Family Separation and the Church

Family Separation

What is happening at our country’s southern border is a human atrocity. Do not misunderstand that by what I’m about to say. It should not be happening. The future implications of what it could mean should frighten even the most apathetic among us into action, to call our representatives and say, “I will not stand for this.” To donate. To do something, anything.

But it’s also very triggering for many among us—for those of us who were told we were not good enough to parent our children because we were young, we were single, we were whores, we were less than. It’s triggering for those of who know the lifelong trauma associated with relinquishing a child, even if you know that child is well cared for and loved. It’s triggering for those of us who have read the studies that state what relinquishment can do to a brain; the trauma that permeates even the best of situations.

I want what is happening at the border to stop.

But for me, watching religious institutions come forward and state that “separating families is wrong” has been a hot poker in a sensitive place, one I usually keep hidden and protected.

One of the first I came across actually came the General Board of Church & Society, the International social justice and public policy agency of the United Methodist Church—which is my current chosen denomination and has been since returning to the church after my daughter’s birth, placement and shunning by a different denomination.

It reads: ‘I was a stranger and you ripped my child away from me’ …Wait a second.

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I just sat and stared at it for awhile. Hashtag keep families together. Ouch.

It’s important for me to note that the UMC did not publicly shame me for being pregnant, for placing my daughter. Multiple UMC pastors in the years since I have returned to a tenuous faith walk have met me where I was in my healing process, being inclusive in their language on days like Mother’s Day. (Note: I no longer attend church on Mother’s Day. No way, no how.) But the UMC has been unkind to other birth parents and religious based agencies are, sadly, among some of the most deceptive and coercive in the adoption industry. Another denomination, an individual pastor, and the members of a congregation worked their shaming practices into my soul. A religious-based crisis pregnancy center of still another denomination provided me with adoption information but told me I would be wasting “good taxpayer money” if I applied for medical assistance, food stamps, or other financial assistance during my pregnancy; they refused to help me navigate that system and sent me on my way.

So as I read through this thread of religious entities speaking out against the separation of families, it struck me the same as it always does: What was so wrong with me that I wasn’t worthy enough to parent my daughter?

The capital C Church has a long history of shaming mothers and taking babies as much as we’d like to sweep that under the rug. The Baby Scoop Era showed resulted in the coercion and “separation of families” in numbers far beyond what we’re currently seeing. But churches and society justified these separations as the mothers were unwed, young, uneducated… except sometimes they weren’t. Stereotypes were easier to perpetuate than getting into the vastly different reasons a mother finds herself considering what may or may not be best for her child. (I was sick.) As adoption and society changed, religious based agencies really drove home the fact that the expectant mother could not provide a two-parent home, couldn’t provide all the extras of parenting.

Let me make this clear: I am not calling for the abolition of adoption. I know that because of certain reasons, adoption will always exist. Do I think we should counsel women and their families as to the far-reaching future implications relinquishment will have not only for the immediate people in their circle but for extended family members and ones not even born yet? Yes. Do I think we should counsel families on adoption trauma for birth families and adoptees? You bet. Do I think we should remove the financial gain any agency, religious institution, or government entity receives from the legal process? Absolutely. Do I want to sit with mothers considering adoption and tell them my story, the good, bad and ugly? Yes, and I have.

What I am calling for today—here, in this—is a careful understanding of those in religious “power” about the words they are currently using to discuss family separation. I don’t need a public apology from every denomination on the planet. But birth parents have been writing our stories for decades now. We, as birth mothers, have been sharing our truths on the web; I’ve won awards for my pieces on the topic. It’s not like people don’t know we exist. It’s not like we don’t understand that adoption separates families even as it creates another one. It’s a dichotomy, yes, and how we speak about it matters.

I am not even asking for anyone to divert their attention to our “cause” as I believe stopping what is happening at the border is of the utmost importance. It must be stopped. Now. Children must not be needlessly and cruelly separated from their families. We cannot willfully abuse children. We, as a nation, must not participate in the traumatization of children, mothers, fathers, and their families. We must not perpetuate the degradation of humanity.

But maybe, just maybe, when people who have a religious importance, whether they’re Glennon Doyle or the UMC Board or the pastor at your local church, speak about families and trauma and separation and the importance of keeping mothers and children together… maybe, just maybe, when we get past this horrific part of our history, we can sit with those who are still hurting, are still living a life without their child, their mother, their family, hold their hands, and let them feel whatever it is they need to feel, without telling them to get over it, to move on, to forget about it. Maybe we can allow families to heal while simultaneously offering a safe space for families facing uncertainty in the issues surrounding these decisions. Maybe we can work to remove the shame we cast on those in times of need, of understanding, or compassion. Maybe, as we’ve seen these families as deserving of our time and money and love, we can see families like mine as just as deserving.

In the meantime, if you are struggling with the constant mentions of family separation, know this: It is absolutely okay to mute words on your social media platforms, to check out, to let those who can fight this battle fight it for you. You don’t have to save the world today. You can save yourself. You can practice good self-care. You can take a nap. You can take a walk. You can turn off the TV or turn on a movie or just check out. Do what you need to do. I will be here for you on the other side, when we know that these children are safely reunited with their families—please, Lord—and we still must live a life separate from our children.

