Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Rebuilding Self-Esteem

Any mother who lost a child to the adoption machine, especially those of us from the EMS/BSE, will tell you that those who were after our babies worked hard to make us as powerless as possible. Although, we had very little autonomy back then, as minors and as females, what little we had was taken from us. We were the creatures of our fathers and the state.

It is horrifyingly easy to remember how they hammered away at our feelings of self-worth, working to persuade us of our potential toxicity as mothers. By the time they had finished with the shaming (I already had received a big dose of that from my Bible Belt family) and the insinuations of the lack of mental and emotional stability, all they left was a grief-laden zombie. After I lost my second child, in much the same way, all that was left of the Robin who was glad to be Robin was a little whisper in the back of my brain.

Thus started one of the most confusing, difficult and painful journeys of my life.....the reconstruction of my self-worth. The emptiness inside me caused me to turn to some pretty unhealthy placebos in an attempt to fill that gulf. Food was my drug of choice for many years. Looking for love in all the wrong places could have also become my theme song. I obsessed over the father of my oldest for many, many years and, to my shame, was available for him to use and abuse as he saw fit. I was in an unhealthy, co-dependent marriage and trying to raise two children from that marriage to think well of themselves was what started me on the road to recovering Robin.

Rape crisis counseling (my second surrendered child was conceived via "date rape") was my kick-off. Talking about not only the rape, but the fact that I had been abused and abandoned by some of the male figures in my life helped me start to shake off the shame. It's freeing to know that you didn't ask for the treatment you received.

Next, with my weight topping 275 lbs. and knowing that the purging I was doing was not helping the matter, I went into in-patient treatment at the Rader Institute. They follow the same principals as Alcoholics Anonymous and that  simple program was the hardest, most onerous and painful, most wonderful thing I have ever done for myself. The only thing that held me back from full recovery was the fact that accepting the loss of my two oldest children to adoption was not something I could do at that time. It just didn't feel right to blithely accept that they were out of my life, forever. I did, however, get to see that working my program was invaluable to my raised children. They reaped the benefits of a mother who worked at her spiritual values and rejected co-dependency.

Reunion, with both of my adult, surrendered children, in April and November of 1993, and learning that I wasn't toxic, and that they needed me in their lives was what put me within the range of normal self-esteem. It was like my own, personal Emancipation Proclamation when I stated, out loud, that I did not deserve to be treated the way I was, that I was not a bad person, then or now, and that I was a damn good mother. I felt the weight of years of self-doubt and being overly concerned about the perceptions others had of me just slide off my shoulders.

Now, I had to keep working at it. I could have easily drifted back into that abyss of self-hatred if I didn't work at keeping my chin up and my head high. Finding other mothers on the Internet and giving and receiving support was water for my thirsty heart. My loved ones cared, but they couldn't understand the way other mothers, especially other EMS mothers did. They understood what it was like to be classified as a fornicating delinquent, unfit to raise your own child, even if not all took the sex/shame message to heart the way I did. I was also still working at erasing those Bible Belt fundie messages from my brain.

Finding value in who I am and who I was saved me from a slow death by excess. This was a hard-fought victory and one that is allowing me, in these last decades (hopefully) of my life, to live with serenity and more courage than I ever thought I could muster. Me?? Brave??? Wow, what a concept!

So now, a small group of us uppity mothers are banging the drum about justice and redress for what was done to us in the name of morality, secrecy and the bottom line. I wanted to stand and cheer when Karen
Wilson Buterbaugh's article went online and the facts were there for all to see. Sooner (I hope) than later, this information is going to reach the general public and we might just gain the support we need for a congressional hearing or perhaps, at least, an official apology.

You see, what was done to us is no longer legal. The fact that it was legal should be something of which our government is ashamed. The industry and CPS and social workers might still be coercing, but it is done with more finesse and subtlety because the young women of today do not follow the lead of authority the way we did back then. The industry has had to do a lot of spin-doctoring to persuade the mothers of today that they are, somehow, interchangeable. Unfortunately, they've done it rather well.

Of course, that recognition of the EMS and the injustices of it and, maybe, that apology wouldn't give me back my self-esteem. I've already given myself that gift. Let's just say, it would put a really nice shine on it.

Plus, we deserve it.


Sandy Young said...

This shows the progression from the abstract to the concrete, from the objective to the subjective, from the shit to the shaft. It is personal for me, as well. Good for you, Robin. Thanks....

triona said...

What an excellent post. Thank you for sharing your journey. As the surrendered offspring of a BSE mother I share some of the self-esteem issues you describe and you have given me hope that my mother and I can actually find our way out of the mess that adoption has left of us.

kittz said...

kitta here:

One of my natural mother friends said it best," Some births are honored and some births are dishonored. As long as there are people who think it is acceptable to dishonor some births, we really haven't changed as much as we would like to think we have."

Adoption "professionals" will admit that bad things happened in the past. What they won't admit to is that the foundation for adoption was created on/in the laws of the past.

That foundation of laws and procedures still exists.

The civil rights laws made a lot of the BSE techniques illegal....but not the basic program.

What needs to be attacked is the basic program, the foundation of adoption: the big picture that began so long ago, and has never been truly challenged, let alone overturned.

Von said...

What a great post and a courageous story of your survival.I wish my own mother could have been here to read it and go further on her journey out of shame.