For The Mothers Less Acknowledged

About a year ago, I wrote about something no one told me about being an adoptive mom: namely, that I carry my daughter’s birth mom in my heart every day.

When I rock Zoe in the afternoon light, I see a hint of blue and green in her eyes and think of the eyes they came from.  When I saw Zoe take her first steps, I half-wished her birth mother could be sitting next to me seeing the baby who came out of her body taking these final steps out of infancy.  When I watched cool winds blow through Zoe’s hair on a mountain vista this summer, I thought of her birth mother, who has never left Florida, and wondered if she could imagine the things her nine month old had experienced.

I don’t think about her a pathological amount or anything.  But I do think about her, and especially on the weekend of Mother’s Day.

Because she is a mother.

I’ve never written about this, but for the first year of Zoe’s life, I felt a lot of guilt.  I felt like I had taken something precious from someone else, like I had gotten a blessing while her birth mom had only lost and suffered.

When I opened up to others about this, they always said something like “oh, but you helped that birth mom!” To me, this was never sufficient as an answer.  I know the deep love that I feel for Zoe and the joy and purpose that I get from being her mother.  I cannot fathom living without that or willingly giving that up.  I cannot imagine the loss as your milk comes in and there is no child there to feed because you’ve evaluated your life situation and decided that your child is better off with someone else.  How can you go on after that?

So for a year, I felt guilty for “taking” a baby from someone else.  I felt guilty for having a better start to my life than Zoe’s birth mom did, for having more resources than she did, for having the ability and background to make different choices than she did.  I LOVE adoption, but I almost felt presumptuous to have participated in it, like who am I to say that I could be a better parent than someone else?    

Throughout our (ultimately failed) second adoption process, I got more information about Zoe’s birth mom’s situation than I got the first time, and it’s alarming.  I am so proud of her for placing Zoe for adoption, for having the courage to say I want better for my girl.  

I’ve finally accepted what David, our social worker, and basically everyone involved has said from day one: we helped this birth mother find a situation she felt was best for her child and we provided resources that she needed.  We helped solve a problem—we did not create one.  We didn’t say “we’re good and you aren’t.”  We said “our world is broken and it affects all of us.  We want to do something to help.”  

And yet I understand why she couldn’t do it again.

I have some firsthand experience now of just how difficult it is to lay down your desire to be a child’s mother.  I know the months of tears you can cry for a child you barely knew.  I know the unfulfilled yearnings to hold a baby against your chest, to learn her cues, to see her happy milk-drunk smile, to brush your hand against her cheek, to see her hold her head up for the first time.  I know the curiosity of what she is doing right now, the hopes that she is safe, the wondering of what she will grow into when you can’t see her every day.

I don’t feel guilty anymore.  But I still feel for Zoe’s birth mom, and for myself, and for every mother who knows the pain of love and loss.

Motherhood isn’t just about the babies you can see in front of you.  It’s about the babies that you never met, the ones you met briefly, the children taken too soon, and the ones you’ve lost to this broken world with its failed relationships, difficulties, and hardships.

Every child counts.  And every mother counts.

Whether your child walks this earth or walks with Jesus, whether your child holds your hand or someone else’s, whether your child acknowledges you today or not—you are a mother.

And although you may not be celebrated or remembered by the world today—though no one may know the feelings you experience today—the Lord is with you.  He knows you intimately, He loves you deeply, and He will not forget you.

He says: “I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…” -Isaiah 49:16a

6 BWYou know something about that kind of love.

Let Him embrace you today with it.

Writing in the In Between

I’ve been struggling lately with filling this space.

For me, writing is the process of tossing all sorts of loose ends to the ground, wrestling with them, and coming up with them neatly tied together.

But what do you do when you can’t organize your thoughts, when tying your words together is too great of a challenge because your life doesn’t feel tied together? What do you do when your prayers are so tangled up that you don’t even know what you’re praying for, when your emotions are so high and low when you’re used to stability, when your brain says move on and your heart says how? 

