Being at Peace with My Adoption Decision Does NOT Equal Denial

Being at Peace with My Adoption Decision Does NOT Equal Denial

I seriously considered not posting today. It is the last full day of my 2-week trip to NY/NJ, and it’s gonna be a doozy. For one thing, this is my only full day at Book Expo America, perhaps the biggest publishing industry event in the country. And then I get on a plane at 8 a.m. tomorrow (5 a.m. Phoenix time) and fly home. While I’ve treasured every moment I’ve spent out here – I REALLY want to find a way to live out here part-time again, because this is the next best thing to Ireland – I can’t wait to get home to my husband, my dogs, my cat, my bed, and my regular life. Kathy and Bruce have been incredible hosts. Again, I shake my head in surprise and gratitude every time I think about how far we’ve all come from that first meeting at Spence-Chapin all those years ago. But I’m sure they’ll be glad to have their house back to themselves so they can get back to their routine, too.

gillette NJ

So I was thinking of skipping today’s post, mostly because I’m tired, but also because I didn’t have a topic at the ready. Would have loved to have put up one image – but I since I couldn’t find the right one instantly, I scrapped that idea. Then I put “birthmothers” into the google, and found a link to a post titled, “Birthmother Wars; When the Positive Fight the Negative.” This incited me to write…

For one thing, I would never have used those words to describe it. I mean, when used other than literally, the word “war” is almost always hyperbolic. I certainly fall on the side of the positive, however, and I’ve been troubled by so much of the self-loathing that seems encouraged in this closed Facebook group for birthmothers that I belong to. So I was interested in what this birthmom blogger might have to say.

In a very long post that seems to repeat itself, she asks the following questions (in italics):

  • IF you have had a “good” experience and feel “at peace” with your decision, then why does another birthmother with a not as happy story or outlook so greatly threaten your place of comfort? Like why can’t you even listen to her? First, I wouldn’t – couldn’t – have placed my son with his family if I’d felt guilty about it. So I have been at peace since the very beginning. That said, we still had to grow into our lovely outcome. Much of it wasn’t easy, and I had no idea at the start we’d be where we are today. It also troubles me to know that Eric went through some difficult times, emotionally, because of the adoption. But he would have gone through hard times had I raised him, too, albeit probably around different issues. That’s just life – sometimes things get challenging. I really wish he’d talk with me about it, but he hasn’t opted to do that yet. And yet all of us got through it. I do have the benefit of having lived this path for more than 20 years, so I know that things can change for the better. And though I am 100 percent at peace with my decision, I can and will listen to and empathize with another mom who hasn’t had the blessing of a good outcome for her adoption – but only so far. I believe that no matter what happens in our lives, we have to dust ourselves off and make progress, move forward, keep living. My little sister died two years ago, and that was so much more difficult for me to go through than the adoption, probably because my son didn’t die. I knew he was OK and, in a general sense, where he was. I shed a boatload of tears about my sister. I spent a whole year being pretty much angry at the world. And then I stopped crying and stopped being angry. Birthmoms need to heal, too. But they can’t do that when they are encouraged by “support” groups to remain in victim thinking.
  • If you need support then WHY can the support not come from a mom who had a bad experience? Surely a mother who can openly speak of her sadness and loss can provide a well worn shoulder to cry on. I think every birthmother, no matter how positive her adoption experience has been, probably gets down every once in a while. The levels of support “needed” by those birthmoms likely vary from person to person. And I think it makes sense to get support from the people who can best do that for you. In the early days of my adoption, it was other birthmoms – because no one else on earth understands the experience of a giving up a child like another birthmother. Today, 23 years later, I’m in an open adoption and regular contact with my son with the full blessings of his adoptive parents, so I need a lot less support. And when I do need it, I still have birthmom friends from all those years ago to whom I can turn. Joining the Facebook group was a spontaneous decision this year for Birthmothers Day. I’ve thought about leaving the group, but some of the moms are so sincere – whether in “good” or “bad” adoption situations, and I genuinely like them. I also very much appreciate the willingness to tackle some of the hard questions, and the forthrightness of the answers from many of the group members.
  • And if you are so sure and confident, how come it distresses you so much to hear about the realities faced by others?  How can their life or, even their opinion, really alter your reality? I don’t even understand this question. The implication is that a confident person’s self-esteem will be shattered by hearing that others are suffering. WTF? I think this may be projection – because it’s definitely not my reality. I KNOW there are birthmoms who’ve undergone unimaginable heartbreak and loss, and I will gladly listen, hear them out, and offer comfort if I can. Yes, it’s massively distressing to know that we had such a positive experience when so many others have not – but from the posts in this Facebook group, it seems that so many of those who didn’t have good experiences actively choose those outcomes (either consciously or unconsciously), through their beliefs or their actions (believing the shitty message that they weren’t/still aren’t worthy or that God was judging them, or allowing even the idea of Birthmothers Day to trigger them, etc.). That’s what gets exhausting – hearing the same people make the same complaints like broken records, while they appear to make no move toward even trying to get out of that victim thinking and the resulting behavior. Shaming, blaming, and complaining are sure signs that a person is not taking responsibility for their feelings and status in life. These three low-vibration emotions are rampaging all over this group at least occasionally, but sometimes (ahem, Mothers Day weekend) nearly constantly.

