It was January 2008 and a bitter cold had settled in to Cache Valley. I had just sent a letter to my relinquished daughter’s adoptive 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 Cache valley in January 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. My husband was on the far side of the globe and I felt I was left wholly alone to my own devices. I had been seeing a therapist at the university counseling center, but on this particular night, it was 2:19 a.m. with 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 Claudia 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 they 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, and so I felt ashamed of my grieving and hid it from the world for nearly fifteen years. Eventually, Claudia’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.
The sangha (དགེ་འདུན་) is the community of fellow travelers on the dharma – or the way of truth and enlightenment in the Buddhist tradition. Sangha is a place were we can 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. 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 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 my own daughter has found her way there already. Perhaps she have found refuge with other daughters who lost their first mother, too, and perhaps – together with them – she can learn she is not alone. She is 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.