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."


Jessica said...

I love this:
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.

People would do well to remember this in many different areas of life.

Thanks for sharing! This was an excellent talk and I'm glad you shared it here.

Heather said...

Thank you for sharing your insights on grief. I found your blog through your bio from the FSA conference last August, and have been sad ever since that I did not attend your class.

I was so moved by your thoughts that I found myself reading most of it out loud to my husband, who is trying to watch football on the DVR. Your insights are so powerful that he paused the TV (*GASP*) multiple times, and we just had a beautiful conversation on grief and our limited experience with our birth moms' grief.

Thank you for sharing.

Margaret said...

Jill - I have to agree that a teddy bear can be very healing. I had a miscarriage early in 2011 - a baby that took 5 years to conceive. I was broken-hearted (still am). I was lucky though. Our hospital has a program for families who have faced the death of a baby (whether a miscarriage, still-birth or infant death). The first thing the counsellor did was give me a teddy bear (I had several to choose from). Without that teddy bear I would not have made it through the rest of the year.

I am not comparing my miscarriage to placing a baby in an adoption plan. I am agreeing that something so simple as a teddy bear to hold can be a huge part of healing.



Lara Zierke said...

Great post. This advice is priceless and applies to a WEALTH of situations.

(BTW, do you have a time machine? You said it was 2010. :) Hehe.)

The passage Jessica quoted above is my favorite. In so many situations we do feel that being broken is the best way to honor/acknowledge a loss. But you're so right - being all we can is the best legacy.

Your wisdom is inspiring (and totally intimidating). Happy 2010! :)

Jill Elizabeth said...

Fixed it, Lara :)

I'm not just writing 2010, either - several times already I have said it aloud. I guess my brain just doesn't want it to be 2012!

Anonymous said...

I am an adoptee. Your child will suffer as I did. Being given away by your own mother is the worst thing in the world.

Jill Elizabeth said...

Michele, I don't think that being adopted means Roo will suffer. I'm sorry that your experience wasn't a good one. But everyone is different. I personally know dozens of people who were adopted who haven't suffered. I have no reason to believe that Roo will suffer at all.