Saying Goodbye to Birthmother McGee

I got my notification the other day to renew my WordPress and domain name for Birthmother McGee. When I started this blog I had the best of intentions. I thought I would write my story of adoption; what I went through and what I continue to experience. I started writing and very quickly realized that this story was difficult to write. I was reliving moments that were almost as hard the second time as they were the first. I also realized that this story isn’t just my own. This story touches, affects, and involves so many people, all of whom I love in one way or another. I don’t own this story on my own and I’m unwilling to hurt those loved ones (any more than has already happened) in order to purge and cleanse. 

So, I’m not sure exactly what day it will happen, but shortly this little blog, that never was, will disappear. I learned a lot about myself during this process. Primarily I learned to talk about the things I need to work through in a different setting, like therapy. I’d like to write more and may start another blog…this time about something where I can write without the constant knowledge that I can truly damage others with my truth. 

For my very few readers, thank you. Thank you for allowing me to occasionally post and write and stumble about without this topic. Although I’m having a hard time figuring out how to do it in this space, I’m ready to say goodbye to Birthmother McGee. I’m ready to release her back in to the worldwide web, both literally and metaphorically. Be well and travel light. 

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Silent Night

I texted J on Christmas. No reply.

I called the next day. No reply.

He’s 18 so I don’t take it too personally but that doesn’t mean it feels good. I have his Christmas present sitting on the work bench ready to go to the mail. For some reason I don’t want to send it out there in the world – holding on to it feels like he and I are having a conversation and sending it brings that discussion to an end. The closest I can come to explaining it is when you go through a breakup and put off sending their stuff back to them because that makes the breakup real and final. I got his present in Alaska this summer and have been holding it and thinking that it will end up being something meaningful to him down the line. I realized yesterday that it’s just a thing and may have no more value than any other thing. It’s silly. I’m going to the post office tomorrow. 

I spent Christmas with my family in Amarillo. I didn’t have a long time there so I didn’t try to see anyone but my parents. I wanted to reach out to M (birthfather) but ended up only sending a generic text and receiving a generic reply. You get what you give. I wanted to see him but I just didn’t have it in me this year.

This has been a year of transition.  A year of growing and changing. It’s been a lot of hard work and positive shifts but it’s left me pretty emotionally raw and open. My energy was pretty low going in to Christmas. What energy I had was reserved for my family in order to be present and real with them. 

I came home from Christmas and promptly got sick. I’ve noticed this happens every time I go back to Amarillo. I think my body is telling me something. It takes a lot out of me to be there and be the me I am now instead the me I was then or the me that my family thinks I am. I’m actually grateful for the excuse to sit on the couch in front of the fire, sip some tea, catch up on reading and do some writing. 

I find myself wanting to reach out to J and hear his voice. I think I’ll give myself a day or two to rest and feel better and then I’ll reach out again. Today I need the alone time and the silence. Silence feels good when wanted. Silence feels terrible when it is on the other end of a conversation that isn’t taking place. 

Will I ever get old enough and mature enough to know how to handle this role and relationship? 

Authenticity, blogging, and “birthmother”

When I decided I wanted to start writing about my experience of being a birthmother and the story that surrounds it, I didn’t yet understand what it meant to live authentically and how the process of living authentically might impact my ability and willingness to write on this, and any other topic. When I started this blog I thought I had a story worth sharing. I believed I was far enough along in my journey where going back in time to dredge up deep and dark places in my life wouldn’t cause me significant pain. I thought that I could be honest about my story without hurting anyone I love. I thought I could be honest about my story without hurting myself. 

I was so very wrong. 

About a year ago I started to come to terms with my deep rooted sense of shame and perfectionism and how destructive that has been to my life, my weight, my relationships, my ability to live as my true self, and my willingness to be vulnerable and let people see all of me – not just the parts that will please them. This last year has been wonderful and difficult. I’ve started to find my own voice, be able to identify my wants and needs, and to speak them clearly to others…or at least to some of the others in my life. 

Living in this manner is risky. It means you step out of your safe places (where you stuff what you feel and think in order to maintain peace and acceptance) and you step in to truth and light and openness. It requires you to let your real thoughts and feelings be known and risk getting hurt. In truth I’m still learning how to do this. In many places in my life I live with openness and vulnerability. In other places I still relate in a place where I stuff my true feelings and thoughts in order to maintain peace and “get along.”

