Friday, May 9, 2014

(Good?) Advice

I've mentioned before that, for one reason or other, people in the adoption community will occasionally come to me for advice. Bad idea, people. I once advised a co-worker to take naps under her desk. I am full to bursting with bad ideas that amuse me. Which isn't to say that I intentionally give bad advice; rather that I seem to be incapable of giving good advice because it simply isn't in me. I, too, take naps under my desk.

I digress. People will ask me for advice and sometimes I will offer it. Today I am offering advice to a group who have not asked for it, because someone has suggested that I am uniquely qualified to do so. I was asked by someone who works with birth mothers to advise women who have recently placed children for adoption. I asked what "recently" meant and was given a nebulous response that I promptly threw out. For our purposes today I want to go beyond the weeks and months immediately following placement, because I've beaten the dead horse that is post-placement grief for these many years and I'd like to find another carcass to swat at. I want to talk to women who are out of the fog that settles when relinquishment papers are signed, but who have not yet hit the one-year mark. If you fit into this category, what follows is for you. (If you don't, all I can tell you is that life is full of disappointment.)

So, you've placed a child for adoption recently but you have reached the point where you are awake and dressed more days than not and you're no longer crying yourself to sleep. Good job! I knew you could do it. I wish I could tell you that it's a calm ocean and clear skies from this point forward but it's not. For the rest of your life, you're going to have little moments where it hits you that you once placed a baby for adoption and how could you possibly have done that? Who does that?

You did. You did, and it was awesome, and you're awesome. So what if a tiny lost sock at the grocery store makes you teary-eyed. You made a family. You win. And, hey, free tiny sock.

Anyway. I want to tell you some things today that no one told me when I was where you are. I don't know if they qualify as "Things I Wish I'd Known" but they are things to know, in any case, and maybe you'll find them helpful.

So. (A needle pulling thread ...)

You're probably at the point where people no longer have to drag you bodily to social functions. You find yourself wanting to go out and see people, even if you are slightly terrified that adoption or your baby will become a topic of conversation. Be careful where you go and with whom. I said in a previous post that your surprise pregnancy was a symptom of a greater issue. I believe that. I wasn't living a happy, wonderful life when I got knocked up. There were so, so many other things going on.

I'd bet a tenner that it's the same case with you. Hence my caveat. If you go back to the same friends and situations you were in before, I hope you've got the birth control thing figured out because if you don't you're likely to end up pregnant again. I know (and dearly love) a number of repeat offenders. I'm not saying it's easy to change your life or lifestyle. I'm just saying, be careful. Placement can be a fantastic re-set button. Whatever agency or organization you placed through should offer post-placement counseling (if they don't, they should). Use it. Become a better person. Therapy is a beautiful thing. Figure out why you ended up  where you did, and resolve to stay away from there from now on.

Here's a fun fact for you: for the rest of your life, people are going to misunderstand you and your story and adoption. It hurts right now when it happens. It bothers you a lot. It feels personal and offensive and is the catalyst for many a crying fit. You will hate everyone.

Here's another fun fact: it will bother you so much less as time passes. As you become more and more comfortable talking about adoption, correcting or dismissing people will take zero emotional toll on you. You will be much less defensive. You're still going to blurt out "placed" when someone says "gave up" but you won't tear up if they insist that their terminology is right or ask why you didn't want your baby. (I tell them it's because she threw up on my sofa. Bad joke. Sorry.)

You will also, in perpetuity, encounter people who think you made the wrong choice or that adoption damages children. Right now it hurts like hell when you hear this. It makes you angry and defensive and frustrated and you will rant. Oh, how you'll rant! But you will come to understand that it doesn't matter if everyone you meet for the rest of your life thinks you did a bad thing. You know you made the right choice, and your placed child is happy, and no one else's opinion matters or ever will.

Friends and family will ask about your placed child less and less. It will seem like you're the only one who cares or even remembers. This will bother you. Eventually this too will pass. I let it go with some people, and I brought it up with others. It turns out that many relatives weren't sure what I felt comfortable discussing. They weren't sure if mentioning Roo would be painful for me. The more I told happy stories about her and open adoption, the more questions they were comfortable asking. I still have relatives who pretend she doesn't exist. That's on them. I still love them and enjoy making them uncomfortable by showing pictures of Roo being her adorable self.

The media is never going to get adoption right. You'll be happier if you avoid movies and TV shows with adoption-related plots. I stopped watching the show "Glee" when a pregnant Quinn was counseled to give her baby to "Someone who really wants it." I knew when I heard that line that adoption wasn't going to be handled in a sensitive or accurate manner. I don't miss it.

I know some birth moms who go out of their way to watch movies and shows with adoption in them so that they know what bad ideas they're going to encounter and have to correct when they talk to people. If you want to do that, more power to you, but I hope you like the phrase "gave up" because you're going to be hearing it a lot. Also, let's compare our lists of things that "Juno" got so, so wrong. Mine is 15 items long.

Here's something I do wish I had known four years ago when I was approaching Roo's first birthday. It won't always be like this. The pain or the relationship or the need for visits and contact. It will all change, and it will be a good thing. My relationship with P and M is a continuously evolving thing. Because we are all adults and are willing to communicate openly and honestly, it gets better and better. I don't see Roo nearly as often as I used to. I don't need to. It's not that I wouldn't be happy to see her more often. It's more a matter of weeks and even months will pass and someone will ask when I last saw Roo and I'll think, wait, when did I see her last? The need to reassure myself that she's happy and healthy and loved is gone. The desire to see her and her family because I love them pops up every couple of months.

At some point you will realize that although your love for your placed child hasn't changed or dimmed a tiny bit, it fits into your heart differently. You feel that love for a person who is 100% someone else's child, someone you don't know as well as they do. You will realize it, and it will be beautiful.Your love won't feel like a beautiful burden. It will feel like a bird in flight.

I spent several years overwhelmed by the love that I have for Roo. There was so much of it and I didn't know what to do with it. I had a mother's love in my heart but I wasn't a mother. Then I saw this post on Humans of New York. A woman's dying husband told her to take the love she had for him and spread it around. I decided to do that with my love for Roo. It has made all the difference in the world.

There will come a time when having placed a child for adoption will cease to be most important thing about you. Your birth child will cease to be your whole world. It is scary and you might think it's never going to happen with you, because you love your child too much. But here's the truth: I love my Roo with every bit of my heart, and I will often pass several days without giving her more than a moment of thought.

It has to be this way. It's better for both of you. Your placed child deserves a birth mama who has used her experience as a stepstool rather than a crutch. Neither of you benefits if you spend the rest of your life obsessing and ruminating and crying. Even someone who loves and lives and breathes music has to turn it down sometimes and enjoy the silence. It's the silences that make music beautiful.

It's the time that I don't spend with Roo that makes our visits so precious to me. It's the weeks or months that pass without hearing her little voice that make every word she says my favorite word ever spoken. If I thought about her every second of every day, I wouldn't appreciate what a wonderful little person she is to think about.

When I was where you are now, I felt fractured without Roo. She was my whole heart and my whole life. She is neither of those things anymore. She is still infinitely dear to me and I think I'll always love her the best and the most. But I had to step back. You will too. Roo is P and M's daughter. For real. I had to let her be completely theirs to love her completely. I placed her on September 9th but I didn't let her go until nearly 2 years later. I didn't start to heal until then. I wasn't sure I would. I was afraid to step back and figure out who I was without her. I thought it would break me.

In letting her go, I became whole again.

You're going to get there, too. It's going to be beautiful. I can't wait for you to see.