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The War Between Your Head and Heart

 

head vs. heart

I’m a war, of head versus heart,

And it’s always this way.

My head is weak, my heart always speaks,

Before I know what it will say.

–“Crooked Teeth” by Death Cab for Cutie

Making an adoption decision is often a battle between your head and your heart.

Even if you’re not normally an indecisive person, there’s a good chance that if you’re considering adoption, you’re feeling incredibly conflicted. Many of our clients feel like their head is telling them one thing, while their heart is telling them another. Their head might be saying, “You can’t take care of your other kids if you parent another baby” or “How are you going to finish your education if you become a mom?” while their heart is responding, “But I love my baby! I don’t want to say goodbye to them!”

Or their head might be saying, “I can afford to support this baby. There’s no logical reason for adoption,” while their heart is saying, “But I don’t want to be a mom right now” or “It’s not the right time for another child.”

When we’re feeling indecisive, we often find ourselves looking for signs or trying to get someone to make the decision for us. For example, losing your job might make your head scream “See? You can’t support this baby!” or watching your other children play might cause your heart to say, “Look! You’ll love this child as much as you love them!” You might ask your counselor, friends, or family members what they think you should do. They can provide guidance, but in the end, the decision is yours.

Either your head or your heart is most likely going to take up a little more space in your decision making; but that doesn’t mean you’re ignoring the other one. If your head is telling you to choose adoption and you decide to go forward with it, that doesn’t mean you don’t love your baby with your whole heart. If your heart is telling you that adoption is the wrong choice, deciding to parent doesn’t make you foolish or illogical.

And remember, your decision doesn’t have to “make sense.” For example, folks who know they can support a baby but do not want to parent sometimes have an especially hard time making a decision because they feel that choice will be hard for others to understand. But it’s okay to listen to your heart over your head, just like it’s okay to listen to your head over your heart.

Adoption decisions are rarely obvious. No matter what you do, your head and your heart are likely to fight with one another and with you. The question is what choice you can live with, both now and in the future. What do your brain and your heart tell you is most important in your life? How will you think and feel about your adoption decision in two years? What about ten?

What did your head and heart tell you about your adoption decision?


3 Birth Father Tributes You Should Read

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Yes, Father’s Day was last weekend, but hey, better to write about it late than to never write about it at all!

Of course there was not nearly enough blogging about the importance of birth fathers in celebration of last Sunday’s holiday, but we did find a few lovely tributes to birth fathers. Here are our favorites.

  • Since we’ve been talking a lot lately about adoptees’ feelings towards their birth parents, this essay by an adoptee about the birth father she has never met is both timely and thought-provoking. As we’ve found in a lot of essays about birth parents, the writer does not seem to feel any anger toward her birth father; she’s just full of “questions I would want to ask him should I ever have the opportunity.” (You can read our other posts on this topic here and here).

How was your Father’s Day? Did you read anything about adoption or birth fathers that you particularly enjoyed?


How Your Post-Placement Contact Agreement Can Help You Heal

tom_hunter_woman

image c/o Tom Hunter via www.saatchigallery.com

Is it possible to predict how you’ll feel after placement?

The short answer is no. Every person is different, and your emotions will vary based on your personal situation and on how you handle life’s hurdles in general.

The longer answer is …. sort of. The Donaldson Adoption Institute found in an early 2000s study that birth parents who chose their child’s adoptive family and who had ongoing contact – or in some cases just a little bit of information about their child’s well-being – had lower levels of grief after placement and felt more at peace with their decision than did birth parents with closed adoptions. 

Women with the highest levels of grief after adoption were those who thought they would have ongoing contact with their child but whose adoptions ended up being closed. This can happen for many different reasons; check out our blog post “When Adoption Is Less Open than You Thought” to learn more. When open adoptions close, it is often because they were arranged through a for-profit adoption facilitator; facilitators generally end their involvement after they’ve been paid by the adoptive family, which means there is no one around after placement to make sure the lines of communication stay open.

Ethical adoption organizations agree that birth parents who specify from the beginning that they want to have contact with their biological children have the right to do so, which is why organizations like Adoptions Together also believe that post-placement contact agreements – the plan that birth parents and adoptive parents sign that specifies how they will keep in touch with one another after placement – should be legally enforceable. Right now, contact agreements are only legally enforceable in thirteen states, two of which are Maryland and Virginia (woohoo!) It is rare that contact agreements actually wind up being used in court, but knowing that they are official legal documents sometimes helps birth parents and adoptive parents stay on track with openness even when their lives and relationships get complicated.

