cause me to hurt again. (I should mention that I don't think of placement as a decision that caused me to hurt - I think of the bad decisions I made that led to my pregnancy as the ones that caused me to hurt.)
I don't know what that purpose is yet. Maybe I never will. I do know that every woman who has placed a child for adoption was hurt by that choice on some level. Everyone handles their hurt differently, but everyone hurts.
I don't hurt like I used to. I hope I never do. I do wonder if someday I'll be the one describing placement as a peaceful thing but I'd rather not be that girl. My pain has strengthened me. The memory of that pain is a reminder that I can be strong when I need to be. It's a reminder that there are things - and people - in this world worth hurting for.
Not every problem I have is going to be a second vault. But if a twisted ankle sneaks up on me, I know I can handle it. I can land on one foot again if I need to.
I did it before. And I would do it all over again in a heartbeat - for Roo.