I will say that I can’t get near the idea of morally superior birthmothers – another tangent in this gal’s blog post – because I will readily admit that mine was, in part, a selfish decision. I was 27 and had a full-time job and health insurance. I could have parented, but I didn’t want to be a single mom. I’d seen the toll it took on my own mother and my sister, and I wanted no part of it. Yes, I wanted more for my son than what I’d have been able to provide for him on my own, but I also wanted more for myself. I do not apologize for that. I also had full volition in my adoption decision. I deliberately did not tell my parents, so I didn’t have their voices in my head telling me what to do. So who am I to judge any woman who chooses abortion or who decides to keep and parent her baby?

The thing is, I hear where this gal is coming from. No, not everyone had a great experience. And yes, the adoption industry can and does take advantage of unsuspecting birthmothers the world over. Maybe it’s like the #MeToo movement, and birthmothers need to raise their voices in a loud chorus to demand a paradigm shift when it comes to adoption practice. Maybe we need to get over our collective shame so we can start being visible, and take a vocal stand against these abhorrent behaviors – done in the name of “creating families.”

Personally, I feel that in most cases, adoption is preferable to abortion – but I don’t even judge that anymore. Who am I to say, from over here in my cozy corner, what any woman is going through? Is abortion a heart-breaking option? Of course. Is it immoral? I don’t know. What I do know is that the human condition is flawed and complicated and amazing, all at the same time. As a result, our relationships are simultaneously challenging and rewarding. And as long as people continue to have sex, unexpected or ill-timed pregnancies will continue to occur. Should more women be encouraged to keep and parent their babies? Maybe – if they’ve got the financial and people resources to do so. But what if they don’t? What if they’ve given it all the thought they can, and they know – for whatever reason – that they can’t choose the parenting option? Do we force abortion on them? Force them to parent anyway? Or are we glad for that Third Choice? I think you know where I stand.

__________________________
Laura Orsini
 is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

Will You Party with the Grief or Choose to Be Happy?

Will You Party with the Grief or Choose to Be Happy?

I get that I’ve had a near-fairytale experience, as far as my son’s adoption has gone. Kathy wished me Happy MOTHER’s Day on Facebook – emphasizing the word “mother,” which I am blessed to receive as her acceptance of me simply as Eric’s Other Mother. None of the competition, aggression, anger, resentment, antagonism, or other low-vibration feelings that unfortunately so often seem to be a part of the birthmom/adoptive mom relationship – whether they are acknowledged or not.

I get that I don’t have the anger, angst, overwhelming sadness, guilt, anguish, or so many other negative emotions tied up in my feelings about Eric or any aspect of the adoption. OK – I was a little irritated not to hear from him for my birthday (a little over a week ago), but I did get a Happy Mother’s Day text from him that made me smile. Once upon a time, such a text would have made my week. Now, perhaps I’ve become complacent, because while I was grateful for it, it didn’t stop me in my tracks, make my eyes well up, or even really give me pause. Cool. He remembered. And then I moved on with my day. Or maybe it’s because I know I’ll be seeing him in just a few days, as I fly back to New Jersey for the party to celebrate his graduation from Northeastern University. Funny how when I lived out there, so many of my vacations seemed to be coming back here, to Arizona. This will be my second trip back to New Jersey in five months – so we’re in Opposite Land now. Point is – maybe it’s easy for me to be so preachy about the perils of holding on to all of those negative emotions because things have gone so well for me within the adoption space.

That said, I’m also generally not an overly emotional person. My sister’s death hit me harder than anything in my life – including the adoption. But it didn’t cause me to curl up in a ball or want to stop living. When we’ve lost pets, my husband’s grieved for many days. I tend to be OK a bit sooner than he does. We’re all made differently – and what I know about grief is that there’s no right or wrong way to do it. Everyone’s timeline is different. But I’ve been reading a few posts from birthmothers on this Facebook support group, and most of them are so disheartening. I have a difficult time relating to these women who are so beside themselves about Mother’s Day. I empathize, but I cannot relate to their feelings of inadequacy or anger or isolation because of a holiday made up by the greeting card, candy, and flower industries.

The description for the group reads, in part:

This is meant to be an UPLIFTING and SUPPORT group. Any down talking, hate, or trying to project your guilt onto others will not be tolerated.

