Becoming Birth Mom Strong
In January 1989, I quietly entered the lonely world of being a birth mother. I was 18, a college freshman. I was scared and ashamed and heartbroken. I believed then, as I still believe today, that I made the very best, most loving decision I could have made for my daughter. But I was heartbroken. Many well-meaning people in my life advised me to “forget about it” and “move on with my life”. I was compliant so I tried very hard to do exactly that and, for the most part, I was pretty successful. To the outside world, I was a typical young woman; on the inside, I was a hot mess.
In 2013, I decided that I was done carrying this dark secret and was finally ready to move into the light. I began working at an adoption agency educating and assisting pregnant women who were considering adoption for their babies. This is the work that I believe I was called to do, but dealing with adoption every day makes it very difficult to hide your own adoption pain. I needed healing. It was suggested that I consider attending a birth mother retreat hosted by the On Your Feet Foundation. In April 2013, I attended my first retreat in Michigan City, Indiana, and the course of my life changed. For the first time in 24 years, I was able to speak freely about my adoption and about being a birth mom. I didn’t need to filter my words because I knew everyone in the room would understand. On that weekend, I decided that I never wanted another birth mom to experience the loneliness and isolation I had felt for so many years by not knowing another birth mom.
When I returned from the retreat, I almost immediately started planning how to offer this kind of opportunity to more birth moms. I facilitated my first retreat in northeast Ohio in March 2014 with a mission is to provide women with a support network of other moms who are proud of their adoption plans and who want to extend comfort and hope to others on this journey. Now, I have facilitated 16 retreats serving approximately 250 birth moms from all over the US.
The retreats are designed to promote a sense of ongoing community, understanding, and support tailored to a birth mother’s unique needs. We work to create an environment where women feel safe, supported, and free to talk freely about their adoption plans without filtering their words, thoughts, and emotions. Everyone at the retreat is a birth mom, all the participants, and the facilitators. We hold this rule as sacred, with no exceptions. Birth moms who attend the retreat are given the opportunity to share their adoption stories and pictures of their children, learn the history of adoption, gain a better understanding of the disenfranchised grief associated with adoption, learn to recognize healthy versus unhealthy relationships, and enjoy therapeutic craft activities. The women also enjoy free time journaling and building friendships with other birth mothers.
The positive response from attendees has been amazing, and birth moms asked for more connection. Monthly support groups called, “Pizza Meet Ups” were created so moms could get together, keep in touch, and continue the healing journey. I and other amazingly strong birth mothers, host a private, adoption friendly Facebook group for birth moms all over the country; we have 1,000 members from almost every state, the UK, Canada, and Australia, and are adding new moms most every day.
Research- and common sense- tells us that birth moms typically experience symptoms of grief. If those moms have an open support system, one that she can honestly communicate within, then these intense feelings seem to be reduced. We know this to be true. Women who have attended retreats have expressed their feelings in these ways, “This retreat has been the thing that I needed the most. I didn’t even know it until I met these amazing women and had the chance to share my story.” “I am so glad to know other birth mothers. It makes me happy because I can talk with them and they always understand where I’m coming from…the good stuff and the bad stuff.” “This group has saved me from suicide. I love these women like family.”
I now have the opportunity to offer these same services and opportunities to birth moms in Florida through the Heart of a Birth Parent program and I am so excited!
I am no longer ashamed. I am proud of my decision to give an amazing family to my daughter. I am proud that I have been able to help other birth moms shed their shame and guilt. I am at peace. I am birth mom strong.