You nights of anguish. Why didn’t I kneel more deeply to accept you,
Inconsolable sisters, and , surrendering, lose myself
in your loosened hair. How we squander our hours of pain.
How we gaze beyond them into the bitter duration
To see if they have an end. Though they are really
Seasons of us, our winter…
- Rainer Rilke
Dear Ms. Feverfew -
Tara Brach, PhD., therapist and meditation teacher, writes,
“If we are only waiting for our fear to end, we will not discover the pure and loving presence that unfolds as we surrender into the darkest of nights. Only by letting go into the stream of life and loss and death do we come into this freedom….Our willingness to face our fear frees us from the trance and bestows upon us the blessings of awareness.” [Brach, (2003). Radical Acceptance, pp. 193-194].
Though perhaps not obvious to some, I have stopped waiting for the paralyzing fears of first-motherhood to end. When difficult days – sometimes weeks – come, I no longer gaze beyond them with steely endurance. With patience and compassion and practice (lots and lots of practice) over two decades, I am able to let “us” go into the stream of life and loss of which Brach speaks, that darkest of nights where there is no squandering of pain. Here is this space, there are no expectations on how to “be” in reunion, there is only the awakened awareness of things as they are now. Here, in this space, there is enough love to hold both the loss of us in my heart while not refusing to go on living.
Dear Ms. Feverfew -
Oh, snap. It’s here again. Orphan Sunday, the Sunday when wealthy white suburban Christians around the United States trot out “orphan theology” to convince parishioners to pony up $$ to buy them some adorable international orphans, preferably ones with dark skin from 3rd world countries, kind of like Madonna “rescued” her “orphan” children or Angelina Jolie and her “rescued orphans.” This Sunday, November 3, 2013 is when Christians across this country will gather to pray for the opportunity to take children from their countries of origin and turn them into good little Christians here in the U.S. There will be orphan prayers, orphan tables, orphan bake sales, orphan breakfasts, orphan awareness walks….the list goes on and on and on.
I understand (and even appreciate!!!!) their positive intentions to help children around the globe, but at the same time, I DO take exception that so many involved with “Orphan Sunday” remain willfully and intentionally ignorant of their role in the international child trafficking market. The fact so many Christians REFUSE to acknowledge or even learn about how our American adoption $y$tem fosters corrupt and illegal international adoptions makes my blood boil, especially when it comes from self-proclaimed Christian “progressives.”
Yes, God ABSOLUTELY wants us to care for those who are in need. He wants us to waste and wear out our lives building up the kingdom of God here on earth. Some of us have even covenanted to do so. No, he doesn’t want His children to suffer in ANY country, BUT I don’t think He looks to kindly on the creation of artificial orphans just to make wealthy, white American Christians feel good about their “service.” If these churches were *serious* about “orphan” care, then there would not be ONE waiting child in the U.S. foster care system. There wouldn’t be children living in homeless shelters in Salt Lake City or San Francisco or Denver or LA. They wouldn’t be taking children from their countries of origin, but would be meeting these children in their need. They would go to those children and minister to them, in their native languages, within their local communities instead of removing them to some foreign country. They would help local communities build schools, medical centers, clean water wells, bathrooms, and churches.
I think you get the idea. You are savvy enough and educated enough to understand what $50,000US would do for an entire community is some of these countries.
I posted something alone these lines over and Facebook and the adopters are out in full force. They are proceeding to tell me how absolutely misinformed I am – that *their* international adoptions are different and were *always* ethical and above board and their children *absolutely* did not have any family to care for them and therefore, THEY saved them from growing up in their home countries and can’t I see the benefit of *their* child(ren) growing up in an LDS home here in America instead of some “hell-hole” in [insert child's country of origin]????
I don’t really have the energy to engage with them right now. People of that mindset are still so deep in the trance of adoption that my words are the wind blowing through the trees to them – they mean nothing and carry no weight. So I keep posting links to David Smolin’s work, Gazillion Voices, and to the book, “The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption.” Maybe, at some point, they will momentarily awake from the trance of adoption long enough that something will sink in and spark a fire in their awareness.
But then again, maybe not.
