Should You Go See a Therapist?

Counselor with Young White Woman

 

Way more people are in therapy than you think.

Many of us resist the idea of going to see a professional counselor, therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist because we assume that “normal” people don’t need to talk to a professional about how they are feeling – but nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, a recent poll showed that more than one in every four adults had gotten counseling in the past two years. To put that in context, consider this: only one in five Americans has a tattoo. You read that correctly: therapy is more common than getting a tattoo.

Susan Cahill once said, “Life isn’t easy for most people,” and she’s right. Millions of us have, at some time, gotten to the point where our emotions just feel like more than we can handle. And while grief and sadness are normal parts of the adoption process for birth parents, if months have passed and you’re still not feeling like yourself, it might be a good idea to seek professional help. Here is a list of signs that it may be that time.

  • You feel sad or worried most of the time.
  • You are angrier and more irritable than usual.
  • You can’t stop thinking about things that upset you, like the adoption.
  • You have negative feelings about yourself, like that you are worthless or a bad person.
  • You aren’t interested in doing any of the things you used to enjoy.
  • The steps you would normally take to make yourself feel better aren’t working.
  • Your performance at work or school has gotten worse.
  • Your behavior has led your friends and family members to start acting differently towards you.
  • You get unexplainable headaches or stomachaches or find that you’re getting sick all the time.
  • You are abusing drugs or alcohol to help you feel better.

Walking into a counselor’s office can feel scary; you might feel embarrassed about needing to be there, or worried that you’ll be judged harshly for decisions you’ve made. But remember that the person in the chair across from you chose this job because they want to help people who are having a tough time. They’ve talked to all sorts of individuals with all sorts of problems. They don’t believe there is anything crazy about needing to talk to someone– so why should you?

Making an adoption plan can knock you off kilter for a bit. But we’ve seen many folks in your position successfully work through their feelings, even when those feelings seemed completely overwhelming to at first. You deserve to be happy, and if you’re having a hard time getting there, then we hope you’ll reach out to get the support you need. If you’re not sure where to find a therapist, give us a call and we’ll help connect you. Because hey, if Halle Berry can do it, then so can you.


How to Live in the Moment


It’s easy to get distracted by the chatter in your head.

For Laura Gladden, “Feelings of guilt, sadness, anger, grieving, and incompetence flooded her mind” after she placed her daughter for adoption. “Did I make the best decision? Will I regret this later? Will [the birth father] ever understand why I placed her?” Sometimes, says Laura, those questions and fears still strike her. “A lot of times,” she says, “I felt the urge to sink back to my old ways…I think this is pretty common with birth moms. We are so full of so many emotions that we sometimes don’t feel capable of becoming bigger and better.”

We all spend time replaying moments of our lives, and we all have regrets or fears about the future. This is normal, but it can also be harmful, because when we spend all of our time listening to our anxieties, we miss out on what’s going on right now. We stop being aware of our lives as they are happening – and it’s difficult to be happy when we’re not even paying attention.

Here are a few ways to slow down and savor each moment when you’re feeling haunted by old feelings or anxieties.

  • Breathe deeply. When we feel stress, our breathing automatically becomes more shallow, which works us up into even more of a crisis state. In other words, science shows that “just breathing” really can help you calm down!
  • Concentrate on small moments. For example, when you’re eating, focus on each individual taste. Don’t let your mind wander and start thinking about other things.
  • Spend a few minutes just sitting and relaxing. Leave your phone in another room and turn off the TV. Close your eyes and concentrate on relaxing your body. When your mind starts to wander, bring it back to the present moment, even if you have to actually repeat the word “Now” over and over to yourself.
  • Keep a journal AND read through it regularly so that you’re really thinking about what’s happening in your life right now.
  • Notice something new about everyday routines. Our whole day is composed of very small moments and tasks – how long has it been since you really thought about them individually? What do you love about getting your kids ready in the morning? What is relaxing about your get-ready-for-bed routine? As you go through the motions of your day, take a second to pay attention to exactly what you are doing and appreciate the little things.

If you practice these techniques and learn to “live in the moment” in your daily life, you may find that when life does get difficult again (and whose life doesn’t?), you’ll already be in the habit of reacting in ways that help you stay happy and healthy.

How do you keep yourself in the present moment when old anxieties threaten to resurface?


