Savanna’s 9th birthday was at the beginning of August. She had been counting down the days, weeks, and months since May…so we were all anticipating it and excited for the day to finally be upon us. A couple of days before her birthday, Savanna asked us what time she was born. There are so many stories we don’t have the luxury of knowing and being able to share. But, we do have her birth certificate. So on the morning of Savanna’s birthday I brought her to the safe, unlocked it, and took out her birth certificate. 11:46am. She immediately declared, “So I’m still 8, Mom!” I had every intention of making a big deal at 11:46 but totally lost track of time. We were having people over so I was doing some last minute cleaning up when Savanna came charging up from the basement, frantically calling my name, and pointing to the time on her watch. We all celebrated that she was finally 9!!!
As excited as I was for Savanna, a big part of me was overcome with a heaviness of grief. Savanna’s birthday served as a stark reminder of times and things we never got to experience with the girls.
I long to be able to have memories that I can share with the girls. Like feeling them move, and seeing them through the ultrasound. Or, how they were with crying, eating and sleeping. When they learned to crawl and walk and talk. The girls often ask about these things and it’s hard not being able to give them real answers.
Some of the things I can reconcile and while it nudges at my heart, it doesn’t break it. Like not knowing the joy of learning of the pregnancy, sharing the news with loved ones, watching my belly grow and marking the monthly milestones with baby bump pictures, or ensuring I did everything possible to give my babies a healthy start. Memories of feeling their first kicks, singing to them while they were in my womb, or hearing their first cries. For the most part, these are things that I go through seasons of healthy grieving and have been able to process, accept, and then let go of.
But then there are other things that tug hard at my heart. So hard that they break it wide open. Like not being there to soothe their cries and meet their most basic needs. I think it’s so hard because from what we know, those basic and most important needs went completely unmet. This year Savanna’s birthday flooded me with heartache and grief, more so than the others, because we recently learned that her early days were not easy. Born at just over 4 pounds she had to fight hard to survive. We know from limited hospital records that she spent 39 days in the NICU and then was in and out of the hospital during her first year. I wonder if anyone from her biological family was there to love on her during those 39 days? From what we know about the history, it’s unlikely anyone visited very much. This thought brings me to tears.
We are blessed to have a lot of babies in our lives right now – both family and friends. Seeing the unconditional love, affection, and endless positive feedback these kiddos get has also been pulling on my heart strings pretty heavily the past few months. All children need and deserve this; their survival and healthy development depends on it! The girls missed out on this. Their most critical years of development were full of chaos, confusion, instability, abuse, and neglect.
We live through the repercussions of this trauma on a daily basis. For so long I have been the strong one. I take the lead in participating in therapy, working with the school to secure services, and do the therapeutic work at home and in the community. People often ask me how I do it, and the truth is, I feel it is my calling and purpose. As hard as it may get, it brings me joy and I wouldn’t choose it any other way.
This summer, though, I went through a period of grieving. I think it can be hard to talk about grief as an adoptive parent because adoption is viewed as a problem-solving event filled with such joy and happy endings. Initially, I didn’t talk about all I was feeling. Aside from feeling guilty for even feeling it, I was embarrassed as my grief had reached a point of anger, regret, and resentment.
I was angry over lost opportunities and the aftermath that we live on a daily basis. And as much as I hate to admit this, I found myself feeling various regrets and resentments as we spent time with families who were raising their biological children.
I became overwhelmed with wanting to be able to raise the girls from birth. With this, I imagined how our life today would be so much different…
Maybe they wouldn’t project their feelings of hate and anger towards their biological parents at us (mostly me) when triggered. I have sported many bruises and some scars from being attacked, because in those moments of flashbacks, my girls honestly believe I am their biological mom.
Maybe their “go to” vocabulary wouldn’t be crude and curse words.
Maybe they wouldn’t struggle with their concepts of self-worth and have such lost self-esteem.
Maybe we wouldn’t have had to spend hours a night going through a rocking protocol (which the girls fought all the way) in an attempt to establish healthy bonding and attachments.
Maybe we wouldn’t have had to hospitalize our child for suicidal and homicidal ideations at the tender age of 5.