You can’t tie that together into some nice paragraphs and a conclusion.  You can’t write straight if you can’t even think straight.

And so I’ve journeyed on, thinking maybe someday I’ll have something to say, until today when it began to dawn on me that in this case, maybe the medium is the message.  Maybe the fact that I can’t put this all together into some clear message IS the clear message.

Grief isn’t neat.

Life isn’t neat.

Love isn’t neat.

Following God isn’t neat.  It isn’t safe.  It isn’t even fun all the time.

But as C.S. Lewis writes, “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course He’s not safe! But He’s good.”  

And I’m in this in-between place of knowing that, and believing that.  I’m torn between trusting regardless of understanding, and wanting to understand.  Life doesn’t look like what I thought I would look like.  God didn’t work like I expected.

And so I’m doing my best on a day to day basis to lean OFF my own understanding and lean ON His. I’m trying my hardest to lay down whatever I can that day without stressing about what I don’t understand enough to give up yet.  I’m praying that every day I feel worse leads me to feeling better in the long run and I’m thanking Him for every day that I feel happy and light and awake to His presence.  I’m listening to songs that piss me off as they talk about God’s goodness one day and I’m singing them the next day, trusting in their words and feeling their truth in my heart.  I’m taking steps forward while continuing to grieve what was left behind.  I’m looking at a little face and feeling the hope of seeing her future while I pray for the future of her sister that I won’t see. I’m clinging to my husband in love, feeling blessed for the sweetness we’ve shared in the midst of the pain we’ve also shared.  

I’m in between wrapped up and a hot mess.  I can get dressed and cook meals and I am confident in my ability to spend the day doing normal life again, but I am not ready to say “I feel normal” again.

In many ways I prefer the absolutely, 100% broken stage.  At least nothing is expected of you.  You can just BE a hot mess.  And your emotions are predictable.  You just feel sad.  There isn’t this weird back-and-forth thing, a tension between the old you and the new you that you don’t understand yet.  You’re just the devastated you.  It’s pretty straightforward, and people bring you dinner.

But I’m realizing that maybe being so broken and uncomfortable in this world and so pitifully aware of my inability to understand what I need, much less to heal myself from this, is right where the Father wants me to be.

“Do not love this world nor the things that it offers to you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you.  For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions.  These are not from the Father, but from the world.  And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave.  But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.”  (from I John)

He never promised us comfort and an easy life.  He never promised us that our journeys would be safe and neat and protected from pain.  He didn’t tell us to seek those things, either, but as a lover of predictability and routine and control I’ve sought them anyway.  I’m learning that I can survive without them.

I’m learning that what I want most in this in-between time is not a return to safety—but instead, to be within His will.  I want to seek Him—not a specific outcome.  I want to be the person He wants me to be—not just my old self.

As Emily Freeman says,

“Maybe you’re asking what in the world is going on in your own life.  One way to ask that question is with a frantic soul, a furrowed brow and two tightly clenched fists, What now?!? 

…But there is another way to ask – same words, different posture. In the midst of the waiting, of the wondering, of the time of transition, we can rehearse the things we know for sure.

Our lives are hidden with Christ in God.

Nothing can separate us from his love.

We will never be alone.

And so we ask with hopeful expectation, with open hands and a willingness to sit with our questions as we whisper these words before God. What now?” 

It is from that place that I write.  It’s not where I want to be, but it’s where I am.  And so I offer it to Him.

Grief, Week 1 (Hopefully NOT a Multi-part Series)

I was really moved with all of the responses to my last post and I’m glad I decided to share it more publicly.  I don’t post everything that I write on this blog or on Facebook—just the things I feel compelled to—and I am glad I followed that pull to push “publish” and share this time.  Everyone’s responses have been meaningful and lovely and healing in their own way.  Thank you.  

