I wonder if the famous author and adopter, Pearl S. Buck, who is the, so-far, earliest known user of the "birthmother" word, would think if she knew that I was using one of her quotes in order to move past that mind-set? The irony is that you can find pockets of wisdom in so many places.
Buck said,"One faces the future with one's past." I never truly saw the wisdom of that concept until I began my journey of healing from the wounds of my adoption loss. I think I didn't want to see the wisdom in it, because dealing with the realities of my past carried with it the fearful prospect of re-living the pain and that scared the roaring bejeezus out of me. What I didn't understand, at the time, was that the past was still in me, part and parcel of who I am, and that the pain was only masked, not left behind me with the passing years. But, they say that when the pain of where you are is worse than the fear of what you have to face in order to deal with it, you can move on and grow.
When my step-son died an untimely death by his own hand at age 17, my husband and I attended several suicide survivors groups. There we learned a home truth....that such a trauma as loss of a child to suicide is not something you just "get over," but something with which you learn to live. We were also told to "look for the gift," in that awful happening. As the closeness and understanding between my husband and myself grew and the quality of our life came more to depend on how we lived it rather than what outside forces made happen, we found our gift.
Were I to advise any mother of loss who is trying to find her way out of the morass of unending grief that loss to adoption can cause, I would tell them to look for the gift in that traumatic past. In coming to terms with my pain and loss, I found my gift....me. I found, not the careless, irresponsible and shameful teenager who was a burden to her loved ones as I had pictured myself, but a decent young girl, searching for herself and love, a worthy and normal woman-child who needed affirmation and support...not the censure and blame I had been feeding myself for so many years. I also found out about injustice and the fact that I was more sinned against than sinner.
Was I unwise to trust the fleeting love of a teenage Romeo and entrust my body to him? Yes. Was my desperate search for something to fill the emptiness afterwards not the best route to take? Probably not..but for Pete's Sake, I was 16 and it was JUST SEX! Once I managed to digest that truth and mourn for the pain that I felt from the abandonment, judgment and shaming, I came out of it actually liking that teenage girl with the unrealistic and romantic dreams and her frantic search for life and love.
In looking at the past and really seeing the true heroes and villains of the piece, I was free, at last, to carry my battle scars with pride. Off went the Scarlet Letter and on went the badge of the empowered Mother of Loss. I re-identified myself according to the truth that had always lived inside me rather than the burden of shame and guilt that society and, unfortunately, my family laid upon my shoulders. I looked at it in terms of positive and supportive language and naming...I was a young woman who became an expectant mother who became a mother and who surrendered to adoption becoming a mother of adoption loss. I was not a social deviant, a delinquent or a loose slut. Gloriosky, I was NORMAL!!!!!
I also had to deal with the guilt of what I discovered about my children and their lives when we reunited. I had to accept that they were not well-served by adoption at all and that the "perfect solution" offered to my by the sanctimonious and the "professionals" wasn't so perfect after all. That's where I finally put to rest any erroneous idea on my part that I was given any choice at all in the matter. That is when I discovered, fully, the scope of the injustice and was able to follow that thread of wrong-doing into the present-day, where it still happens and where young, expectant mothers are steeped in a brew of brainwashed public perceptions and expectations of the industry, adopters and families who don't want to see their personal dreams derailed.
So, for me personally, I have learned the best way to "live with it." I write and I fight and I hope and pray that someone, somewhere learns something about adoption that they might not have wanted to investigate or believe prior to reading my words. There are manageable moments of sadness, but real happiness has not been absent or illusive in my life. For all that I become discouraged from time to time, I know that I am in a much better place now than I was when I was so afraid of the past that I erected that temporal barrier that enabled me to refuse to see or examine what lay behind it.
So editors and congresspeople hear from me. I argue over terminology, because the fairly recent past in this country's history has taught me that language IS important. I challenge established concepts and I don't back down from expressing what I think when asked....and sometimes when I am not asked. In any event, the past no longer frightens me, I am no longer paralyzed by the idea of re-visiting those days from time to time when I need to learn something, and I can manage the present and the possibilities of the future with a lot more courage and hope.