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.

what I hope you might understand now

About a week ago my mom mentioned during our weekly phone call that you were expecting a baby. She told me about when you came up in a conversation with one of her friends, she said, “Oh that is so fun for Diane she gets to be the first girl out of that group of friends to have a baby!” The friend’s puzzled look prompted the realization, and my mom followed with, “Oh wait no, that was my daughter!” and they laughed and laughed. I laughed too when she told me the story, and I felt so much excitement for you.

Later that night I could not sleep. I lay awake in bed turning about, full of feeling, full of memories, full of words I wished I could some how say to you, words I wanted to say to every woman who might have looked at an other young pregnant woman with a naked left finger. It is possible these women may not have judged, they just may not have known how to help, so they did nothing because they could not relate. But now that you know for yourself what it means to carry someone within you, someone who is apart of you and yet a complete individual, someone you love beyond words, maybe you can understand better than before what that year was like for me.

I knew. I had a feeling, a fear. I knew before that stupid test from the grocery store told me, that I was pregnant. I sobbed all night. I have never felt more alone in my life. I texted one friend, one of our friends, I dont know why she was the one. – I dont know what to do, I need help, I really messed up- she didn’t respond, she was asleep, I was alone. The next morning, I woke up in a daze. You have that small instant the morning after something drastic happens, like maybe a break up for example, where for a moment everything is ok.  But as you lie there, you sort the confusion, and remember why you feel physically weak and weighed down. It is because your life as you knew it yesterday, is gone.

I would imagine it was different for you. You were probably trying. You were probably so excited. You probably got to run and show your husband who loves you so much and he hugged you so tight that even that tiny embryo felt a squeeze of happiness. I had to call a guy I hardly knew. A guy I impulsively slept with one night to get over the only person I had ever fallen in love with because I was desparate enough to hope that sleeping with someone else would help me move on emotionally, since he had moved on physically and emotionally months before.

I am sure within a few weeks everyone in your neighborhood knew and was so happy for you, anxiously calling and visiting you to hear about how you were coming along. For a few weeks I basically got up to go to class, stayed awake long enough to study and went back to bed. When our friend got my text and called me back asking if everything was ok I lied. I said something stupid like -I just got too drunk and sent weird texts- so that she wouldn’t be able to pry it out of me. My friends at school knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t say. I physically could not  form the sounds that combine to announce “I am pregnant” because I felt too ashamed. Too ashamed I had sex before marriage or too ashamed that my birth control method failed depending on who I was talking to. My mind was constantly occupied with who I would let down if I followed through with the pregnancy, and whether or not I would suffer if I terminated it. I fled to Washington, because I knew living in my Aunt’s neighborhood when I started to show would be easier than living in ours.

While you began the “nesting” period, figuring out where the baby would sleep, and buying clothes in baby botiques, I was making phone calls. I had to tell the river guiding company I landed a job with I couldn’t be there this summer, my university advisor I had to postpone fall semester, and my friends at school I had to pull out of our housing contract. I was rebuilding the way my life would be with this detour that knocked me off my feet. I was emailing an amazing couple almost daily who where my lifeline and hope, the direction, the light at the end of the tunnel. I was scared, I was lost, and I just knew I had to wake up each  morning and keep going.

By now you must know how hard sleeping when you are pregnant is. It starts to feel awkward having this large mass on your stomach. You toss and turn and lay awake. But as least you got to sleep (or not) every night next to a man who loves you. You got to share the changes in your body with someone who adored them, someone so excited for the end to draw near. I always strived to stay cheerful and positive throughout my pregnancy because I had a firm belief that my baby deserved to be surrounded by positive engergy before entering the world. But I will admit there were times at night were I couldn’t be strong any longer. Where I clutched at my stomach both for comfort and out of despair. Where I wished more than anything that there was someone there for me. Someone who loved me, who loved us. Someone who could raise this baby with me. But there wasn’t. I would cry silently until I fell asleep, then wake up, look at the ceiling while I encouraged myself to be strong for an other day, an climb out of bed.

