LIMBO: On the Edge of Emotional Hell

Limbo, or the Latin root word from which is comes, limbus, (literally an edge or boundary, as in  the edge of hell… think about that when pondering adoption reunion limbo) is a Catholic theology concept.  It is a concept I was taught at a very young age during my Sunday catechism classes at Holy Name of Jesus Christ This is a Conservative Catholic Church.  Limbo of Infants, to me, at my young age, created an internal visual of naked babies with adorable pinchable dupas  floating around in cloudy blue skies with no way to go up (heaven) or down (hell) just round and round, back and forth, slowly, repetitively, with no hope (hence the edge of hell part).  There were hundreds, perhaps thousands of babies, floating in the skies of my head being slowly tortured by the repetitive floating and pointless movement beyond their power to control. Why?

It was my understanding (then and now) that you were sent to limbo because you had died prior to being baptized.  Baptism “cured” you of the original sin you were born with.  (Random side note:  Even as a child I thought this original sin stuff was a crock.  Why would God create something so perfect but then damn it with original sin before it has taken its first breath. Yeah, yeah, I know the biblical explanations. But let me tell you, as a precocious five-year old I found the Catholic God to be a bit of a dunce.  Why wasn’t the omniscient one able to make us perfect?  I later decided it was a pious insurance policy.  Seems as long as we were born sinful, shameful and guilt full and never able to cease ourselves from falling prey to that, we were forever reliant on him to clean us up. God really needed a lesson from Deming in Total Quality Management. But I digress. Enough of my precocious five-year old behavior and please no preaching from my “saved” readers. Just tsk tsk me, say a prayer for me and please keep reading.)

If you happened to die before you were baptized well then you were sent to Limbo. You weren’t good enough to go to heaven yet not bad enough to go to hell.

Sound familiar?

In adoption limbo you are not good enough to be considered as part of your family members life but not bad enough to be told to book a ticket on the next train to Hades. Rather you are fated to float around and around, hither and yon, to and fro, on the edge of emotional hell. As is the case with religious limbo, you are excluded from the beatific vision, the immediate knowledge of Gods and spirits in Heaven or in the case of adoption reunion limbo – the immediate knowledge and beauty of your family member.

In the religious context, some believe that limbo is a state of maximum natural happiness, while others believe it to be the mildest punishment (for like, uh, what? Dying as an infant before some god fearing adult baptized you? How is that fair? Oops, digressing again.).

As a mother in adoption reunion limbo, I can confidently state if feels, to me, like the strongest of punishment. It feels worse than outright rejection. It feels like torture. Emotional waterboarding.  It feels as if my daughter is continuing the work of my parents, the priest, the agency, the maternity home workers, even her own father. It feels as though I am bad, wrong, evil and I must be punished. It feels as though my daughter is God and I am at her mercy. I refused to be beat down by the others before her and she is here to finish the deed.

She controls this reunion and as such she controls my happiness.

Or does she? (I sense that precocious early agnostic five-year old coming to life again).

Intellectually I don’t believe she does. Getting my heart in line with my head is another matter.

In my next post, I will explain why.

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15 Thoughts.

  1. Today I called my son’s phone in a moment of pure desperate desire to hear his voice. I said” J, I have an idea how this might work out for us. We can just keep our relationship between you and me. I won’t tell my husband and family, you don’t tell your wife or family. Perhaps then we can build a relationship that is just for us without any outside influence. We could really talk and get to know each other without hurting any one else. I miss you and I love you.”

    As soon as I hung up the phone, I felt ashamed and humiliated. Why? Because he asked my not to contact him, and even though he did out of anger over something completely petty, and even though at times I wish to say to him, “F off” ; in the end I miss him terrribly and don’t want to be without him in my life again. Yet, I feel like I am being untrue to myself because of the ugliness and abuse I have tolerated to remain in this reunion, I feel that leaving this message leaves me open and vulnerable to more hurt. I think it is pathetic that I left the message, and left my heart out once again for him to see, when he’s made it so clear that he doesn’t care. That “I mean nothing to him”, yet I can’t let it go.

    The issue becomes that in order to have my children in my life, I must give up myself. I’m not willing to do that anymore. It is not loving to myself to let him know how much I love him and miss him because he will likely use it as a weapon to punish me even more. I am weak.

    • ((((Liz))) – No offense intended but I hope he does not take you up on your offer to have a secret relationship. Nothing good grows in the dark. Relationships, like plants and people, need the light to grow. Not to mention the fact, you deserve better. As for giving up yourself, you did that when you gave up your son. At least a very large part of yourself. Who could blame you for wanting to preserver what little adoption left you with? It must feel like you would disappear. Adoptees often state fear of having a relationship with their mothers for the last time they were with her they were sent away and changed. Not much different for mothers, only in reverse, last time we had our children, we lost a huge part of ourselves.

  2. Honestly, Suz, I’m not sure what I want or deserve at this point. I am really tired of just hurting and being confused by this drive-by reunion. The experts say, “lean in to it, don’t surpress it’. I’ve been leaning in for over three years now, and even though I have more days now that I am clear and I feel like myself than I did in the beginning, when the grief cycles up, it does not feel diminished. I think I must accept that this is how it will be from now on, good days, clear days, and the days when the grief churns it’s way up to the surface to breathe.

    I am eager to read more about the precocious five year old and how she would handle your dilemma. I keep thinking of one of your photos that are posted on FB, your hair is in ringlets and I think a front tooth is mithing; so adorable. I’ll bet you were a hoot!

    • Liz – LOL. Funny you mention that photo particularly on this post. That is likely my communion photo.

