A Peaceful Heart Gives Life to the Body

If you are like me, and it hurts to see other people with children, I just want to say that I feel your pain. It hurts. I don't have a solution to fix the pain, but I want to hold you and myself accountable. You don't have to pretend you don't have these feelings...

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Grief Series - Stage One: Combatting Emptiness

This blog is the first of a series on grief. Grief, as we know, is a series of stages people go through when someone they love, dies. Simply put, it is the process of experiencing a loss. The first stage of grief is denial. While we may not experience this stage in the same way you would if someone died, we do experience it in a different way.

Birth moms are well acquainted with the feeling of emptiness. For birth moms, it is a numbing feeling, especially when we leave the hospital empty-handed. For me, the emptiness was most prevalent during the first couple months after I placed my birth son. Post-placement is grueling, and no one can properly prepare you for those emotions. In addition, just because you leave the stage of grief, does not mean you will not revisit it later on. Grief, especially for us, is all over the place; it is chaotic and spontaneous in nature.

There are things that can get you through the emptiness feeling. You will experience this many times, so it is good to remind yourself of what to do when it hits you. The main point is this: find something meaningful to fill your time.

So, I have made a list. (I am a huge fan of lists, by the way)

1. Join a support group 
Whether it is online (go to the forum page!), or in your area (go to the resources page!), it is a great way to treat your emptiness. I am no doctor, but I can tell you from experience. It feels great to connect with women that have experienced your exact feelings. We all come from different walks of life, we are different in literally every way - but we are all birth moms and we all grieved for our children. I may cry my eyes out during the entire meeting at times, but I feel as refreshed as the morning sun when I walk out. I could not recommend this more!

2. Write
Grab a piece of paper, a journal, a computer, or a chisel and stone! Write down your experience. Whether you share it publicly or keep it private, it is healthy to share your feelings. This is one thing I did even while I was pregnant. Sometimes your writing may be dark, but in a few months or years, you can look back and see how far you have come. I like to write a card to myself and open it a year later, to remember the state I was in, and remind myself that I am still here. Reading what I wrote in the past often gives me the motivation to fight through it.

3. Exercise
During and after my pregnancy, my mother and I would go on walks around the neighborhood. In those first six weeks postpartum, it is hard to exercise because your body has just performed an incredible feat. Because of this incredible feat, your body feels considerably less than incredible. Please don’t forget to take care of yourself physically. Walking is a nice way to get your blood pumping, and it doesn’t typically strain you too much. Once your body is healed and ready, do a fun workout video, or go on a light jog. Most importantly, go outside, be active, and give yourself that fresh air your body deserves!

4. Get artsy
I play a few different musical instruments, but during my pregnancy, I was depressed and I refused to play them. I also enjoy painting and doing things to feed my creativity, but I never did that during my pregnancy either. Sometimes I wonder how different my experience would have been if I would have self-soothed by doing these things. There is something about being interactive and working with your hands that helps that emptiness feeling. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be creative, simply get on Pinterest and see how bad you can fail at one of those DIY projects!

5. Volunteer
Anyone can give their time and energy to others in need. Giving back to your community not only helps those in need, but it is therapeutic for you. It also puts struggle in perspective for you. I always thought I had it so bad, and then I started sharing my story and I realized that everyone has problems and struggles they face everyday. Life is an uphill battle, and if you can offer a hand to someone in need, we can all help our broken souls make it to the finish line with our head held high.

Everyone has a different way of coping with the emptiness feeling, but it is simple: Whatever thing you love to do, and whatever thing you are passionate about, do that thing.**

Finally, if you have something you love to do, and it keeps the emptiness feeling away, comment below and share it!

** Just sitting at home binge watching The Office on Netflix does not count. I know, I am also passionate about Jim Halpert, but please be active!

The Resurrection: Post-Easter Thoughts

You know how sometimes you just get hit in the face with a bunch of bricks all in a short amount of time? (Not literally, I hope) Today was that day for me. Lately I have been trying new churches. On Sunday I tried another new place, making it #3 in my church search. The message yesterday struck me. Of course, it being Easter, the pastor talked about the resurrection and how Jesus laid his life down; which, in all honesty, I never understood fully. I am still no expert - but I do comprehend the sacrifice more than I ever had in the past. She went on to discuss the resurrection of ourselves, how our own new beginnings can set us free. And of course, like all guilty sinners sweating profusely in the pews at church, I felt like she was talking directly to me. That was brick number one. The pressure to have a fresh start has been hard on me for a while, but today I realized that my new beginning doesn’t have to be some grandiose display, or something to prove to anyone else. My resurrection is only for me and my own life.