Your healing matters. You matter.

 

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Healing

Healing

Every evening at 8:30, my phone dings. Actually, now my watch dings too. I love living in the future.

Anyway, the things ding and I look at whichever one I feel like looking at and read the following words.

“I am worthy of healing.”

I just opened the app to see when I set that reminder. Apparently my technology has been reminding me that I am worthy of healing every evening since December… 2016. For over a year, I’ve picked up my phone and swiped aside the reminder.

I am worthy of healing. Swipe.
I am worthy of heal…swipe.
I am worthy of…swipe.
I am worthy…swipe.
I am worth…swipe.
I am w…swipe.
I am…swipe.
I…swipe.

Ding…swipe.

Some nights, I’m deep in the thick of getting the boys off to bed. In between snacks and “go take your shower” and laying out clothes and filling diffusers and tripping over dogs and waving a towel at the smoke detector that goes off when they forget to close the bathroom door while showering, my watch dings.

I look at it, however briefly, and I go back to the momming.

I don’t have time to consider healing most days. I’m lucky to deal with the laundry and the dogs and dinner and homework and caregiving and the ten-hour writing job I took on to help fill the financial gaps since having to leave the business. I’m making a concerted effort to maintain daily self-care because when I don’t, things go poorly.

Things meaning my mind.

Some nights, I am just sitting down on the couch. Maybe it’s a weekend. Maybe we’re on Snow Day Eleven Billion and the boys don’t have to get to bed before 9. Maybe it’s a miracle. But I hear the ding and I sigh.

Healing. Worthy.

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These words seem exceptionally hard and extremely far away. What do they even mean? What does healing even look like? My therapist keeps asking me the same thing, over and over.

What does forgiving yourself look like? What does forgiving yourself feel like?

I don’t know. That’s why I’m in therapy. Duh.

I don’t know, though. I don’t know what it feels like to wake up and go through an entire day without telling myself that it’s all my fault. What, exactly? Everything. If I had done this or that or anything or everything differently, we wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t hate myself. I wouldn’t doubt every step.

And worthy? That feels like a hard concept to grasp, too.

You see, I can’t begin to consider being worthy because I don’t know how to forgive myself which would initiate the whole healing process. This is my carousel of self-loathing, spinning me round and round for all eternity. I don’t even know which one needs to come first at this point because all feecl equally impossible. I’m not worthy. I’m never going to heal. This is my life.

And then…

Some nights, those random evenings in between, I’m caught off guard. I know it’s coming, but it will ding and I’ll be like, “What?” I’ll look and, right before I swipe, I’ll feel something.

Healing.

Worthy.

Something washes over me, my finger hovering over my device. For a second, I believe these words are a possibility, an inevitability even. I breathe and feel them somewhere deep inside. They’re tucked in deep, wedged beneath memories and hurt, behind fear and anger at myself, at the system, at the things I didn’t know. In that one breath though, I know that someday I’ll know what forgiving myself looks like, what it feels like.

And it’s going to feel so beautiful.

Healing

A Broken Birthday

It’s my daughter’s birthday.

On her first birthday, I pushed down all of the emotions I felt as I attended her birthday party. Most of the people didn’t know who I was. Those who did, thanked me and told me how grateful they were for my sacrifice. It felt awful and weird and nothing the adoption facilitator, not anything I had read online prepared me for watching my daughter’s parents pose for picture after picture with her while no one asked me to smile with her.

Still, I felt grateful. Not many birth parents get to attend their child’s first birthday. I knew I was lucky, even if it felt weird.

Every birthday since then, I’ve either been able to speak with my daughter or be in attendance. I’ve either told her, “Happy birthday, I love you,” on the phone or in person. It’s always been me, doing this thing. It was part of the promise I made to her as I held her on that first evening, back when she was still mine and mine alone. I promised I’d always be there.

I didn’t wish her a happy birthday today.

Or, I did.

When the clock rolled over to midnight, still awake and feeling an overwhelming mix of emotions, I sent a birthday wish out into the universe. This afternoon, I sent her mom a text asking her to send along my birthday wishes—if she felt that wouldn’t make my daughter’s day worse. My daughter’s mother did and reported back.

But I didn’t speak to my daughter.

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I didn’t get to tell my daughter that I love her. No matter what. Always. Forever. I didn’t get to tell her that I understand certain aspects of her life. I was once a teenage girl. I didn’t get to apologize for not knowing, way back when, how my decision would negatively affect her, her brothers, me, all of us.

I didn’t get to tell her that she’ll always have a piece of my heart.

She doesn’t want to speak to me right now, doesn’t want me in her life.

They don’t tell you about that when you’re considering placement. They don’t tell you that someday your child may want nothing to do with you even though you’ve been there, every single day, since day one. They don’t tell you that the first birthday after your child decides you’re expendable feels worse than death.

My heart is broken. It’s just broken. I physically hurt.

I can’t even write anything more eloquent than that tonight. I’m broken.

14 years ago I gave birth to a baby girl. They told me I could be a part of her life. I was. Until I wasn’t allowed to be anymore.

Happy birthday, my daughter. I love you. Always. I will be here when you are ready. Until then…