Weaving together the strands of my life back together; what an accurate description for why I write these letters. I lean into the fears born of ambiguous loss to grasp the dangling threads of disenfranchised adoption grief. I then try to hold those threads made of stinging nettle with compassion – compassion for myself, for you, and all the others players in this story. This compassion is what allows me to hold those strands without dropping them again, to incorporate them into the warp and weft of my life. As I do this, I discover the truth of St. Cloud’s words: It is the very act of weaving my story that makes me stronger, not my endurance of the stinging threads.
Much love and belief -
(Please visit Bone Sigh Arts: Honor Yourself to purchase this lovely print of Terri St. Cloud’s work. I do not know Terri St. Cloud nor am I in any way affiliated with Bone Sigh Arts. If you ask them, they won’t know me from Adam. I just love their stuff and think everyone should own at least one of their gorgeous products, preferably more.)
“…in those moments when we courageously lie down on the icy couch of fear and allow ourselves to experience its sharp edges, we are carried into the love and awareness that is beyond the reach of fear.” [Tara Brach (2003). Radical Acceptance, p. 190]
Dear Ms. Feverfew -
Remember how back in July I told you I was going to be participating in a podcast discussion about adoption over on Feminist Mormon Housewives? Well, the session was recorded last month and I recently received word it will be published on their website in the next week or two.
Talk about leaning into fear and lying down on its icy couch.
The podcast will most likely be as difficult for you to hear as it was for me to record. I am also certain what I shared will raise a great number of questions and I want to remind you of the promise I made to you: I will answer every one of them, even the hard ones. You are worthy of the truth. You deserve nothing less. It took a great deal of courage on your part to dare this greatly, to agree to have our shared story broadcast in such a public format. I will be forever grateful and in awe of your ability to see the greater good in bringing these hidden things to light, even though they touch a deep bruise in both of us.
With great love and awareness -
Dear Ms. Feverfew -
A while ago, a dear friend asked if I had a particular book in my personal library. I emphatically told this friend NO, I did not have it and exclaimed this book should just go away. I am not typically into banning books, but there is one book in particular that will NEVER be on my shelves ever again.
More than any other book I have read or will likely read in my lifetime, this book was the catalyst to the near-destruction of my already broken heart. It was a catastrophe to my spiritual, emotional, and mental health. In my “old age,” I am not shy about telling people how I feel about this book and the devastating effect it had in my life, damage that reverberates through generations and into the eternities. Honestly, if it hadn’t been for the victim blaming and shaming contained in this book, my life would have been so different. Our lives would have been so different.
But back to my friend. After I told them I didn’t have the book, they borrowed it from another church member who did have it, read it, and then reported back to the bishop about it. My friend also mentioned to our bishop my feelings about the book, to which he replied I most likely felt that way because of past sins or errors in my life. (!!!!) I felt a need to defend myself, to explain myself, and perhaps illuminate his understanding about the damaging nature of this book.
I share with you parts of the letter I wrote to him regarding my strong feelings about this book and its effect on my life [edited for grammar, because I was in a bit of a tizzy when I wrote it]. Perhaps it might help you understand the cultural context and time in which you were conceived and born.
When I look back on the string of events in my life, beginning in August 1989 when my sister died until April 1993 when I signed the TPR, I am astounded I survived and didn’t go completely off the rails. Especially with ecclesiastical leaders like I had at that point in time, leaders who blamed me for rape and didn’t believe the abuse allegations, either. Leaders who told me relinquishing you for adoption was an outward sign I had truly repented of premarital sex, who said if I *really* loved you, I would let you go. Leaders who told me I was being selfish for wanting to raise you.
I think it is fair to say I *totally* lost the leadership lottery LDS-style over and over and over again during those years.
P.S. When you read this, keep in mind my relationship with your first father happened about a year after I was required to read the book.
Dear SW -
[My BFF] told me that she talked with you yesterday and shared with you how I feel about the book, “The Miracle of Forgiveness.” She then reported that you said I felt that way because my past sins and mistakes made me feel “uncomfortable” with it (or something like that). I wanted to clarify my negative feelings towards the book have NOTHING to do with MY past sins and mistakes, but EVERYTHING to do with the message sent to rape and incest victims.
Let me set the scene for you: My natural father molested me. In Young Women’s, when virtue was discussed as a value, THE VERY FIRST scriptural reference is one regarding the rape of Nephite women (see https://www.lds.org/young-women/personal-progress/virtue?lang=eng as well as Mormon 9:9).