So, as I have mentioned before, I am a huge fan of the greatest sitcom known to man, “The Office.” Yesterday, I finished the series for the seventh time. (Or eighth? I honestly don’t know anymore.) It’s a show that can turn my whole mood around; it is my medicine, and my pharmacist is Netflix. As I was watching the last few episodes of the series, Pam goes on with this heart breaker:

“It took me so long to do so many important things. It’s just hard to accept that I spent so many years being less happy than I could have been.”

I spent the last couple years of my life dreaming of living somewhere else, having a different life, a different career, a different circumstance. Ever since placing my son I have always said that my biggest fear is wasting more time, but I never realized I was already wasting it by not being present in the days I was living. I never wanted to sit around, “wasting my time” being pregnant and alone, ever again. What an insult, to think I wasted my time in giving my son a life. Some emotions you just can’t unfeel, but I realized that maybe I had misinterpreted my feelings.

So, to top off my already brick-filled day. I went home, read my devotional, and the third and final brick smacked me in the noggin. The devotional for the day was titled, “Blessings and Curses.” So I said to myself, “Great. Why don’t you just drop a brick house on my face.” (That’s me, talking to God.. we are very sardonic when we speak to one another.) Here’s a short snippet:

“Maybe they were curses, but the force of your belief and hope and desperate love for life has brought a blessing from a curse, like water from a stone, like life from a tomb, like the story of God over and over.”

(By the way, the book is called “Savor” by Shauna Niequist… and if that quote can’t convince you to buy it, she also has carefully slipped 21 delectable recipes inside… very crafty.)

This is what I mean when I say that I misinterpreted my feelings. Time wasn’t wasted because of my circumstance, it was wasted because I wasted it. I used my time to sit and dwell on emptiness, and then questioned why I felt so empty. I could have been quenching my thirst all this time, filling my emptiness up with love and the baked french toast recipe on page 235! Think of ALL the slices I could have enjoyed, doused in maple syrup and powdered sugar! UGH.

What I am saying is, don’t waste your days thinking of how you could be spending your days. We are more than capable of making the most out of the lives we are living, even with the hand we've been dealt - no matter how difficult. This post really could be a wake up call for anyone, but especially as birth moms, sometimes we need a little kick in the pants. You know it, I know it, we all know it. We can spend our days looking back on the decisions we could have made, or looking into a clouded dream just to escape the faulty areas in our lives that need attention. But what about today? Know that the grass is green where you water it, and our curses can create blessings. Today is the day we’ve been waiting for, and we can use it for good. Enjoy this beautiful spring week, breathe in each day, and give your day-to-day life the old college try! I think you will like it.

Grief Series - Stage Four: The Blues

It has been about a month since I last posted a blog. The nice thing about blogging is that it’s current; it’s happening right now, and I am in the thick of it. My birth son is less than a year old and I am still figuring out how to live my life. It can be murky at times, but I am here to share my story with all the ups and downs. So this post is #4 in the series, and the subject has been very recognizable to me lately. The fourth stage of grief is Depression. As birth moms, we are no strangers to the blues. 

If you have ever struggled with any form of depression before your adoption journey began, you may find that this depression is different, you may feel it is similar and more intense, or maybe you never struggled with depression until now, and this is all very new to you. Whatever your background is with depression, you probably now realize that depression is a teaspoon of confusion, a cup and a half of hopelessness, and a dash of inner chaos. And if you’ve got struggles in life to add into that mixture… hold on sister.

Tackling depression is often described as trying to climb out of a deep pit- but the pit has unstable walls and nothing to grab onto. With the grieving process, depression may drag on the longest, and it certainly can be revisited. When birth mothers are in the first few months postpartum, we are nearly guaranteed a clash with postpartum depression. This is a doozy because not only are you totally blue, you still have raging hormones. People in our lives expect us to pick up and move on ("Aren't you so glad to not be pregnant anymore?" - ugh.), but we don't even want to open up the curtains, much less get ourselves out of bed. When our minds are thirsting for sanity, we must lead ourselves to the watering hole. 