But what it seems to be is a place to seek collaborators in misery. Or so I was thinking, perched ever so haughtily on my high horse as I considered removing myself from the group. And then I read two posts that broke my heart. One was from a birthmom who’s had regular contact with her daughter, now 6, since the little girl was placed at birth. However, the daughter is having trouble in school, and all evidence points to emotional upset about the adoption, as it seems difficult for her to process her birthmom’s place in her life. So the adoptive parents have decided to sever the contact … “for the time being.” Yeah – that one knocked me soundly off my lofty perch of self-righteousness, because I have no idea what I’d do or how I would feel in her position. I’m not a terribly emotional person, but I welled up as I read my poem “The Birthmother You Know” for our virtual get-together on Birthmothers Day this past Saturday. I couldn’t even tell you why I was emotional – given the generally positive experience I mentioned above. Somewhere, deep inside I suppose, I was still acknowledging the loss. So if Kathy and Bruce had decided, when Eric was 6, to stop sending photos and letters, that probably would have been torturous.

The other gut-wrenching post was from a woman whose daughter is now 12. The woman’s uncle was the girl’s adoptive father – and he passed away from cancer yesterday. The little girl came home from school and could not wake him up. Oh my god! That birthmom is in anguish, not only to have lost her uncle, but to know what a terrible loss her daughter is experiencing – complicated by the fact that she was the one who discovered his lifeless body. So sometimes there’s just loss – and the only answer is grief and tears and sadness. And this group offers these ladies a virtual hug whenever they need it. A place to come and vent. To cry. And, I very much hope, to laugh and share the good moments, too.

I was wondering, as I pondered writing this post, how many of those overwhelming negative feelings – the anger, guilt, shame, blame, and unending grief – come out of a sense of unworthiness. How many of those negative, super-disempowering emotions do we hold onto because we’ve simply convinced ourselves that we don’t deserve to be happy, that we don’t deserve to laugh and experience joy? Those are lies we tell ourselves, though. And birthmoms have a special reason to lie to themselves about their worthiness that most other people don’t have. They can opt for joy and celebrate the fact that they chose life for their children – or they can lay down and party with the grief every day and every night.

Every birthmom – every human – deserves laughter and joy and love and the free feeling of simply being at peace in the world. But those feelings – even for that birthmom who’s temporarily lost contact with her daughter and the one whose uncle just died – are, by and large, a choice. We’ve got to believe that regardless of where we are in this moment, happiness is ours for the taking, or it will be, one day, soon enough. And then we have to do whatever it takes to grab onto that positive emotion and hold it close.

David R. Hawkins wrote a well-discussed book a number of years ago called Power vs. Power v force emotionsForce. In it, he explained this concept of lower- and higher-vibration emotions. The low ones are the negative ones I’ve been naming here, like anger and sadness. The higher ones are things like love and gratitude. You can think about it in terms of how you feel in any given moment. For example, do you have that person in your life who is so high-strung that his or her stress rubs off on everyone they meet? The second they leave the room, the air seems to lighten and everyone else breathes a collective sigh of relief? That’s a person who may be stuck in a low vibration. We’re all made up of energy – the question is whether it’s positive, negative, or neutral energy.

So, yes. These women – and birthmothers everywhere – are entitled to their opinions, feelings, and beliefs. And that means feeling them and expressing them and discussing them and receiving condolences for them for as long as they wish to do so. It is my opinion, however, that the longer they allow themselves to stay mired in the emotional muck related to their adoptions, the less likely they are to have more good days than bad ones. There’s no magic wand to whoosh away the pain. But there is owning it, blessing the people who’ve wronged you, loving your child – and loving yourself enough to move on and find reasons to celebrate again. Every birthmom deserves to be happy, regardless of her past.

deide-to-be-happy

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

Birthmothers Day 2018

Birthmothers Day 2018

So we had a little event this evening. And when I say  little, I mean little. We had 4 birthmoms in attendance – 3 of us who spoke, and one who was there but didn’t say anything or contribute. Glad you showed up, Ana’s birthmom!

If you’d like to see the video, please click here to watch it.

I was just poking my head around a birthmom support group on Facebook. Lots of angry rants – and sad ones. Easy to judge, I realize. Hard to relate, though, because I never spent time in that wallowing, victim, poor-me space. I empathize, for certain. But so many of these women’s comments remind me of the comments from those women in  that chatroom all those years ago. I wasn’t in that headspace then, when my son was a toddler; the intervening years have only given me even more time for healing. I worry when I read rants from women whose children are in their 20s. That means they’re well into the double digits of years, still feeling angry and hurt and sorry for themselves. That’s an awful long time to carry around such powerfully negative emotions.

I realize that the grieving process is different for everyone – but the goal should be to move through the grief and get on with life, not suffer with it for the rest of forever. I believe one way to help women exorcise that grief is by normalizing and destigmatizing the birthmother experience. Virtual events like the one we held tonight go a long way toward doing that by taking the birthmother story out in the open where people previously unaware can become more enlightened about the path – and struggle – of the birthmother in any adoption.