Guest Post: Embracing Your Feelings

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image c/o www.clairetimberlake.com

To follow up on our post about allowing yourself to heal, we wanted to re-post a comment that guest blogger Shana wrote back in 2008. At the time she wrote this comment, it had been nine years since she placed her son.

In reference to the difficult times … for a long time I pushed them away, refused to feel. I was so overwhelmed with guilt for all the things I had done wrong, and finally I allowed myself to really look at my son’s photo sent to me in an update. He was smiling so big and laughing and happy, and that minute gave me insight into what I had done right. I started to focus on the rightness of the whole thing. I stopped pushing away my feelings and embraced them instead. Now I’m not saying it is easy because it isn’t, but I know that I made the right decision, and I am proud of it. I know my son is happy and loved. Knowing this makes it easier to focus on the positive of it all. I just had to let go of all that negative focus. I think sometimes we get so used to feeling bad about our decision that we think it is normal. It doesn’t have to be that way. It is a huge burden for a child to carry, to be the cause of such pain and sadness in our lives. I don’t want my son to feel that way, I want him to know I’m proud of him and I’m proud of his parents, me included. I want him to know it hasn’t been always easy, but that it was worth it … for him!


Are You Letting Yourself Heal?

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c/o healingenergy.com.au

Pain doesn’t just go away by itself.

Losing a loved one, whether through death, divorce, or something else – like adoption – isn’t an event whose consequences you can just “wait out.”

But grief can be so raw and feel so unbearable that our brains tell us we simply cannot deal with it. We let ourselves become numb, burying and ignoring the pain, and we simply wait for it to pass and for life to get easier. Some of us do this by sleeping in bed all day or by distracting ourselves with hours and hours of junk TV. Others fill up every moment of every day with activities so they won’t have time to think about how they feel. For example, Chelcie at BirthMom Buds describes how she “went back to school about two months after [having her daughter] and lost 50 pounds in five months through diet and exercise.”

Numbing yourself to pain is a normal part of the grieving process – but only for a few weeks. If months have passed and you are still not allowing yourself to feel the pain of your loss, that means you are not healing. For Chelcie, that meant that “one day it all hit me. I was just plain sad. I had never let myself truly grieve for what had taken place.”

We sometimes suggest to clients, especially those who have other children or particularly busy lives, that they actually schedule fifteen minutes a day just to “feel their feelings” by talking to someone, writing or drawing their emotions, or just sitting or walking alone. It is important to give yourself time to sit with your emotions and let them hit you without trying to push them away.

As writer Carol Crandall states, “You don’t heal from the loss of a loved one because time passes; you heal because of what you do with the time.” Healing doesn’t just happen on its own, which is why you can’t bury your pain and expect it to pass. Kelsey, who placed her son for adoption five years ago, explains, “I gave my heart when I chose another family for my son.”

Healing from such a loss can’t possibly be easy, but that’s not the end of the story for Kelsey – or for anyone who has grieved their parenthood for a child. “I feel it constantly and the pain has not gone away,” she says. “I know it never will. However, the pain is only one piece of the puzzle.” If you can sit with your suffering, endure it, and work through it, you can come out on the other side. That pain will still be a part of you, but it won’t define you. It won’t keep you from living, loving, or being happy in your life. If you run from your feelings, on the other hand, “they will catch up to you and hit you harder.”

Have you ever numbed yourself to the pain of adoption? How were you able to heal?


The Most Dangerous Stereotype About Birth Fathers

african american dad with two children

 

Not too long ago, I met someone who asked me what I did for a living. When I responded that I worked in adoption and reproductive health, he asked, “Is it true that none of the fathers stick around?”

Of course that’s not true! I told him that there are plenty of men who are supportive of the pregnancy choices of their sexual partners and who make thoughtful and difficult decisions about parenting or placing for adoption.

His assumption was based on a common stereotype about birth fathers and, really, about many fathers in general: that they don’t care what happens to their children and don’t want to be part of their lives. This stereotype is untrue – and harmful. Assuming that birth fathers don’t care to be a part of the adoption or parenting processes can lead adoption professionals to shut them out and deny them the important opportunity to play a role in their child’s life.

We have worked with birth fathers who either disappeared when told them about the pregnancy or tried to stop the adoption despite having no intention of taking custody of their child. In situations like these, or in situations where the pregnancy was the result of casual sex, it can be difficult for birth mothers to talk about their child’s birth father. If the two of them have had a tumultuous relationship, that doesn’t help.

