Four. It’s a number that always sticks with me.
Four days that I will never forget. I’ll never forget the pain, both mentally and physically. I’ll never forget the rush of hormones leaving my body, the unexplainable confusion, and the complete feeling of loneliness. Everything happened so fast that by the time I slowed down to take a breath, I had lived through the most painful, saddest, and darkest four days of my life.
I remember sitting at my parent’s house with them on the couch and feeling completely empty and drained. Days before I was having a baby, which is already terrifying, turning into an emergency c-section where your whole body is a bit rearranged, to seeing this 7-pound newborn baby that was half of my DNA. To finally understanding what unconditional love means. To sitting at home alone hardly able to get up from a chair due to the agonizing pain and sore abdominal muscles…empty-handed.
From walking into the hospital on a Monday, to having an emergency c-section 16 hours after that, and leaving 2 days later to go home with my parents to recover, it was a complete whirlwind. In my head, I was thinking that shortly after a quick weekend at home I could be back at school to start my sophomore year of college.
Being young at the time I don’t think I knew what I was getting myself into. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to choose adoption. I knew I wasn’t ready to be a parent at 19 years old, but I wasn’t prepared for what was to come after the fact. There is no handbook to guide you through this because every journey is unique. When I chose adoption I didn’t know anyone else who experienced this journey, so I felt completely alone. Even though I had my parents, my few friends that knew at the time, and the adoption agency, I couldn’t talk to anyone. I had all of these weird feelings such as sadness, joy, grief, but had no way to explain them to anyone. Even other women who were parents couldn’t understand the weird feelings I was experiencing from having a baby, handing that child over, and living a life without that child.
Of course, only being about 2 days post-c-section, my doctor was skeptical about me leaving the hospital that day, but there was no way I was staying in the hospital any longer. Luckily I was healing okay, so I got released. I’m sure my doctor assumed I would be going home with my parents for several weeks to recover. After sitting at home for 1 day on a Friday, I told my mom I’m going back to school on Tuesday. You can imagine how that statement sounded absolutely insane, but I didn’t want to face my feelings. I’ve been this way most of my life, always staying busy, never staying still, to avoid facing my feelings. At the same time I could barely get up from a chair without being in agonizing pain, but somehow I thought I could walk around a college campus with no problems.
I wouldn’t be anything without my mother. During those days she was completely focused on me and my health, forcing me to get up/out to walk, never criticizing that I wanted to push feelings aside and ignore everything going on, but instead, she was encouraging of my decision to get back to school.
Sure enough, I was back at school less than a week after having a baby. I was achingly desperate to get back into my old routine, get back to my normal life. So, I tried to do just that. I decided that it would be best to give my son and his parents a couple of months to adjust to their new life as parents before I started visiting, even though they were completely open to me visiting at any point. I started to hang out with my old friends again and thought everything was going fine. I did everything I could to surround myself with friends and stay as busy as possible. Little did I know, I was doing that to suppress my thoughts, so I didn’t have too much time alone to think about it. I remember about 2 months after my son was born having a moment alone, complete silence, and breaking down. But I didn’t know why. I didn’t regret my decision at all, but where was this emotion coming from? What did it mean?
That’s just the thing I learned throughout this journey. Emotions can hit you out of nowhere as a birth mother. These emotions are incredibly hard to describe. I remember asking myself,
‘How can I explain this to anyone? I don’t even know how to explain it myself, let alone put it into words.’
I eventually decided to have my first visit about 3-4 months down the road. Getting to sit there and hear about all the little milestones and exciting new things happening with my son and his parents brought me so much joy for them. From that day, I did a complete 180 with my old life. I realized it wasn’t going to be the same. I started to surround myself with different friends, lost friendships along the way, and set my eyes on my personal goals.
I slowly learned that one of the little things I found joy in which would help with those weird feeling is reminding myself of this second chance that I get to have at life. Seeing pictures of this beautiful family, that looks so happy, and just knowing my son will be cared for and loved unconditionally brings me so much peace.
Meanwhile, my small support system of people who knew what I had just gone through, started to be concerned because I wasn’t showing any emotion. To be honest, I had no idea why I wasn’t showing emotion either. It took me years to figure out that I am not emotional about it because I’m not sad about it, but that was very confusing to me.
Society puts this pressure on birthmothers that we “have to cry every day otherwise we don’t love our children”.
We all grieve in different ways and I learned that there is nothing wrong with that.
A very tough lesson I learned early on in this journey is the need to understand your audience. You can't expect everyone you talk with to will fully understand what you're going through. Early on, I confided in the wrong people about my feelings. They didn't understand how their criticizing words were a stab to my heart. I was told by several individuals (familiar and unfamiliar to me) "You took the easy way out","You don't love your child", "You're just giving up", "Your child won't love you back once they find out what you did". Hearing these painful statements made me push my feelings down even further, falling deeper and deeper into a dark place.
I had to find my way through the darkness on my own. I had to discover through self-reflection the coping mechanisms that work for me. I knew I had to fight the mental battle on my own to make it out of the darkest days of my life.
Fighting my own mental battle is what made me a stronger person.
We put this expectation on our old friends to be there for us and understand everything but the truth is that they don't always. Relying on them to have the "right answers" as you battle through the darkest days can become your darkest enemy. If you find yourself in this position, I suggest talking with someone you trust or even the adoption agency you placed through. There are trained professionals who have an abundance of experience with birth mothers and adoption. Talk with other birth mothers as well. I continued to share with my close friends/family as I navigated through this journey, but I learned there's a certain extent to how much I should share for my own sake.
Going through this journey and becoming an even stronger person helped me figure out what I want to do with my life. I want to do something that my son would look up to me one day and be proud of.
My advice to other women is that it’s okay to grieve in different ways and self-reflection is a great way to figure out what tools can help you...
Weird feelings are okay to have.
Talk with other birthmothers because 9 out of 10 times they have experienced the same roller-coaster of feelings that you’re experiencing.
Make sure to remind yourself of the reasons that you chose adoption.
Remember that every journey is different and there is no timeline for what is right or wrong.
Set goals for yourself whether personal or professional to achieve.
Once you better yourself, the more you can give to others around you.
Just remember, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.
This article was written by Shelbi. Shelbi is a birth mom from Kansas City who is passionate about helping other birth moms feel a little less alone. Fun fact! November of 2018 Shelbi got married to her college sweetheart of 5 years and her birth son got to play such a special role in her wedding day as the ring bearer!
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