While you were very pregnant you were probably praised and congratulated everywhere you went being the cute pregnant mom-to-be I know you were. When I was very pregnant, I felt stares and judgements from every angle. Of the people who did show love and support, I could tell some were actually terrified of saying the wrong thing. I could count the number of “Congratulations” I got in nine months on one hand. Most people either thought I was a trashy girl or felt sorry for me. But this taught me how to sincerely be proud of myself. This was the first time in my life I truly didn’t give a damn about what people thought of me. I didn’t care about their assumptions of who I was. I knew me. I knew I was an amazing strong young woman. I knew I made the difficult choice of carrying a baby, because I wanted her to have a life with a family that needs her, a family that is ready for her, a family that has been waiting for her for nine years. And even when the word blazed through the neighborhood, and you and so many of the people we know loved talking about the scandal that my pregnancy was, I held my head high. So many of you spread the word and framed the story in a manner than showed that you meant to support me. However, the people I got support from are the few people I am still friends with. They are the people who supported me by coming to me, laughing with me, loving me. Not the ones who only supported the spread of my story. And alas, I was blessed with a premature lesson in quanity vs quality of friends. I will also always know from example what being a true friend to someone during a hard time means.

And lastly and most importantly. When you have that sweet baby, when you bring her into the world and hold her for the first time you will be changed forever. You will be amazed your body made something so perfect, so beautiful and so pure. You will hold her and share her with your family and dear friends for weeks and months and years. You get to be her mentor and you get to watch her grow. You get to be a family. With the man you love and the perfect being your love created. When I had my sweet baby I was so excited to share her with her parents I asked them to be there the night she was born. I held my flawless baby. My little girl. My companion of nine months who I nurished and created,  who would have my bleach blonde toddler hair and blue eyes. She unknowingly taught me how to be better, she changed who I would be forever. I held her and loved her and watched her face for hours, knowing that she wasn’t going to be mine. The night came to sign my right as her guardian away. I looked down at this precious being in my lap and wept. The world around me evaporated, the concerned, sad looks of those who loved me and wanted to be there for me through this. All that existed was a beautiful, new person in my lap who went in and out of focus as the tears washed my face. In those moments as I memorized her face, I gave her all the unconditional love I could give her, a lifetime’s worth of love from a mother, packed into those few minutes.  Then I wiped my cheeks, signed the paperwork, and hugged my family. Her wonderful parents then entered the room. We spent some time together before they bundled her up, and took her away, holding hands, and their first baby. As I watched them walk down the hallway of the hospital, I beamed. I did that. I made that family. I gave something immeasurably precious to two people who lived in fear for years that they would never have it because they could not acquire it on their own.

I have no regret. I did something trumendious, and I know I did it well and with grace. Because of the choice I made I am not a mother, not yet. But I got to finish school, meet someone I love so dearly, and travel to places I would not have been able to go with a child. I get to visit with my baby and her family a couple times a year and love to see what a wonderful, fulfilling, and secure life she has. I feel like adoption was a situation where everyone got the best. And what began as a life changing trial was an amazing blessing in diguise. I do not feel like I lost anything, but I gained an other family, an impeccably strong sense of self, a more compassionate personality, and a gratitude for my friends and family that I can not even explain with words.

Congratulations! I am so happy for you, because I can truly understand how exciting and loving and serreal this time is.  I write this not out of resentment towards you and all the others who didn’t care to know my story from me, but wanted to hear it from anyone else. I write this because I hoped that maybe now you might be able to relate, to understand what that experience was like for me, just a little be more than you could before. Yes, our pregnancies were as different as could be. But there are emotions and feelings and experiences that every woman goes through during pregnancy and maybe you can try to relate this way. This message isn’t just for you. This message is for everyone. For anyone who ever looked at a young woman with-child, and chose to turn her nose up or point her out to a friend so they could scoff at or pity the girl together. You dont know what that woman is going through, or who she really is. But you do know pregnancy is freaking hard, and you can bet its at least 100 times harder for her. And yet there she stands, as brave and admirable as can be, and for that, maybe she should be congratulated.