Today I thought I’d write a little recap of the things I’ve done and/or experienced so far in these days after our loss, in case it is helpful for anyone else going through something like this or supporting someone else.

-I’ve struggled to remember what normal life feels like.  

We found out about this baby and agreed to adopt it two days before Thanksgiving.  Since that day, I’ve spent most days juggling my “normal” life with thoughts and preparations for this baby, so now I am trying to remember what normal, mother-of-one-not-preparing-for-anything-else activities are and what my normal level of enthusiasm about life feels like.

Fortunately, I had spent the hours before finding out about the baby writing out some fairly detailed goals for myself as a woman, wife, mother, and professional in 2014, so I have those as a reference point.  The things I thought I was capable and desirous of accomplishing in 2014 then is probably the vision of “normal” that I can pursue now.

Still, these goals are designed to be pursued by “normal and enthusiastic Sarah,” not “grieving Sarah.”  I don’t feel like myself at all right now and simple things like getting dressed and putting a load of laundry through the wash feel really challenging.  I know this is normal after a week like we had so I’m not too worried, but I am hoping to settle back soon into the contentedness and energy that usually characterize me.

To make this easier, I’m not allowing myself to deviate too much from my normal expectations for myself.  When we got “the call” about the birth mom wanting to keep the baby, I wondered, what should I do?! The obvious answer to me was, the dishes, I guess.  I’m not going to embark on some wild deep cleaning project or take on extra projects for work right now, but I can try my hardest to just keep our household going so that things look and feel normal around here.  I’m also taking Zoe to our normal activities—the park, the library, a playdate, our exercise class—and keeping her world as normal as possible.

-I’ve practiced the self care I know I need. 

A few things I try to keep in mind whenever I am struggling are my basic self care principles: eat, do my Bible study, get some alone time to process, get healthy amounts of exercise, don’t emotionally eat or drink, don’t ignore everyone, take showers and get dressed in decent clothing, and practice sleep hygiene.  I actually have to chant these in my head sometimes and cheerlead myself into them, but if I do these basic things, I feel like my normal self physically and that helps a lot emotionally.  These become my most important to-dos above anything else.  In the psychosocial education classes I used to teach, we talked about self care being like a “chair” or a “stool” that supported you in any situation.  You have to figure out what legs of the stool YOU need to be the best you and then make sure you plant those legs on the ground.  (For example, some people are more extroverted than me and would be horrified by the minimalism of my social goals.  More power to them.)  

I’ve been craving hard exercise, cookies, and time alone and I’ve tried to give them all to myself…balanced with rest, nutritious food, and time with friends who I feel 100% comfortable with.  I haven’t forced myself into large unstructured group settings yet because I just don’t feel comfortable with it but I’m also not letting myself withdraw into hermitdom like I’d secretly like to.

-I went to church. 

I remember learning that after King David learned that his newborn baby had died, he went to the house of the Lord (2 Samuel 12.)  This week I also experienced the loss of a child, though not in the same way as King David (thank goodness.)  Though I had no clue how to begin to process this loss, I knew staying away from church wouldn’t help.  In many ways church was the only place I wanted to be…and so I went.  I sat in the back and left pretty quickly but now going to church won’t feel like this big hurdle.  I’ve done it and I’m going back on Sunday.  GET READY.

-I’ve gone through every stage of grief Elizabeth Kubler-Ross named…sometimes all in one day.  

And I know I’m not close to done yet.  Emotional roller coaster much? But whatever.  That’s what the self care is for, I guess…

-I’ve forced/allowed myself to accept the gestures of love offered to me.

As I’m typing, I’m drinking a soy latte a friend brought me.  She asked me if she could bring me a coffee today, and while part of me is like why should you drive from your house to mine just to bring me a coffee, the other part of me is like LET HER HELP AND ENCOURAGE YOU…God shows His presence through people.  And I do feel His love a little stronger this afternoon because I allowed her to love me.

