Understanding Birthmother Grief

In my career as a licensed clinical social worker, I have been honored to counsel women walking through the process of grief after placing a baby for adoption.  One such woman, Mary (name and information used with permission) captured her journey in a heartfelt essay entitled “The Beautiful Side of Grief,” which she wrote shortly after the adoption of her daughter:

 

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

 

“Grief. Mourning. Bereavement. There are countless different words to try and describe something that is utterly indescribable, and none of them really pinpoint exactly what grief is. Grief is not the movies. Grief is not Hollywood, where you hold a black umbrella and shed a few tears in the rain at a funeral. It’s not walking around donned head to toe in dark colors. It is not a simple psychological process of five clean-cut stages.

 

“Grief is waking up every single morning and asking yourself if you’re in a dream. Grief is hearing people talk, but you find yourself not really listening anymore. It’s walking into a grocery store completely fine, and leaving barely holding your tears in. Grief is the constant stream of “would haves,” “should haves,” and “could haves” playing through your thoughts. It’s getting to the end of the day and realizing that you’re not really living, you’re just going through the motions. Grief is that ever-present indefinable ache in the bottom of your heart. It is the constant feeling of exhaustion that no amount of sleep can alleviate. Grief is the time when tears take the place of words.

 

“But grief, in a sense, is beautiful.

 

“There is beauty in the process of grief. It comes after the shock, after the initial sting to your heart. It might take months, it might take years, but the beauty will reveal itself. The beautiful side of grief is found in the reassurance and understanding in the words you can now lend to those who are walking the path you once walked. The comfort of, “I know how you feel,” or “I understand what you’re going through,” now replace the blind guesses of, “I’m sure this is hard,” and “I can’t imagine how heartbreaking this is.” The beautiful side of grief is found in the supportive friendships that have risen from the ashes of tragedy. The beautiful side of grief is seen in the ability of those who have traveled an unbearable path to hold the hands of those who are being forced down the same lonely road.

 

“When you are faced with a heartbreak so unbearable it brings you to your knees, you are also faced with two choices: to let that heartbreak consume your every thought and action until it kills you, or to act in the same love that you had for that person and use your experience to be the guiding lamp for those now embarking on that dark journey.

 

“If you have ever grieved over the loss of someone, consider yourself lucky. Yes, read that line again. Consider yourself lucky. You are lucky to have had something so precious, so special, a type of love so genuine, that you have a reason to grieve. Without that kind of raw love, there would be no grief.

 

“In my eyes, the best way to pay that type of love forward is to show it to those who need it the most, and coming from firsthand experience, those who are grieving need understanding and genuine acts of love more than anyone else. Those acts of warmth and affection from those who have mourned the same loss as you, who have carried the same burden as you, are the very stepping stones that lead you from the suffocating depths of grief into the joyful light of remembrance. If you have the rare chance to pave these stepping stones for someone, why wouldn’t you?

 

“I was once told that grief is like treading water in the ocean. Sometimes you’re doing just fine, and you can handle the waves that come at you. It takes effort, but you’re getting by. Then other times, a wave will come out of nowhere, catch you off guard, and you’re pulled under into the dark and cold depths once again. What is so important is that we keep treading, we keep fighting, and we come back to the surface no matter how hard or exhausting it might be. What is important is that we don’t give up on our own life in remembrance of someone else’s. All we can do is to take grief one wave at a time, and, if given the opportunity, help others stay afloat along the way.”

 

Mary put her experience and the words she wrote into action by counseling and mentoring birthmothers who were considering adoption, including Taylor, the birthmother in the Nightlight video entitled “Journey’s Story.”  Mary states she was propelled to help others because of the love she had for her daughter and the experience she gained in processing her adoption decision. As Mary faced her pain and reached out to others, she emerged stronger.  Like many brave birthmothers, she has journeyed to the beautiful side of grief.

 

If you know a woman considering adoption or struggling with the inevitable grief that comes when we say goodbye to someone we love, please consider referring her to one of the talented counselors and social workers at Nightlight. Processing emotions, negative thoughts, and unhealthy or ineffective behaviors can be extremely helpful within the therapeutic process. Nightlight can also connect birthmothers with others, like Mary, who have walked this path before them. Research has demonstrated that having a support system is crucial for grief work and emotional health. Nightlight is committed to the care of the brave women and men who are choosing adoption for their child.

 

written by Megan White, MSW, LCSW | Executive Director, Florida

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