Saturday, January 28, 2012

Here's the Thing

Time was, I'd look at women who were several years post-placement and wonder about them. They seemed detached from adoption, and it scared me. I couldn't fathom that I would ever not feel exactly the way I did then – intensely focused on adoption and especially on Roo.

I knew that I used to be a fairly normal person (don't laugh) before I got pregnant, but it was hard to remember. My brain was a computer, the c-section was a software upgrade, and my new default setting was Roo. All Roo, all the time. I thought about her nearly constantly. In the weeks after placement I would look at the clock and try to guess what she might be doing. I wanted to know absolutely everything, and the fact that I didn't was a source of some irritation. It didn't hurt, but it itched a bit, and I had to remind myself not to scratch it because if I did it would hurt and it would bleed.

Some time in the past year – the past six months, more precisely – it stopped itching. My software updated while I was idling, in sleep mode, one fix at a time; and before I was completely aware of it, version 2.0 was gone, the bugs of version 2.5 were gone, and I was running on 3.0.

I still think about Roo, of course, but it's in smaller doses these days instead of incessant background noise in my head. I think of her here and there, or when there are reminders or I look at pictures, or when someone compliments me on my necklace. It feels a bit odd when I consider it. I used to have her on my mind constantly, like a radio that was always on, and I had to make an effort to think of anything else. When did that change? What happened to the radio? I'm trying to remember when I flip-flopped, when Roo ceased to be my be-all-end-all, the center of my world.

I feel disloyal writing those words – that she's no longer the direct center of my world. Part of me feels that I'm betraying my love for her if I don't think about her enough, or expend enough mental energy trying to remember the exact color of her eyes. Part of me feels that I have to prove my love with rumination, with what-ifs, with wondering. But that's not reality.

Reality is that I am not her mother; I am her birth mother. Reality is that as much as I love her, there has to be more to me and to my life than birth motherhood. Reality is that if I spend every waking hour thinking about Roo, I'll be good for nothing. Reality is that I was somebody before I had Roo and placed her, and that I'm still somebody after it. Reality is that my software is going to keep updating and it's not necessarily a bad thing.

I do love her. My goodness, I love her! But I had to turn the radio down. Sometimes I turn the volume back up a bit – when I'm looking at pictures, or reminiscing. Most of the time I keep it down. I have to. What good would it do Roo for me to spend the rest of my life fixated on her? Furthermore, what good would it do me?

I'm allowed to be selfish like that on occasion. I put Roo first 2 ½ years ago; I made sure she was taken care of. Now I have to do the same for myself. I am just starting to figure out who I am and where adoption fits in my life. At the risk of sounding trite, I have only scratched the surface of who and what I want to be. I'll never get any deeper if all of my focus is on being a cheerleader for adoption.

Adoption is still an integral part of who I am. I don't think I'll ever not want to do outreach or blog or share my story. But I don't want to arrange my life around adoption. The reverse holds more appeal and feels like a better balance.

I am certainly not closing my adoption, and I don't think that will ever appeal to me. Openness makes me way too happy for that. But I've spent the past month or so kind of removed from the adoption thing beyond my contact with P and M, and it's been a nice break. It's been good to re-evaluate the role I want adoption to play in my life – or rather, the size of the role I want adoption to play in my life. It will always be a part of me because of the depth of my love for Roo. But I want to be something more than her birthmother, than a birthmother. I'm comfortable with that role, but I want there to be more to me than just that, if that makes sense.

This means I'm probably not going to get back to blogging twice a week again. I'm going to try for once a week, because I do still have so much more to say, and as I recall I haven't gotten past the delivery room in Roo's story, still haven't gotten to the why of things as much as I meant to. And that's important. Roo is important! This blog is for her. I want her to be able to read it when she's older, to understand how much I love her and how she's changed me for the better. She won't see that unless I do change.

I have changed. Now it's time to do something with it.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Big Question

I think this is the longest I've gone without posting since I started this blog. It feels like a very long time. It's been a long time since I've done several things, actually. If you've e-mailed me in the past month or so, you probably think I'm a huge jerk for not writing back. I'm sorry. It's on my to-do list. But the list is long, and the fact is I needed a break from a lot of things, and I took it.