There have been growing pains in knowing how to be authentic. I started out by being overly aggressive and overpowering. I’d speak my version of the truth in a way that didn’t allow the other person to respond – they had to defend instead. I then overcorrected and used so many therapy feeling words that I sounded like a 1970’s hippy counseling convention. Now, when I feel that need to be authentic, and it is in a place where that is uncomfortable, I quote Brene’ Brown’s mantra to myself before speaking, “Don’t shrink. Don’t puff up. Stand on your sacred ground.” (“The Gifts of Imperfection”) 

So how does this relate back to this blog? There are a couple of ways…and I’m going to name them and then think on how I decide to deal with them, and this site. 

The term “birthmother” – I’ve accepted this term for almost 18 years. It has never offended me or bothered me. It has seemed a fairly accurate way to describe my adoption relationship. I have felt neither glorified nor damned by this word. It has seemed fairly clinical to me…until I started really examining my relationship with J and his adoptive family…now I realize I need a new word. I approach most things in life from my left brain. I use logic, reason, analysis, and allow some room for intuition…but not feelings…never feelings. Now that I am practicing living authentically, I have to actually feel my feelings. This brought me to the place where I no longer want to identify as “Birthmother McGee.” This is the nickname that J’s adoptive family calls me, and I perceive that it comes from a place of endearment and some teasing. I’m fine with all of that – that need not change. What needs to change is my self-identification with this nickname and how I internalize it. I use birthmother as a way to keep the feelings away and make a very emotional and difficult relationship more clinical and intellectual. I have not wanted to identify with any of the other words because I thought it wasn’t my “place” to call him my son…or to identify as his mother…I thought that wasn’t my place…or my right…or my worth. I don’t know what name I will end up identifying with – I am still working that through. I know I am done with “birthmother” because I internalize that word as, “not worthy of being a mother,” and “unable to be a good parent.” I never realized that I didn’t let that word bother me because I believed myself to be deserving of the shame of placing a child for adoption. That feeling has kept me from having the relationship I’d like to have with myself as a mother and him as my child. Calling myself a mother doesn’t change who his Mother truly is nor does it change my respect and reverence for her role. Calling him my child doesn’t change the facts: I legally signed away my rights to raise him. He is someone else’s son. But he still came from me and he is still a part of me. I still grieve for that baby in the hospital 18 years ago and the reality is that I probably will continue to do so my entire life, regardless of what kind of relationship I do or do not have with who he is now. No, “birthmother” is a fine term for other people to call me – it doesn’t offend or wound me – but it isn’t something I want to call myself. 

Writing authentically means saying things that might hurt. There are some people who I am willing to hurt with my story because it is my truth and whatever role they played in this story is theirs to own…but I’m not willing to hurt him. I’m not willing to put my thoughts out there in this way at this time because they are complicated, multi-layered, loving…but there is also some anger and resentments that I’m just not willing to put out there. Those feelings are about people I love and about people he loves (including myself). 

I want to keep writing but not about this. Not as a primary topic. Maybe someday. So now what to do with this space. More to come. 

 

The secret pain of being nice

Be nice.

Act right.

Do good.

Be good.

Get good grades.

Keep your room clean.

Mind your manners.

Don’t be rude. 

If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. 

Do any of these sound familiar? What reaction do you have to these words? If you were raised with them, how did they impact your life? What lessons did you learn from these words and how have you lived them out as an adult? 

I realized recently that I have a problem with shame. I carry around shame about every subject great and small.  I carry around shame that I placed a child for adoption. I carry around shame that I struggle with my weight. I carry around shame that I can’t do it all…be a perfect partner, do a perfect job at work, have a spotless home, be involved in everything in church, manage to figure out how I would make time to raise kids…you get the picture. 

I didn’t know what this feeling was until recently. I didn’t know how to recognize what was happening in my body and what it meant I should do. Somewhere along the way I internalized all those “be nice” statements and believed that in order to be a good person I had to “Do” things and achieve things. Whenever I wanted to state  a need or refute someone’s statement or say my truth I would get this feeling like a large, warm ball trying to come up from my heart and out of my mouth and then shame would shove it back down and make it feel cold and cut off. I never knew that this was my body trying to speak truth and my shame telling me to, “Keep it quiet, that’s not nice, don’t say that! No one will accept you if you say that!” It never occurred to me that the best way to be accepted in the world is to present your flawed, scarred, authentic self to anyone who wants to see. It never occurred to me that other people feel this drive to be perfect in order to be loved and that maybe, just maybe, if you pull down the mask that hides your true and authentic self it will resonate with someone else and give them some space to drop their mask in return. 

