Sangha of the First Mother

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.

Blessings –

M.

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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.

Walk Slow and Silent

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

Through all of this – what ever life has brought to your doorstep so far and will bring to you in the future – my one true prayer is you find your Eternal I.

Much love and belief –

M.

THE OLD WISDOM

“When the night wind makes the pine trees creak
And the pale clouds glide across the dark sky,
Go out, my child, go out and seek
Your soul: the Eternal I.

“Blue Night Sky” by James Wheeler (Creative Commons)

For all the grasses rustling at your feet
And every flaming star that glitters high
Above you, close up and meet
In you: the Eternal I.

“Passing By” by Jason E. Jenkins (Creatives Commons)

Yes, my child, go out into the world; walk slow
And silent, comprehending all, and by and by
Your soul, the Universe, will know
Itself: the Eternal I.”

– Jane Goodall (B. 1934)

Let the Dark Come

Dear Ms. Feverfew:

I said to my soul, be still,
and let the dark come upon you which shall be the darkness of God.
………………………………………………..
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and love and hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
            -T.S. Elliot, “East Coker,” Four Quartets

Much love, M.

Let’s Dance

marthaspan

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

“Emotional suffering…is not a sign of mental disorder or illness. It’s a universal fact of life–the Buddha’s first noble truth; an inevitable result of living in a damaged and damaging social context; and a unique pathway to spiritual awakening, growth, and transformation….The emotions that appear to afflict us can be the vehicles of liberation from suffering. Experiencing our grief, fear, and despair in a new light, we renew our capacities for gratitude, joy, and faith. We grow in courage and compassion. We approach the world with less fear and more wonder. We have more energy for changing the things that matter.

These gifts can only be found when we are unafraid to dance the dance of dark emotions in our lives.

Let’s dance.”

Much love,

M.

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(Greenspan, M., 2004. Healing through the dark emotions: The wisdom of grief, fear, and despair. Boston: Shambhala, pp. 7-8.)

God doesn’t do adoption ~ He is into being born again

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

If I hear one. more. stinkin. time. of how adoption is a part of God’s plan for His children because it is how we become the children of Christ, I think my head is going to pop off and spin around while flames start shooting out of my eyes. Especially from Mormons who claim to have the further light and knowledge of the fullness of the restored gospel.

I recently shared my feelings about the LDS Family Services flimsy excuse for why adoption is a natural thing because  we are all “literally adopted into our Heavenly Father’s kingdom”  with my mom. Her response was something along the lines of, “Well, you are right about that but we are all adopted by Christ as his children when we accept him as our Savior.” This is the same sentiment that  I have read on Christian adoption blogs of many kinds as an explanation why adoption is good, kind, benevolent, Christlike.

Uh…once again, maybe I missed that lesson in Sunday School.  From the distant memories of high school choir, the words from an African American spiritual come bubbling up:

Nicodemus was a man who desired to know how a man could be born when he is old. Christ told Nicodemus as a friend, “Man, you must be born again!” He said, “Marvel not man, if you want to be wise. Repent believe and be baptized.”

(Witness, Arranged by Jack Halloran)

Those words set me to thinking…man, you must be born again.  Christ told Nicodemus that to become His child, he had to be born again (see John 3:3, 7) . Not adopted. But born again. Now I don’t know about you, but I think there is a physiological difference between being adopted and being born.  Maybe I am over thinking things here, but I can’t seem to find anywhere in the scriptures where Christ talks about being adopted as one of His children – the metaphor is always becoming His child.

To the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul describes  the process of becoming a follower of Christ as thus: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature…” (2 Cor. 5:17). Indeed, one of the primary messages of the Book of Mormon is that we can become the sons and daughters of Jesus Christ by being born again.

Mosiah 5:7 : And, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have come his sons and his daughters.

Mosiah 27: 25-26 : And the Lord said until me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; And thus they become new creatures

Alma 5: 14 Have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?

Alma 7: 14 : Now I say unto you that ye must repent and be born again… therefore come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye may be washed from your sins, that ye may have faith on the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, who is mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness.

