on birth and loss, and feeling all the feelings

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

I've had the hardest time writing here the past few weeks.

Because this is the place where I tell the truth, and lately I haven't wanted to feel the truth.  Momastery talks often about feeling all the feelings.  I'm terrible at it; avoidance is more my style.  I am a withdraw-er, an "ignore it and it will go away"-er.  If you don't believe me, just open the door to the play room sometime.

I've tried shutting the door on this too, but when I do,
I shut out everything meaningful and good as well.  And I know acknowledgement carries astonishing power.  Once emotion is out, you're free.  Until then, you're like the Dursleys, staring down Dumbledore while a wine glass taps your head.  Just grab the glass, already.

So.  Here it is.

My baby's birthday is Friday, and I'm dreading it.  But for none of the reasons mothers usually dread their last baby's first birthday.

Maybe you saw on the About page that my family once experienced a failed adoption of sorts.
When I was in college, I was a youth minister.  I shared some of the happiest, most spiritually-infused years of my life with a little country church in rural Alabama.  Anyway, there was this kid in my group who was loved by the others, a natural leader at school.  But she was nervous, always moving, rarely looking someone in the eye.  All was not well.

It is hard to put into words, but I'll do my best.  The moment I met her, I knew I would know her the rest of my life.  I knew she needed love, the kind of love that becomes a root from which everything else grows.  She needed the kind of love God gives, and if we're lucky, we receive through our families.  The moment I met her, I knew she didn't have it, and I knew offering it to her would be a part of my life's work.  God sets the lonely in families, He restores the years the locusts have eaten.  My then-boyfriend, now-husband and I knew offering her an emotional and spiritual home was part of our life's calling. So we did.

And it worked.  Not that a thing like that "works," but it flowed naturally.  For fifteen years I nurtured and encouraged her, I interceded for her, and I lived out, to the best of my ability, how God loves us.  All was as it should be.  Until February 2012, when we asked if she wanted to change her last name to ours.  It felt like a natural extension of what already existed, a way to officially acknowledge what had been true all along.  She belonged with us.  She loved the idea.  We had a party, made announcements, gave her a necklace with her new initials.  It was a beautiful, exciting, restorative time in our lives.

Then all hell broke loose.

Which surprises exactly no one who has ever adopted a child.  Except, "hell" with a two-year-old and "hell" with an adult are very different.  The issues and responses are different, boundaries are different, complicating factors like PTSD triggers and living in different places are all different.  And honestly, I was ignorant, unprepared, completely bowled over by the tidal wave of negative emotion that followed.  We all were.

I was also in the middle of my own turmoil, and I was pregnant with my fourth baby.  Looking back, everyone involved did the best they could to deal with what followed, but ultimately the damage ran deep for all of us.  It rippled through her personal life and well-being, through my anxiety and my marriage.  We all did the best we could, but it just unraveled.

Just as my baby boy was born.

There was an argument on the phone while I was still in the hospital recovering from a c-section.  A blow-up when she visited a few days later, and from there it got worse.  I can say now that it had to fall apart.  Boundaries had to be re-established, she had to deal with her own stuff, my marriage needed time to heal on its own.  There really was no way to stop that freight train from derailing.

Still.  It all happened while I was having a baby.  There were no moments of gazing at my tiny infant in wonder, no dozing with his tiny body curled on my chest.  At the same time I nurtured and loved him (and I do love him, so much), I also lost her.

It leaves a mama's heart ... conflicted.

I'm not the first woman to experience a birth and a loss at the same time, I know.  But it complicates and colors what should be a naturally sweet time in life.  The soul-bursting love, the sunlight streaming gratitude for my new baby, just never happened.  The instincts are all there, the love for him has never wavered.  But that encompassing, deep, gut-level emotion that we euphemistically call "bonding" just hasn't happened yet.

Now it's his first birthday.  We are all healed and healing.  My sweet newborn waves bye-bye, reaches his arms out to me, and calls "uh-oh!" every time he throws something down.  My marriage is strong again, my kids are thriving.  And my youth group girl (who of course is no longer a girl) is healing too.  She has regained her equilibrium.  Without us.

But something was lost a year ago this week, something beautiful and fragile that can never be recovered.  I lost the joy of my last baby's infancy, I lost an image of my family that I held dear for a long time, and I lost someone I loved deeply.  Everything happened at once, and we are all changed by the experience.  It feels traitorous to admit my grief, to confess I never had that moment - that soul-bursting moment fueling all the rest of parenting - with my baby.  But it's true.  It's all true.

Still, I am hopeful.  His infancy was not what I envisioned, but motherhood is a long road, and I love this baby boy of mine so much.  God will restore the years the locusts have eaten to us, too.  And while my family does not look the way I thought it would, that too is in God's hand.  Good will come, even from this, in time.

In the meantime, I plan a birthday party.  I hold my baby close, and kiss his fuzzy head.  I smile when she emails, relieved to hear she is okay too.  And I work not to shut the door, to feel all the feelings, even the hard ones.  Because I believe in a wide mercy, I believe in a big God.  And I can only find His constant, reassuring love when I open the door and let Him in.

1 comment:

  1. Oh glad and sad all at the same time can be terribly conflicting. Your little one needs his mama, and you are there to give him your love. The Girl realizes she is loved, but perhaps at the last minute she rebelled at the adoption. I am glad you are still in touch at least by e-mail. Thank you for sharing with us here at "Tell Me a Story."



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