One woman in this support group comments, “Why single us out?” She is missing the entire point. It’s not about singling out birthmoms, but rather giving them a day where they don’t feel out of place. Birthmoms who’ve had no subsequent children, who are still keeping the adoption a secret, and/or who don’t consider themselves moms in any true sense tend to shy away from Mothers Day. Birthmothers Day recognizes them, specifically, just as Mothers Day recognizes all moms, not any specific kind of mother.

Many years ago, I wrote the following poem. I no longer have the original, so I don’t know the date. Suffice to say it was sometime between March 1995 and today. It’s called The Birthmother You Know. Please feel free to reprint and/or share it at will, as long as my byline remains attached.

The Birthmother You Know

by LAURA ORSINI

We are women.
We are soul. We are spirit. We are body. We are mind. We are voice.
We are 19. We are 39. We are 79.
We have college degrees. We are dropouts.
We are lesbians. We are hetero.
We are sane. We are institutionalized.
We’ve parented. We’ve aborted. We’ve remained childless.
We are marginalized. We are united.
We feel guilty. We are proud.
We are sickly. We are healthy.
We are married. We are divorced. We are single.
We are grieving. We’ve released our grief.
We are leaders. We are followers.
We are flaky. We are brilliant.
We are beautiful. We are plain.
We are strong. We are weak.
We are passive. We are aggressive.
We are angry. We’ve made peace.
We are shy. We are popular.
We are addicts. We are in recovery. We are drug-free.
We are famous. We are obscure. We are infamous.
We are students. We are teachers.
We are homeless. We are employed.
We have lots of regrets. We have few regrets.
We are sexy. We find sex shameful.
We are spiritual. We are agnostic. We are atheist.
We are spenders. We are savers.
We’ve followed our passions. We’re held hostage by lives we’ve settled for.
We are optimists. We are pessimists.
We are tall. We are short.
We are fat. We are thin.
We are friends. We are enemies.
We are chaotic. We are organized.
We relinquished. We surrendered. We placed.
We are lovers. We are fighters.
We are simple. We are complicated.
We are vegetarians. We eat meat.
We’ve had reunions. We long for reunions. We run from reunions.
We are accomplished. We are struggling.
We are fearless. We fear everything.
We are silent. We are outspoken.
We’ve shared our adoption stories. We’ve told no one about our adoptions.
We are wives, daughters, sisters, aunts, cousins, nieces, grandmothers, granddaughters.
We are mothers who love the children we said goodbye to.
We walk among you.

 

 

How Do You Forgive a Ghost?

How Do You Forgive a Ghost?

I am, by the grace of temperament, biology, psychology, and/or God, not a grudgeholder. Never have been. And while not exactly a Pollyanna, I was most definitely born an optimist. I remember, on more than one occasion, missing my bus stop on the way home from work while living in Jersey City and consoling myself with thoughts like, Well, it’s cold but at least it’s not snowing. Thank goodness I don’t have a broken leg. It’s only a 10-block walk, not a mile. And I realized, while pondering those thoughts, that mine was perhaps a fairly unusual outlook. Most people would just be pissed off, perhaps using that anger as an excuse to lash out at loved ones when they got home, pop an extra cold one, or pocket a lipstick at the drugstore – bad behaviors we so often convince ourselves are justified because the world is just not on our side.

pronoia

One of my heroes is a guy named Rob Brezsny, who writes a most unusual syndicated horoscope column called Freewill Astrology. He is also the author of a fantastic book called Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings, in which he explains just that. The book is not for the faint of heart – unless you want to lose all your preconceived ideas about the value of victim thinking, shame, complaining, and blame. Rob is one of the most visible optimists I know of. Yep – he’s a woo-woo weirdo, but I’m of the opinion the world could use a few more of those right about now.

Like Rob, it has always been easy for me to see the good in almost any situation, even when my conversationmates are hellbent on seeing only the dismal, awful, horrible reasons to complain. My friend Sunil is still recovering from a series of strokes, and he was in a snarly mood when I went to visit him last night. I do my best not to make light of his situation when he gets in those moods, because I can only imagine how awful it must be not to be able to get your body to do the things you want it to do. And yet, every time he gets down like this, I challenge him to pull himself out of it, because that’s the only way he’s going to get well. By the end of our visit, he was much cheered. I hope he can call on some of the blessings I reminded him about the next time he’s feeling a bit sorry for himself. I am quite fortunate that, when I’m in a rare whiny state, my husband is there to buoy my mood or play devil’s advocate and remind me why entrenching in my momentary misery would probably be a less than ideal choice.

But it’s not like I’ve never undergone hardships. I’m a human person living on Planet Earth – so I struggle, just like everyone else. The years 2014 through 2017 were pretty intense and anguished for me and my husband, as we lost three close loved ones in that short span of time: his dad, my little sister, and then his grandmother. Some people get mired in the sadness, grief, blame, anger, and myriad other dark emotions. I can neither take credit for nor explain why I don’t. It just doesn’t work for me.

