I have decided to share some of my story because thousands of woman live with this silent grief. Un-named, locked away, deep inside ourselves. We hold this grief silently in our hearts while we ‘get on’ with our lives. I feel that it is time, to bring this grief out of the shadows, into the light.
Writing is something I do alongside gardening. It helps to take the words that float in my mind and put them outside myself. This seems to help my own healing journey.
I am one of the thousands of women and sometimes children who lost our babies to adoption. Our stories are deeply buried under a social construction that defined us as sluts. Some of us conceived from rape, some of us from the man who was loved.
I have reached 70 years on this Earth. Death does not seem so far away these days. I had the good fortune to hear Doctor Kubler Ross speak when I was 33 years old. She worked in hospitals teaching medics, how to be with death in a more natural way. Doctor Kubler Ross talks about ‘unfinished business’. She suggests it is good to clear unfinished business, as a preparation for the inevitable. When it is my time, if possible, I want to glide into death peacefully, with unfinished business cleared.
I was almost 18 years old in 1965 when my baby was born. One decision I did make was to be open about having my baby. I was told ‘to get on with my life and forget.‘ I was never able to forget. As a consequence of my telling people, I had a baby adopted, women often said to me “I could never give a baby up.” Counsellors told me “I must feel guilt” I never knew what to say, sometimes I felt angry. I was puzzled by their response, was I hiding the guilt ? A couple of years ago I looked the word guilt up in a dictionary. This word is used when one has committed a crime, done something wrong. I had done nothing wrong. I was relieved to discover the meaning of quilt because I thought I may have been in denial. That concern put to rest helped but I wondered if I was stuck in my painful story for the rest of my life.
When I left my baby in the country hospital a few days after birthing, I dared not look back. There were no tears. My body had reduced itself to six and half stone. I had to hold my skirt up with safety pins. I was alone, little money, no choice.
I write my story with compassion and love for myself. I found these feelings when I began to heal.
Joni Mitchell helped me understand myself. Her song, Little Green is about her daughter which she relinquished to adoption. I also connected with a group of woman during the 1990’s who had similar stories. One of them called adoption ” baby stealing” . As the years went by, I found I wasn’t alone. The term ‘Birth Mother’ was developed as a name for us. However, that name doesn’t feel right to me. I prefer to be called ‘ Mother who lost her baby to adoption’.
I was a nurse when I became pregnant. Shame, replaced grief. After the birth, I couldn’t go back to the hospital where I had begun my training. Instead I went to Sunnyside hospital, in Christchurch. A Mental hospital /institution and began work as a nurse aid. There I found women/patients with very sad stories and pain. I began my life again, looking after others, I viewed as more troubled than myself. That became an addiction for many years. It helped hold my own painful story still and in place without expression.
While pregnant in 1965, I entered a world that now defined me as fallen woman, a slut, an unmarried mother. When I was told I must feel quilt and I was the kind of woman who could give her baby up, I developed deep self loathing. I buried those feelings along with the grief.
I was changed forever. I lived as an outsider. I could no longer fit in the world I was brought up in. During my twenties I watched other women get married and have children. That had been a dream for me but it died.
I have been through some serious troubles in my life. However, I am very good at finding the positive. The gold that gets spun from straw. From that time in my life when the church and society rejected me, deep inside I knew I had done nothing wrong. Looking back, I can see that feminism was waking up in my bones. I had a new strength, a kind of rebellion. My world view had changed never to be the same again. I became a fringe dweller. I am very proud, living my life as a fringe dweller. I began to question and open myself to new ways of thinking and living in the world.
A year after the birth of my son. I met an older woman who was to change my life, in ways that have served me well. Edith Eilers, she was in her sixties an artist, vegetarian into organics and Krisnamurti, a fringe dweller. I listened to her and read the books she gave me. I still bake the bread she taught me to bake. Edith taught me how to build compost, I have eight compost bins today. She taught me about natural child-birth, nature cure and my next babies were all born at home. I was ripe for a new world view because the one I grew up in abandoned me. My self-worth was in the gutter but I was not afraid to be different.