I am no expert - especially when I still experience it frequently, although some days are worse than others. The best advice I can give is this: When you need help, ask for it. Too many women in our situation fall by the wayside when they let their thoughts and feelings inhabit their mind for far too long. Many times we feel alone because there aren’t always people in our lives that understand. Somewhere along the line I discovered that I can do more than exist. As birth mothers, we OWE it to ourselves to care for our mind. Beautiful women, make it your #1 goal to ask questions and persevere until you get the help you need. Call your agency, your local pregnancy resource center, or contact me and I promise to find someone to help you. Be good to yourselves. We chose adoption for the betterment of our child’s life, but we should never forget about the betterment of our own life.

And to pregnancy and adoption professionals out there, work for these women. When a woman comes to you in need of counseling, we must do all we can to find resources that are available for them. It is important that our birth mothers have a healthy mind and that we take care of these women.

When I was going through depression most heavily, I sought out counseling as well as a support group. It helps to speak with someone who knows your pain, and often feels it too. However, there are longings that your soul needs, that I believe no human can give. I picked up a devotional and I try to read it as often as I can. I talk to God like a friend, and I pray about the worries that weigh me down. Do something spiritual to build faith and bring yourself hope. I like to think of it this way: the sooner you get help, the sooner you'll feel better.

And just because this wouldn't be a proper post about the blues without me giving you some actual blues to listen to - here's a Clapton cover of my favorite blues tune: 

Thanks for your patience in waiting for this post - talk soon!

Grief Series - Stage Three: Bargaining and the Might-Have-Beens

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When people know they are about to lose a loved one, they often attempt to make deals with God. For example, people often say things like, “Take me instead.” When that love one is gone, they tend to have thoughts that reflect back on what they could have done differently to either prevent the misfortune, or show the departed more affection while they were alive. This is all part of the third stage of grief: the bargaining stage. As birth mothers, we experience this in a similar way, especially using the what if’s and if only’s.

“What if’s” are enticing at first, but dangerous if you stick around too long. During my pregnancy and shortly after I placed my birth son, I had all kinds of what if’s.

What if I parented? At first, my answer looked similar to this:

If I had parented, I would wake up every morning and see my son’s smiling face. He would love me and want me to hold him. I would be there to hear him say his first word, watch him take his first steps, and drop him off for his first day of school, and the list goes on. I would be happy.

As you may have noticed, these statements all involve “I” or “me” and they are far from reality.

What would my life really be like if I had parented? Over time, as the hormones stopped controlling my brain, my answer would look something like this:

I would be struggling, which means so would my son. Children don’t deserve a life in turmoil; they just got here! And what about me? Women have dreams and ambitions too, and I have been given another chance to make these things happen.

Asking “what if” is natural; we all do it, but don’t get lost in a daydream of the past. These can trick us and derail us from the track to a peace of mind.

The other trap of the bargaining stage is “if only.” “If only” is one of the most counter-productive phrases in the English language. (Right up there with “I can’t”)

“If only I had been more responsible...”
“If only I had saved up more money…”
“If only I had done more to make him stay…”
“If only I had the courage to take my baby home…”

The list becomes endless, if you let it.

If only’s are ineffective because they aren’t possible. You owe it to yourself and your future to leave your what if’s and if only’s in the past. Look forward to the life you have yet to live. Like all stages of grief, stage 3 is one we must get through, but we don't have to submit to it. Every time I think of what might have been, I remind myself of my child’s version of that.

Remind yourself of your child’s life, but also remind yourself of your own life. You have been given an do-over; nothing is more gracious than that. Exchange your negatives for these:

What if I do what I always wanted to do?
What if I set an example for greatness?
What if I fulfill my true purpose?
What if I make a difference in someone's life?

Take these and live a life you can and will be proud of.

Grief Series - Stage Two: Trudging Through Anger

The second stage of grief is anger, and while in this series I tweak the stage of grief to fit birth moms, this time it applies to us in a more direct fashion. Although I don’t know everyone’s experiences, I can guess that as birth moms, we have all had our fair share of this stage. If you are struggling with how to control, deal with, and accept your anger, you are not alone.

