Sunday, November 23, 2008

Our Words Have Impact

Sitting on the couch, still drippy and sniffly and achy, I opened my laptop and began searching for new sites of interest to keep me occupied while Hubby had the kids. Lately I have been finding myself more and more at the message boards at where I read first-hand stories of adoptive families, birth moms and adoptees.

In this particular case, I noticed the chat room button and clicked it to see if anyone was chatting. Once the room loaded I found that there were indeed six other names listed on the register.

If you have never chatted, there are a few odd things about an online chat room you should know. There is an unwritten etiquette that states that a new person entering ought to be greeted whether you know them or not. Online chatting is such a transient activity that a person in the room becomes a part of the room no matter if it is the first visit or the fiftieth. Often there are people who know other chatters intimately, have had phone conversations or even met face-to-face. Others may be nothing more than a screen name.

In this chat room the only thing we might all have in common was adoption. Other than that the chatter might be Australian, European, South American or any other nationality on the planet. They might be young, old, rich, poor, black, white, male or female. There is a fascinating anonymity in chat rooms that allows a depth of conversation to take place without any preconceived notions whatsoever.

But back to my story. I logged in on this particular night a few days ago with the vague thought that I might connect with some other adoptive moms and maybe hear some fun stories. What I got was the farthest thing from that.

Upon greeting me, the other chatters asked me a surprising question. I had expected the usual age/sex/location questions that often accompanies chat rooms. Instead, these people did not seem to care about those mundane details and instead asked what connection I had with adoption. I saw right away that there was some lingo I needed to learn and a steep learning curve to go with it. Was I an amom (adoptive mom) or an adoptee or a bmom (birth mom who had placed a child)? I responded that I was soon to be an amom. I discovered, following several confusing threads of conversation, some of which included baking and the weather, that the other chatters in the room were all either adult adoptees or bmoms or both. Suddenly feeling like the enemy, I wondered if I ought to look elsewhere for my sickbed diversion.

Instead I decided to stick around and see what came up. I knew I would be meeting a bmom soon, the mother of our baby, and I was a little curious to get life from her perspective. Would she be like Juno in the movie, at peace with her decision, grieving, but quickly moving on? Would she be hostile toward the baby? Toward us? I simply did not know.

I had pondered this question in my heart a lot lately: if I had to give one of my babies up for adoption, what would it be like? There are certainly times (like last Monday) when I had felt like I could willingly surrender that child and never deal with her again. But I knew that in reality it wasn't true. Even now, as I write, the kids are at my Mom's (Thanks Mom!) and I miss them. I wonder how they are doing, whether they are happy or sad or scared and whether they have their special blankies for nap-time. The thought of giving one of them up forever gives me chills. To give a child to total strangers forever, knowing that we may never meet again goes against every fibre of a mother's nature.

But, I wondered, what about bonding? Has a birthmother never bonded? Maybe that makes it easier. I thought I would ask these people, these women who had been through it, who had experienced first-hand what I could not even imagine.

They were very open, these chatters. People often are when the safety net of anonymity surrounds you. I could not see their faces, did not know their names. I could not ever contact them or spread rumors to their friends. So they shared their stories. Awkwardly I asked them, knowing it was personal. I tried to explain why I wanted to know.

They understood. They shared their stories, stories of being young 30 years ago, 45 years ago. Of making mistakes, of wishing to keep their babies, of loving the babies that grew in their wombs. They told of family who disapproved, who shunned, who told them it was all for the best. They shared of years of grief, of secretly wondering. They all said it was worse than if the baby had died. Those years of wondering, of no closure, of hoping their baby was okay. They spoke of empty arms, of hearts with a piece missing. They had all gone on, gotten married, had other kids. People told them they did well to "get over it". But they never "got over it". Not inside.

Some had reunited with those babies as adults. Sometimes it was awkward, sometimes joyful. Sometimes the children were resentful and felt abandoned. Sometimes there was love at first sight.

I wanted to weep as I heard their stories. They spoke of years of being misunderstood. They told of a society who had frowned on their mistakes and did not want to share their pain, of family and friends who looked the other way.

My emotions mixed and swirled as I listened to their stories. I knew as an adoptive mom that it was not my fault the birthmother would grieve. I knew I could not put that on myself. I was merely another character in the story. I felt lucky, in a sense, to be on the glad end of the story, the one who gets to have a baby, the one with the joy.

Suddenly it struck me full-force just how different adoption is from pregnancy. Giving birth was full of physical pain. Adopting, I am discovering, has its own birth pangs. Apparently new life cannot enter the world without jolts of pain to the ones already there. Part of me grieves with the mother. I know I cannot change for her the circumstances that have shaped her decision, but I can change something. I can love her. Instead of pulling back and pretending she does not exist like was so common in the past, I can acknowledge her and her gift to our family.

I know that the day I first hold our new baby in my arms will be full of joy unspeakable. I can't wait, I'm so excited for it to come. But I'm also beginning to accept that like with anything wonderful in life, there is a sacrifice being made. It would be selfish of me not to acknowledge that sacrifice. Not to give validation. Some would callously say, "she deserved it for her mistakes", but do any of use really deserve to grieve? Don't we all deserve to grieve?

These women, these nameless, faceless women in a chat room the other day made me peer for a moment into a place of shadow, a place I did not want to go. But I am glad I went. I am glad I sat and listened and did not pull away as so many others have done. I am glad I can someday share with my child a story of a bmom who loves her. In a way she is lucky. She has extra people in this world who love her from the depth of their hearts. I think I understand that just a little better now.

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