When I was pregnant, I wanted to talk to a few birthmothers in an attempt to find out “what it really felt like” to give up your child. (I say “give up” rather than the softer phrases “entrust,” “place” or “relinquish” because the awful reality is, when you come right down to it, adoption does mean that you give up your child.)
Birthmothers were not quite as visible then as they are now, so I didn’t find any of these individuals on my own—I was referred to them by the adoption agency that wanted me to place my child through their organization. I called these women up, and they spoke to me in flat, monotone voices about what it had been like for them.
I got a hollow feeling in my chest as I listened to them tell their stories. They sounded so hopeless and defeated, yet they all insisted they were sure of the rightness of their decision.
(Though I do remember one woman pausing and saying to me in a low whisper, “The hospital—it will be the worst day of your life.”)
As it turned out, she was right.
But that was the extent of the warning I got. None of the women I talked to gave me any idea of what it felt like to walk away from your baby. None of them managed to convey the stark emotions of the loss: the terror, pain and gasping for breath when you’re wheeled out of that hospital empty-handed; the long nights spent sobbing when your milk comes in and there’s no baby needing you; the stab in your heart when you hear a stranger’s child called by your baby’s name; the wild, sick grief you feel when you have to attend a baby shower or child’s birthday party; the panic and powerlessness of standing by the mailbox, waiting for pictures that were promised you and are not coming; the anger when you see a single mom your age who is getting to parent; the shame you feel when you are whispered about behind your back (“there goes the woman that gave up her baby”).
Every day, another sock in the gut. In the first year especially, the surprises of birthmotherhood just keep coming.