Now, our ADULT brains and reasoning can understand that whomever selected a scripture about rape causing a loss of chastity and virtue for THE VERY FIRST REFERENCE didn’t intend to harm, but merely to make an illustration. However, as a young woman who had suffered mightily at the hands of my father who “deprived” me of my chastity and virtue, this cut like a knife and sent a message that I HAD DONE SOMETHING WRONG by allowing it to be taken from me.
Fast forward three years. I was 17. The Relief Society President’s 27-year old son forcibly raped me. My sister had just died and my parents marriage was imploding with the revelation of my fathers abuse, so I turned to a man I thought I could trust for help, my bishop. Do you want to know what he did? He didn’t call the police. He didn’t report the man for statutory rape of a minor. He didn’t tell my parents. He put ME on probation and then had ME read “The Miracle of Forgiveness.” His reasoning was that I MUST be responsible for my “part” in the rape. Imagine the soul-crushing effect it was to read these words, penned by a not-yet-prophet:
“Also far-reaching is the effect of loss of chastity. Once given or taken or stolen it can never be regained. Even in a forced contact such as rape or incest….It is better to die in defending one’s virtue than to live having lost it without a struggle.” ( p. 196)
“President David O. McKay has pleaded: Your virtue is worth more than your life. Please, young folk, preserve your virtue even if you lose your lives.” (p. 63)
“…one should give his or her life rather than to yield to loss of virtue.” (p. 66)
So…according to [Spencer W. Kimball, eventual prophet and leader of the LDS church,] I should have DIED before I “let” my father molest me. I should have DIED before I “let” a 27-year old man rape me.
Just to make sure the message was driven home that I WAS AT FAULT FOR THE RAPE, I was not allowed to graduate from seminary and I was also denied my Young Womanhood medallion, even though I had done EVERYTHING to earn it and had done NOTHING wrong except willed myself to LIVE instead of dying from the abuse and rape.
It has taken YEARS of therapy to forgive that bishop and to forgive myself for being a naive and trusting 17 year old. Obviously I should have gone to the police instead of my bishop with the rape. Instead of reading the Miracle of Forgiveness, a rape kit should have been done. Instead of banning me from seminary graduation and denying me my medallion, I should have been testifying against the man who raped me. But none of that happened because in that book, a not-yet-prophet said I should have died instead of “letting” my virtue be FORCIBLY TAKEN FROM ME. This same thinking is what lead Elizabeth Smart to stay with her kidnappers until she was rescued. She had been taught the same things, taught the she was a chewed piece of gum and should have fought to the death before she “let” that man rape her.
My adult mind now understands virtue is NOT the same as virginity. My virtue – or in other words my goodness, righteousness, morality, integrity, dignity, honor, decency, respectability, nobility, worthiness, and purity – CANNOT be forcibly taken from me or from any other rape or molestation victim. The book, “The Miracle of Forgiveness” **VERY** plainly says that it can and THAT is what I take exception to. [Those passages perpetuate] the fallacy that if a woman is raped and lives to tell about it, she was asking for it and is somehow at fault.
Dear Ms. Feverfew -
Earlier this week, Rebecca Hawkes wrote a piece Free-Falling Into the Baby Rage Zone: Another Adoptee Epiphany for The Lost Daughters about what it is like for her, years into her reunion with her first mother. She writes,
“I understand that my parents were tricked into believing that they had no right to behave as parents. But for me, today, the emphasis is on “they” rather than on “tricked.” They allowed this to happen. Whatever degree of power they had or didn’t have, they still had more agency than I did. I was a baby–their baby, their child–and they allowed me to slip away.
I am angry because they didn’t fight for me. I am angry that they didn’t rise up and rage against the system that was tearing us apart. I’m angry that they didn’t realize what was truly being lost until it was too late. I am angry that they allowed themselves to be tricked into believing it would all be okay. Because it wasn’t and it never will be. Not entirely.
If I am the child, I am the child who was lost.
If they are the parents, they are the parents who failed me.”
Oh, how the truth is a difficult thing to hear sometimes.
After wiping away the ugly Oprah-style tears and catching my breath in between the sobs – sobs that originated deep in root of my abdomen and contracted my ribs and left me gasping for breath – I wrote this to my own mother.
…I understand [the baby-rage], I truly do. I would feel the same if you had abandoned me at a day old (or 9-months). …what I did was a terrible thing, a thing against all nature and natural inclinations.
