Today, Sonja (my therapist), asked me about regret. She said she recalled me previously intimating that I don’t fully regret my decision to relinquish Summer for adoption and wanted me to clarify how I feel about it today. This came up because I was telling her about my blog and how it has become clear to me that the strongest focus of this blog needs to be my experience as a birthmother. I didn’t hesitate for a second after she asked about whether I regret my adoption decision.
I don’t regret making the decision I did with the information I had. My first responsibility as a mother is and was to keep my child safe. I believed that she wasn’t safe with me and that she could be safe with someone else.
Summer’s biological father had never hurt me before, he wasn’t abusive, he wasn’t even mean. Ever. He was good to me. He was sweet and kind. We had made the decision together to have and raise a child. But one night when I was five months pregnant, he drank too much alcohol – something he had never done before – and he spent hours beating and raping me. He didn’t believe me the next day when I told him what he had done while he was drunk. I made a police report and obtained a restraining order the next day, but he wouldn’t abide by the order. He stalked me for weeks, day and night, at my apartment, ever angrier that I continued to say he had hurt me. He persuaded the pastor of the church next door to let him live in the house across the street in exchange for making repairs. I couldn’t escape him, and I could no longer trust him. I was alone and afraid.
I found a new apartment but knew that I would always fear for mine and my daughter’s safety. I had to find a way to keep Summer out of harm’s way. I thought back to my own experience as a child, when I had to be kept safe from a dangerous parent. The answer in my childhood situation was adoption. After I was adopted, I was safe from my biological mother. She couldn’t come for me because my parents were there to protect me. She couldn’t call and talk to me, which caused weeks of night terrors and renewed fears of abandonment, because my parents were there to distance her from me. My adoptive parents kept me safe from her, took wonderful care of me, showed me love and interest, and cared about shaping me into a good person. Had I been praying, they were the answer to those prayers.
I figured adoption would keep Summer safe, too. I chose people that reminded me of my parents: married for a long time (10 years), older (35 and 40 at the time of the adoption), and involved with their church (which my parents became when I moved in to provide me with structure). I knew that my parents had actually stepped in and shielded me from the danger of my biological mother, so I felt that these people would shield my daughter from the danger of her biological father.
But I do regret
My regrets come from clarity in hindsight. And they are numerous.
My first glaring regret:
Summer’s biological father moved to California before she was even born and never bothered me in a violent or menacing way again. He disappeared.
Looking back now, I see that there is and likely was no threat from him. I firmly believe that if I had parented her, Summer and I would have been safe. That he never would have caused us concern for her (or my) safety. He was a gentle man who made a violent mistake which cost him his fiancee and his firstborn child. I got lost in my fear and let him cost me my firstborn child too. Without the need to keep Summer safe, there was no need to relinquish her to another family.
I regret responding so sensationally to something that turned out to be benign in the end.
My second glaring regret:
I didn’t have enough information. I based my decision to relinquish my rights solely on my own, extremely positive, experience with adoption. But the situation I found myself in at 19 was absolutely nothing like the situation I was born into and adopted out of.
I was not offered legal counsel and didn’t know it should have been provided for free. I was not offered emotional or psychological counseling during my pregnancy, or before or after signing the relinquishment paperwork, despite facing the most life-altering decision I would ever experience. I was not provided with any information relevant to my situation or the impacts of my permanent and irreversible decision to relinquish my parental rights.
I didn’t know these rights, services, or assistances existed. I couldn’t know to search for or ask for them because I never knew about them. It seems that I unknowingly held the responsibilities of hormonally growing a tiny human inside of me, dealing with the trauma of physical and sexual abuse, seeking my own legal counsel, and searching for adequate mental health care.
I regret not knowing things that I didn’t know I should have known.
My third glaring regret:
It never occurred to me that Lisa and Eric, Summer’s adoptive parents, would view me as the threat. Caught up in the whirlwind of trauma and post-partum depression, I acted (and spoke) out about my predicament. With no mental health assistance, I was left to my own devices with regard to healing and “moving on”. I reached out to Lisa and Eric too many times, begging them to speak to me and share their family with me, reminding them (read: guilting them) immaturely that I gave them my child, that I held up my end of the deal and that they owed me updates and pictures of Summer.
