Dear Angel: How can a birth mom navigate through grief and loss during the holidays?
Our family is a huge fan of the CBS television show, The Amazing Race, where teams embark on a trek around the world to compete for a one million dollar prize. At every destination, each team must compete in a series of challenges, and only when the tasks are completed will they learn of their next destination.
In one challenge, partners were asked to play a round of volleyball against professional players in Estonia and only had to score five points to complete the challenge before finishing that leg of the race. Some assumed the challenge to be a breeze. What teams didn’t realize, was that they were playing volleyball in mud. The mud was so deep it rose to players’ waistline and so thick it caused participants to become stuck. As the opponents balls whizzed past, contestants could only stand in one place. They became entrenched by circumstances.
As a birth mom, I’ve often felt wedged by grief during the holiday season. A million little things are whizzing by—and I’m grasping for joy, peace and love—but instead I feel anchored by loss. Unable to move. Unable to catch my breath. Unable to celebrate.
Grief is Part of the Adoption Journey
During my junior year of college, I learned I was pregnant. As a college student, I didn’t feel as though I could provide the kind of life my baby deserved. In the end, I sacrificed my dreams so my daughter could have hers and made the heart wrenching decision to make an adoption plan. Leaving the hospital without my daughter was the single hardest thing I’ve ever done. No matter how much I tried to wish it away, my grief clung to my insides. Grief is heavy. It’s heart break. It’s paralyzing. And it’s part of the adoption journey. The feelings of loss never dissipate, but can linger in a birth mom’s heart. During the holidays, the smallest of things would trigger waves of grief that felt unbearable. A Christmas card from the adoptive family. A newborn cry during a chorus of “Silent Night.” Watching my niece opening gifts on Christmas Day. While it wasn’t going to be easy, I’d learn to navigate through the heartache. I had to wrestle with my feelings and come to a place of understanding.
With holiday pressures mounting, it was hard to remember why I made an adoption plan in the first place. I’d gaze at the twinkling lights on a Christmas tree and wonder how I’d ever survive the holidays without my daughter in my arms. During these moments of agony, I’d find a quiet spot and reflect on my decision to make an adoption plan. I had to remember my “Why.” Why did I place my child for adoption? What were my motivating factors? For me, the answers were clear: 1) I wanted the best life for my child. 2) I loved my child unconditionally. When I am swamped with self-doubt and regret, I have to hold onto my reason, my “Why.”
I’m a Work in Progress
When the holidays stir up emotions of loss, I’ve clung to one simple truth—I am still being molded and shaped on a daily basis. Where I am today in my journey from grief to healing is not the same place I was yesterday or will be tomorrow. Healing begins when I realize I’m a beautiful work in progress. Placement Day doesn’t define me as a person, wife, mother or friend. I am more than one decision. My past is relevant because it made me the person I am today. When I look back upon my journey, I realize how much I’ve changed over the years. I’ve become more compassionate, empathetic toward others, patient, forgiving, less judgmental, loving and grace-filled.
I have to remember that I’m not responsible for mending everything that’s broken. I don’t need to prove myself to others. I am not called to carry guilt as a long-term punishment. I can give myself permission to live fully and joyfully because I am worthy. I am loved. I am cherished. I am valuable. I am forgiven. I am enough.
Finding Healthy Ways to Cope
Despite knowing I’m a work in progress, there are still brief moments when all I can see is darkness. During this time, I give myself permission to take care of me. While I applaud the adoption community for embracing open adoption, sometimes the pressures feel daunting to a birth mom. I’ve learned that if visitations with a birth child bring extreme sadness, it’s okay to decline a visit until I’m in a better place. It’s okay to take care of my heart.