I’m also sitting in an empty house right now.  I usually don’t ever take David up on his offers to give me “alone time” on his days off, but I know it is crucial to my processing and thus my healing that I spend a little time alone, and so I sent them to the park together this afternoon.  I know they’ll come back happy and I’ll be a little more ready to give them my love and attention because I won’t be so internally preoccupied.

-I’m writing.  

This was one of my goals for 2014 and it’s my way of processing and organizing my thoughts (if you couldn’t tell from the bullet points I made to organize my thoughts today.)  So…get ready to see more blog posts in my future.  Unsubscribe now and save yourselves!

Well, thanks for allowing my grief and self-indulgence a platform for another day…I have some little park buddies that just walked in the door that I want to focus on.  Happy Friday!

An Empty Room, My Healing Heart

(Note: this is probably the most honest blog post I have ever written.  I love openness and authenticity but I am NOT the kind of person who likes publicly sharing my pain as I am processing it.  I would rather sob into my pillow quietly, fix my makeup, and plaster on a smile in the midst of it…and then share my story with its nice little bow once I can point to lessons learned and feel a little less vulnerable about it all.

However, this is our story and I wholeheartedly believe that the stories we don’t want to share are the ones we most need to share.  Hiding what’s going on anymore feels inauthentic and wrong, not to mention that half of our community knows about it anyway and I’m sick of staying in the house trying to avoid seeing someone who might ask about it.  Putting it out here just seems like an act of mercy to myself at this point and hopefully feels like an act of kindness to those of you wondering how we are and if and how you should approach us.  We are thankful for you and your love for our family, and we know that God will heal us in time so sharing the brokenness isn’t bad because it’s just the beginning point of His work.  Also, I am overwhelmingly grateful for my husband and his willingness and encouragement for me to share this very personal glimpse into our lives even as we work through it.  He never wants me to be anything less than my authentic self and I am grateful for that gift.)


How to begin.

How to begin to process everything that has happened over the last few months, joyful and exciting and scary—-and then the last few days, awful and tragic.

I’ve successfully avoided writing for a few days but something in me tells me that the only way out of this is through it.  And maybe I won’t share this but maybe I will, because our stories matter.

The long and the short of it is, I’m hurting.

I have a box of newborn clothes sitting on my counter.  A box that arrived on my doorstep today for a baby that was supposed to arrive a few days ago and then go home with me.

The baby—a 6 lb, 2 oz baby girl—Zoe’s biological sister—arrived on Friday.

But she didn’t go home with us as planned.

She went instead to her new home with her birth mom, who had a last minute change of heart that has basically broken mine.

The technical term is a failed adoption, not that labeling this somehow makes it easier to understand or process.

I still have my sweet Zoe, of course, and a host of other blessings that I gasp out grateful prayers for every day.  I am not lost or broken or wounded forever.  But I am wounded for now.  I am hurting now.  And everywhere I go, there are boxes on my doorstep and someone that hasn’t heard and asks “what’s going on with the baby?” and something I did for “the last time as a mom of one” that I’m doing again as a mom of one.

I know I will heal.  I know I will.

But right now I am feeling so broken.

Forgive me if I don’t seem like myself.  Forgive me if I’m avoiding you.  Forgive me if I just don’t want to talk about it or if I do past the point of where it’s comfortable for you.  I don’t know how to do this grief.  I don’t know what you do when you lose a child that wasn’t really yours but that you have prepared for, dreamed of, prayed for, built a nursery for.

But I’m finding out.

I’m finding out what happens when you hear a heartbeat one week and hear the pain in your social worker’s voice one week later.

I’m finding out what happens when you have your mom come for two weeks to help with your new baby and say goodbye two weeks later without her ever having met the baby, because it’s not your baby.

I’m finding out how you grieve as a mom, when you have to compartmentalize grieving and processing for nap time because you don’t want your child to see you cry.  I’m finding out the beauty of a closed door so you don’t have to see the nursery you lovingly prepared in all its emptiness.  You may call it escapism; I call it survival.