If you live in a state where post-placement contact agreements are not legally enforceable, that doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to minimize the risk of your open adoption closing unexpectedly. First, make sure that the agency handling your baby’s adoption is licensed, non-profit, and regularly provides support to birth parents and adoptive families after placement. Second, ask the agency whether they teach their waiting adoptive families about the importance of open adoption. Organizations like Adoptions Together work with adoptive families to help them understand why openness is beneficial for their child, for their child’s birth parents, and for them. Third, make sure you still have a written post-placement contact agreement, even if you know it’s not legally enforceable; it never hurts to have things written down so that everyone is 100% clear on what’s supposed to happen.

As we said in our March 30th post, we never know exactly how relationships will turn out, and that includes relationships between birth parents and adoptive families. But planning for openness with a post-placement contact agreement plants the seed for a positive experience. It’s a good start, both towards ensuring a positive relationship with your child and their family and towards healing and coming to peace with your adoption decision.


The Birth Parent Song You Have to Hear Today

If you’re like many of the other birth parents with whom we’ve worked, you sometimes worry that your child won’t understand why you chose adoption and will grow up feeling hurt, rejected, or hateful.

On the contrary, we have found that adopted children are just as well-adjusted as children raised by their birth parents. Plus, birth parents who have an open adoption can personally explain their adoption decision to their child when the time is right.

But don’t just take it from us! Mark Schultz is an adoptee who wrote the song “Everything to Me” for his birth mother. The video is above and the lyrics are below, and we think you’ll find Mark is anything but hateful when it comes to his biological mom. One birth mom with whom we worked told us she teared up when she first heard it – and then she listened to it five times in a row. So take a few minutes to listen, and let us know what you think!

“Everything to Me” by Mark Schultz

I must have felt your tears

When they took me from your arms

I’m sure I must have heard you say goodbye

Young and so afraid, had you made a big mistake

Could an ocean even hold the tears you cried?

 

But you had dreams for me

You wanted the best for me

And you made the only choice

You could that night

And you gave life to me, a brand new world to see

Like playing baseball in the yard with Dad at night

Mom reading Goodnight Moon and praying in my room

So if you worry if your choice was right

When you gave me up, oh, you gave everything to me

 

And if I saw you on the street

Would you know that it was me?

And would your eyes be blue or green like mine?

Would we share a warm embrace?

Would you know me in your heart?

Or would you smile and let me walk on by?

 

Knowing you had dreams for me

You wanted the best for me

Oh, I hope that you’d be proud

Of who I am

 

You gave life to me, a chance to find my dreams

And a chance to fall in love

You should have seen her shining face on our wedding day

Oh, is this the dream you had in mind?

When you gave me up, oh, you gave everything to me

 

And when I see you there

Watching from heaven’s gates

Into your arms, I’m gonna run

And when you look in my eyes

You can see my whole life

See who I was and who I’ve become

 

‘Cos you gave life to me, a brand new world to see

Like playing baseball with my son late at night

And reading Goodnight Moon and praying in his room

I’m so grateful that I have this life

When you gave me up, you gave everything to me

Everything to me


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?

are you letting

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?


How Are You Making Your Child’s Adoption “Worth It” For Yourself?

Dream Bigimage c/o higherperspective.com

Dreams
by Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

We posted in December about how tough it can be for birth parents to try to figure out whether adoption was the right choice for them, and how no one – not even their fabulous Adoptions Together counselors 🙂 — can figure out the answer except for them.

But we also reminded you that you have the power to control the meaning of your adoption experience. So today, we invite you to re-read the famous Langston Hughes poem above and ask yourself “What are my dreams, and what am I doing to try to reach them?”

We already know you are a strong and determined person; if you weren’t, you could never have made the difficult choice to place your child for adoption. So take that strength and move forward towards the life you want for yourself. Make your adoption decision the right one for you by taking the actions that will make the sacrifice worth the struggle. Adoption is painful and difficult, but it also gives you an opportunity to refocus on your dreams, “hold fast” to them, and make them a reality.

If you don’t want to take our word – or even Langston Hughes’ word – for it, then listen to Mae Jemison, an extraordinary person and the first African American woman to travel in space, who said: “It’s your place in the world; it’s your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live.”