This guest post is by Ashley Mitchell, a birthmother and owner of Big Tough Girl.™
I placed a son for adoption 10 years ago. It truly has been a decade of discovery.
As I sit here and reflect over everything I have learned, everything I have overcome and everything that I have survived I am constantly amazed at how much my life has changed since the day I walked out of the hospital not just as a mother but as a birth mother.
When that identity shifted my entire world shifted and it has been a choice that I replay over and over, and one that I continue continue to make over and over for the rest of my life.
As I prepare my heart for the upcoming mommy season, I discovered 10 things that I have learned and that you should know about me as a birth mother.
1. My son is always with me.
There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of him in some way or another.
Sometimes it is just a passing thought that brings a smile to my face, sometimes it is a passing thought that brings a small tear to my eye and other times it is an uncontrollable breakdown.
He is a part of me and is ALWAYS with me. No circumstance will ever change that.
2. The person that I am most mad at is me!
There are a large number of people that I could blame for the years of grief and heartache and struggle that come with placing a child for adoption.
I could blame the birth father for not stepping up, I could blame my family for not supporting me, I could blame the agency for not presenting me with more options, I could blame society for the heavy judgment placed upon me and I could even blame God for not answering my prayers.
But at the end of the day I was mad at myself. Mad that I ever put myself in a position where I had to make this kind of impossible decision.
I was mad that I didn’t educate myself more, fight for what I wanted more, deal with my grief more….I am the only one that can take responsibility for the choices that I made.
3. Acceptance and healing are NOT the same thing.
I have had to accept many things in my journey. I have had to let go of the things that I couldn’t control, that I couldn’t change…every day I am dealing with those things.
I have had to understand that acceptance is not submission. That I can still accept the reality of my circumstance but that doesn’t mean that I am over it or that I can’t still be allowed to have emotion about it.
WE ARE NEVER DONE HEALING. I truly believe that when we are done working through one thing we just peel the layer back and get busy on the next.
This is a part of me forever, I am a birth mother forever and I will always be working through and processing all that comes with that.
4. Guilt = What I did, Shame = Who I am, I experience both of these things often.
One of the greatest lessons I have learned was the difference between feeling guilty about something I did and having shame about something I did.
I have seen this over and over working with other birth mothers and it says a lot about where they are in their journey if they are using the term guilt or if they are using the term shame.
That plays on so many emotions for me. Not only did I do something that I feel crappy about but I feel crappy about myself because I did it. It is a never ending battle between the two.
5. It never gets easier. Ever!
I truly believe that the greatest miracle of adoption is that we do survive. There is no off switch. Once this decision is made it becomes a part of who we are forever.
There is no way that I could have known that 10 years later new battles would be coming up, that I would still be working through things, that I would still have to relive some of the most painful moments of my life, that I would be figuring out how this all fits into my present and future self.
Learning to co-exist with this part of me has been the hardest thing I have ever had to do. It is always changing the rules on me, I am hit with emotion and the most unpredictable times, and I am never sure where I fit in.
My challenges look different now than they did 10 years ago but the challenges are still there. No matter what stage you are post placement, it is hard.
6. I am not proud to be a birth mother.
I know that people want to tell us how brave we are, how selfless we are, how amazing we are.
I know that there are groups out there that want to pat their own backs and are proud of being a birth mother. You will not find that from me.
Do I think believe that at the time I made the best decision for my child? Yes. Did I do the best I could with all the information given? Yes. Am I proud of any of it? No.
I know what I did to get there. I know what I did to earn the title of birth mother. I know the indiscretions, I know the hurt and pain that I caused my family, I know the grief that I brought to myself.
I am not proud of myself that I am a birth mother. Am I proud of all that I have overcome and who I am now? Hell, yes, I am. But I wouldn’t ever want to do it again.
7. I will ALWAYS honor his family. (If I love him then it is a package deal).
I don’t get to love him and then not love his family. I don’t care what they say about me or what our relationship is like.
I picked them for ONE THING and ONE THING ONLY…that they love and care for my son. I chose to place him for adoption, and I gave up a lot with that decision.
I don’t get to be angry and hate them because I am in pain. Yes they are tied to my grief, yes when I think of them I am sad and sometimes full of hate…
BUT at the end of the day IF they are loving him well, taking care of him and raising him to be an amazing man then they are doing their job!
Do I hope they have integrity with their promises? Yes. Do I hope they speak well of me? Yes. But I love him. I picked them. They are a package deal!
8. Just because it “worked out” for me doesn’t mean that I think adoption is always the best choice.
I am a parent leader, not an adoption advocate. I share my story not to sell adoption but to help in the post placement grieving for those that chose adoption.
I believe that adoption was the best choice for me. Now that is very easy to say 10 years later with a husband, and a beautiful open adoption relationship, and kids of my own and a business and everything else that life has blessed me with.
I think adoption is VERY hard. I think it is the hardest thing I have ever done. I think it is always hard. I think that the women that follow through with that adoption plan and sign their name to those relinquishment papers are some of the strongest and craziest women I have the honor of knowing.
I believe that a woman should be encourage to parent first and foremost. I think that the expectant mothers should educate themselves on their options and tell everyone else that has an opinion to keep out of it!
We should be honoring HER wishes. Do I think at the end of the day if we choose adoption that there is hope for us?
YES YES YES. I am living proof of that. There is Life After Placement and it can be beautiful but it is work and it is not for everyone!
9. I have to fight every day for the life I love.
Like I have said before, life after placement has not been easy. It is something that I have had to do the work for!
I spent years post placement trying to hide, trying to numb my pain, trying to pretend that I could just go back to “life as normal”.
When I finally broke I had to face my realities! I had to own my decisions and move forward.
I have to work hard every day at my life. To love myself, to own my choices, to forgive and to be forgiven. I have to do the soul work needed to keep me healthy and happy.
I don’t get to just roll over and let it take me over. This is hard work but I love my life, I am so deeply blessed every day by the lessons that I have been taught over the past 10 years and that I continue to learn.
Life is so wonderful from this side of the river…finally.
10. It is NOT just about me.
As my son has started to get older he is starting to use HIS voice, to flex his muscles and to discover his place! THIS IS ABOUT HIM TOO!
For so long all the choices that I made that I thought would be best for him don’t matter any more. Now he can express what matters to him, what he needs, how he is feeling and I have to honor that.
It is scary preparing myself for the things that he might say, the things that he might feel…anger, resentment, abandonment..all of it!
But he has the right to those feelings and I have to honor him and respect him and HEAR him. I pray daily for his heart to be at peace, for him to see the love that we ALL have for him, that he may find his place with confidence and ease.
Maybe I am being naïve to think that this will all be ok but I truly believe that if open adoption is done well then the possibilities are endless for all members of the triad to love, communicate and support each other.
Ashley Mitchell is the owner of Big Tough Girl™, a life brand for women. She is married to the love of her life in Utah, parenting two children and is a birth mother in an open adoption to one. She is nationally known for her speaking, writing and advocacy work for adoption as well as her work in women support and parent advocacy all around the country.
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