Mothers often feel a lot of shame. Whether it’s the voices of friends, family, society, or themselves, mothers constantly hear about how they should parent, how they should look, how their kids should behave and perform, what they should feed their family, etc.
I have a lot of compassion for mothers. I know what it’s like to carry and birth a child, but my commonality with mothers stops there. I can only imagine what it is like to care for a newborn while dealing with my own exhaustion and childbirth recovery. I cannot comprehend how my life would have changed if I was the one caring for my baby day in and day out, with no free time or privacy on the toilet or making dinner while balancing a child on my hip.
Mother shame is full of “should”‘s. The aforementioned voices always use the shaming word in their judgements.
On the other hand, my birthmother shame uses lots of “would”‘s.
Someone says, “Wow, you look great! All your baby weight is already gone!”
My shame says, Yeah, well, it wouldn’t be if I’d had a newborn to care for.
“Your house is so neat!”
It would be a disaster if I had to look after a child who was constantly pulling out toys.
“You take such fun trips with Neil.”
Maybe we would still do that with a baby, but it would be a whole lot harder and completely different.
These phrases are meant to be compliments, and to most mothers, they would be. But I discount them with, “That’s only because I don’t have a baby.”
I made one decision as a mom after Dominic was born, and that was to not parent. This single decision has morphed into a fountain of shame that soaks through every aspect of my life. I remain keenly aware that everything would be different if I had chosen to parent, and I feel a sense of shame that I’m able to outwardly maintain my “pre-baby life.”
I think this shame that I feel stems from my longing to recognize that my life is different and my hesitation toward moving on after such a ginormous loss.
“After I placed my daughter, I sat at home and refused to do anything,” Nicole said. “I felt so guilty about placing her that I literally slept and did nothing with my life.
“After a few months, I started realizing that yes, this pain and guilt were real and I had to deal with it and not let my placement go to waste for my own life. The guilt was there, but why do nothing with my life? Why did I place her if I was just going to sit at home and not accomplish something?
“I didn’t want to let the hardest decision I’ve ever faced be in vain by allowing my guilt to stop me from being someone. I needed to get out and work on myself and really start to understand that it was OK to live again. I didn’t go out and become a world-famous doctor but I went out and just started my life.
“…[Y]ou are not a terrible person for considering adoption. You are a strong woman for being able to say, hey, I can’t parent to the best of my ability and I want more for my child.
“It’s going to be awful and you are going to feel more pain than I can explain, but it will get better. Not immediately and not suddenly, but it will become easier.
“Forgive yourself for not being able to parent. Remember after you place to not let your decision go in vain….[D]on’t let the guilt for placing hinder your life.”
Thanks, Nicole. I’ll try.
What do you think about Nicole’s advice to forgive yourself and live a full life? Do you find it hard to do in the midst of shame? Birthmothers, what aspects of everyday life bring up feelings of shame about your decision to place? Your comments are awesome and welcome! Leave a reply in the comment box below. Please be familiar with the comment policy.