Maybe they wouldn’t be obsessed with their looks, believing they aren’t “sexy” without make-up and innapropriate clothing.
Maybe they wouldn’t be overcome with fears of horror film characters like Chucky, Jason or Michael Meyers coming to hurt and sometimes even kill them. Or other fears resulting from their PTSD that still cause Shianne to have night terrors.
Maybe they wouldn’t gorge on their food because even after 5 years they worry about when, what, and where they’ll eat next.
Maybe they wouldn’t be obsessed with boyfriends and other sexual content. Or feel the need to be hyper sexualized because this behavior was expected of them, and deeply ingrained in their minds and bodies from the sexual abuse.
Maybe they could tolerate and respond to healthy discipline rather than be overcome with fear that we will hurt them.
Maybe they would be further along in their academics because they would have had opportunities to read and learn their colors, numbers, and letters rather than being exposed to explicit language , movies, and innapropriate behaviors.
…the list could go on and on…but most importantly, my heart always turns back to breaking for the love and care my girls never got in their most critical years.
I knew all these messy feelings I was having weren’t going to go away on their own; there was clearly work to be done. The first step in this was sharing how I was feeling with Jeff and a dear friend. They were very supportive and I felt a huge weight lifted. By sharing my truth, I set myself free to attend to the areas of my mind, heart, and soul that were in need of some TLC.
It had been an intense summer as it was the first summer I wasn’t working and had the girls home with me. With Jeff traveling and working extra hours, I was go-go-going in caring for the girls and hadn’t taken enough “me” time. There were definitely times my anger and resentment got the best of me, and I responded to the girls in ways I am not proud of. This added more regret to the pile of my messiness.
We decided a Mama break was in order so at the end of August, Jeff took the girls to visit with his family in North Carolina.
There was plenty of work to be done around the house and it would have been much easier for me to dodge confronting my anger, regret, and resentment by getting lost in house and yard work. Instead though, I held space for myself and practiced being still.
Sure enough, the more still and quiet I allowed myself to become, the more I heard my heart and soul speaking to me. I decided this would be a good time to work on the iceburg exercise that I wrote about in my Sunshine & Anchors post. Remember the tip of the iceburg, what lies beneath, the sunshine, and the anchors?
The tips of my iceburgs were the resentment and anger. It was important for me to understand what was underneath the surface. This was one of the hardest parts. I stayed still, practiced kindness, and gave myself lots of grace…which allowed me to identify some of my underlying feelings. These included jealousy, fears, perceived inadequacies, unmet needs, feeling pressured, and feeling judged. Now that I’ve identified and accepted these, I have begun to work through them.
During my week alone, I was able to tap into plenty of my sunshine. Things like reading my favorite blogs with a cup of tea, walking, cuddling with the dogs, warm baths with lavender, writing, and listening to music. The important thing moving forward is committing to making and taking the time to access my sunshine on a daily basis.
A breakthrough moment came to me when I inadvertently came across my anchor. I was reading my favorite blog, Hands Free Mama. I love everything Rachel Macy Stafford writes. This post was about Do-Overs. We use this concept a lot in our house, so I was expecting to read what I already knew: that we all deserve them and they are a helpful learning strategy. As it turned out, though, the main point was much more paramount and exactly what I needed to keep me grounded.
While Rachel was writing about regrets from parenting choices she wished she had made and done differently, I was really able to relate how I was feeling with all the things I was wishing I could change in the girls’ lives.
It is today. It is not yesterday. And today brings me endless opportunities to parent, teach, and love my girls. Spending time wondering “what if”, wishing things would be different, or worrying about regrets takes away time, energy, and love that my girls need and deserve from me today.
It is today. It is not yesterday. These seemingly simple words struck a chord and they have become my anchor as I’ve worked through this latest phase of my grief.
I am looking forward to each of the todays I am afforded to mother my girls. And rather than thinking about the “what ifs” and how life would “maybe” be different, I will choose to show up and be inspired by all that Chelsea, Savanna, and Shianne are today. When I keep showing up fully present with love, the girls will continue to heal and reach their full potential.