At first my grief took the form of looking at children in prams in the hope I might just catch a glimpse. I yearned to know he was safe, loved. Every birthday, I silently wondered. I hadn’t held or seen him, he was taken away by the cruel nursing Sister as soon as he was born. My memory, even as I write is very clear. My baby is lying next to my leg after birthing, I can feel him.
While I was birthing, the same cruel Sister took me to the birthing theater. I had to lie on the high table, she told me to stay there. I rang the bell once to go to the toilet, she came in and said; “go by yourself ” I crawled on the floor because I was scared I would fall, my walking was not steady, I was left alone. Even after birthing my son, I ate alone in my room. I wasn’t to talk, or be with any of the other women. I was firmly in my place.
A few days after his birth I was in a lawyer’s office signing my baby away. Swearing on the bible I would never search for him. I had been a practicing Christian. As a child I loved the stories at Sunday School. My relationship with the bible and the Church stopped.
One year, a so-called friend working for Social Welfare looked up my file. She told me she knew where my 11-year-old son was but she didn’t feel I could be trusted. That was the first time I saw my anger. I was washing a milk bottle at the time and suddenly found myself throwing this in her direction. I loved my son, I would never disrupt his life. All I wanted was to know was alive and safe. I figured from what she found that he was alive.
I didn’t understand I was grieving. Joss Shawyer wrote a book called Death by Adoption. I found the book in the 70’s and it was the first time I felt as if someone understood. From then on I changed what I said, I was able to say “I lost my baby to adoption.”
When my next son was born in 1976, I noted I was very neurotic. I couldn’t leave him with anyone. If he disappeared out of my sight as a toddler, I panicked. I knew why I was reacting like this. From my reactions I became aware that I needed to heal because it wasn’t healthy to be this way with my son. Social welfare wanted to visit me because I was single. I refused and told them ” if they were to visit every new-born, that would be fair”. I was financially self-sufficient. I was so paranoid I didn’t register my son until forced to. Yes, grief was showing up but still with no tears. Even my desire for home birth was to keep authority away from me and my babies. I had two more babies. Each birth brought back to me the reality of the past loss.
My son and I were reunited in 1986. The night before I met him I couldn’t sleep and I began to cry, these were my first tears. It has been a slow process, my grief had been frozen solid. Three years ago I broke my arm badly. I went to a man David Chittenden who did the healing side of Aikido, Kiatsu. David asked me one day “what was the grief in my bones” ? Ironically, David was blind from birth. On my next morning walk, the grief started to roll down my checks with sounds of sobs. I realized, I held the grief in my bones because that was all I had to hold. I was now ready to let this flow.
I came to understand that indigenous people had their children taken. It is a sure way to bring a nation to its knees. They too were seen as not fit to raise their children in a manner that suited the colonizers. I wept when I read the book Stolen Children, the indigenous Australian stories. I could always cry for others.
I have worked in Mental health for a few years. I saw suffering mothers who had lost children and adopted people who were wounded in different ways. I began to read to help me understand my sons story.
However, I am not against children being loved and cared for when their own parents are not able to do this. I am grateful to the parents who loved my child.
I cannot change the past. Losing my son, left a hole in my heart, a blank in my life which lives with me. However, I have learned I can grow from the past. I can find the numb blocks of icy grief in myself. When I welcome them with love they seem to melt. I am always on this learning path and these days welcome my recovery. I have stopped being perfect which is a great relief. I am comfortable with my tears. I feel grief is a part of life.
I began the practice of Astanga yoga last year. I am developing a new sacred relationship with my body, I feel it also helping me release old pain.
I am very grateful for my life. The good, bad and ugly. Life is wonderful and I am not afraid. I am very fortunate, growing into my seventies, healthy, and content, its good to feel free.
I thank David Chittenden and Doctor Hetty Rodenberg for their care while I began to face my grief.