I was rather surprised when a very intelligent, spiritually focused friend of mine recently started a sentence with, “If you ever need to seek revenge against someone…” and then proceeded to tell me how to exact such revenge. “REALLY????” I wanted to scream at her. But she’s not the type to accept coaching – probably most especially when she’s in the middle of sharing her secret for getting even.

A couple years ago, I attended a well-known personal development seminar. One of the exercises was to think of someone with whom we were angry or had a beef. Although I believe most people could probably quickly think of several people who fit that bill, I struggled to think of anyone who brought up enough residual feelings to qualify for the rest of the exercise. Sure, there are lots of people I could be angry with. Whom some people would tell me I should be angry with. And yet, I just don’t stay angry with anyone – at least not for very long.

My son’s father comes to mind, but I’ve long since released most of the anger I had toward him. More recently, my niece is probably the best candidate for my anger – as she was unbelievably awful to my sister (her mother) and to me in the last few weeks of Corina’s life. And while I’ll admit there’s sometimes a twinge of $#%^#@&*! when I think about Samantha, it dissipates quickly and I don’t spend any unnecessary time there. My sweet, beautiful sister, on the other hand, was a master at mustering anger and then holding onto it for a very, very long time.

When she started seeing a naturopathic oncologist to treat her cervical cancer, her doctor told her that her particular version of the disease generally had two root causes: (1) the HPV virus and (2) unresolved anger. Bingo. She even knew who she was angry with and why – and yet, she couldn’t let it go. She nursed it and relished it and cheered it on, even she said, as she knew that it was making her physically sick. She had a reprieve there for a while, when she was able to spend some time apart from the people with whom she was so angry. And while she was separated from them, she started to recover and rebound. We saw so many signs that she was getting well and truly believed she would survive this unrelenting illness. And then, she let both of these folks back into her life, without having ever really resolved the old anger – or developing a coping mechanism for having them around again. The cancer came roaring back – and she died a few short months later.

I cannot fathom hosting enough anger within my body to cause it to become my enemy. Many people make that choice, though, consciously or unconsciously.

A dear friend of mine is trying to work out some unresolved anger right now – but the grief recovery handbookperson with whom she is angry passed away, so she can’t do it face to face, in the here and now. She is working through the processes laid out in The Grief Recovery Handbook, a book gifted to me by another friend shortly after my sister died. My brother-in-law, Matt, was really struggling at the time I received that book, so I passed it along to him. As highly recommended as it comes from both of these friends, I have not yet felt compelled to read it myself. As I understand it, the steps are related to things left undone. Intense anger because of unresolved issues with someone who’s died is a form of grief, albeit not necessarily the kind of grief we’re programmed by society to expect and endorse.

My friend admitted the other day that she’d gone through the forgiveness steps detailed in the book for other people she’d lost in her life, but she’s just not ready to stop being angry with her mother-in-law. This friend knew my sister – and I reminded her how Corina’s anger had turned out for her. “You still have a choice, you know? No matter how much you still hate her and how justified you are in those feelings, you’re not hurting Jackie with your anger. I mean – she’s gone! The only one being punished by those intense feelings is you.” I think my comments surprised her – perhaps she hadn’t ever really thought of it in those terms. But she promised to start working the forgiveness process for her mother-in-law – both for things Jackie did or said to her, and for things she did, said, or failed to do or say to Jackie. In so doing, she may finally be able to release all those years of pent-up hostility and get down to the business of healing herself.

the one who angers you

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

The Last Emotional Tentacle

The Last Emotional Tentacle

When I met Tony, he was working on the sports desk at the Arizona Daily Star. His job was coding agate – the scores and stats now readily available online that you could once find only in the newspaper. The dress code, if you could call it that, was lenient – T-shirts and jeans were OK for non-reporter staff during the week, sweatpants on the weekend. Tony took the art of sloppy dressing to the greatest heights.

So it was odd to hear him say, that one afternoon we spent wandering around the World Trade Center shops the day after he drove out to the NYC area with me, that he might like to have one of those white-collar jobs that required a suit and tie. And as soon as he moved out there, he got one – all buttoned down with cufflinks and wingtips, just like the big boys. Funny thing is, while I could do without the whole torn/wrinkled/grunge aspect, a casual guy in a t-shirt and ballcap was always a lot more attractive to me than a business type in a three-piece suit.

There were so many things about Tony that made him the least likely guy for me, his 180 in apparel choices the least among them. First was his taste in music – Guns ‘N Roses, AC/DC, and Jimi Hendrix were never at the top of my playlist. The baseball was good, but not so much with the basketball. He was a Celtics fan; I thought they were an overrated team full of cheaters and crybabies. He’d done one semester at the UA before dropping out; when we met, I was getting ready to graduate with my BA. Not only wasn’t he Catholic – he was basically irreligious. He had to ask his mom whether he’d ever been baptized. She was pretty sure he had been.

