With Intent

"The degree to which you accept your limitations determines the degree to which you find you’re unlimited." – Unknown

Someone asked me how it is that I am able to achieve balance in the parenting of my children. When so many mothers who lose their children to adoption become either overprotective or distant, how do I find the middle ground?

The short answer?

With a lot of work and living with intent.

I am painfully aware of how much the loss of my child has damaged me as a woman, as a mother, as a human being. As such, my subsequent children are damaged as well.  Maybe damaged is the wrong word, but for me, it is obvious that they have gotten less of a mother. They deserved better.  I am NEVER fully theirs, never with them, never completely dedicated to them because part of my energy is focused on my daughter, their absent sister. Again, they deserved better. If my daughter had no say in her adoption, my sons are similar. They had no say in being born to a mother who was damaged by loss. All my children have lost.  We have the wonders of adoption to thank.

You can take the child from the mother but you cannot take the mother from the mother.  I am a mother in my heart and soul 24 x 7 to my present and absent children. My mind is regularly split between upstate CT and NY, or NJ, or whatever part of the world my daughter may be in.

However, as noted, I am aware of this. What is that? The first step is awareness?  I am aware that I am more likely to be a distant mother to my sons than an overprotective one.

Important to note that I felt I had no right to additional children after what I did to my first. I spent nearly 13 years with a hardcore belief that I would never have more children.  I intentionally sought men who did not want children. I even married one (who later changed his mind on me and said he wanted kids after all). 

I couldn’t fathom giving myself to another child. I was convinced the world was right and I was not a good mother, did not deserve children, should never have another since I abandoned my first born to strangers.   I built a shrine to my daughter in my mind.  I worshipped at it daily. I gulped up that Catholic guilt and adoption kool-aid like it was nectar of the gods.

Coupled with those beliefs was living the day to day trauma.  The mere thought of having another child would send me into the fetal position, hiding behind a radiator, quivering. It doesn’t surprise me at all that mothers who have been torched by adoption suffer secondary infertility. It is THAT damaging to us.  It is as if our ovaries fight back and demand they will never be used again to give a child to another woman.

However, unlike many of my sister/mothers, I did have subsequent children. After at least a year of soul searching (pretty much on my own, I did not share the thoughts with my husband), I agreed to bear his children. At that  time in my life I felt he was the best thing that had happened to me, why wouldn’t I want more of him? 

I don’t regret for one second having my sons. They are angels on earth, just like their sister. They have made me a better person, just like their sister has. They soften me. They educate me. They keep me young and laughing and happy and hopeful.

But staying engaged requires constant work on my part.  As noted from my various blog posts, every encounter with my sons pours sea salt into the wounds of loss. I cannot avoid it. I do something with them and while doing it I contemplate how I could not do it with her.  She is ever present. She may never want to physically be part of this family but spiritually, energetically, virtually, she is and always has been. 

A few years ago, I read a book titled Birthmothers: Women Who Have Relinquished Babies for Adoption Tell Their Stories by Mary Bloch Jones. Many of my sister/mothers don’t like this book (presumably due to the use of the birthmother word). For me, at that time in my life, I found it HUGELY validating. It had so many case stories that just screamed my name. Women who talked about how adoption loss affected their friendships, their social life, their marriages, their parenting. The stories in that book made me feel less of a freak and more of a human who had suffered a horrible injustice. I saw myself in nearly every page and I was comforted. Somehow I felt normalized. I wasnt alone. There were legions of women the world over who had suffered what I had.

Without question the nugget of gold in that book for me, was indeed the split that occurs in mothers – how we become obsessively overprotective or distant.  Becoming aware of that, knowing it existed in myself, knowing what caused it, has allowed me to embrace it and therefore, it has less power.

How do I achieve the balance?

By being constantly aware of the need for it and the possibility of the pendulum swinging one way or the other at any given moment and not wanting my sons to suffer or lose out any more than they already have.

That is how.

8 Thoughts.

  1. Suz, this is an incredibly powerful and important post. I think that being an adoptee has hugely affected my parenting and I am only beginning to see how. I didn’t have the wherewithall to get that it would affect what kind of a mother I would be, until my children were well into their teens. I am trying to be aware but I catch myself all the time and it is very humbling.

  2. I get exactly what you are saying with this post. I stopped at my son and didn’t have any more for my then husband. It was just too painful and I felt that I couldn’t bond. Of course, I did, but it was in time.
    My daughter and I have been in reunion for 3 years now, but I get what you are saying.

  3. I was talking with a mother today. I helped find her daughter. I got the address and phone of the adoptive parents. I verified that she was the correct person. I mentioned that I don’t like a certain term. She asked why. Because you are always a mother. Always. I think that made her cry. I am just glad that I got to circumvent GLADNEY. Yahooooooooooo!!!!!! Can you email girl? She may need some extra help.

  4. So absolutely true. I had the same experience. Felt I never wanted children, traumatized by the thought of getting pregnant again until I met my son and then I knew I could have a baby. And although he is not behaving in a way that I would like at the moment I always feel my daughter is a gift he gave to me. When she was born after a long labour they wanted to take her to the nursery so I good get some rest the first night. I refused to let her go.
    She has just turned twenty – exactly the age I was when I got pregnant – my last period was on my 20th birthday. I look at her and try to imagine her friends, her life being taken away from her.
    I hope I am not too overprotective of her but I know I am a little.
    I hope that someone is telling all this to girls/women who are considering adoption.

  5. Suz: The reality, the bare bones of this post. You just seeem to reach down and there is always more. I feel you write for all of us and we are not alone.
    I also went on to have another son. He was everything within the heart and soul of me. I felt I was given another chance having him. Selfishly, I loved and cherished him the most. I only focused on him. So, when I read how you share your daughter and her existance with the boys there is a difference because you know who and where she is. While these little guys are here and full of love for you.

  6. An adoptee just found her birthmother. The mom is having a hard time with all of this reunion and is scared to death of a ftf. She even said “Damn him, he died and left me with all this responsibility” (!) I was wondering if this book you mentioned would be something to refer her to for opening some of her thoughts. There is nothing closer to a natural mother who has hidden herself for so many years. ??

  7. Yup. I am so torn. I know that it is my guilt, my failure to protect my child that my body refused to carry another child to term. I hope one day to find the balance. To find the forgiveness to heal.

  8. Thank you. I think every birth mother needs to read this. I struggle with this on my own levels, as you know. I am prone to be highly overprotective because of my loss. If I don’t watch myself closely, I’m following Nick around the playground saying, “BE CAREFUL!” I’ve had to forcefully seat myself near the toy he is playing on and watch … VERY CLOSELY … so that he can learn and explore on his own. I help when he asks, of course, but he’s got to do things by himself, too. This is sooooo darn hard for me.
    I want to put both boys in bubbles.

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