I get asked lot of questions about adoption and being a birth mother. Some of them are smart questions and some of them are stupid and some of them I hear over and over again. But I think the question I get asked more than any other is probably the most important one. It's one of the first things people want to know.

Why did I place Roo for adoption?

It sounds like a simple question, and it sounds like it should have a simple answer, but it's more complicated than that. I mean, there are a LOT of reasons I placed Roo for adoption.

The simple answer is that I placed her for adoption because I love her. For some people, that's counterintuitive. If I loved her, I'd have kept her, right? But I love her enough that I put her first. I love her too much to take a gamble on her future.

There are other answers I can give, that I do give. One is that I chose adoption because I wanted Roo to have married parents who were absolutely committed to each other and to their family. I wanted her to have the stability of that kind of home. I didn't want her going from my house to H's with no real routine or consistency. I wanted her to have parents who believe the same things, who want the same things, who agree about the best way to raise and care for a child. I didn't want her to ever feel like her loyalties had to be divided between parents, or that by choosing the ideals and beliefs of one parent would be a betrayal of the other.

That's not a criticism of H, by the way. I don't hate him or think he's a bad person or anything. I hope he's happy, quite honestly. But the fact is that he and I are very, VERY different people, and we believe different things and have different priorities, and I didn't want Roo to feel she had to choose between us. That's a lot of responsibility for a child. It would be a lot of responsibility for an adult!

I chose adoption because it's important to me that Roo grows up knowing who she is - a precious daughter of a loving Heavenly Father who has a plan for her and her life. I wanted her to go to church every week, to learn about her Savior. I wanted her to have an eternal family. (<--link)

There were other spiritual factors. I knew that this was the most important choice I could be faced with. I prayed about it more than I've prayed about anything in my life, and God's answer to those prayers was pretty clear. I knew what He wanted for Roo.

But none of those factors, either alone or combined, could have pushed me to sign the papers I signed, to place my precious baby, were it not for what I think is the most compelling reason of all. I did what I did, I chose what I chose for pretty much one reason, and one reason alone.

I placed Roo for adoption because I met her parents.

I knew when I met them that they were her parents and that she was their baby. That same part of me that said "Mine" when I first laid eyes on Roo, said "Theirs" when I met P and M. I can't explain it. I can't make logical sense of it. But when I met them, I thought, this is why I couldn't do it before. This is why, as much as I loved the other couples I met, I couldn't place my baby. Because she wasn't their baby. She was P and M's all along.

I've been criticized before for my somewhat liberal use of the phrase "meant to be" when it comes to placing Roo. But you know what? I don't particularly care. It doesn't matter to me if people believe it was meant to be or if they believe that I'm deluding myself to ease the pain. What matters is that I believe it. That I know it. That Roo's parents know it, and that as Roo gets older, she'll know it, too.

I placed Roo with P and M because she is their daughter and once I met them, once I knew that, I knew that I would feel guilty for the rest of my life if I didn't place her. I couldn't not do it. The choice was made. And I would make it again in a heartbeat, a million times over. It's as simple as that.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Grief and Healing, Part 3

Happy 2012, blog peeps! Now that I've depressed the heck out of you with parts 1 and 2, I want you to cheer up, okay? Here's the ostensibly helpful conclusion. Your results may vary.

So, how do you heal? How do you move forward? First, figure out what you need to make things okay enough ("enough" being the operative word) – openness, therapy, keeping busy, acknowledgment from family members. Ask for it. Ask for it until you get it.

Write down your feelings. Don't worry if it sounds pretty or if you can't spell or if you have terrible handwriting. You don't ever have to read what you write, but getting it all out on paper (or computer) can be immensely therapeutic. Find things to look forward to. Maybe it's a visit with the adoptive family. Maybe it's a vacation, or going back to school, or work. Maybe it's going to Target to buy mascara. But it's important to have little things to look forward to, to give yourself a reason to get off the couch.

In psychology classes, you learn about something called Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Basically, if your most basic physical needs aren't being met, none of the rest of your needs stand a chance. This applies especially after placement. If you're not eating and sleeping, your mental needs sure aren't going to be met. So, eat regularly. Go for walks. Brush your teeth (for many reasons, please brush your teeth). Get plenty of sleep. Do your hair and put on makeup. Go outside in the sunshine.