It seems as though there are infinite reasons to feel angry about our experiences. For me personally, I was angry about the pregnancy and my circumstance. You may be angry about the adoption in general, people’s responses to your decision, or like many of us - you may have no idea why you are angry. To resolve the anger we have, it’s important to find the source.
 

Is it unfair?

I struggled with anger during my pregnancy. Throughout those nine months, I constantly allowed myself to stay mad at the father of my son; I could not grasp how or why he could leave me like he did. It was not fair that I had to proceed through the pregnancy alone; I had no one to share the heavy emotions with. Was it my fault that he split the scene? No. Was it unfair? Of course it’s unfair! I hate to be cliche (no, I reallllly hate to be cliche) but remember the “life’s not fair” quote that every adult told us throughout our entire lives? Yeah, they were right. Life is not fair, and until we find it within ourselves to take responsibility for the future and be at peace with the past, we will remain angry.

Are you lost?

The unknown is hard. This became clear to me as I left the hospital without my baby. I worked so hard to give him life, and then suddenly, it felt like a distant dream. Being lost made me hateful. I was so convinced that no one had it as bad as me. It is maddening to come home and expect life to be the same, even though it never will be. Navigating through a new life after adoption feels foggy, but it doesn’t have to be aimless. Don’t let this feeling of imbalance cause anger and hatefulness. If you do, it will dominate your life.

Make a list of your goals: goals for the day, goals for the month, and goals for your new life. Your day to day will seem dark for awhile, but keep walking until you see the light - it’s out there, I promise.

Are you in pain?

Our post-placement lives will often be littered with emotional pain points, provoked by anything and everything. Pain can cause us to make detrimental choices, lash out at the people we love, and even neglect to take care of ourselves. The distress can consume us. Birth mothers are certainly vulnerable to set-offs by certain occasions and milestones, but as time passes, I trust that the pain will become less frequent in the day to day.

Are you scared?

It’s normal to be scared of what may come. For those birth mothers who have a closed adoption or a limited open adoption, you may fear for the thoughts of your child: whether they will want to contact you, whether they think about you, etc. For those of us in open adoptions, you may have a constant fear of losing touch with the adoptive family. No matter the reason, fear can consume our lives, just like anger can. Anger that stems from fear can and will reduce us; it is not based on anything that is presently concrete. For our own sanity, we must never let fear dictate our lives.

We should always strive to be at peace in our adoption journeys, no matter how tumultuous it can be. This stage of grief is necessary and shouldn’t be suppressed, but for the wellness of ourselves, it must be worked out. Once we find the root of our anger, we can focus in and resolve it. Otherwise it becomes an ugly sore that results in self destruction, and it can delay progress.

Like all stages of grief, this stage cannot be rushed or overlooked. Grief is meant to be endured and the emotions are meant to be felt. Feel the feels, ladies, but don’t be a prisoner to animosity.

The Bittersweet Visits

 

This weekend I went to see my birth son and his family. He is 6 months old and full of constant smiles. Nothing makes me happier than to see pictures of him smiling, videos of him laughing and learning, and the joy he brings his family. Adoption is truly rewarding; don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. Adoption in the United States is a work in progress, but nevertheless, it is progressing, and in recent years the progress has picked up an impressive speed.

Open adoptions are customized to fit the relationship of the birthmother and parents, as well as the comfortability of the parents’ exposure to the child. Because of this, there is no handbook on open adoption. Different circumstances can affect the openness of the adoption; life gets busy, feelings may change (on both ends of the spectrum), and the relationship can become confusing. As a birth mother who is experiencing everything in a new light, I am learning something new every day.

A healthy relationship between the parents and the birth mom is critical for a successful adoption journey. In many ways, the relationship is like a marriage. I can’t speak for the parents, but as a birthmother, when something doesn’t go my way, I find that it is best to pause. Take a deep breath, step back from the situation, and put on a different pair of shoes. Try to understand what is happening and make sense of why. I continually remind myself that everything we do, every decision that is made, is for the betterment of the child. In the end, this is all that matters.

Good communication is essential. I sat down this weekend with the mother of my birth son and we had a conversation about our personal experiences with the adoption so far. We were honest, open-minded, and most importantly: we listened to each other. Through listening, we were both able to comprehend each other’s feelings. I am exceptionally grateful that not only does my birth son have the perfect parents, but that I have gained a lifelong friend.