Shame has kept me masked all these years and I didn’t even know what it was. I have been reading a great book by Brene’ Brown called, “The Give of Imperfection.” I saw myself in her definitions of shame, “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”  She also says that the only way out of those feelings are to acknowledge it, speak it by name, and then ask for what you need. 

So here it is:

  • I feel shame. About everything.
  • I worry that I am not good enough and it drives me to be overly ambitious at work. 
  • I worry that I am not good enough and it drives me to be disconnected from other people out of fear that if they get to know the real me, they won’t like me
  • In order to get acceptance I put the needs and wants of others above my own. I don’t share my needs and wants. I’ve done this for so long that now that I am ready to share my needs/wants, I don’t know what they are. 
  • This disconnection and putting others first has taken a toll on me and I’m ready to reclaim that space in my life. I’m no longer willing to stay quiet to make someone else feel better or make them like me. 
  • I will speak my truth. I will do it lovingly and respectfully but I will no longer swallow my truth.
  • I will own and be proud of who I am. How others feel about who I am will not affect my own feelings or cause me to feel apologetic or shameful. 
  • I am enough. Right now. Today. Just as I am. 
  • So are you. 

I’ve started holding babies again.

It may not sound like anything peculiar but since J was born I haven’t wanted to hold small, new babies. Once they get to six months or so I’ll deal with them but new babies made me shut down emotionally. I wanted nothing to do with them.  I’ve been really working on being more open, more vulnerable, more emotionally accessible; one of the byproducts of this work is that I like babies.

I’ve started thinking about being a mother.

I wasn’t sure about parenting before I became pregnant with J but I loved kids and knew it was possible I’d one day be a parent. After J I thought I was doing him some kind of favor by remaining a mess, keeping my life a disaster so that he would look at me and be grateful that I didn’t parent him. I told myself for 18 years that I didn’t want to be a parent. I told myself I’d be a lousy parent. Part of this process of breaking myself open brought up questions of parenting. I fully realize I told myself lies about my ability to parent. I’m a good, kind, loving person who understands boundaries and can provide monetarily and wholeheartedly.

I’ve become open to the idea of being pregnant.

It wouldn’t be easy considering my age, relationship, and work. It would be risky for the child and it would bring up a lot of emotions from being pregnant with J. The mere act of thinking about pregnancy makes my throat clench closed, protecting me from the feeling that my heart may explode through my mouth. That very feeling has caused me to swallow my heart for many years, pushing it further and further down in my chest and denying the thoughts and desires of being someone’s Mom.

I’ve waited too long to become a natural parent.

I started losing weight 2 years ago. I lost 60 lbs and was working on the last 20 when I started having “female trouble.” I’ll spare you the details. The resolution was to put me on birth control twice daily. I started gaining weight. My doctor installed an IUD, which is a lower dose of hormones and is regulated throughout the day. I’m still gaining weight. Inexplicably. I work out more and eat better. Still I gain weight. I’ve looked at every other option and all my tests and blood work shows I’m remarkably healthy. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the weight gain is from the hormones. The only way to keep the “female troubles” from coming back and stop the weight gain is to remove my uterus. I await confirmation next week that this is what I will have to do.

I’m sad

I am not devastated, or destroyed by this news. I am sad. I’m sad that I waited this long to make these decisions. I’m sad I waited this long to open myself up to living for me and not him…I’m sad that I won’t have a uterus. I’m sad that much of my 30’s was spent achieving and working and not really delving in to the person I want to be. I DID…now I want to BE. I’d like to soothe the young pregnant girl and change my idea of what pregnancy is like. I’d like to experience that with a partner who cares for and loves me in a healthy way. I’d like to keep my parts inside my body.

I’m willing to let go

I’m willing to lose my uterus. I am willing to let go of the shame I carry because I placed a child for adoption. I’m willing to let go of the shame I feel for not being a Mom. I’m willing to let go of the shame I feel for prioritizing work and career over parenting. I’m willing to let go of the belief that I have to be a mess for him to be happy. I’m willing to allow J to be disappointed in me or angry with me  if I have to choose between his approval and living my life authentically. I’m willing to let go of the shame I feel because I am happy.