In the Doctrine & Covenants we find this:

D&C 5:16 : And behold, whosever believeth on my words, them will I visit with the manifestation of my Spirit, and they shall be born of me, even of water and of the Spirit–

And perhaps the most direct scriptural discussion of what this process means can be found in Moses 6:59.

“…inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; “

Also, the topic of being “born again” appears 3725 times in the LDS Gospel Library as of today with authors ranging from current apostles and prophets as well as ancient ones, from  Sunday School lessons to articles in The Friend.  Seriously – go take a look at the titles of some of these talks and lessons. Obviously the concept of being “born again” as a requirement to become a son or daughter of Christ is not an unfamiliar one to the LDS people.

The symbolism used in both scripture and modern apostolic writings is one of literally being born – becoming a new creature in Christ, having a new countenance – it is not a metaphor of adoption. If I was merely adopted as a daughter of Christ, I would remain the same person I was before the adoption occurred just with a new name (and a falsified birth certificate). However, according to the doctrine I can find, I am literally remade through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

I don’t even begin to claim to understand the actual process of how this occurs – perhaps this is why Christ cautioned Nicodemus to “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again” (John 3:7).  All I know is that when a person accepts Jesus Christ and enters into the waters of baptism, they are, as Paul said, made a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17).  Just as I was physically born of water (amniotic fluid), blood (my mother’s and my own, co-mingled in the birthing process), and of the spirit (when the breath of life entered my body), so am I born again in Christ. This time it is through the waters of baptism, the Holy Spirit, and the atoning blood of Christ. Marvel not.

And this brings me back to my original grievance: There is no scriptural basis for using the process of becoming a follower of Christ to justify the unholy practice of infant adoption. To say otherwise is wrong. Period. Especially with the further light and knowledge that we claim to possess as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Our scriptures and modern-day prophets clearly proclaim that we are not adopted into Christ’s family, but that through baptism and the Atonement, we are born into it and we become his literal children.

That’s all I have to say about that. For now.

Much love and belief –

M.

God Doesn’t Do Adoption: “Is you is or is you ain’t?” (Or in other words: A question for Fred Riley of LDS Family Services)

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

So, in an effort to help me understand, clarify, and hopefully reconcile my feelings as an LDS mother seeking spiritual harmony in a post-adoption kool-aid life, I came across an article recently in the Ensign.  Really, I am trying to be a good Mormon, I honestly am. I am trying to study this thing out on my own and to take my concerns to the Lord in prayer. However, in my efforts to sincerely seek peace, I keep getting smacked upside the head by articles like this one. In a section titled “Latter-day Saint Theology and Adoption” found in the article “Why Adoption?” (Ensign, Jan 2008), Fred Riley of LDS Family Services is quoted as saying,

“From the time of Adam, adoption has been a priesthood ordinance,” says Brother Riley. “It’s a principle of the gospel that probably all of us will experience at some point as we’re literally adopted into our Heavenly Father’s kingdom.”

Uh…am I the only one who sees a fundamental flaw in this statement?   Doesn’t this idea fly in the face of some of the most clearly dileneated LDS doctrine?

Is it just me Ms. Feverfew, or are we not taught from the time we are small children that we are the literal off-spring of God, created in His image – not adopted into his household? Remember that Primary Song, I Am a Child of God? It clearly states the doctrinal point on this issue : “I am a child of God, and He has sent me here…” Or how about the Young Women theme which says, “We are daughters of our Heavenly Father, who loves us…” According to the LDS.org website, this theme “helps each young woman understand her identity, purpose, and destiny as a daughter of God”  (emphasis mine). Not the adopted daughter, but the literal daughter of the King of Heaven.

Or what of Joseph B. Wirthlin’s statement, “It is essential that you know and understand that our Heavenly Father loves you like a son or daughter, because He is the Father of your spirit. That makes you His literal child, spiritually begotten of Him.”

Or the article titled “You Are a Child of God” in which Russel M. Nelson reminds us of the importance of “knowing that we are literally children of God.”

Or what of our prophet, Thomas S. Monson who also reminds us  “that each of us is literally a child of God.”

Then there is “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” which states with undeniable clarity, “Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.”