I’m finding out how you can feel thankful towards a woman for giving you your greatest happiness in one child and simultaneously feel angry that she has interrupted your happiness with that child by seeking you out, planting an idea of more, and then uprooting it.  I’m finding out how you can admire a woman’s sacrificial love for one child and abhor her selfishness in the case of another, how you can defend her vehemently to others because she’s Zoe’s mom and yet accuse her in your own mind because one loving decision doesn’t pardon a thoughtless one.

I’m finding out very firsthand that mothers don’t always make decisions with their children’s best interests in mind and I’m finding out just how sad it feels to realize that Zoe’s sister will never have the same safety, quality of life, or resources that Zoe will have.  I have always had such a heart for vulnerable girls…now I’m finding out what it feels like when the vulnerable girl is Zoe’s sister.

I’m finding out what it feels like when the open relationship with her birthmother that you’ve worked hard to cultivate and hoped to offer as a gift to your adopted child is altered and maybe even taken away through no fault or actions of your own.

I’m finding out how you work through these things as a couple, and how it’s different than working through other losses.  Other losses we’ve faced have affected only one of us strongly, so the other has been able to be a partner and supporter to the griever.  I’m finding out what it feels like when both of us are grieving equally but differently.

I’m finding out what financial loss feels like when you’re a stay at home mom married to a pastor and, let’s face it, you only have so much in savings and you’re only going to accumulate so much more.  I’m finding out what “our money is God’s money anyway” means when you spend it on what you feel called to spend it on and…crickets.  No obvious ROI, no obviously changed lives, no extra family member, no tangible anything.  Just boring obedience and a bunch of questions.

And I guess that describes this stage well…a bunch of questions.  What the WHAT was any of this? We felt very strongly we were on the right track by agreeing to adopt Zoe’s biological sibling…does that mean her birth mom was on the wrong track or that we are awful at knowing where the right track is or none of the above? (David actually has a good answer for this one) What is the purpose of pain and why does God allow it? (Random deep questions come up but I don’t actually want to have any deep discussions) What do we do next? What does this mean for our family? What will I feel in 5 minutes and can I handle it? (Probably different and I’m finding that yes, I am handling it)

The one thing I don’t question is this: the goodness of the Lord.  He wants good for this baby; He wants good for us; He wants good for Zoe’s birth mom (and we do as well…we don’t wish her poorly at all.)  Although I truly believe that the “good” He wanted was to place this baby into our family, He doesn’t control our actions like we are puppets and as a result, a different decision was made.

But He is big enough to redeem any situation and He is big enough to bring “good” out of “not the best” decisions and situations.

And so I will stop wishing for something better and let Him use what is.

I pray He works through our pain to make it have a point, because no pain is wasted when we hand it over to God.  I pray He works through Zoe’s birth mom’s struggles to grow and shape her.  I pray He develops her love for this child into something pure-hearted and gives her wisdom and ability to provide a better home life for this child than what is available now.  I pray that He gives us wisdom about our next steps.  I pray that He helps us find every secret place where unforgiveness is buried, dig it out, and give that gift of peace to ourselves and to her.  I pray He helps us heal and become whole again.  I thank Him for my even deeper appreciation for the gift of the child we already hold and the man that holds her with me.  I thank Him for my family, for our friends, for our community, for the gift of writing that helps me finally understand and express my feelings, for the material possessions that haven’t been taken away and for the relationship I have with Him that can never be taken away.  And I trust.  Trust Him to walk me through the ugliness, trust Him to handle my questions and sorrow and pain, trust Him to make something beautiful out of our story…as He always does. 

I don’t know how to begin to process everything. But this is where I choose to start.

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
and the cattle barns are empty,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
The Sovereign Lord is my strength.
–Habakkuk 3:17-19a