I’m ready to let adoption come full circle in my life

I don’t know if I will adopt or not. I have not decided. I realize I need to have some discussions with family and with J before starting any process…but I accept that it will mean changing the structure of my life. I see such beauty in allowing myself to grow in such a way that I validate the young birthmother inside me by becoming an adoptive mother. I’m ready to complete that cycle of self-acceptance and removal of shame by becoming the other side of the mother coin.

I’m ready to redefine myself

I don’t mind the term “birthmother.” It’s been a clear word that helped me understand my role. Now it doesn’t feel broad enough. It doesn’t feel like it fits who I am. It leaves me feeling stuck in my old messy self. It has such a negative connotation for so many others in my shoes that I hate to throw it around as much as I do. I don’t yet know what other word to use for this part of my life but I am ready to explore and expand my understanding of what kind of mother I am and could be. “Birthmother McGee” is the nickname J’s family calls me and I don’t mind that – but outside the nickname I think it is time for me to use different words for myself.

There’s no crying in broccoli salad

It’s funny how it hits you…when it hits you…why it hits you. I’m 18 years in to this process and still find myself baffled by my own inability to predict the moment when I am unexpectedly grief-stricken and have to take a seat on the kitchen floor so as not to over-salt the broccoli salad with tears.

I have been sensing this moment build for months. I’m really skilled at keeping my emotions at a reasonable distance while I let my actions be ruled by either analysis, logic, or avoidance. The bad thing about these coping mechanisms is that your feelings always catch you.

I’ve learned better coping skills in 18 years but I still play the waiting game when it comes to feelings. I don’t always deal with them as they come up. I put them off. I wait and pray for more clarity. These techniques seem really helpful to my every day life. For a while it is, it is helpful until it is 4PM in the afternoon and I have to finish making broccoli salad and cornbread for a church dinner, workout, shower, change, and be out the door by 6:30. Yeah, that’s when it hits you. That’s when it catches up to you. Your feelings find you when you are lulled in to mindless chopping. Your feelings seize you when you think you’ve got them beaten in to submission with your whip-like, sharp-minded, ever-mature will and intellect.

Telling yourself not to feel a certain way doesn’t mean the feeling goes away. I had this conversation with a friend just a few days ago where I warned her that your feelings don’t respond well to being ignored, minimized, or intellectualized. Your feelings want to be felt and dealt with. Period. Your intellect is important in working through them but it won’t avoid the inevitable moment where you have to stop, sit on the kitchen floor, and surrender to the suffocating, overwhelming, time-stopping grief that is going to take hold of you whether you want it to or not…it will happen…

…So make it happen on a Tuesday where you don’t have to be anywhere and you aren’t that busy.

Be brave enough to look pain in the face and sit with it until it passes. Then do the only thing you can do and get back to your broccoli. It won’t chop itself.

How to Proceed?

I have no idea if anyone reads this blog…well I guess I should have SOME idea – how can they read something I never write?? I thought I was going to write weekly about being a birthmother. That has proved to be much more challenging than I originally anticipated.

I knew it would be emotionally difficult to write about the early years, those intensely painful times where the adoption was new and fresh and raw. I had no idea it would be just as difficult to write about the present day.

There are a couple of reasons I’m finding writing to be difficult. First, while it isn’t as emotionally intense on a daily basis, it is still a source of deep woundedness in me. I am extremely hard on myself for how I do or do not handle this important relationship and I get mad at myself for some of the feelings I have about how it is handled on the other end. It hurts less to let it lie dormant than to stir it up and try and write about it – it also has less likelihood to hurt anyone else. That leads me to my second hardship.

When thinking about writing about open adoption, its joys, pains, and specifically my story, I find it incredibly difficult to think about working through these thoughts and feelings for anyone to google. I guess it’s not the “anyone” I’m really worried about – it is people I know and care about, who may be reading be wounded or angered by things I have written or feelings/thoughts I’m working through.

I am a peace keeper at heart. I don’t like conflict. I don’t like tension. I don’t like to rock the boat. To be an effective and honest blogger you have to be willing to rock the boat and not really care what the consequences are. That’s just not me.

So, I’m not sure what will become of my birthmother blog. I still want to write my story some day; I’m just not sure yet if my part is the villain, the hero. The truth is I’m probably a bit of both.

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