I could go on and on with the quotes, but I won’t bore you to death. I think you get the idea.  (A simple search of the LDS Gospel Library using terms such as “literal child of God” or  “made in His image” will reveal hundreds of more of these kinds of quotes if you really want to knock yourself out).

But here are the things I have come to know in the past several years, Ms. Feverfew: I have a Father in Heaven who is crazy gaga head over heels in love with me simply because I am His daughter, created in His image. I am the literal daughter of The King.  With this knowledge firmly in place, I am left the nagging question for Brother Riley: Which is it – is you is or is you ain’t a literal child of God? You can’t have it both ways – you can’t be adopted and be a literal child of God.

Much love,

M.

P.S. I guess I have more questions for Brother Riley, such as where is it taught (either in scripture or official church publications) that adoption is a “priesthood ordinance“? Did I miss something somewhere in my study of the scriptures or in my temple worship?  Maybe I wasn’t listening carefully enough in Relief Society or missed the memo while I was busy serving in Primary (you know how that can be – we tend to miss a lot of announcements while we serve the children in the church, teaching them that they are the literal children of God).  Or maybe perhaps this is something they teach in priesthood quorums and forgot to mention to us women folk? I say those things mostly tongue-in-cheek, but really, I am perplexed. Where is the scriptural and doctrinal basis for that kind of statement? But I digress…

Trusting Mr. Amazing Man

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

On Saturday after I posted early in the morning, I decided what I needed most was a good day’s worth of work to take my mind off of “things.” I set to work, cleaning, sorting, and organizing. There were a few things that needed to be put in the attic and so I was up there making room, when I came across The Bin of your blankets, toys, and clothes that I have kept all these years.

In The Bin is your blessing gown from your first blessing, made by my wonderful neighbor, Sherri Johnson. A hand-crocheted blanket made by another dear friend. Cards & bits of wrapping paper from your baby shower. Your first pair of Sunday shoes. A blanket I had made for you. A few frilly, lacy, floral dresses that seems so foreign to me now, seeing as how I have only boys around the house. A knit receiving blanket with little pink bows printed on it that I instinctively knew to swaddle you up, snug like a little burrito. I didn’t need Dr. Harvey Karp or Dr. William Sears to tell me that swaddling you and keeping you close to me was the best thing for you. Seeing all of that just made me…well, I just fell apart. I just sat there and silently sobbed for quite some time.

Eventually, Mr. Amazing Man came looking for me.

Mr. Amazing Man (calling up the attic stairs): Gorgeous, you up there?
Me: Silence.
Mr. Amazing Man: M., are you there????
Me: Silence (secretly hoping he would shut the door and lock me up there until next week).
Mr. Amazing Man (to Captain Knuckle): Where is your mom?
Captain Knuckle: I don’t know.
Mr. Amazing Man: Well, why is the door to the attic still open?
Captain Knuckle: I don’t know, I think she took the dog for a walk.
Mr. Amazing Man: Gorgeous? Are you up there?
Me: More silence.

I could hear him pause, evaluate the situation and finally make the decision to climb up the stairs where he found me in a puddle. Being the gentleman he is, he offered me his clean handkerchief, sat next to me with his arms around me, and let me sob and whine and cry for another good half hour. Somehow, he eventually managed to calm me down and get me back downstairs without breaking any bones.

Today, he taught my Primary class for me because I simply could not face going to church. I know that the gospel is true, I really do. I love the beautiful things that have been taught to me in the temple. It’s just that some days…some days, the ache in my heart for you is bigger than all of that and I just can’t face the culture that convinced me I wasn’t enough and that you deserved better than me. Because damn it all – I was good enough for you. And today…today I just can’t face the culture that told me I wasn’t.

I am still trying to find where God was during those dark hours of my life when my sister died, the abuse came out (finally), and I ended up pregnant. I simply haven’t found an answer yet. I think God knows I have spent a lot of time looking for His fingerprints in my life at that point. Mr. Amazing Man tells me that He was there with me and I just have to trust him right now. I have to cling to his faith because I still don’t see God in the details, even all these years later.

M.