But we have also worked with many caring and wonderful birth fathers who made important decisions about their child’s future and continue to remain involved, whether through parenting or open adoption. Many of those who chose adoption helped to pick the family and make an openness agreement, and some were also present at the hospital for their baby’s delivery. We’ve also worked with multiple birth fathers who decided to parent their child, either with or without the child’s birth mother.

The 1991 cases of “Baby Jessica” and “Baby Richard” highlighted the dangers of excluding birth fathers from the adoption process. In both cases, a birth mother placed her baby for adoption without notifying the birth father. Each birth father found out and went to court, and both of them eventually gained custody of their children. Adoption “disruptions” like these are painful for everyone but especially traumatic for children, even if they are still babies or toddlers. Notifying these birth fathers to begin with would have been not only more ethical but ultimately less traumatic for their children.

At Adoptions Together, we always search for birth fathers who do not contact us themselves, not only because we never want to have a Baby Jessica or Baby Richard situation but because we believe that birth fathers have the right to be part of the decision making process and to play a role in their child’s life if they want to. We realize that it can be easy to forget to include birth fathers because agencies are likely to be in more frequent contact with birth mothers, which makes sense considering that birth mothers go through physical changes that birth fathers do not, and cannot separate themselves from a pregnancy the way a birth father technically can. In our experience, birth mothers tend to be more open about their feelings as well – but then again, maybe that is because birth fathers might not expect anyone to care about how they feel. As a professional at Spence-Chapin, a New York adoption agency, said a few years ago,  “We have to become more birth father friendly…It can take a lot of courage for a birth father to walk through the doors of an adoption agency.” She pointed out that it would help for agencies to hire more male social workers and to offer more resources for birth fathers.

If you’re the birth father of a child being placed for adoption, we hope you’ll follow this blog, read about your rights, and get involved in whatever way works for you and your child’s birth mother. If you choose adoption, you have the same right to yearly meetings with your child and your child’s family, and to letter and picture updates, as your child’s birth mother does – no matter what your relationship is to her. The adoption community doesn’t portray birth fathers as part of the adoption process as frequently as they ought to, but you’re important. You’re important to us, you’re important to the adoption process, and most importantly, you are important to your child’s life.


The Worst Thing to Say to a Birth Parent

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You’ve probably heard it a million times.

“I could never give my baby up for adoption!”

Not only is it a ridiculous thing to say (because how do they know that? Unless they’ve had to actually consider it at some point, they have no idea what they’d do in that situation) but it’s also flat-out mean! It implies that there is something wrong with birth parents, as though good people are simply incapable of making adoption plans.

That’s ridiculous! As Jill’s friend Tamra once said, “If I’d loved my baby just an ounce less, I would have kept her. I placed her because I love her.” When a birth parent chooses adoption, they put themselves through one of the most difficult emotional, spiritual, and physical ordeals a person can endure, usually because they feel it is what’s right for their child. How could a person’s willingness to experience a deep and profound loss in order to ensure their child’s well-being possibly be selfish?

Adoption isn’t for everyone, and there is nothing wrong with someone deciding they cannot place their child for adoption. But as a birth parent, you know that making an adoption plan is sometimes the most unselfish, loving choice a parent can make for their child. So the next time someone declares to you that they “could never give up” their baby, remind yourself what it means that you did choose adoption for your child. Remember the reasons why you made your decision. Because at the end of the day, no one really knows what they’d have done in your shoes, and no pregnancy decision is selfish if it feels right to the person making it.


Stop Whatever You’re Doing and Read This Right Now!

The craziness of the holiday season can make us feel like we just don’t have the time to really stop and plan to do the things we should to take care of ourselves. It’s easy enough to say we’ll treat ourselves to something nice while we’re doing our holiday shopping, but how likely are we to really do that when we’re fighting for parking at the mall on Christmas Eve?

In a perfect world, we’d always slow down and take all the time we needed to care for ourselves. We’d sleep when we were tired and stay in bed when we felt sick. We’d read this blog post on surviving the holidays and follow every piece of advice in it.

But life is chaotic and we can’t always do that, so sometimes we have to find ways to take care of ourselves that don’t involve too much planning.

Below is a list of self-care “quick fixes” that each take five minutes or less. They won’t slow you down or keep you from getting to everything on your to-do list. So if you find yourself getting overwhelmed this month, stop what you’re doing, pick one of these activities, and take a quick self-care break. Your sanity will thank you.