What kind of woman walks away from her 9-month old daughter, leaving her with strangers? Why didn’t I fight for her? Why didn’t I rise up and rage against the system that tore us apart? Why didn’t I realize what was being lost until it was too late? Why did I allow myself to be tricked into believe it would all be okay…because it wasn’t and it never will be? Most of the other mothers in my situation would have NEVER in their lifetimes or a thousand lifetimes over done what I did. They would have died fighting against it.
If I am her parent, then I am the parent who failed her.
Rebecca’s honestly and truth about this facet of her adoption touched a raw place in my soul. It brought back into my immediate awareness that it doesn’t matter how many times I say, “If I had only had all the facts,” If I had only had the truth,” “If I had only known…” the truth remains I still did what I did. I still signed the termination of parental rights papers. That is my signature on them. The truth remains my choice hurt you – it severed you from your Samoan roots and from a spiritual and intellectual heritage that is rightfully yours. Acknowledging my part in all of this…this is my bandaged place, a raw and pulsating mess of hurt that sometimes seems as fresh as the day it happened.
I spent a lot of years turning away from this bandaged place. It’s what my culture told me I should do because after all, adoption is “all about love” and you “deserved more” than me, so I should be grateful for this wound. But I tend not to look away from it these days, as hard as it is, which is why I reached out to my mom.
I know I don’t have a right to walk in anyone’s moccasins, even my own daughter, but that does not mean that from a perspective 25 years further down the road of life, I can sit by and not defend my 18 year old, your 18 year old and this woman’s first mom (probably a teen herself) for not having the kind of personal combination of humility and chutzpa that it takes almost everyone at least into their 40s to develop. You’re so right. Hardly any woman in her 40s would do the ignorant, stumbling, bumbling things she did in her teens or even 20s or (for some of us late bloomers) even 30s.
Somewhere there has to be a sliding scale between personal responsibility for choices and social conditioning–especially when that conditioning has been trauma bonded into a child’s soul. At 18 years old we are all children. We’ve got plenty of raging hormones, but we have virtually no raging self-worth. We are sitting ducks to be “tricked.” Come on, what does it mean to be “tricked” anyway? That’s the whole meaning of the word “tricked.” It means to be taken advantage of. It means to be taken for a ride or for a fall. It means to be set up, ripped off. It means not to be told the whole truth and thus manipulated by a half-truth (a euphemism for a lie. A lie by any other name is still a lie.)
Just some preliminary thoughts poured out. Please hear my finally maturing acceptance of mortality as being, truly, “but a small moment.” …. I guess its a good introduction to that final acceptance that invites us to experience even death with Thoreau’s deathbed answer to whether he had made his peace with God: “I was not aware we had ever quarreled.”
It doesn’t do a lot of good to quarrel with God or with the natural course of human development (from young and confused and near-sighted to old and a bit less confused and not quite so short-sighted.)
I once heard someone wise say we have only two things to do in this life: repent and forgive. I think it may be even a more mysterious degree of wisdom to realize we only have one thing to do in this life, because to repent is also to forgive . . . to forgive life, to forgive Life/God, and to forgive ourselves for starting out dumber than we end up. Which we can only do in direct proportion to how thoroughly we can let go of bitterness….
Upon reading this, Papa-Phil wants me to add that its impossible for someone in 2013 to judge someone’s choices made decades ago in such a different cultural context. Just a man-logic comment. Well intended. With compassion and love from both of us.
Your own Mom and Pops.
My mom does that a lot for me, helps me see how this bandaged place is a place where forgiveness, light, and love can enter my life, too. Forgiving myself and making peace with God (because unlike Thoreau, we have quarreled) doesn’t change what I did, but it does help me hold my own ignorant, stumbling, bumbling 20-year old self with a heart of compassion instead of condemnation.
With well intended compassion and love – for you and all adoptees who teach me to keep my eye on the bandaged place -
Dear Ms. Feverfew -
It was January 2008 and a bitter cold had settled in to Cache Valley. I had just sent a letter to your parents, the first one in several years. I was fearful a response would never arrive in my mailbox, a familiar but dreadful experience. I was fearful one would arrive in my mailbox, a less familiar but still anxiety provoking experience. I was afraid of what the imagined letter might say or what it might not say. In short, my life was lived from a very fearful place during that time, one in which I would wake up at night drenched in a cold sweat, shivering in the grasp of a fear so immense I still can’t name it. The frozen landscape of the valley mirrored my frozen, fearful heart.