Lastly, when you leave from a visit, it will warm your heart and break it at the same time. It is the most bittersweet feeling I have ever experienced. For me, it takes a few days to get back into my daily routine again. Find something therapeutic, talk to your family and friends, talk to God, and take care of yourself. This visit was easier than the last, and I anticipate that it will become easier every time.

My Adoption Story

I found out I was pregnant in September of 2015. It was a Sunday night when I took the test, but I didn’t need to. I knew I was pregnant. I could sense it; I knew I was done for. I took multiple tests and I sat on the floor of my bathroom, staring at the positive results.

I called the father, we discussed it. Inconveniently, he had already moved on to someone else. There was no time for a baby. No money. We didn’t love each other. There was nothing more to say about it. My heart was crushed and I wanted to avoid any reminder of him. It seemed like abortion was our only way out. I was ready to move on from this hellish nightmare, so I agreed.

He drove me to my appointment and we went through the song and dance at Planned Parenthood. I chose not to look at the ultrasound because I was stopping at nothing to end the pain I felt. No one knew it, but I was sad. I was fighting a battle in my head.

They had me sit in a room for two hours and watch a movie. I picked a comedy, but didn’t laugh. Finally, they called my name and took me back to the room. I changed into a faded gown and sat on the cold metal table with 5 minutes to myself. I looked around and then, it hit me – I’m ending this. I cried silently to myself, asking God to protect my child and let my baby into heaven. The anesthesiologist came in and the doctor and nurses rushed in next. Everything happened so quickly, with no more time to think. “Did you read those silly papers the state makes you read? I’m supposed to ask.” the doctor questioned with an eye roll. Before I knew it, I was out.

I woke up in the recovery room. The nurse comes up to me and says, “Kelsey. I am so sorry. It did not work for you. Your cervix is very hard. We couldn’t get through.”

“Is my baby okay?”

This wasn’t the type of protection I had in mind when I prayed, but it’s the type that I got. I had the option of going back that day, but I was carrying a healthy baby. I was done fooling myself into thinking that I was not capable of giving my child a breath of life. I never went back.

I didn’t think of placing my baby for adoption on my own. I had good friends that helped me become aware of the option, a good adoption lawyer who walked me through the specifics, a good family to support me, and a spiritual peace to get me through each difficult day. Despite the positives, every day was a war. I often cried myself to sleep, apologizing to my child as I felt my bump.

In my waitress book at work, my baby’s ultrasound picture was tucked behind my checks. I was constantly looking at it; amazed that there was a tiny part of me that would soon be introduced to the world. Of course, soon I was fired from that job. Vomiting in the back alley multiple times during shifts didn’t exactly make me employee of the month. Morning sickness isn’t advantageous.

I decided to become a substitute teacher, since no one was going to hire a pregnant girl. I taught kids that were 5-7 years younger than me, and I felt embarrassed. They knew I was unwed and had nothing to offer my child. Having a baby is supposed to be a happy moment in life, my transparency showed that I was the opposite. However, I worked hard and stayed focused.

It took me a long time to come to terms with my pregnancy. I was in denial, despite the constant kicks in the ribs that knocked the wind out of me. It didn’t hit me until I was in the delivery room, when my water broke. During labor, I was terrified. I was continually looking up at my mother, who was steadfast in encouragement and never left my side. She was my best friend throughout the pregnancy; my unwavering companion.  When the doctor held my son up in front of me, all my pain went away. A little boy that I created was finally in the world, and it was an incredible feeling. The next day, I signed the adoption papers with tears in my eyes and love in my heart.

When it was time to be discharged, I kissed my son, hugged his parents, and wished everyone well. I walked out of the hospital with my mother and father at each side. I was emptyhanded. The pain was intense. For weeks, I woke up every morning with tears when I saw no baby in the room. My heart was sore; the separation and grieving were heavy. At one point, I tried to move on with my life and forget about what happened, but it is truly a part of who I am. Every time I got a new picture or watched a video, I thanked God. My child is alive, he is happy, he is loved.

I could not give my son a father without giving him a mother too. I could not give him opportunities without giving him a family that could support him. I stand tall knowing that I did the best that I could and someday, he will know that too. Life for my child is worth every ache in my chest and I would not hesitate to do it all again.