  • Call a friend to wish them a happy holiday
  • Treat yourself to a favorite snack
  • Close your eyes and breathe deeply
  • Take a walk around the neighborhood
  • Dance to your favorite song
  • Stand up and stretch
  • Drink a cup of tea
  • Write a list of things for which you’re grateful
  • Schedule a self-care appointment (whether that means an appointment for therapy – or for a pedicure!)
  • Light a scented candle
  • Eat something green (did you know green foods boost your mood?)
  • Write a journal entry
  • Look at a few of your favorite photos

Which of these activities will you do to help you stay relaxed this holiday season? 


Dear Birth Parents: A Letter from an Adoptee

Today we share with you a letter written by Juliana Whitney, who was adopted as a newborn and has maintained a relationship with both of her biological parents and many of their family members. We asked Juliana to write about what she, as an adoptee, thought birth parents should know. For more by Juliana Whitney, visit www.ThatAdoptedGirl.com.

Dear Birth Parents,

How are you? I miss you. I can only hope that you miss me too. Do you wonder what I’m doing? I wonder what you are doing everyday. I wonder what your personalities are like and what traits of mine are similar to yours. I have this goofy laugh that I’m sure comes from one of you. There’s no way I just came up with it all on my own.

I wonder if you love me still, because I love you. Even though we haven’t been together to build a relationship, it’s like somewhere deep inside my heart knows you, and loves you truly. I like to think that your heart feels the same way.

I know you were probably sad when you gave me to my parents, but you knew you were doing the right thing. I know you probably worry that I will be mad at you, or that I will be sad and hurt. I’m not mad at you. I understand your decision. If you thought my life would be better off this way, I will trust that you were right. As for sad and hurt, of course I’m sad and hurt. It’s only natural to be sad. But my sadness doesn’t take away from the amazing family I have and it doesn’t take away from how grateful I am that you loved me so much that you gave me to parents who could give me the life you thought I deserved. The life you couldn’t provide. That takes a lot of courage and I will be forever grateful to you for having that courage.

Your courage got me to where I am now and I am actually doing really well in this family you chose for me. I am super loved and anytime I face a struggle, my family is here to support me. I hope that you have the same kind of love in your life. Whatever it is that you are doing, I hope that you are loved and that you are happy. You are allowed to be happy. You might know that, I just worry that you will feel guilty about giving me up and that could make it difficult for you to be happy. There’s no need to feel guilty. I’m ok. Don’t worry. Yes, my separation from you left a wound but everyone has some type of wound. You and I share our wound. Our separation is our wound. Luckily, over time wounds can heal. They leave scars so you’ll never forget them, but at least they heal.

I hope you never forget me because I will never forget you. Even though I have never met you, I will think about you for the rest of my life, probably everyday for the rest of my life. I hope that you think of me too. And when you think of me, do so with pride. Do so knowing that you did something positive for me and for my parents. Do so not with guilt, not with shame, but with joy. Just as much as you don’t want to be the cause of my sadness, I don’t want to be the cause of yours either. Ok?

The reality is that maybe I will see you again, but maybe I won’t. Whatever the case may be, just know that my heart will never forget you and at least a little part of me will always miss you.

Love always and forever,

Your sweet child


A Birth Parent’s Guide to Surviving the Holidays

“I hate the fact that I can only see him during Christmas at an agency party. I hate the fact that I can’t watch him open his presents on Christmas morning. I hate the fact that he’s not here. I just miss him so much.” – Annie at BirthMom Buds 

Because the holiday season is all about celebrating love and family, it can be a very difficult time for birth parents. If you placed your child recently and your grief is still fresh, your adopted child’s absence at the Thanksgiving table or on Christmas Eve may feel practically unbearable. If you placed many years ago, the intensity of that pain has probably subsided, but that doesn’t mean you won’t think about your child or wonder what this season might have been like if you’d made a different choice.

Below are some suggestions for taking care of yourself if you’re having difficulty finding the joy in this holiday season.

Reach out for support.

It’s okay to feel like you can’t handle this time of year on your own – you don’t have to. No one can take the place of your child, but that doesn’t mean other people can’t support you. Reach out to the people who have listened and been kind to you in the past, whether they’re family members, friends, social workers, or counselors. Many organizations have support groups over the holidays for people experiencing grief, so e-mail us if you’d like a referral. We can also set you up to talk with another birth mother if you think that would be helpful.