And yet we flirted, and I found him mesmerizing – probably because he was a “bad boy.” But falling in love with a bad boy isn’t everything Footloose and Dirty Dancing make it out to be. Typically, they’re ill-behaved for a reason: they prefer not to be encumbered by a relationship, or encumbered just enough for regular sex, and no more. Every girl who falls for one thinks she can change him – to her peril. Most of us wind up eventually giving that old dead horse a break, even if it’s many eons down the road.

Tony and I did the constant push-pull dance cycle for years and years. Whenever he wanted distance from the relationship, he’d do his well-practiced disappearing act. Sometimes, I would hunt him down and confront him, perhaps even weasel my way back into the immediate picture. It’s kind of strange to think of myself being so needy – but that’s how our whole relationship worked. If I hadn’t been needy, he might have changed to meet me in another space, or he might not have stuck around at all. We’ll never know – unless I can somehow figure out how to jump to that alternate universe and then come back and tell myself in this here-and-now.

While I was in Tucson over the weekend for the book festival, I was telling my friend Justin – my social media guy who’s just a few years older than my son – that I avoided Tucson for pretty much the first 10 years after I moved back to Arizona. Another behavior that seems so “not me,” but it was me, at that time. The problem was that everything in Tucson reminded me of Tony – how we’d met, where we’d lived, where we’d worked, where we’d played. Although I don’t think of myself as a particularly sentimental person, I still found myself triggered by the sights, sounds, and reminders that seemed to have been cast so casually and thoughtlessly about the town where I met and began dating my son’s birthfather,

I was telling Justin about all of this – feeling rather cocky that I no longer experience the emotional roller-coaster when visiting my once-hometown. Then we found ourselves on our way to the store, and out of nowhere, a feeling of anxiety began stealing into the pit of my stomach. Minutes later, we drove past Clicks Billiards, one of those very same places where I’d gone to track Tony down all those years ago. The memory was hazy, but complete – a memory I hadn’t even know was there.

I once read that memories are the thoughts that come to us from the past – regret doesn’t arise from them. Regret comes from the thoughts on which we dwell, day to day, week to week, month to month, year after year – those thoughts that never have the chance to come to us because we’re so busy going back to them, time and time again. It would make sense that this blog is dredging up some long-hidden, perhaps still-unresolved emotions. I thought I was done – the last of the emotional tentacles unwound years ago. Looks like there might be a stray hanger-on or two. Good news is that I’m finally OK enough to just swat it down and snip it off, without worrying it will grow sibling tentacles that could come and threaten to strangle me again.

I’ve never regretted my relationship with Tony, primarily because my beautiful son came out of it. But I have, on occasion, beaten myself up for not doing things differently. So it’s good to have a loving, supportive husband, wise counsel from friends, and the self-awareness to realize that the entirety of my past paved the way to my present.

I heard the story a number of years ago about a therapist who worked in the mental ward of a prison. He made a practice of meditating/praying over each patient’s file, using a mantra that went something like, “I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I thank you.” Within a year’s time, every one of those patients who’d previously been diagnosed as criminally insane had been returned to the general population, and the mental ward at that prison was closed. It could be a wives’ tale for all I know – although you can google the man’s name (Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len, Ph.D) and find lots of alleged proof.

The point is the lesson under the message: We actually need to forgive others a lot less, sometimes, than we need to forgive ourselves. I’m not using this mantra with any regularity – though perhaps it would be a positive thing to do. But when I get stuck, when any sense of regret or not-enoughness starts to occasionally invade my thoughts, it’s a good tool to have at my disposal. Including those invading thoughts of the “Why did you put up with him so long?” variety.

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

The Unique Pain of Being Adopted

The Unique Pain of Being Adopted

No birthmother is happy at the thought that she’s hurt her child by placing him or her for adoption. I can only speak for myself, but I imagine many must feel, as I did, that we were doing the best thing we could for our babies – or older children, as is sometimes the case. I definitely could have parented my son – I was old enough, with a steady job, and health insurance. In other words, I had the means. But I’m not sure, to this day, that doing so would have been the best thing for him. I’m not unmaternal, per se, but I never felt the overwhelming drive so many moms – and would-be moms – seem to have. I think kids are cute enough, but I’ve never gone out of my way to meet a baby or felt something in my life was missing because I did not live the parenting experience.

That’s a challenging admission to make, given that my son could certainly take it as abandonment. And strangely enough, it’s only through the self-inspection, recollections, and research I’ve begun doing for this blog that I realize how deep his pain might have been. Just because I adjusted fairly well to the separation doesn’t mean he did. It’s long been my belief – and experience – that the older person in the relationship (e.g., the parent, teacher, older sibling) sets the tone for the relationship. So in that regard, the tone I set in my relationship with Eric was that I wasn’t going to be his mother. Partly, if I’m honest, because I didn’t want to be anybody’s mother (it wasn’t about him, personally) – but mostly because I didn’t think I could do a very good job at it. My role models had been iffy, my biological clock non-existent. And the one thing I knew was that he deserved a great mom – great parents. So I went through a lot of effort to ensure he got them.

