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Healing is Essential

As an adoptee and a birth mother, healing has been a journey. Today I recognized the old, unhealed version of myself in my birth mother, who I reunited with seven years ago. I cannot do her work for her or absolve her from her guilt or shame.

Recognizing this prompted me to want to tap into that birth mother side of me. I am now 52 years young. I got pregnant at 16 and gave birth just three months after my 17th birthday. In a previous post, I spoke of how I felt my penance for choosing adoption was years of guilt, shame, silence, and self-hatred. I carried that feeling with me for decades until I realized that I had to forgive myself. I couldn't even look in the mirror because staring back at me was the weak 17-year-old girl, an adoptee, who then turned around and placed a child for adoption.

I found a therapist about seven years ago who practiced Internal Family Systems Therapy. She had me perform an exercise with my eyes closed where I focused on the ashamed, guilt-ridden and insecure 16/17-year-old me that got pregnant in high school. I placed the current version of who I was in the same space as my younger self. I imagined my present-day self through guided imagery, with all my knowledge providing the younger me with the emotional support and compassion that I did not get. I was so deep in this exercise that I could clearly see my younger self and feel the pain, loneliness, and confusion that I experienced. The exercise was powerful. I envisioned pulling the younger version of myself out of the self-imposed consciousness of guilt and walking to a place in my mind that represented peace. By the end of the exercise, tears ran down my face I wasn't aware of, and the teenage me felt lighter. Although I over simplified the process in my explanation here, it was empowering and confirmation that I was in control of my healing. Following that session, whenever I would fall back into guilt or pity, I would close my eyes and go through the exercise again.

That experience also made me realize I could not control how my birth son, who I reunited with, navigated his journey with me. He owes me nothing. I owe him honesty and access and have given both. I am proud of myself for dealing with my guilt so that I could go into a relationship with him unburdened by wounds I didn't let heal. He met the 48-year-old me who had already started healing, not the 17-year-old who bore him. I do not try to rush our relationship and have allowed it to develop in a way that he is comfortable with.

For once my duality has served me. As an adoptee, I get how exciting and overwhelming meeting a birth parent can be. My birth mother was very welcoming, and I could not have imagined a better reunion. However, I feel she still carries the guilt, shame, and secrecy of the 23-year-old who gave birth to me. I empathize with her. I am not the baby she gave birth to. We can not go back and have a "traditional" mother/daughter relationship. I am an adoptee who grew up with insecurities despite the supportive adoptive family I am part of.

I am a birth mother who knows the pain of relinquishment. I cannot make up for the pain I caused my birth son. I truly believe that if I had not begun healing the part of me that broke at 16, I would show up for my son the way my birth mother shows up for me. She has spoken and unspoken expectations and is haunted by emotions based on the shattered pieces of her youth. In our interactions, I feel weighted by what feels like a load that is not mine to carry, and because I have been on my journey of healing, I feel uncomfortable in her stagnation. I can only hope one day, she realizes her healing is for her and has to be independent of my acceptance.

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