Within a couple of months, I had tried their patience to their limit and they closed their email account and changed their phone number. I was the threat. I was the danger to their family, to their child. They didn’t know me – they didn’t know how else I might respond or how my immature, manic-depressive behavior might escalate.
I treated them with disdain, and they may have shut me out because of it. I was never violent, I was never threatening, I was never mean. I was manipulative and tried to guilt them into complying with my need to know more about my daughter.
I regret the spiteful negativity with which I communicated with them.
My fourth glaring regret:
I chose a mostly closed adoption. I went into the situation with really only my own adoption experience to guide me, and this ended up costing me in huge ways. I am not my biological mother, and the situations we found ourselves in were entirely different. I was totally misguided to think that I should follow an adoption plan that mirrored my own. I was adopted because my biological mother wouldn’t meet the minimum safety requirements in our home in order for children to legally reside there. I relinquished my daughter because I didn’t believe I had the means to keep her safe.
I had no idea that open adoption was really a thing, how it worked, or that it’s often better for all people involved. My parents kept my adoption as closed as possible, and I know that the lack of communication and openness was beneficial for me throughout my childhood. As a pregnant teenager, I just assumed that was the best course of action for me and my daughter. I asked Eric and Lisa for an annual family picture, and they agreed. I quickly realized after Summer was born that this was not nearly enough contact or information for me to remain at peace with my situation.
I regret not asking for significantly more contact from the start.
I regret what I took from my daughter
Summer had no say in whether she was raised by me or someone else. I made that very first, very pivotal decision for her, changing the course of her life forever. I decided that, rather than being cared for by the first person she ever knew, she would be forever separated from the one familiar person in her life for reasons unknown to her.
She will grow up with parents who look different from her and don’t know her cultural history or ancestry. She could be plagued for years with issues stemming from abandonment (from being separated immediately from her biologically-tied mother). She might wonder why I would “give her up”, think she wasn’t loved or wanted, or hate me for making that decision for her.
I regret making the decision to change the natural course of Summer’s life.
I regret what I lost
I lost a child – my firstborn child. The first child I will ever have. I will miss every first with her: from first steps to first day of school, from first love to first child, I have missed and will continue to miss all of it.
She will not grow up knowing that I love her. She will not come to me, her mother, for comfort, possibly ever. She will never think of me as her mom.
In the literal sense, I am a mother: I carried and gave birth to a child, which makes me a mother. But in the practical sense, I am not a mother: I am not raising or caring for a child, and the child I gave birth to doesn’t know I exist.
I regret giving up my motherhood.
That’s actually a lot of regret
I have a lot of regret to manage and to make sense of. I can’t ignore it because it brings very heavy emotions and I am not great at “compartmentalizing” unprocessed emotions within my mind. I have to deal with things, then put them where they go in my personalized brain pan storage system.
Emotionally, thinking about these regrets mostly makes me feel sad. It often makes me feel helpless and hopeless (these two are usually paired). I continually remind myself that, logically, feeling regretful doesn’t do me any good. I am completely powerless in my situation and nothing I could or would do can change that fact. Pushing past regret is the only way for me to avoid getting lost in a cycle of anger with myself. Oddly, accepting the helplessness that plagues me is my first step to avoiding the rut of regret and blame.
I cannot stand blame. I believe in causes and reasons, and I don’t find value in inflammatory blame. For example, I understand that my lack of knowledge about services available to me ten years ago was ultimately my responsibility. I choose to not blame myself for not knowing enough and instead acknowledge that the fact that I didn’t know enough to make a truly informed decision is a reason my situation turned out the way it did. My lack of knowledge was a cause of my now-closed adoption. No blame needed – because it doesn’t help. Blaming myself for these mistakes will not make me feel better, will not actually make the situation better, and will not lead me to relief.
Understanding the reasons and causes for my current circumstances is the key to ensuring I make better and more informed decisions going forward in my life. Approaching myself more gently and exploring my feelings without self-blaming makes it easier to get through the regret-filled days.
Do you regret anything? Is there something you can do to change it? Tell me about it in the comments!
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