You need to let yourself feel everything your brain wants you to feel, because you need to get it out to get over it. It might help to have a blanket or stuffed animal you can hold to remind you of your baby, sort of an object to pour your grief into during those times. The sooner you get it out, the sooner you can move on. But know your limits. If it gets to be too much, take a break. You can come back to it later. Don't force yourself to face things that hurt. If you need to avoid the baby aisle at Target, avoid it (I still do). If other people's baby showers are too much, don't go. If you feel like you can handle it, or if you want to get it over with, by all means do it, but don't force it if you're not ready.

Here's the truth: people are going to say the wrong things. There's not much you can do about it, it's a fact of life. Someone asked me once, “Jill, what are the right things to say?” I don't know, but I do know that it's really easy to identify the wrong things :) Try to be patient with them. Before you were in this situation, you probably wouldn't have known what to say to you, either.

Grief isn't easy. Ask for help when you need it – from your parents, your caseworker, the adoptive couple, your friends, your bishop or other clergyman. Tell them what they can do for you. If you need someone to listen without offering input, tell them, “I'm not looking for advice. I just need to vent.” This is important, because people are going to have a lot of advice, much of it unsuitable. If you don't want advice, tell them to just listen.

Remind yourself why you made the decision you did. It won't take away the pain, but it will remind you of its purpose. You're hurting now so your baby doesn't have to later. It won't always hurt, unless you want it to. It might hurt when you don't want it to, but they key is not wanting it to hurt. That's where you make progress.

You have to decide if this experience is going to break you or not. But remember that being broken isn't a badge of honor. Being happy, at peace, “moving on” isn't a betrayal of your love. You don't have to be miserable forever to prove that you love your baby or that placement was hard. You can move on, be happy, become better and still love him or her with everything you have.

The children we place won't want to grow up and find that placement has ruined, damaged or broken us. They want to be proud of us. They want to see us succeed not because of placement but in spite of it. We didn't place just so we could make ourselves better. But we can make ourselves better because we placed.

This experience will change you. It's up to you whether the change is good or bad. Who do you want to be? What do you want to make of your life? You don't have to decide everything now, but try to have a few ideas. Set goals, even tiny ones. Tiny ones are good at first. Don't tell yourself that now it's time to get your master's degree. Tell yourself, I'm going to take a class or two next semester and see how it goes. Go from there. Small changes are easiest. Don't look for a career right away when what you need is a job. If you want your own place, don't start looking into buying a house. Again, start small. Don't make any major decisions while in the throes of grief. Wait until you've got a clear head, whatever that means for you.

Your grief can be productive. It can help you grow. It should help you grow. It's up to you. I know birth moms who have gone through this amazing growth during their pregnancies, and gone right back to the party scene after placement. I know birth moms who have gotten pregnant again right away, even though their circumstances haven't changed. That doesn't have to be you. It's never too late to change your life. Be better. Start today.

Here's the thing - grief doesn’t ever completely go away - you grieve because you love, so as long as you love, you’ll grieve. But you can live with grief without it consuming your life. You can learn to live with it, and over time you'll realize it doesn't hurt much any more. The grief is there, an old friend, a lifelong companion, but a comfortable one.

Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross, in her book “On Grief and Grieving,” said, “The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not 'get over' the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal, and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to.”

You are not the same person you were before placement. I know I'm not. And I wouldn't be that girl again for anything in the world. Placement has taught me so many things I couldn't have learned otherwise (even though I wish I could have). God put Roo in my life to help make me the woman He wants me to be. I am better, stronger, happier than I ever was before, than I ever could have been without this experience. Even with the pain, I wouldn't trade it for the world.

My pain has taught me how to be happy again. It is precisely because I hurt so much that I am able to be as happy as I am now. Kahlil Gibran said that your joy can fill you only as deeply as your sorrow has carved you.* I believe that. We're going to be the happiest women in the world someday - we will hold so much joy! The potential is there. We just have to work for it. Grief is work, but it is rewarding. It has molded and shaped me and made me who I am, and I am so grateful.

*I paraphrased for clarity. The exact quote, if you're interested, is "The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain."