Honoring Pain of all Kinds

"When you welcome your emotions as teachers,
every emotion brings good news,
even the ones that are painful." – Gary Zukav

I despise comparing pain.

As I have written about many times, I don’t think we can ever truly know who hurts more or less.  I don’t care how much you hurt, what the quality of your pain is, the quantity or the frequency. I care that you hurt at all. I have no need to assign it a  qualifier of more than mine or less than mine.  I allow it to be.

I try my best to not compare my experience to BSE moms or open adoption moms or closed adoption moms. Losing your child is losing your child. Losing your mother is losing your mother. Does giving it a degree of pain make it less traumatic?  It is wrong and it shouldn’t have to be and it causes trauma. For me and me alone, it ends there. Loss is loss. Trauma is trauma.

Many don’t feel as I do. Many feel the need to gauge their pain and compare it to others or to mine. As noted, this always irks me. I have begun to believe that it is more than just the above. It isn’t just that I don’t find value in comparing pain levels rather it is that I find someone saying that theirs is greater means that mine is lesser and therefore, not as important and ultimately dismissed.

More importantly, I have personally begun to realize, for like the first time ever, that my pain is two fold.

My pain is rooted in both the loss of my daughter to adoption and the experience of being sent away to a “home”.

Historically, and I believe rightly so, I have placed more focus on the loss of my child.  Yes, it was awful to be locked away in a maternity home but it was much more painful to lose my child. Recently, due to my reading of the Lucifer Effect and specifically, the story of The Stanford Prison Experiment, my experience as an inmate in the home has taken on an entirely new meaning.

I have always known it bothered me. I did not realize until recently just how much.  My therapist will occasionally say something like “it must have been terribly difficult to be sent away”. The mere utterance of those words from his lips will send me into a puddle of tears. No one has ever validated the horror of that experience for me. Not my parents, not my siblings and certainly not me.  Even other moms that lived with me, find it odd that the experience bothered me. One of my friends says she loved it there and she felt safer and happier than if she had been at home. It was like a ‘big old girls dorm party” I was once told.

Say what? Were we living in the same place?

Not me.  Oh, I pretended I was okay. I went along. I was a good little locked away birth mother. In fact, I was very good. I did my chores. I signed in and out. I respected the house mothers. I rarely used the pay phone. I kept my feelings and my thoughts to myself. I did not stir up trouble with other girls that I disliked. I did not tell on anyone who may have violated the house rules. I was a good girl (ha!). I even adopted the herd mentality.

Yes, that’s right the mentality. I realize now that we, as a collective, even contributed to each other losing our children.  We fed off each other. “Your doing this, right? “You are going to give up your baby right? “.

Much like prisoners do in a riot, we followed along with our neighbors. For to buck the system, to  challenge the system, could set the entire home off balance. We did not receive parenting classes, there was no discussion of keeping your child. If you were there, you were there because you were giving away your baby.

To not give up my child would have been to disappoint my parents, my church, my agency, my caseworker, those poor infertile prospective adopters AND the only friends I had – other expectant moms like me.

My friend T was interned at the home at the same time I was. She was even put there by the same agency. But T had a boyfriend.  She was paroled early for good behavior. That is, T got married.  I so clearly remember talking to another mom about how happy we were for her but we were also rather upset. She violated the rules.  How dare she keep her baby!

If you were in that place, you were supposed to give away your child. How dare she go off, get married and keep her child? Didn’t she know the rules? Hadn’t she read the fine print?

T getting married and keeping her child reminded the rest of us what we did not have. So, instead being happy for her, some of us ostracized her (if even behind fake smiles). She had not ingested enough  kool-aid. Bad T.

Hello, but can I say, WTF? 

This was the herd mentality. It’s amazing to me to think that not only did my caseworker and the house mothers and my parents and the church contribute to the loss of my child, but my friends did in some odd way too.  (And I, of course, contributed to theirs).

It makes me feel ill.

I pretended it was okay to be in that place and that it paled in comparison to losing my daughter. That may be true, it may be a lesser pain and trauma but it is still pain and trauma and I must honor it and give it space.

And all the other moms to whom I contributed to the loss of their child, I am sorry. I should have told you, as well as myself, to run as fast as you could away from that place.

Had we done so we might have shared feeding tips, and exchanged baby food recipes and clothing, instead of sharing trauma.

2 Thoughts.

  1. “I have always known it bothered me. I did not realize until recently just how much. My therapist will occasionally say something like “it must have been terribly difficult to be sent away”. The mere utterance of those words from his lips will send me into a puddle of tears.”
    I completely agree. Being summarily sent away was like a pre-trauma trauma for me. I felt it as a threat that indicated what would happen on a much greater scale to me and my child if I didn’t comply. Which I’m sure was what was intended.
    “Say what? Were we living in the same place?”
    Dunno. Beats me, Suz. I found the experience horrific too, and I’m always amazed when others who’ve supposedly been through the same thing say stuff like “It was fun exchanging make-up tips with the girls”, or while I was there, observing other girls taking about their boyfriends and their plans for the future. Future? What future? I didn’t think it meant they didn’t care – just that they were in a different space, and possibly had a different history leading up to their arriving at that place.
    I was almost completely a-social while I was at the home. Docile too. The only time I tried to rebel was when I was told I was going to be ‘churched’ (Google “Churching of women, if you don’t know) I refused, but gave in after being given a stern lecture, the gist of which was that I’d already hurt my family enough and that for me not to agree to be “churched’ would be the final blow. Of course, I know now that was total codswhallop, but at the time it was very effective. According to the matron I was the only person ever to object, but I don’t believe it.
    As far as the herd mentality is concerned, yup, I really think you’re on to something. You know, it’s like “When good girls do nothing . . . ”
    We did contribute to each others relinquishment because we were too bemused and cowardly to rebel. If one of us had it might have created a ripple effect. Or at least got the rest of us actually *thinking* instead of being brain-dead.
    Of course, these ‘if only’s’ are only useful insofar as they inform us now.

  2. The first cut was being sent away from our families, being shamed, not loved enough for anyone to consider what we might have wanted. I believed that giving up my child was the only way back into my family’s good graces. That I had to follow the path they had set up. WTF, indeed.
    And then the second cut. The taking of our babies. I was too brain-dead to have objected. Because cut one overshadowed cut two, until years later.
    I wasn’t around other pregnant women. All I had was my parents, my attorney, the lady I lived with, all of whom agreed it was for the best. But even if I had been in a home, as you were, I get the mentality, the rules, the nature of survival.

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