There was no one reach out to in the middle of the night to calm my quaking, to help quell the fears that were ready to swallow me whole. Jeff’s warm and open heart was on the far side of the world and I felt I was left wholly alone to my own devices. I had been seeing a therapist that at the university counseling center, but on this particular night, it was 2:19 a.m. and a fierce wind was howling down the canyon, and I didn’t think he would appreciate a phone call from me.
I reached over and pulled the laptop into bed with me and turned it on. Into the Google search bar, I typed “birth mother support groups online.” I eventually found Claude of Musings of the Lame and read every. single. post. Here was someone who felt as I did! Someone who felt things had turned out just as the adoption professionals said it would, but still had a broken and aching heart! Here was a birth mother who went on to have a good life, but never “got over” the loss of her son! All I knew from the LDS experience were the Ensign-sanctioned versions of birth mothers who were SO HAPPY they gave their baby to The Right Family. Eventually, Claude’s blog led me to Jane and Lorraine of First Mother Forum and from there, I entered into what I have come to call the Sangha of the First Mother.
There exists within the Buddhist tradition three fundamental places of refuge from fear: the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha. The sangha (དགེ་འདུན་) is the community of fellow travelers on the dharma – or the way of truth and enlightenment. Sangha is a place to find communion and rest with those who know our fears on an intimate level because they have lived with them, too. More importantly, they have survived the sharp edges and these awakened travelers can sustain and nourish our hearts when we lean into our own fears. When we take refuge in the sangha, it reminds us that we are not alone – we are in good company.
The Sangha of the First Mother is inhabited by many courageous, compassionate, and most importantly awakened mothers. These awakened mothers are moved by love to action – action to protect other families, action to help secure the rights of adopted adults, action to help fathers find their voice, to find lost children, and reunite families. These same awakened mothers provide refuge when my own heart begins to quake, when the fears of loss, of unworthiness, of not-being-good-enough come growling in the night.
This community of awakened first mothers “gets me” on a level no one else possibly can. I can talk to them on the phone and there is no need to explain the sigh, the hesitation to answer the question, “How are you really doing?” They know the steps of adoption grief because they have danced that mournful dance in their sleep, just as I have. They understand the trance of adoption because they were once under its spell, too. With this group of women I have found refuge and community. I have found models for healing and hope. I have found a way forward.
Somehow, I feel different inside when I hold in my heart all of the other mothers who have lost a child to adoption and are, at this very moment, aching for them in the deepest recesses of their soul. While my own quaking fears still exist and at times I still wake up in the clutches of an icy sweat, there is a feeling of shared grief, and with this feeling of grief comes the gift of compassion. Compassion for myself, for my fellow mothers who have awakened from the trance of adoption, for those who are just beginning to awaken, as well as those who are still deep in the trance of adoption mythology. Compassion for our lost children and yes, even compassion for their adoptive parents.
Together, we of the Sangha of First Mothers face the unreckonable loss of our beloved children to adoption. By taking refuge in the compassion and understanding I find in this community of first mothers, I awaken further from the trance of adoption, the edges of my own loss soften, and I am able to more fully embrace this experience here, now, in the present.
I know there is a sangha of Lost Daughters, too. Perhaps you have found your way there already. Perhaps you have found refuge with other daughters who lost their first mother, too, and perhaps – together with them – you will learn you are not alone. You are in good company.
Edited to add: For those of you who asked (or are wondering), yes, I have read “Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha” by Tara Brach. While it might not be for everyone and I don’t subscribe to everything Brach wrote, the book contains principles instrumental in healing what was once an every-increasing rift between myself and God.
Dear Ms. Feverfew -
It’s time for me to dust off Pauline Boss, Brené Brown, Miriam Greenspan, Pema Chödrön, and Tara Brach. It’s time for me to re-read their writings and re-engage in unraveling the loss that is us. It’s time for me to learn how to live in that place of radical self-acceptance, to hold space for my own vulnerabilities and humanness, to extend that same compassion I have for others to my self.
My body has healed as much as it can from the trauma of this last year. Now it it time to turn back to healing my heart.
That is all I have to say tonight.