Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Wax and Wane of Birth Parent Involvement

A couple of years ago, I was very involved in the adoption scene. I was a volunteer on several different fronts--I was working with expectant parents via email, I was serving on the national board of a large pro-adoption organization, I helped to organize that organization's annual national conference, and I was speaking regularly at local adoption seminars and workshops, as well as a few not-so-local events.

Through my volunteer efforts, I met several hundred birth mothers, and quite a few birth fathers. I heard their stories, I got to know their circumstances, and probably a lot more about this one part of their lives than many people ever get to see. The experiences of my fellow birth parents had a great impact on my own ideas about adoption and life as a birthmom.

One thing (among so many) that I picked up on was the wax and wane most birth parents experience in their desire to be involved in the adoption scene.

I met many birthmoms during a period in their lives when they wanted to be involved. I have found that many birth parents experience times like this, when they feel especially passionate about adoption, when there is a fire inside of them that they must share. During times like these, many seek out volunteer opportunities, either working with expectant parents, supporting women who are going through placement, speaking about adoption in the community, etc.

Yet there are very few birthmoms, in my experience, that exist in this period for long periods of time. Some stay involved only for a few months, while others last a few years. Eventually, however, involvement wanes. Those high-energy volunteers slowly fade back and disappear entirely, melting back into the others parts of their lives.

I feel that this is a healthy rhythm, going back-and-forth between periods of high adoption-involvement. Here's why:

1. It mirrors the way many adoption adoptions work. Most birth mothers have times where they crave a lot of communication and interaction with their children and families, and times when they back off and get involved in their own lives. Though the birth parents' involvement in adoption advocacy does not always happen at the same time, the process is similar.

2. Being involved in the adoption scene as a birth mother can be emotionally taxing. Sharing your adoption story, as a birth mother, is nearly always an emotional/tearful/heart-rending experience. As a volunteer, you end up going through this again and again and again. It's the most powerful tool most birth mothers have--sharing their own, very personal, very emotional, and in many cases very spiritual, experience, in the hopes that it will have an effect on the listeners. But over time, this can be very taxing on the birth mother.

3. There are other parts of life to be lived. Many birth mothers, during their involved-periods, are exceptionally passionate about what they are doing, to the point where this becomes their #1 time investment. I have found this to be especially true of recently-placed mothers, who are still in the throes of emotion regarding their placement. But while it is wonderful that they share their passion and their fire, life goes on. Birth parents will never forget, but they do (or at least should, if they are emotionally healthy) move forward.

On a personal note, this topic has been on my mind because I am in a waning-period. After several years of great involvement, I would say I am no longer involved at all. What's been interesting to me is how invested I still am in the adoption world. I watch events pop up on Facebook, and even though I decide not to attend, I still comb through the pictures and the comments and the conversation. I still read adoption blogs. I still "think adoption" even though I don't "do adoption." Adoption is an ever-present part of my life, and even though I am living the other parts right now, it is still an intrinsic component of who I am.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Differences So Far

It's hard not to compare this pregnancy with my first. Pregnancy is, of course, an enormous undertaking, on all levels--physical by and large being the most apparent, but it certainly affects mental and emotional (dare I say hormonal?) levels as well. Today, I was thinking about the differences between my two pregnancies (thus far).

1. My husband

It is amazing to me how much of a difference my James makes. I knew it would be huge, but I didn't realize just how huge it would be. My husband is here for me, in a way that Ian's father (the putz) never was. My husband loves me, cares about me, and just as importantly, loves and cares about our baby. My husband loves me through the morning sickness, the aches and pains, the uncontrollable weeping, the midwife visits, and I'm certain that I will rely on him even more in the months (and years) to come.

2. I'm sicker

It's kind of bizarre how much sicker I have been over the past three months than I was through my entire first pregnancy. This has my mother convinced that I'm having a girl. My belief is that I'm sicker because I'm older (see #3). I was 19 when Ian was born. I am now 27. You can't tell me it doesn't make a difference.

3. My body is changing in different ways

The most noticeable, pardon me, is my breasts. I mean, I have big boobs, I always have. But, honest to goodness, they didn't grow at all with Ian. They also didn't hurt (until after he was born) like this. But this time around, they have grown, they have given me new stretch marks, and they are super tender. It makes James grumpy sometimes. (It makes ME grumpy lots of times.)

On a serious note, I am coming to the belief that my non-growing, non-tender breasts last time were the manifestation of a tender mercy of the Lord. I think that my body did not prepare to feed Ian. Whether it was my own subconscious telling my body that this baby wasn't mine to keep, or whether there was more direct intervention, I don't know. But I do know that I was blessed in that regard. (Not so this time--my body is getting prepped to be a milk machine, I guess!)

4. I'm happier

This is obvious, I suppose, but it's very profound for me. When I think back to my pregnancy of Ian, and even more when I read my journal from the time, I remember how desperately miserable and angry I was through most of it. I was constantly angry with the birthfather. I was terribly lonely--even though I had friends, I felt very isolated from them. I was spiritually disconnected (see #6). I was physically strained. I was embarrassed by my situation. I was stressed and overwhelmed with trying to balance school, work, and planning for Ian's birth and subsequent placement.  And I was just sad, so sad, dealing with placing this baby for adoption.

It's such a difference. I have a wonderful marriage. I have friends and family who are excited with me. I am in a strong place spiritually. The physical is still challenging, but it feels different, now that I don't have to bear those burdens alone. I am proud and excited to become a mother. My life is in balance. And this is my baby.

6. It's my baby

This is one of the most significant differences. I do not have to face every day of this pregnancy with the knowledge that the child inside of me belongs to someone else. This is my baby. The little alien growing inside of me is mine. I get to make all the preparations. I get to have a baby shower. I get to prepare the nursery. And when I get home from the hospital, there will be no goodbyes. This baby will be mine forever.

7. I'm spirituality healthy

If you are not spiritual/religious, this may not have a lot of meaning for you. But for my LDS friends, you probably have some understanding of what I say when I describe being spiritually cut off. When I got pregnant, the feeling was instantaneous. I immediately felt the Spirit depart from me. It was, in a subtle way, one of the most terrible experiences of my life. To spend nine months wracked with my sins, unable to partake of the sacrament, unable to receive forgiveness and engage the was devastating. And I associate those feelings very strongly with that pregnancy. To be absent that grief and torment, to feel the light of the Spirit every day, to be able to hold my head high at church and know that I belong there, is a world of difference.

I love Ian, and his family, and I am very grateful to have had the experience of placing him for adoption. It changed who I am. And I have been incredibly blessed for the sacrifice that I made.

Still, I cannot help but revel in this pregnancy of my own. It really is a whole new experience for me. Even with the morning sickness and the other discomforts, I am happier than I have ever been. I am excited to be pregnant, and even more excited for our sweet baby to truly enter this world.