It took me a very long time to find a life partner in my husband, John. I was 42 when we met, and 43 when we married, a first marriage for both of us. He was the first man I dated seriously after Tony, my son’s birthfather. We met through the Craigslist personals. I’d been posting there on and off for five years when we met, yet mine was the first ad John ever responded to. The thing is, as I look back on it now, all of those first dates were a lot like the profiles I saw for prospective parents. I could have said yes to a second date with any of them – just as I could have agreed to a meeting with any of the prospective parents from the first 11 profiles. But I would have been settling for less than what I really wanted, and I wasn’t willing to do that.

I’m not comparing choosing adoptive parents for my son with choosing a mate; the former was far more important, because it affected a little person who was wholly dependent on me to make good decisions for him. If I dated and subsequently married badly, society would easily allow me to divorce and get a “re-do.” If I chose the wrong parents for my son, there would be no take-backs. So maybe holding out until I met the right people to become Eric’s family was practice for holding out to meet John. One thing is sure: I got it right on both counts.

I will say that as John and I were briefly considering the idea of parenting, it did niggle at the back of my mind to wonder how Eric would feel if I’d had another child I kept after having placed him with Kathy and Bruce. I’m not quite sure how much that thought affected my decision not to have a child with John – perhaps more than I realized.

And even though it seems my son has had a great life, I know he has struggled with the adoption, as virtually every adopted kid has. Fortunately for him, the adoption has been at least semi-open since the start, so he’s known who his family is and has been able to see photos, meet his aunts and maternal grandmother, and have his questions answered as they arose. He has a full medical history for my side of the family, and a few details about his birthfather’s. In short, he has a lot more access and information than many adoptees do, even in today’s era of “openness.”

I was banging around, looking for a photo idea for closed adoption when I came across the website, IAmAdopted.net. Grit your teeth and gird your loins if plan to do any reading there – because a lot of its information may hit you hard in the face, especially if you are an adoptive parent. The goal of the site, it seems, is to foster better, more open relationships between adoptive parents and the children they call theirs. There is helpful, eye-opening information for birthparents, too. For instance, one of the posts I read is titled “If Adoption Was About the Child.” It begins with these lines:

“Every day … I read about the experiences and narratives of adoptees, and the overall conclusion I have made is that adoption is about birth parents and adoptive parents. When will we be real about it and admit that?”

Her point is that it’s only in the rarest circumstance when adoption is solely done with the child’s well-being most central. Usually adoptive parents are adopting because they want a [bigger] family – not out of a desire to help a needy infant or toddler. And likewise, adoption is often a solution for the birthmother. I felt defensive reading those comments – and yet I must admit this blogger has a point.

She then goes on to delineate the ways adoption would work if it were truly centered around the child. I am paraphrasing, unless a direct quote is indicated. But please go read the original post!

  • All adoptions would be open. Check.
  • Adoptees would be allowed consistent contact with their birthfamilies – providing safety wasn’t an issue – without the adoptive parents fearing their child would like their birthparents better. It didn’t start like that, but we got there in a way that unfolded at Eric’s pace, not mine or his parents’.
  • Adoptees would have access to their original birth certificates. I wanted this – but even the birth certificate I have does not name Tony as the birthfather. I must have been angrier with him than I remember. And the one Eric’s family has was redacted and changed to indicate their last name, not ours.
  • Birthmothers would not deny contact with the children they placed for adoption. While I cannot imagine doing this, from what I’ve been reading, the guilt and shame some birthmoms experience is overwhelming and they feel they don’t deserve access to their children. What they fail to realize is that in doing so, they’re creating a second rejection that might be even more painful than the original one. The writer calls the behavior selfish, and I’d have a hard time arguing with her.
  • Adoptive parents would allow their children to search without getting overly emotional and making it about themselves instead of about their children’s need to claim their identity. This was not relevant in our adoption, but given how open Kathy was from the beginning, I doubt it ever would have been an issue.
  • The experiences and narratives of adoptees would be validated – not questioned. Adoptees wouldn’t be labeled as angry or bitter. Adoptive parents and birthparents need to admit that everything won’t always be rosy for their kid, no matter how much he or she is loved. The separation of adoption is a form of trauma, requiring attention and recuperation. Rather than scolding them for experiencing their emotions, it would be far more helpful for the parents to help them express their emotions – even the uncomfortable ones. Check, on Kathy’s end. I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t always realized the depth of this pain.
  • There would be no lies told or secrets hidden from the adopted child. Check.
  • Adoptees wouldn’t be expected to always feel grateful for being adopted. Wow – this one caught me off guard. I don’t think I overtly did this – but perhaps I expected Eric to be OK with things just because he had all the information. Well, I’m his first mom and I chose to let another person come in and take what would have been my role. How could any of us expect him never to feel even a little resentment for that?
  • There wouldn’t be an exorbitant amount of money exchanged for facilitating the adoption. Her direct quote is: “(When will birth mothers and prospective adoptive parents learn that they are being duped by the multi-billion dollar adoption industry?) You can change that by demanding lower to no-cost adoption. Adoptive parents hold the power in adoption land.” Yep – I agree with this one, even though I wasn’t on the paying side of the equation. Actually, because I had health insurance, I covered most of the costs for doctor visits and my hospital delivery, which makes fees an even stranger consideration in our case. I did, however, receive a stipend of a few hundred dollars for maternity clothes.
  • We would admit that race matters. This, again, was nonmaterial to our adoption, but I love this thought. Especially this part: “If you are going to adopt transracially, be prepared and don’t make excuses for not being able to move or how far you must travel to the nearest city that is more diverse after choosing to spend thousands of dollars on your adoption. Put it in the budget.”
  • Adoptive parents would help adoptees locate their birthfamilies and demand legislation to open all adoptions and provide adopted persons with their original birth certificates. Yep – 100 percent agreement on that one, too.

