I don't know if any of you know this about me, but sometimes I like to talk about grief. And by "sometimes" I mean "at least once a week for the past three or four years." It's kind of become my thing. I guess that's okay.
I gave a presentation at the national FSA conference on grief and healing (as they pertain to birth mothers). I think it went okay. And then, because it was easier than coming up with something new, I gave that same presentation at the regional conference last month. I've had several (and by "several" I mean, "as many as two") people ask me for an outline of my presentation. And since I have been too busy/lazy to blog lately, I thought I would finally give in and post it on my blog. In an effort to stretch out my laziness, I'm going to split it into more than one post. Also, it's kind of long, and I think my eyes would glaze over if I had to sit and read the whole thing, and I wrote it. So I'm assuming that no one else wants to sit here for thirty minutes squinting at a computer screen. Even though some of you probably do that anyway, playing Farmville or watching cat videos on YouTube (my favorite is this one) or whatever it is that people do on-line for the 4-6 hours a day that Google says we're spending.
Wow. Isn't it a shame when bad things happen to good sentences? Let's move on.
So, here it is. My thoughts on grief and healing, as I wrote and presented them (with a few clarifications and additions), minus the insightful comments that other people made during my presentations. Sorry about that. I should have taken notes.
If you've wasted as much time as I have on-line looking at baby animal pictures, you may have seen a photo or two with the caption “You're doing it wrong.” A kitten with its nose in the pages of a book may accompany the line “Facebook: you're doing it wrong.”
You may feel at times like, “Grief: you're doing it wrong.” But the odds are, you're doing it right, because what's wrong for someone else may be right for you. How many of you have ever felt like you were grieving placement improperly: too long, too short, too much, not enough?
[Here I paused for a show of hands]
No two birth moms are going to grieve exactly the same, and that's okay. The intensity and duration of your grief aren't as important as what you get out of it – its productivity. Grief can and should be productive. As long as it's moving you forward in some way, you're doing it right. You won't find yourself moving forward very much at first. Grief is more of a reflex. It's up to you to make it work for you.
And it is work! It's neither easy nor fun, but the only way out, as they say, is through. You can push it back, stuff it down, box it up all you want, but eventually it's going to have to be dealt with. I recommend starting now! It won't get any easier. But it's important.
How many of you have felt like you shouldn't be grieving at all?
[Here, again, I paused for a show of hands]
I think sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that because adoption was the right choice, it shouldn't hurt, that maybe we don't have a right to be sad. But the thing is, we do have a right to be sad. We need to be sad. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross* said, “Grief is the reflection of the connection that has been lost. We think we want to avoid the grief, but really it is the pain of the loss we want to avoid. Grief is the healing process that ultimately brings us comfort in our pain. That pain and our love are forever connected.”
When I think of the kind of life I want to live, I think of my Savior. He set a perfect example for us. Do you all remember that short scripture that's so easy to quote? “Jesus wept.” If He wept, I think it's okay for us to weep, too. Emotions - the full gamut of them - are a gift from God. Embrace them.
Give yourself permission to grieve. It is a perfectly healthy response to any kind of loss. I had a birth mom tell me once that she felt selfish for being sad, because she knew adoption was right for her baby. If any of you share that belief, I want to disabuse you of it. Your grief is NOT selfish. You grieve because you love, and it is the most selfless love in the world.
The world won't always understand this. For example: when my father died, my mom was treated with sympathy, kindness, patience, and understanding. No one accused her of being selfish for her sadness. On the other hand, after I placed, people told me I was being self-centered, that I needed to stop thinking about my own pain and do something for someone else, that I needed to snap out of it and move on already. It goes without saying that that kind of attitude isn't very helpful or respectful. If you've been on the receiving end of that kind of “advice,” please disregard it. You need to grieve just as much as someone who has lost a spouse.
Placement is a death, in a way. Your baby is gone – he or she no longer exists. In their place is someone else's baby. And you're not just grieving one single moment of loss but a lifetime of things that won't be as the child grows up - or, rather, things that will be, but without you.
I hope you like depressing cliffhangers, because that's it for part 1! Part 2, which deals with the specific aspects of grief, will be up in a few days :)
*Quote taken from "On Grief and Grieving," by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross