advice from a birthmother

Three years later.

It is funny how quickly life expands, bends, and molds, until events that completely altered our world become a small detour on the path behind us. Today my life consists of all different struggles and triumphs. I sometimes wonder where I would be if I chose differently back then. I am aimless right now. I chose to apply for a visa over a masters program, and day by day I don’t know what will come next. The lack of direction almost makes me crazy at times, and yet, somehow deep down I know I am right where I am supposed to be. Part of why I am here is because when I got pregnant at 20 years old in my second year at University, I made the best decision for me: Adoption. I look back on that experience today with a sweet fondness. I look back on that experience with pride. I look back on that experience and remember wishing there was someone I could talk to for guidance. If someone came to me today and asked for the best advice I could offer to a birth mother this would be it.

1. Love yourself. You made a mistake, and every judgmental eye is looking right at it. The stares and the gossip could easily be the hardest part of carrying a baby as a young single woman. But it will only be hard if you acknowledge their negative energy. My pregnancy was the best lesson on self worth I have ever received. I truly became one of those rare people who is unconcerned with the perceptions of others. Their judgements could no longer affect my self esteem because I knew their judgements were inaccurate. I was forced to learn this because I had exhausted all my emotional reserves in other departments, and had none left for the “how to fix people judging you” aisle. So many people are fabricating their own story about you, but only you know your story. Only you know how terrifying taking that test was, the sinking feeling of regret as the life you knew falls out of reach, the strength it takes to rise each morning and keep going, and the physical pain of grief as you try to sleep each night. Love yourself, and you will float through this process gracefully.  Walk around with pride in every step, because you have a lot to show off. You are amazing. You are selfless. You are beautiful. You have sacrificed what life was to make a life for someone else, to create a family for someone who has been waiting so long for it. Not many women will get the chance to do something so spectacular.

2. It’s Not About You. There are so many more pieces to adoption than the birthmom (even though you are kind of the star of the show with all the work you are doing). While I was pregnant I interacted a bit with birthmom support groups through my adoption agency, and I found it interesting how much birthmoms were catered to. It seemed to make many feel quite entitled in demanding terms for placements. This claim may rub some the wrong way, but bear with me. I know how you feel, I have been there. This is the hardest nine months you will ever go through in your life. I would not wish such a thing on the worst of enemies, but something happened to me early in my pregnancy that changed the entire process for me. When I contacted the woman who would later become my child’s mother, I held nothing back. I told her I was scared, I was exhausted, I was unsure of what to do. She told me of the heartache, the struggle, the nine years of trying so hard for a baby, that there is a perpetual, painful void in daily life. I learned that for her to be so honest with me is actually discouraged by adoption agencies, which I find strange, because it was exactly what I needed to hear. I had to understand the constant pain infertile couples endure for years, to know what a beautiful blessing I had been given. My pregnancy then became less of a colossal trial in my life, and more of an opportunity to give the greatest gift of happiness to an other person. Once I realized this my attitude completely changed, and I was no longer pitying myself and my situation. I couldn’t wait to heal this couple’s pain, and having a true empathy for them became the foundation for a beautiful relationship as we moved through the adoption process.

3. Space and Honesty. Post-adoption relationships are a scary unknown for many birthmoms and adopting mothers. But I highly encourage birthmoms to give themselves space. Honestly, it sounds insensitive, but think of placement as a breakup. If you break up with someone you love deeply because you know its best for both of you, do you really think it’s a good idea to visit them every week? I know some girls look for families that live in the same area so they can have regular interaction. Everyone is different, adoptions are extremely personal, and what worked for me might not work for others. However, in my experience, the girls I knew who saw their babies regularly were unhappy and regretful when I checked in with them later down the road. I fully believe this is because they were not allowing themselves the space they needed to find closure. I also feel as though this arrangment is quite unfair to adopting mothers who finally get to step into parenthood. Let them be the parent, they have waited so long for it. Whatever your arrangement is though, be honest. Post-placement relationships only go sour when there is a lack of honesty in the beginning. Tell your family exactly what kind of contact you would love to have, and be welcoming and understanding if your couple’s needs are slightly different so they don’t promise what they physically or emotionally cannot deliever. My adoptive family lives in New York and I was living in Utah. I chose someone who lived far away because I believed it would be healthier for me. Lucky for me though, most of their family live in Utah as well,  so we often meet once or twice a year when they visit Utah. I have visited them once in New York, and other than that we casually connect through facebook, skype, and the occasional letter. I would say our relationship feels most like extended family, and its quite fun to get more family members.

4. Treat Yourself. Have a recovery plan that is all about you. Seriously. It made me feel so selfish, but I placed my baby because I was nowhere near ready to provide for an other person. I didn’t want to sacrifice this precious time in my life as a single young adult by jumping into motherhood prematurely and unprepared. You chose not to have the responsibility of motherhood YET, so do all the things that mothers can’t do. Plan a trip, work full-time at a fun job, hang out late, live with a bunch of friends. The list goes on and on. I was back at school almost 8 weeks after the placement, enrolled to study abroad that summer, I have graduated, and now live in a foreign country. It is strange to go through something so tramatic, and then back to life as it used to be. When I was pregant my life every morning was so much about getting that little peanut to her due date, that post-placement I struggled a bit with going back to normal-people-life. You will have hard days, sad days, days where no one can relate to what you are going through, but always having something to look forward to that is just a little bit selfish will balance the hard days out until you know that you have healed.

*Attn Dog People: PUPPY! Seriously one of the best idea’s my non-animal-loving mother has ever had. I believe that having my dog satisfied an instinct to nurture once my pregnancy was over, and really helped me heal. Plus, looking after a hyper-active border collie puppy was enough work to make me grateful I didn’t have more responsibilites.

5. Be Vulnerable- Accept Help. You are strong, but that doesn’t mean you have to carry this load alone. During pregnancy and after, tune into how you are feeling. Surround yourself with friends and family who love and support you. Although I am so happy with my placement and my current state in life, November is now an emotionally volatile month for me. Example: Two days ago at the grocery store I found red kale and exclaimed my excitement for how rich the color was to my boyfriend. He made a sarcastic jype because my love of produce is a bit ridiculous, and my eyes welled up with tears, I could not help it! It’s embarassing, but just letting people know you are fragile will invite them to love and support you. I wonder what people thought about the guy consoling the girl in the refigerated section with a bag of kale and teary eyes. An adoption is a weird, unique, highly emotional, life changing experience. People who haven’t experienced it aren’t going to know what to say, and they will be terrified of saying the wrong thing. Help them help you. Be appreciative of their care and forgiving if they stumble on their words or unknowingly say something slightly offensive. Be honest about how you feel even if it seems irrational.

6. You Will Never Be Forgotten. You may not be a parent. But you will always be a birth mother. You will always have a connection with this child. Today Lillian turns 3 years old. I talked to her on skype about her birthday party and the art she has been making. I know she doesn’t really understand who I am and why I ask so many questions. That is ok. It can be so hard to realize you don’t have a mother-child relationship with your biological child, but you need to know that does not mean you don’t have an extremely special place in one another’s lives. Nothing makes me happier than knowing that she is in the best situation she could ever be in. I do not hear from their family as often as I did immediately after placement, but that does not mean they are no longer grateful for what I did. I find so much joy in knowing I created a beautiful family for three lucky people. Life goes on, but what you did will never loose its immense value.

Keep your chin up. This process is unique to you, but be the best you can, only good will come of it.