I feel like I ended part 1 in an awkward place. But it was either there, or at the end of this part, and I felt it was best not to try anyone's patience.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch ...
So, what is this process of grief? If you've ever taken a psychology class you've probably heard of the five stages of grief - Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Accptance. These don't go in order, you may not experience all of them, and you may experience each of them more than once.
Many birthmothers would tell you that in placement, denial doesn't often come first – depression and tears do! Placement is hard. You can't really completely prepare for it. I know that when I was pregnant I heard stories about placement being all warm-fuzzies, but no one ever talked honestly about what happened right afterward. It stinks! It's hard. I wasn't at all happy. Maybe you weren't either. That's okay. Keep in mind that the time after placement being insanely difficult doesn't mean adoption was the wrong choice. It just means you love your baby an awful lot. It hurts because we love our children and we aren't parenting them, because of a lifetime of experiences with them that we'll miss, because it hurts not being around them. I've never met a birthmother who hurts because she feels she picked the wrong family or because she's worried that her child is going to be hurt or neglected or damaged in some way by the family he or she was placed with. If you feel any of those things, definitely talk to your caseworker about your concerns and do it right away. Knowing that despite our pain, the babies we placed are happy and healthy and loved gives us something to cling to when the pain is bad. Cling to it! Ride that horse to safety.
As far as the stages of grief go, it's worth noting that they may manifest differently in birth moms than they might in someone grieving a physical death. With denial, for instance, you obviously can't pretend you didn't place your baby, because if you hadn't, the baby would be with you. But some birth moms may want to pretend that they never had a child in the first place. They may opt for a closed adoption and never speak about it or the child they placed. The problem with this is that pretending it didn't happen doesn't mean it didn't happen. Closed adoption is fine if that's what works for you, but let yourself grieve before you close the mental door on this part of your life or it'll come back to bite you.
Anger is a big one – the birth moms I've talked to have expressed anger at God for inspiring them to place, at people who were unsupportive of their tentative plans to single parent or marry the birth father, anger at the birth father for being a less-than-upstanding young man, anger at the adoptive couple for getting to be the baby's parents, anger at themselves for getting pregnant in a situation that let them to choose adoption.
Anger is something that as women we tend to push back the most. But the more anger you let yourself feel, the less anger you'll find yourself feeling. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it's true. If you get it all out, you're done. But be careful in how you let it out. It's so tempting to unload on your parents or your friends. If at all possible, don't. Find a suitable outlet – a punching bag, a therapist, your caseworker, your bishop or other clergyman. Write – but don't send – letters to people you're angry with. Please don't send them. That part is important.
Post-placement, depression is the big one. Those who study grief say the most acute pain post-loss lasts about two months. Your experience may vary. Let it be what it is. If you're got thirty minutes of crying to do, don't stop at twenty. Don't let anyone tell you to cheer up or snap out of it. You're earned your tears with your love. Own them. C. S. Lewis said, “The pain now is part of the happiness then. That's the deal.” The "happiness then" is our love.
The depression can be the hardest to get past. In my experience and the experience of other birth moms I've talked to, each day after placement hurts just a tiny bit less – even if it's just a teeny-tiny minuscule bit. You realize you survived the day before, and it gets easier to think you can survive today and tomorrow, too. If it feels like too much, remember the following: Inhale, exhale, repeat. I can't promise that there's a bright shiny light at the end of the tunnel, but I can promise that the tunnel has an end. You won't always feel this way.
In addition to the things you expect, like depression, you may experience other feelings/reactions that you didn't expect and you might feel they are abnormal. They're not. As I said before, the beautiful thing about grief is that what's normal for you is normal.
That doesn't mean it's something you can anticipate. For instance, you may feel a sense of relief that you aren't responsible for the life of a tiny baby, grateful that you're not getting up every few hours with a crying baby. If you hadn't placed, you wouldn't be allowed to be selfish and irresponsible anymore. You still can, and it's perfectly normal to be a little relieved that this is so.
Jealousy is another thing that comes up – jealousy of the adoptive couple, of single parents, of women who marry rather than place, of women who are married and “allowed” to keep their babies, of anyone who didn't have to do what you did and who hasn't suffered your pain.
Aimlessness may push its way to the surface, too. You've spent the better part of a year growing a baby and preparing for his or her arrival. Now you don't have that to do, it's normal to feel adrift and without purpose. One of my birth mom friends said that after placement she didn't feel important anymore. Please don't fall into that way of thinking. You created life, and you helped build a family. You are still very much important.
I can't speak for anyone else, but impatience was a big one for me. Have you ever seen those JG Wentworth ads where people shout “It's my money, and I need it now!” I SO get that. Many of us are told throughout the process that God has all these amazing blessings lined up for us for this thing we've done. It's normal to feel, “They're my blessings, and I need them now!” The fact is those blessings – what they are and when we get them are on God's time, not ours. You may find yourself, like me, two years after placement feeling like very little has changed. Don't give up. (I remind myself of this every day.)
It's also normal to be impatient with yourself about grief – when do I stop feeling like crap? When does it get better? When do I get to move on? Now would be good! Research suggests that six to twelve months post-loss is the hardest time. All the firsts are difficult. But the second year may be harder for you. The good news is, I don't know anyone who's said that the third year is hard :)
Parenthetically, although I just said "post-loss," the first and second years that I referred to are actually the first and second years of grieving. If you placed ten years ago and promptly stuffed all your grief down, you are only just beginning.
What about disconnect? This one is a little scary, but it's a good sign. As time passes, your deep connection to the child you placed won't be as intense. You won't check your e-mail twenty times a day for a picture anymore. You might not read an e-mail from the adoptive couple right away. You might still feel this insanely irrational love for the child you placed, and yet spend most of a visit talking to the adoptive parents instead of gazing in rapt wonder at the life you created.
I should also mention that you may experience several of these feelings at once. It is possible to feel more than one emotion at a time. It doesn't mean you're crazy. It means you're human. You are absolutely allowed to feel happy for someone and jealous of them at the same time. You can feel sad and happy at the same time (and I'm the "happiest sad" chick, so trust me on this one). You can feel grateful and impatient. You can feel depressed at the same time you feel a lot of love.
I want to say a word about love. The temptation is often to jump back into a relationship right away. If the right person comes along, then by all means. But tread lightly. Be careful not to end up with the wrong person again. After placement, you're still learning who you are. You can't get to know another person properly if you're still getting to know yourself. You're not quite you when you're grieving. It's okay to be alone. As Mr Rogers said, "Solitude is different from loneliness, and it doesn't have to be a lonely kind of thing."
Hang in there - part 3 is coming soon.