brav·er·y /ˈbrāv(ə)rē/ noun
Sunday afternoon, I returned from my 3rd annual birth mom retreat hosted by Bellis*. The weekend retreat was a place where women gather to heal, laugh, cry, and be with one another as we work through our adoption stories. All of the women come from different backgrounds, different adoption stories, different levels of openness (if it is even open); Some chose adoption and some were forced, some had consensual sex, some not. The list goes on and on and the theme is that we all are birth moms and can come together in a safe space to heal and be with one another; And be with other women who truly get it.
At the retreat you don’t have to explain anything at all, they know. It’s the only environment that I feel that way in as a birth mom. Anywhere else I have to explain what a birth mom is and I try to quickly make people feel less uncomfortable when my daughter comes up.
“Oh, I didn’t know you have a daughter?”
“Where is she now, do you do daycare or do you have help?”
“What is her favorite toy right now?”
“You don’t have any kids, you’re young, the world is yours!”
When I hear these repeat phrases in daily life, I have to quickly say: “I do have a daughter. I placed her for adoption with a loving family. It’s great. It’s beautiful. I get to see her.”
Then folks quickly try to figure out what to say next, feeling a bit thrown off. Honestly, it does make me chuckle sometimes. This topic doesn’t have to be such an uncomfortable conversation, but it is for some people, because we can never assume what people are going through or have gone through.
The word bravery always comes up for me when I think of myself and my fellow birth moms.
We show up to this location and do the work to heal and be able to understand our journeys a bit better. We are vulnerable, spilling parts of our stories that we have never shared before. I know there are plenty of birth moms out there who have lived their entire life full of shame and secrecy; Plenty I’m sure have never told a soul of the decision they chose (or were forced into) many years ago. I have fellow birth mom friends who had closed adoptions - Some of them chose closed adoption and some were forced. Many of those women have not met their child(ren). Some have reunited with their child(ren). Some of the children want no contact; some of them want a relationship. Some of the children are angry, and some understand a bit more.
Fortunately, adoption had started to shift and change from the earlier days starting in the 1970s. Before this time, many women didn’t have a choice and were forced. They were shamed, ridiculed, called names and had no support. They weren’t able to hold their baby after delivering and were told to move on from it and not tell a soul. It was shameful. Those women had it embedded in themselves that what they did was bad and they are bad people. Today is the absolute opposite. I’m so grateful adoption has started to take a turn for the better and that is no longer the case. We still have a ways to go, yes, but we now have programs like Bellis that treat us with respect and dignity. Social workers that use appropriate language and have the skills to work with us in a sensitive manner.
I encourage you to give a birth mom a hug, if you know one. And if you know of a birth mom, adoptee, or adoptive parent struggling or wanting to learn how to help fight adoption stigma or find compassion in a safe space, they can reach out to Bellis or myself.
Thanks to the support I have found, and because the universe gives us endless opportunities to be brave, I’ve chosen to be brave again and leave my comfortable corporate job that was cushioned with PTO, health insurance, 401K, and specific PTO for anything COVID related. This is my first week on my own doing what I truly want in this world... at least I think so. Now do I know for sure what that is yet? No, not really, but I have an idea and that is to help others in many different ways. I will start with teaching more group fitness and yoga classes and find where the path wants to lead me from there.
I encourage you all to be brave. Take the chance. The risk. The thing that weighs heavily on your mind….follow that idea.
What have you done lately to be brave? Or what will you do this week to encourage that bravery?
*Bellis is a non-profit organization that provides adoption education and support for anyone as part of the adoption triad; Birth moms, adoptive families, and adoptees.