Choosing Pain as Love
What Being a Birth Mom Means to Me
I didn't always know I wanted to be a mother, but I became one at age twenty. I didn't know I was going to become a birth mother either, but I did, and that was the birth that changed my perspective on love.
I was young when I had my first baby but I learned a lot by the time I had my second child at age twenty-four. At least, it felt like I'd learned a lot. I had a son and a daughter, which was the perfect duo of siblings for me. Although my finances and life situation were not perfect for raising children, I had just enough resources for the three of us. My grandmother helped raise them when I still lived in the same town; my children do not have their fathers actively in their lives for different reasons. We were just barely making it.
In December of 2015, I discovered I was pregnant again. Not only was I pregnant but I was due to give birth within a month. One month to think and decide how to proceed with an unplanned pregnancy was not very much time. I knew how difficult things would be if I kept the child, and in a very short period of time with gritted teeth and shuttered emotions, I chose a non-profit adoption agency to start the process of becoming a birth mother.
Some people choose closed adoptions, cutting off all communication along with their rights as soon as the child is born to allow the family the peace of growing without you around. I wanted that at first. The agency I chose worked with open adoptions most frequently but was willing to orchestrate a closed one. I met with a social worker who described to me how much more emotionally beneficial an open adoption is for the child. She described their growth and comfort of the knowledge of their biological roots and studies done on children in both open and closed adoptions; gently, I was educated on the outcome of the child's mental health in each scenario.
That was all I had to hear to be sold on an open adoption. No matter what I chose, it was going to be every option that was best for the child, not myself.
Most birth mothers enter the adoption process very early in a pregnancy. Birth mothers in open adoptions often have an entire 9-10 months to bond with their chosen adoptive family, discuss plans and hopes and dreams for the child's future, go to ultrasounds together, create a birth plan together, and so much more. I came into the game so late that everything was rushed and barely planned. I chose a family in one sitting with a social worker, met them within a week, and made my final decision that night as soon as we left the restaurant we met in. There were text exchanges with the new mom and dad-to-be off and on, but I was quite withdrawn from the entire situation in an emotional way. I couldn't allow myself to feel too much, or I wouldn't survive.
The entire span from early December 2015-January 2016 was a whirlwind experience that I had very little time to spend on one single decision. It was as if I were perpetually trapped in the tornado that took Dorothy to the Land of Oz, but I wasn't able to land in the magical place with the emerald castle. It was just a devastating twister that I wanted to land me somewhere new, but kept returning me to its prior path of destruction.
The baby was born healthy and happy in mid-January of 2016, and it was the most unusual flurry of emotions I ever experienced (especially since I'd been fighting to keep my feelings to a minimum for a few weeks.) He came out looking beautiful and perfect, in the middle of an ice storm, with such a rapid arrival that I was the only one present for his birth besides the necessary medical staff. I spent an hour waiting for his new Mom and Dad to arrive and it felt like every single minute was confusingly precious to me.
I recall counting his toes over and over. I would hesitate before I'd stroke his soft little face, wondering if I was making life harder on myself, but unable to stop myself from enjoying his purely miraculous existence. I kissed every available spot on his face, unsure which would be the last one I placed. I created a little nickname for him that sticks to this day: Mr. Guy. I whispered so many things to him as his bright, little eyes wandered around the entire new world he just came into. "You're perfect, Mr. Guy. You're wanted, you're loved, and you are everything to me."
Whether it was going to hurt me more in the future or not, I didn't care, because I had to love him. He would never stop being my biological child and there was no denying my motherly heart the excruciatingly spectacular experience of loving my youngest son.
Mr. Guy was born in the early hours of the morning, so he spent most of his day becoming acquainted with his new parents. However, when night fell, his mother shocked me with an unexpected suggestion.
"Why don't you two just have one night together?"
One night. I was gifted one entire night to parent him as my body was telling me I needed to do, and I exhaled with so much gratitude that I wasn't losing him as quickly as I expected. Every moment I was allowed to have with him was too important, too priceless to underestimate. I knew back then that these thoughts and memories would likely become important in my healing process in the future, and I'm so glad I had that foresight, as it has helped me in so many difficult times since that year. In some ways, though, it only made it all hurt more. There was no predicting how I'd truly react.
I won't detail our night together, because it did involve a lot of personal moments that only I choose to remember and keep to myself. However, I can say that I spent a great deal of it displaying my deepest love while questioning the safety level of that display for my future self. I had no idea how it would actually change my future.