      I understand your quest for acceptance. June 28th will mark five years, yes, five, since I found my daughter.

  3. Suz ~ your visions & views of the Catholic beliefs regarding babies in limbo crack me up!! (I’m with you 100% on that.)

    These last posts of yours are so timely. I have been struggling with wanting “more” so badly, while my son is perfectly happy with this “internet” reunion of ours. I consider myself in limbo, even though I do get emails (only in reply to mine), and the occasional photo on FB. My limbo has me feeling on the edge of emotional hell lately. I hate it that I’m not strong enough, that my happiness level depends on how long ago I received an email and if it was 4 sentences vs 4 paragraphs. I don’t want to put the burden of my happiness on my son. But as you said, “Getting my heart in line with my head is another matter”.

    • Susie – I dont think I know how long you are in reunion but I can tell you that after five years of this..the waiting, the anxiety, the analyzing of every word and email does lessen. I am not sure if that is a good or bad thing. For me, it just is. I have far less emotion these days than I did in 2005.

  4. Suz – you’ll be interested in this.

    The Catholic church has decided that Limbo does not exist and they admit that they made it up
    (there is no limbo in the Bible). Like adoption, it was a myth that was spread around to control people.

    And why did they decide to change their tune on this matter?

    Was it because they felt guilty about feeding us this rubbish?

    Was it because they realise that some people actually read the Bible and they were found out?

    It was because other religions were offering a better deal!

    That’s right. Market forces at work – just like in adoption.

    Other religions offer unconditional paradise to your baby if they die, regardless of any lack of ritual performed on them beforehand.

    Given the choice between limbo and paradise, many parents were opting for instant paradise(especially in poorer nations where the infant mortality rate is high and it is unlikely that they would be able to get to a priest in time).

    As in adoption, the RC church changed the supposedly unchangeable when conditions dictated it – to suit themselves. They changed the rules just because they were losing customers (congregation members). It is like when they told us that only married couples should be allowed to raise children. Now single unmarried people are allowed to adopt (there is money in those single celebs – ah yes, money still talks very loudly over all else including the unchangable rules when it suits adoption agenices/churches).

    I’ll see if I can find a link about that.

    BTW – I’m a lapsed Catholic too.
    I have a funny story about confession if you would like to hear it – it sounds like you need cheering up. It is still on topic – it always felt like the edge of hell when I was a child going to confession. If I couldn’t think of any sin that I committed, then I would make things up.
    I did overboard on one of those occassions which I will tell you about in another message.
    It seems that priests are only ever happy if you say you have sinned, even when you haven’t.

    • Unicorn – WHAT? The Catholic church made something up? Rewrote the bible? How could that be! Surely you are wrong. Say it is’t so!!

      LOL. Not shocking in the least. Seriously. I hope the information gets to the latest recruits at Holy Name of Jesus Christ This is a Conservative Catholic Church.

      : )

    • Unicorn – What happenend to those babies that were stuck there? Did Hades or some angels adopt them? : P

      • Originally the church said that these unbaptised babies ended up in limbo along with good-hearted pagans.

        My guess is they all got bored in Limbo and went off to Valhalla (Viking Heaven) to party!

        I know that is what I would do 🙂

  5. That’s awesome. I’ve been vindicated! I argued this subject of infant baptism and limbo so many times with my mother, and now the church is got my back!

    Looking forward to the “why” in your next post.

  6. Here is the confession story for you Suz.

    My mother, being a very strict Catholic, made us go to confession at least once a week.

    I remember one time when I went (I was about 10 years old) I had tried really hard to be good all week long. I couldn’t think of a single sin that had been committed in the past seven days.
    I thought the priest would be impressed. I was wrong.

    I went into the confessional box and gleefully told the priest that I had no sins to tell him.

    “Liar!” he shouted.
    He said that I must have forgotten them and that everyone sins all the time.
    He said that no one goes a whole week without sinning.

    I told him that I honestly could not think of anything that I had done wrong.
    I had tried very hard to be a good person.

    “Liar!” he shouted again. “I know you have done something wrong”

    At this point I was getting really angry at the priest for not believing me.
    I thought to myself that if it is a liar he wants, a liar he gets.

    “OK, Father, you are right, I did forget about some sins. Here is what I have done”

    The priest said that is more like it and asked for the list of sins.

    I took a deep breath.

    “You know about that house being burgled – I did that”

    “Then I robbed a bank downtown and after that, during the getaway, I stole and crashed a car on the highway”

    “What?!” said the priest in a rather panicked voice.

    I was on a roll. I was trying to think of every news story I had hear of that week.
    I also started making stuff up.

    “You heard of those forest fires up north – that was me too.
    I would have burnt down more trees but I ran out of matches”

    “you heard about that bridge collapsing into that river – it wasn’t the flooding that did it – it was me”.

    “And the great train robbery in England – I did that too!”

    At this point, the priest realised that I was sprouting a load of rubbish.
    He sounded annoyed as he spoke to me.

    He said “That will be 30 Hail Marys”
    (for non-RC people, you have to say the number of prays the priest tells you to say as penance for your sins).

    “What for?” , I asked. “You know that none of that was true and that I was only kidding!”

    “For insolence!” he said.

    “But insolence is not a sin” I protested.

    The priest replied “It is now”.

    I went to say my prayers – it would take forever to recite 30 Hail Marys.

    I could hear the priest laughing.

    He then shouted out “OK, 5 Hail Marys – I’m sure God has a sense of humour”

    I’m sure that the delicious smell of the dinner being cooked for the priest floating through the church, and the fact that I was the last congregation member in the church still reciting prayers had nothing to do with his decision whatsoever 🙂

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