Sunday, October 3, 2021

The Deeper Wound

"No shame." That’s what everyone in the room during the match meeting kept saying. The adoption agency staffers. The prospective adoptive couple. I kept my mouth shut, but later wished I had spoken up.

Because I am ashamed. Ashamed that I apparently don’t know what I want, or went about getting it the wrong way. Ashamed that I let this situation progress this far and still don’t have a plan. Ashamed that at my age, I’m unsure about a decision as monumental as whether or not I can care for a life I insisted on creating. Ashamed that my change of heart could alter an innocent little being’s life trajectory forever.

No shame?! I am drowning in shame. I have done some truly embarrassing, awful, idiotic things in my life, but none so mortifying as this. I can’t believe a person as educated and experienced in parenthood as I am, someone who wanted this baby so badly pre-pregnancy, would even consider putting a child up for adoption. I am not an ignorant, reckless teenager who accidentally got pregnant by some loser high school kid. I am an adult with a full-time job and a functional family who had to jump through multiple medical hoops to get and stay pregnant. So how did I get to the point? I should know better.

“The judgment is not helpful,” my therapist, Shania, said during our latest session. “You haven’t done anything wrong.”

Really? Because I feel like the biggest fuck-up in the world right now. How was pursuing another pregnancy, despite all the evidence indicating I probably shouldn’t (including my husband’s resistance), not an unforgivable mistake?

Shania reminded me that I was very intentional about this pregnancy, and passionate about it, too. She said that if I hadn’t pursued it, I would likely be dealing with other hard feelings – like regret and resentment.

She repeated the old refrain that I’ve tried to tell myself (and which has failed to be convincing) that I did the best I could with the information I had at the time. Now I have new information (i.e. toddlerhood is hard AF, we don’t have as much money or energy as I thought we did, our marriage is more strained than I realized, etc.) and so I am considering other options.

The problem is: I don’t like any of the options. Keep the baby and I might not be able to give her the mothering she deserves. Place the baby with another couple and I might not be able to withstand the grief. I hate to say it like this, but I feel like those jealous, abusive men who think, “If I can’t have you, no one else can either.”

“Whether the baby ends up with you or with another family, you are giving the gift of life,” Shania reassured me.

I’m not sure the child will see it that way. What if she’s angry I gave her life only to hand her off to someone else to raise?

“No matter which family your child grows up in, she will have challenges,” Shania said. “If she grows up with another family, she will likely have challenges related to her identity as an adopted child. If she grows up with you, she’ll have the challenges that go along with being in a potentially stressed-out family.”

Great. So no matter which choice I make, she’s going to be messed up, too.

I told Shania that I felt completely alone in making this decision – a scary place to be, given that after what feels like a recent string of stupid missteps, I can’t trust myself to make the right choice. So I don’t make one. I wait for some divine intervention, some sign, some clarity that never comes. I flip and flop daily on what to do. And then I do nothing.

Shania had another take on my indecision. She said it wasn’t indicative of me being flaky or immature; instead, it indicated that I was taking my responsibilities as a parent very seriously.

“It would be much easier to be in denial,” Shania said. “But you aren’t.”

You can say that again. I am in the motherfucking trenches right now.

“What do you need to help you make this decision?” Shania asked.

Finally – an easy question to answer.

“What is need is for people to tell me what to do,” I said. “Everyone is tip-toeing around this decision. They aren’t being honest with me. They’re leaving it all up to me.”

“Including you,” I wanted to say. But I didn’t have to.

“Erica, you’ve known me for a long time,” Shania said. (15 years to be exact.) “If I thought you were headed down a dangerous path, I would tell you. But I truly believe there is no right or wrong decision here.”

And then, a few moments later, she said, “Whatever decision you make will be the right decision.”

That, ladies and gentleman, is the perfect example of “not helpful.”

Shania did eventually give me something useful to ruminate on: which decision would I regret less? When she phrased it that way, the answer was – for once – clearer. I would regret keeping the baby less. I know how hard parenting is, but I also know I’ve never regretted having any of my children, even in the worst of times. Adoption, however, is a wild card. For all I know, I might regret it every day for the rest of my life. How could I live with myself if I did? (And, yes, I know this isn’t all about me, but I do believe the baby will be fine no matter what. I don’t know if I will be.)

“You may never feel 100 percent certain about this decision either way,” Shania said. “This is about identifying what will be the deeper wound.”

“When you say it like that, I think the deeper wound would be adoption,” I said.

Even just talking about adoption makes me cry – every time. Does that mean something?

To wit: just three days after the match meeting and three days prior to my session with Shania, I was prone on an exam table in a dimly lit room. A sonographer rolled her wand across my belly for my 32-week “growth ultrasound.”

As I suspected, the baby was big – 5 pounds, 4 ounces already. Tack on another eight weeks of weight gain, and we could easily be talking about a 9-pound-plus bundle of joy. (RIP my lady parts.)

The 3D ultrasound feature usually creeps me out, but this time, when the sonographer switched over to it, I was aghast. The baby’s face looked fully formed, and oh-so-adorable. She had a hand on her head and was even sticking her tongue out. I started to cry. There was my little girl, alive and kicking. How could I even consider giving her away?

“I saw the cutest little face,” I told my husband when I got home.

 “Uh-oh,” was the extent of his reply.

Uh-oh is right. (Though file that in the “unhelpful comments” section, too.)

I wish I could say the brief calm and clarity I felt during my session with Shania endured. It didn’t. I still go back and forth on the adoption issue daily, seeing pros and cons to each side and feeling unable to decide. Can I endure the next six weeks (or as few as three weeks if the baby comes early) of uncertainty and trust myself to make the right decision after the birth? Will I be in my right mind then, given all the postpartum hormonal upheaval? Is this a question of faith? And if God is involved, what is His intention? That I be the answer to the adoptive couple’s prayers? Or that I trust that I can juggle parenting along with everything else because He won’t give me more than I can handle?

I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.

So I write and I cry and I wait for a certainty that seems to be taking its sweet fucking time…

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