The upcoming year after was worse than I could have prepared myself for.
The agency warned me that placement can feel like grieving an actual death. I was given plenty of information about emotional roller coasters, depression, and extreme mood swings. I couldn't imagine how it might feel like grief from the loss of a loved one, because death is quite different than living separate lives, but I discovered exactly what that meant.
Mr. Guy did not pass away, but that two days of life we had together died as soon as I left the hospital. The more miles I put between myself and Mr. Guy that night, the more defined the realization of that death growing ever stronger was. It was more devastating, more tragic, especially so when I got home and had no baby to take inside.
My life as his mother died in that specific moment. Sitting on my bed with no new baby clothes, no bassinet, no bottles or pacifiers or burp cloths or freshly scented newborn sized diapers, I was forced to experience the side effects of giving birth without the satisfaction of a perfect little human to love and nurture. My body screamed in confusion, my heart shattered so hard that I could feel the individual pieces hardening into blades and cutting me open from the inside. Every breath was like inhaling fire; how dare I be allowed to even breathe when I was such a monster? Only a monster walks away from her offspring. Of this, I was sure.
This pain continued to grow, haunt, and confuse me for the next twelve months. I had plenty of days during which I felt normal again, and I celebrated myself for having chosen the path I did, knowing Mr. Guy was entirely safe and loved. I really chose the best people possible to love and raise him; they were (and still are) perfectly imperfect people who loved him exactly how he deserved.
His first birthday was the worst day since he was born. I nearly had a mental breakdown in the store as I chose gifts to send to him, and I spent his actual birthday in such an amplified distress that I couldn't function beyond the most basic needs for myself and my two children at home.
Christmas that year was devastating. His second birthday was horrible. Easter was a nightmare. His third birthday was difficult. And so on.
I discovered that not only were his birthdays difficult, but so were everyone else's. Mine especially. How dare I celebrate anything without him? He missed my birthdays, his brother and sister's birthdays, his Nan's birthday, Mother's Day especially, every single holiday, and days that just generally felt like great ones. I spent the first few years hating myself on days I should have been happy. I discovered bitterness in every positive experience with my children, hating myself for Mr. Guy not being part of it. I berated, degraded, and insulted myself as if it were a favorite pastime. How could I have three children but only keep two? I had to be evil, at best.
The nightmares were the worst part.
I would dream of Mr. Guy being ripped away from me over and over, eventually believing that I deserved the nightmares for what a terrible thing I'd done. I would dream that he needed me, only to find myself lost repeatedly on my journey to rescue him. I would end up in dark forests in the middle of the night or in traffic jams, watching chaotic scenes unfold and destruction wreak havoc in front of me as I panicked, knowing I was being delayed from trying to save my birth son. I would dream that I was standing close to him and his parents only to be dragged away by unseen forces as I screamed desperately for just one more cuddle.
I hid so much of my pain and sleeplessness from the world. Birth moms are supposed to be strong, admired for their sacrifices, and an icon of choosing the best for a child. We are praised, we are loved, and we are glorified on social media.
I hated every single damn thing about it.
I didn't want to be praised, glorified, or complimented. I didn't want to be told I did a good thing. It wasn't good to me; I deliberately chose the worst agony I've ever experienced, and it was for so many different reasons, but my explanations always felt like a cop-out. I felt like I was making excuses. I felt like I was a false idol, being deified despite knowing in my heart that I was a horrible, cruel, soulless demon for placing my child in someone else's care. I always asked myself, "If his best future is in someone else's hands, what does that make me?"
Today, Mr. Guy is five years old, and I finally have answers to the questions I asked myself after placement was final.
As (responsible) parents, we are presented with multiple opportunities a day with our children, and what we do with those opportunities define who our children will become in the future. I had two opportunities available the day Mr. Guy was born: his future, or mine. His was ultimately the most important, despite knowing I would experience grief and loss like I never had before. Because of my choice to prioritize his future, I chose pain as the best way to represent my love for him, and I chose an opportunity that opened many more paths for him rather than a selfishly-focused path for myself. I chose love, and I chose pain, because it's worth it.
I don't cope well all of the time, but I'm better than I was, and I've grown and learned so much about love. Love comes in so many forms for parents, and pain is always part of it. Do we not grieve for our children when they experience heartaches or physical ailments? Parents will hurt because the love is so incredibly worth it, and birth mothers are the same way. We will always hurt, because our love had to include it as a prioritized emotion, but it was worth it.
It's always been worth it.