Since starting my business, I have had the pleasure of connecting and getting to know a thoughtful birth mother, who placed her child for adoption two decades ago in her first year of college. She recently shared a personal journal entry with me reflecting on her recent reunification with her daughter. As an adoptive mother, I believe it is so important to try and better understand the perspectives of all sides of the adoption triad, even the unimaginable pain of a young birth mother, in order to be a better mother to my adopted child. We hope you too enjoy and learn from her reflections.
I missed the boat on motherhood.
What does that mean? It means missed opportunity, lost moments never to be reclaimed, chances I will never have.
I lost the opportunity to be the kind of mother who rocks her child back to sleep in the middle of the night, or soothes her when she cries. I cannot kiss a boo-boo to make it feel better, or put a band-aid on an invisible wound. I will never have the Facebook picture of my child beginning her first day of kindergarten, and I missed my chance to promise I would be there after school to pick her up. I cannot insist she eats her broccoli or ensure she gets to bed on time. I relinquished those “rights.” Excuse me: rather, I “placed” those responsibilities and privileges with another family … a family I chose and a family I trusted.
When I made that unimaginable decision all those years ago, I felt alone in my experience. Peers or friends of mine who found themselves in similar situations chose different options. Until one year ago, I didn’t know anyone else in my generation who had chosen adoption. Even when people would assure me how “strong” or “selfless” my decision was, I thought to myself with contempt, “how would you know?” I understood they meant well, but they had no idea how weak, shameful, and alone I felt.
I spent the next two decades doing everything I could to try to heal the gaping wound inside of me. It felt like a piece of my heart had been ripped out, and all that remained was the jagged half of an organ which continued to function physically, but anything that had truly given it life was gone. I tried endless antidotes—from denial, distraction, and self-medicating, to therapy, journaling, meditation, yoga, prayer, acupuncture, and self-help books, not to mention turning to the many sources of love, support, and faith which I was fortunate to have in my life.
I was confused by the inconsistent communication from my daughter’s adoptive family. What we had previously agreed upon in an effort to maintain openness and transparency, became blurry and inaccessible. Correspondence diminished over the years, and I tread carefully between respecting their boundaries (even if I didn’t understand) and trying to make sense of what was going on which prevented them from fulfilling their side of our agreement. Ultimately, I retreated, confused and defeated. Years of mysterious silence passed by.
Though my daughter was not physically with me, I felt her. I held her close to me; she was in my every thought. In many ways it was she who motivated me to get my life on track. She became my inspiration. I wanted to become someone she would be proud to know if and when she was ever ready. I did grow stronger over the years, developing more self-understanding, compassion, and forgiveness. I studied and worked hard to help others who were in the midst of their own life crises, and explored ways to encourage others and instill a sense of hope and empowerment. Things got better and my life went on, even with the void inside.
Then I received a voice message. I was sitting in the airport at 5am waiting to board a flight on June 22, 2017. I pressed play to hear the message which had been left two days prior, but for some reason was just now being delivered in my mailbox. It was her! I was listening to my daughter’s voice! She said she would be interested in connecting. She said, “thank you for everything.” She said, “I love you.” I replayed it in my mind, “she said, ‘I love you.’!” My throat tightened, my heart pounded, but no tears came. I didn’t know if I could trust what was happening.
One month later, I received another unexpected call on a Saturday morning. She said she was in my city for a wedding. I jumped in the car immediately and drove to where she was staying. Within an hour I was holding my daughter in my arms for the first time since 1995. I was elated and terrified. It was surreal… an indescribable dream. Was this actually happening?
Reunification is a complicated process. It felt like some combination of meeting a ghost, a celebrity, a figment of my imagination… Was she real? I remembered everything about her coming into the world, and I could still sense the throbbing void in my heart where she felt ripped away from me. Yet, I wasn’t sure if she actually existed.
Coincidentally, I became involved with a birth mom support group 23 years after I gave birth and after I met my daughter. Although I wished I had that kind of support earlier, I wasn’t convinced it would be relevant to me anymore, and I didn’t know how I would relate to other birth moms at different points in their process. Yet, it has been one of the most validating, affirming, and eye- opening experiences of this journey. I have been so humbled by the strength, honesty, and vulnerability of the women in the group. Through their stories, I can vividly remember the rawness, shock, and disbelief of the initial days and months after placement, not to mention the physical and hormonal changes. As I listen to these young women, I recall that about two or three years after giving birth, I felt the, albeit elusive, need to distinguish myself from my experience as a birth mom, and to rediscover who I was because of, and apart from, that experience.
Even as I have grappled with the reality that our adoption was not as open as I had hoped or thought it would be, I feel torn as I listen to other birth moms as they share the challenges of openness in adoption. They witness their child changing and growing apart from them, they anxiously await and soak in every moment they are able to spend with their child, and then, they are faced with the gut-wrenching pain of saying goodbye each time. Yet, these incredibly resilient women and many strong and compassionate adoptive parents are dedicated to maintaining an openness, an accessibility, and a relationship which reinforces their commitment to ensure their child grows up knowing how very much they are loved.
My daughter may have been told that her birth mom loves her, but I don’t know if she ever felt it or believed it. It is said, we may become stronger at the broken places. I hope so. We have both been broken by life’s bumps and tumbles. She is her own person, a determined, fiercely independent, and powerful force of nature. We are different in so many ways, and yet, we are profoundly connected in ways I am still trying to understand. Meanwhile, we have embarked on the crazy journey of learning one another and navigating this new relationship. I may have missed the boat on motherhood in the traditional sense, but I will not miss the opportunity to offer a mother’s love. No matter what happens or how much time has passed, that love will never go away.