Give to others …. but prioritize YOU.

Your family may have a specific tradition or idea about how the holidays should be spent, and that’s great if those plans make you feel comforted and loved. But if they don’t– if, for example, your family was not supportive of your adoption plan, and thinking about spending lots of extra time with them around the Christmas tree stresses you out – then you may need to decide beforehand just how much time you want to spend with other people and how to balance your needs with theirs. Setting boundaries with people takes a lot of reflection and strength, and it may mean starting some new traditions instead of sticking to old ones. Remember, your health and well-being are important and deserve to be your top priority.

Start a new tradition.

Find a way to incorporate your child into your personal celebrations. Light a candle for them, make a special ornament to hang on the tree, or do something as simple as decorating with their favorite color. If you have an open adoption, write your child a holiday card or make them a gift to send in the mail; if you’re parenting other children, they can draw pictures to include in the package, too. Even if you are not in touch with your adopted child, you may find it comforting to write to them anyway, even if the letter never actually gets mailed.

Be thankful – or don’t.

Expressing sadness doesn’t make you ungrateful. In the same way that it’s possible to miss your child while also believing adoption was the best decision, it’s also possible to feel upset over the holidays while also giving thanks for what you and your child both have. And if you’re feeling too depressed or angry to give thanks, that’s okay, too! Your emotions are valid; there is no “wrong way” to feel. If you’re yearning for a little cheering up, volunteering can be a great way to help others, feel good about yourself, and remember how much you have to be thankful for.

The holidays may always be a little bittersweet for you as a birth parent, but they will become easier over the years. What will you do to take care of yourself and to celebrate this holiday season?


Surviving the Time You Have to Change Your Mind

The first days and weeks you spend without your baby are likely to be the most difficult part of your adoption experience.

Many birth mothers feel devastated, strangely numb, or both. Several have described waking up in the middle of the first night and panicking when they remember having placed their baby the day before. These emotions are powerful, and they are often intensified by the fact that, depending on the state where you live, you may still have the option of changing your mind about the adoption.

Whereas in some states an adoption is legally completed as soon as the birth parents sign the paperwork, other states have a period of time called a “revocation period” during which the birth parents can still regain custody of their child if they decide to do so. In Maryland, birth parents have thirty days to change their mind; in DC it’s fourteen days, and in Virginia it’s seven days.

Renee of the blog Letters to Little Man said of North Carolina’s ten day revocation period, “That policy was torture. Those were the worst 10 days of my life.” She agonized about her decision to place and went back and forth on a daily basis. Jessalyn at Birthmothers4Adoption said almost the exact same thing about revocation periods: “Can anyone say torture?! When emotions are at an all time high, the absolute worst thing is to force a birthmom to rehash her decision every moment of every day for thirty entire days, a decision that she has most likely already been making for months prior to the birth.”

But is it really the worst thing to do? The revocation period is extraordinarily difficult, yes, and we believe our clients when they tell us they’re glad once it’s over – but we feel that it is important for birth parents to have that time to fully make up their mind about what’s best for them and their baby. This is especially true for our many clients who haven’t been planning for adoption since the beginning of their pregnancies. We have worked with a number of women who were originally planning to parent but changed their minds hastily when their support networks didn’t come through for them. It is crucial for these clients to have a period of time during which they can process their decision and change their minds if they need to.

When we meet birth mothers who want to waive their rights to proceed under their state’s law specifically so that they will not have a revocation period, it’s actually a sign to us that we may need to slow the adoption down and give them more time to process and reflect on what’s happening. If a birth mother knows for sure that she is going to regret her decision afterwards, then we need to talk to her about why she is forcing herself to make this choice, and whether there is another way.

After all, it’s one thing to grieve and to wonder, “What if?” in the days after your baby’s placement; it’s another to feel certain that you made the wrong choice and want to regain custody of your child. If you don’t want to have the option to change your mind because you are afraid that’s what you will do, your brain is telling you something important. Placing your baby for adoption will be an incredibly hard decision no matter what, but if you don’t trust yourself to stick with the plan you’ve made, it might be because a part of you still doesn’t believe it’s the right choice for you.

Did you have a revocation period when you made an adoption plan for your baby? What was that time like for you?