So if I were keeping score, I’d say we did pretty well with the items on this list. But I’m not really the one to ask – I wonder how Eric would feel we did. A few are beyond our personal reach, but even though we’re not directly affected, we can still get involved in changing things. If we want whole, healthy adopted persons to come out of the strange relationships created by adoption, openness in every area needs to be the standard.

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

On Regret

On Regret

I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about guilt recently. A related – but different – emotion is regret. Wishing you’d done things differently. I think I may have experienced more regret over my adoption decision than guilt – but even that waned after one of my coaches encouraged me to perform a mental exercise.

“See it,” she said, “the whole situation, again, in your mind’s eye. Now, replay all of the possible outcomes, without judging any of them. What might have happened if you’d taken this road instead of that one? How could it have been different?”

Note – her question was not “How WOULD it have been different?” but “How COULD it have been different?”

So I thought back to my adoption decision, and what exactly went into it. The thing that most stays with me is that I was trying to solve what I perceived as an enormous problem for all of us with one decision. My goal was to make the best choice I could for my son, his birthfather, and myself. If one thing has changed since that time, it’s that I’ve become much more adapted to living in the present. At the time I was 27, though, all I could see was the giant expanse of all of our futures hanging in the balance before me, and I needed to come up with the one best solution for all of us.

I was terrified at the thought of being a single mother. I didn’t know how I’d do it to feed, clothe, and care for an infant son while working full-time. My family was back in Phoenix and I was in New Jersey/New York, so who would help with babysitting and errand running, especially since I didn’t have a car at the time? How would I possibly afford the great education my son deserved? Or braces? Or sports equipment? These were the questions that pummeled me, and I felt I had to have an answer to all of them immediately. Had I had the presence of mind to simply take each day as it unfolded (those AA people have one thing right, with their “One Day at a Time” mantra), I probably would have made a different choice.

But I did the best I could with the information I had at the moment.

So, as I performed Vickie’s thought exercise and tried to see the situation with alternate outcomes, I realized that the outcome that occurred was really the only outcome I was capable of at the time. And that helped dispel a lot of the regret.

The only time it really came up in a big wave of emotion was when Eric was maybe 3 years old. It was the only year I remember them doing it, but the Investment Banking Division at Lehman Brothers held a Christmas party for the kids of the employees – and I was on the planning committee. We hired a Santa and some people to dress as the Teletubbies characters. We decorated one of the giant meeting rooms and wrapped hundreds of gifts for some of the most privileged kids in the Tri-State Area. (I still wonder how one more toy truck could have mattered to the child of a millionaire when so many other children really would have appreciated those toys.) We strung lights and hung decorations. This was a PARTY! And then the kids started to arrive. That’s when it hit me. Had Eric been with me instead of with Kathy and Bruce, he would have been at that Christmas party, tearing into a talking Buzz Lightyear.

talking Buzz Lightyear

The overwhelming feelings of sadness were, thankfully, brief. But I’m really glad I experienced them. They reminded me that I had made a conscious choice – the best one I could. They made me grateful for Eric’s family. And they actually reinforced my decision, because I realized that as much as I loved my son, I’m not sure I would have loved being a mom. Not the way Kathy did. Not the way he needed his mom to love being his mom.

I think I’ve actually been blessed to have the best of both worlds: a connection to a kid who is absolutely amazing, along with the knowledge that he had the best parents I could ever have hoped for. I did a good job mothering him for the better part of the first year of his life. Then I handed him over to the people who did the bulk of the work. But it took all of us to get there.